Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Bean to Cup: Coffee is getting a lot more local {Edible Monterey Bay}

My article about coffee roasting just came out in the Winter 2013 edition of Edible Monterey Bay. Click to read it online: here. It's the DIY column for the issue.

Bean to Cup: Coffee is getting a lot more local
by Camilla M. Mann

Until the late 19th century, people commonly roasted their own coffee beans. But eventually, home roasting was eclipsed by the convenience culture that pervades much of our society.

Given that there are only two elements to transforming raw green coffee beans into ready-to-grind coffee, I’m shocked that until this year I’d never met anyone who roasted his or her own beans at home.

That changed when a tip led me to Seven Bridges Cooperative in Santa Cruz. After witnessing their vast array of green coffee beans, home coffee roasting equipment and coffee books, it became clear that this art is enjoying a revival among local home brewers.

Seven Bridges’ Andrew Whitman offered to give me a coffee roasting lesson, demonstrating the process with a small hot-air roaster that reminded me of a tiny hot-air popcorn popper. Same idea. The two elements for roasting coffee beans: heat and agitation.

I have always gravitated toward a dark roast because that’s what I bought when I started drinking coffee—more to keep me awake than because I truly enjoyed the taste.

But it turns out that a dark roast homogenizes the flavor of the beans, muting their distinct flavors. On the other hand, a light- to-medium roast better retains the flavor profile of a particular bean cultivar.

Because the roast Andrew and I made was uneven, it afforded us the opportunity to taste the same bean, a Nicaraguan Segovia, at different stages of roasting. The lightest bean tasted nutty, like a hazelnut. The medium bean still had some nut, but verged on caramel—the delicate sweetness of a crème brulée. The dark bean tasted how I’ve always described coffee: astringent, potent and burnt.

Roasting is fun and can be as effortless or as complicated as you want to make it. The basic process is simple: take green coffee beans and roast them until they are brown. There are many ways to do it, from using specially designed appliances to simple pan-roasting, to repurposing a hot-air popcorn popper. At home, I went old school and used a skillet, but I’m thinking about requisitioning my son’s hot-air popper for a trial run.

First, you need green coffee beans. Seven Bridges Cooperative offers a multitude of beans that you can buy in bulk for between $7 and $9 per pound. All their beans—ranging from Bolivian Cenaproc to Papua New Guinean Enorga—are high-grade Arabica coffees and are certified fair trade and organic. Certain local, artisanal coffee roasters, like Davenport’s Alta Organic Coffee and Tea, also offer green beans; I purchased some green Guatemalan beans at Acme Coffee Roasting Co. in Seaside for $7 a pound. Good Land Organics of Goleta will also soon start selling its Central Coast-grown beans in green form.

If using a skillet, fill with just enough green beans to cover the bottom of the pan in a single layer—no overlapping. Then, as the pan and beans heat, agitate them, flipping the beans as you would turn roasting potatoes.

Roasting time varies depending on the method. Convection roasting, using a dedicated home coffee roaster, might take 5–15 minutes, depending on your desired roast. Conduction roasting, using a skillet, might take as long as 20 minutes. To decide when your beans are done, Whitman says, use multiple senses. You can look at the color of the beans. You can listen to the beans—you’ll hear a first crack and, if you decide to roast them that long, a second crack. And you can smell them.

The lighter the roast, the less oil that has been released and burned. Also, the lighter the roast, the more caffeine that is retained.

Will I do this again?

Home roasting affords you the ultimate in quality control and freshness. It’s also quick and easy—I only set off the smoke alarm twice.

I will definitely be roasting my own beans from now on since the difference in flavor and freshness is palpable. Cost-wise, it’s also much more affordable than buying pre-roasted beans. (The last bag of beans I purchased at Peet’s cost me twice as much as the green beans I bought for roasting.)

When asked for his favorite method for brewing his home-roast, Whitman says French press. And he’s adamant on how to take it: Black. No milk. No sugar. That way, you can taste the nuances, he says.

He is right. I have never had a better cup of coffee.

Camilla M. Mann is a food writer, photographer, adventurer and passionate cook. She blogs at culinary-adventures-with-cam.blogspot.com and lives in Monterey.

Seven Bridges Cooperative • 325A River St., Santa Cruz 831.454.9665 • www.breworganic.com

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