Friday, December 10, 2010

Coffee Glorious Coffee

For many years now coffee has been an integral part of my morning routine.  While I've always liked the taste what put me over the edge was getting involved in home roasting.  In this post I will go over home roasting, where to get the equipment and green coffee beans and some of the more interesting ways of brewing up a good cup.

Going Green

Roasting coffee at home is nowhere near as daunting as it seems.  All you need is some basic instruction, a good source of green coffee beans and a roaster.  For green coffee beans, Sweet Marias has been my primary source since I started roasting. They offer a wide variety of beans from different regions as well as several blends that make for good introductory choices.  They also sell coffee roasters of different types.  
The main types of roasters are drum and air.  A drum roaster is just a rotating drum that keeps the coffee beans constantly moving for an even heat dispersal.  You can get large batches roasted at once but you'll also get a lot of smoke. If you have to roast indoors and don't have a room you can ventilate well don't get a drum roaster.  

Air roasters use a stream of hot air for roasting, similar to popcorn poppers. In fact, you can use a popcorn popper to roast coffee, although you lose some of the fine tuning that the better air roasters provide. The best air roaster on the market right now is the iRoast2. Its currently out of stock, but worth waiting for especially for apartment dwellers.  What distinguishes the iRoast2 is the ability to program roasting curves and a way to hook up regular aluminum ducting to vent away smoke.  I take advantage of the venting feature much more than the custom roasting curves, the stock curves work fine for what I like.

When it comes to roasting the ideal flavors fall in between the two extremes that are the most commercialized, Starbuck's burnt coffee and the generic light roast typically found in offices.  Too light a roast and you get untempered acid and undeveloped accents, too dark and all the flavors get burned out.  Personally, I like darker roasts, maybe because my stomach handles them better.  Still, lighter roasts are where the best of the green coffees shine. From Hawaii's Kona to the small batch Cup of Excellence competitors, if you're going to pay upwards of $15 a pound you should go with the recommended roasts.  The distinctions that lead to certain lots costing two or three times as much don't really make much difference with darker roasts.  

Good Grinding

Once you have your roasted coffee the next critical step is proper grinding. The most common grinders are blade grinders and they should be avoided.  Blade grinders grind unevenly so that in the subsequent brewing you end up with some particles that are too big or too small and get extraction problems.  Blade grinders also require some guesswork to determine when the right grind is reached.  A much better solution is to use a burr grinder.  Burr grinders are more expensive but the end result is worth it.  You can dial in the exact grind you want and the size of the grounds is much more uniform than with a blade.  If you really want to save money you can get a manual burr grinder but be warned that fine grinds like espresso will require a lot of work.

Each brewing method has its own optimal grind.  Coarser grinds are better for drip coffees, slightly finer for French press, fine grinds for espresso and ultra fine grinds for Turkish coffee.  

One note, while you can get excellent roasted coffee beans, ground beans quickly lose their aromatic components within several days of grinding. Don't buy quality coffee beans pre-ground unless you plan to drink through it in a few days, you will get much fresher and more flavorful coffee by grinding right before brewing.

The most divergence in coffee drinkers comes when you get to brewing.  There are espresso fanatics who swear by $5K machines imported from Italy, always searching for the perfect espresso shot.  Some people love vacuum brewing for the clean coffees the process producses.  I'm partial to French press coffee.  

For espresso drinkers who don't want to break the bank in getting a machine, the Mypressi, recently reviewed on Gizmodo  seem like a good solution, as well as being very cool looking.

For French presses, one tweak that I've been using is to add an additional fine filter.  It lets you use a finer roast for a stronger cup of coffee and keeps the coffee from getting too muddy.  I also love the Aerolatte French press mug for travelling. Its a little messy to clean but way more portable than a regular glass press.

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