Your Highness, you’re history! Coffee?

Your Highness, you’re history! Coffee?

After 240 years of absolute monarchy, Nepal has ousted its royal autocrat and declared itself a republic, thus condemning themselves to an altogether new sort of political strife: shifty-eyed scoundrels who’ve been elected to their highest office, rather than merely inheriting it. Good on them. Some words of advice as the Nepali people draw up a new constitution: Habeus Corpus is a Good Idea. Executive Orders are a Bad Idea. Ban lobbyists from the get go. Trust me on this. To mark the occasion, I’ve roasted up some Nepali coffee that I picked up at the recent SCAA expo. This is the first Himalayan coffee I’ve sampled, and I found some surprises along the way… The Coffee This green sample comes from Himalayan Java, and is described as organic, shade-grown on farms above 1100 meters, and fully wash-processed. I suspect at least two of these claims are overstated. The beans appear to be semi-washed, which isn’t a problem, really, nor is it unexpected; Nepal does not have a long history of wash processed coffee, and this may be about as washed as this coffee gets. Further, the roast characteristics of the coffee really don’t jive with the 1100 meter claim. Mind you, I don’t doubt that there’s plenty of high ground to be found where the coffee’s sourced (c’mon, it’s in the frickin’ Himalayas!) but this just doesn’t roast-up like an especially dense bean, nor does it cup like one. (More on that in a moment.) I suspect the coffee is an amalgam of a number of farms, from a number of elevations, some likely quite high up, others...
Starbucks Achieves Critical Mass

Starbucks Achieves Critical Mass

  Apparently Howard Schultz is in a buying mood. Close on the heels of Starbucks’ buyout of Coffee Equipment Company, maker of the Clover single-cup coffee brewer, the Seattle coffee giant announced its next step in coffee roasting technology and its next acquisition, also a Pacific Northwest technology venture: the Trojan Nuclear Power Plant in Ranier, Oregon. “This baby’s hot,” says Schultz with characteristic zeal, “and it’s going to help us differentiate Starbucks from everyone else that is attempting to be in the coffee business.” Howard Schultz paces the length of the counter at the Starbucks coffee house at Seattle’s Starbucks Support Center. Clearly, he’s catching his stride.   “We’re talking zero carbon footprint, roasts coffee quicker than one of our espresso pours, and –wow!– can it spread that great coffee aroma!” Howard pauses; he looks momentarily soulful. “We want to have the courage to do the things that support our core purpose, our reason for being. This is all about our core.”   “And besides,” adds Schultz, “who else has a...

March 28, 2008

Transporting Coffee by Bike Cold Weather Coffee Roasting Why I Love Writing in Coffee Shops The...
Sumatra Mandheling — Age Defying Coffee?

Sumatra Mandheling — Age Defying Coffee?

After a bit of a hiatus I’m back at the roaster in the garage. Why the break? It’s been chilly lately — it’s winter in Vermont, after all — and besides, my roaster doesn’t perform so well when the ambient temperature is anything less than 40 degrees. Neither do I fare all too well hanging around waiting for it to get its heat on. Oh sure, I know there’s hard-core roasters who don their parkas and mittens to roast outdoors all times of the year. That kind of insane and slavish devotion I save for barbecue alone, thanks. I haven’t ordered any new green coffee of late (see the bit about it being cold) and so what I have left is really remnants of seasons past… in some cases, several seasons past. Some Ethiopian coffees from the last eCafe competition, Guatemalan greens from the spring before, and some Sumatra from — gosh, I really can’t be sure — maybe two years ago? And so I roasted some of just about everything. The Ethiopian coffee is quite decent, really. For a day or two, anyway; and then the cup just sort of… winds down. Aromatics are fleeting, flavors fading. It’s not a tragic thing, really. It’s just tired. The Guatemalan beans have a similar tale to tell. Notably, they roast dry and hot — they’ve apparently lost a lot of moisture — and the cup quality is not only faded, but also bitter. Very much so. The Sumatran beans — the oldest of the lot — well they’re something of a different story. They roast well within parameters I might...

Coffee Roasters: How Not to Become a Stupid Statistic

It’ll never happen to you, right? Annabell Ramirez said it all started with a small fire in a coffee-bean roaster. She said she tried to put it out, but the glass shattered and the fire spread quickly. “Before I knew it, flames were coming out of the window…” Whether you’ve got the latest in commercially-available coffee roasters, or your own, custom-built rig, it’s important to remember that when you’re roasting coffee, you’re playing with fire. Every professional roaster I know has a story to tell about either a full-on roaster fire, or a damn close call. Every. Single. One. It’s only a matter of time. Here’s my top five tips for home-roasting fire safety. 1) Get a fire extinguisher. Even if you never roasted coffee, a fire extinguisher is the best insurance you can buy for less than 20 bucks. If you’re a coffee roaster, it may just be your best friend. Choose a fire extinguisher intended for kitchen or garage use… more specifically, a dry chemical model that’s rated for oil, electrical and wood fires. 2) Mount that extinguisher near your roaster. Note that I don’t say *above* your roaster, but *near* it. You’ll want to be able to grab that extinguisher without having to reach over a burning roaster. Better still, get two, and place one near, and one on the other side of the room. (While I’m not exactly paranoid, I have three extinguishers strategically located in my garage where I do most of my roasting.) 3) Never leave your coffee roasting unattended. Never — ever! — walk away with a roast in progress. I’ll admit...
The Quest for a Bigger Batch.

The Quest for a Bigger Batch.

Sooner or later it happens. You’ve been roasting for a while… sharing with family and friends. Maybe you’ve just bought a new espresso setup, and suddenly discovered the voracious appetite that your portafilter has for fresh-roasted beans. And it hits you…. Your air roaster, even tweaked to double its roast volume, just isn’t enough. It’s time to upgrade. So where do you go from here? The options don’t look good. Commercial sample roasters can roast a pound or more at a time… but at $4000 to $7000 for the privilege, they’re pretty much out of reach [of your author, anyway.] The Alpenrost? At $300 its price is more down-to-earth than the sample roasters, but its eight ounce capacity offers precious little more roast volume than an air-roaster. Is there no way to achieve a 1 pound capacity at thrifty prices? Sure there is… build your own! If you’re anything like me, chances are you have the makings of a suitable coffee roaster right in your own back yard. In my case, there happens to be an LP gas-fired Weber grill sitting just outside my back door… a two-burner model that’s sold these days as the Genesis A model. This is Weber’s smaller, two-burner model. Even so, it’s rated at 22,000 BTU, more than capable of roasting a pound of beans. A further bonus: Weber has a full line of accessories for its grills, including a very sturdy rotisserie [model 9890]. On, then, to the heart of the device… There’s a fair number of things to be considered when choosing materials for a roasting drum… and stainless steel makes short...

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