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...
Winning the Hearts and Minds of Terroirists

Winning the Hearts and Minds of Terroirists

If a recent article in the New York Times‘ Style Magazine is right, then everything you think you know about terroir may be wrong. The article — Talk Dirt to Me — takes aim at some long-held thinking about the stuff that makes a wine’s flavor what it is: dirt. When terroir was first associated with wine, in the 17th-century phrase goût de terroir (literally, “taste of the earth”), it was not intended as a compliment. Its meaning began to change in 1831, when Dr. Morelot, a wealthy landowner in Burgundy, observed in his “Statistique de la Vigne Dans le Département de la Côte-d’Or” that all of the wineries in Burgundy made wine essentially the same way, so the reason some tasted better than others must be due to the terroir — specifically, the substrata underneath the topsoil of a vineyard. Wine, he claimed, derived its flavor from the site’s geology: in essence, from rocks. The concept of terroir is not the sole domain of the wine enthusiast, and neither are those misconceptions that may have commingled with it. The world of specialty coffee, too, has long grokked the notion of a “taste of place,” though its interpretation is frequently more nuanced, less rigidly constructionist than it appears in the world of wine. In recent years, the concept that one can taste rocks and soil in a wine has become popular with wine writers, importers and sommeliers. “Wines express their source with exquisite definition,” asserts Matt Kramer in his book “Making Sense of Wine.” “They allow us to eavesdrop on the murmurings of the earth.” Of a California vineyard’s...
Banished Home-Roaster? Meet the Behmor.

Banished Home-Roaster? Meet the Behmor.

In Vermont, it’s said, there’s nine months of winter and three months’ rough sledding. While that’s fine for skiing and snowmobiling and such, it can put a real damper on the aspirations of the dedicated home coffee roaster, banished to the garage or the wide open spaces beyond after that incident with the dark-roast batch that triggered the smoke alarms at midnight. It’s little surprise, then, that home roasters everywhere — in wintry places, especially — find themselves drawn like so many moths to the flame of a coffee roaster due to hit retailers soon… the Behmor 1600. Its spec sheet is promising: batches of up to one pound, a number of programmed roast profiles and the ability to tweak them on-the-fly at roast-time, quiet operation so you can hear the audible cues of roast progression, and built-in smoke abatement technology. This latest entry into the home coffee roaster market was unveiled at the recent SCAA show in Long Beach, and was promptly awarded “Best in Show” among new consumer products. That’s an auspicious beginning, and one that’s especially gratifying to Joe Behm, the eponymic roaster’s inventor. But where — and how — did a field application engineer for a semiconductor company become a man on a mission to build and sell home coffee roasters? I decided to find out. To hear him tell it, Joe first discovered the flavors of specialty coffee on a Costa Rican holiday some ten years ago. Traveling through the cloud forests and coffee farms of the Monteverde region of Costa Rica, Joe found coffee as he’d never known it before. “Honestly, this stuff...

Gourmet vs. Freshroast, Part I of II

I really enjoy the consistency the Hearthware Gourmet coffee roaster affords to darker roasts — those that live somewhere on the other side of second crack. I have, however, been underwhelmed by its performance on the lighter side of the roast spectrum — time and again my City roasts –more specifically, everything on the near side of second crack — have cupped with muted flavors, even the brightest of coffees [yeah, even Kenyans] show very little liveliness in the cup, especially when compared to the very bright flavors brought out by the Freshroast roaster. These two roasters, the Hearthware Gourmet and the Freshbeans Freshroast, each go about their business in a decidedly different manner. Sure, they’re both hot-air roasters. But their methods are very different. Today we’ll examine the Freshbeans Freshroast in some depth… The Freshroast employs a fairly simple glass cylinder as a roast chamber. Hot air is jetted up from the bottom of the chamber, and the green coffee burbles up and tumbles down inside that narrow glass chimney. As any given bean roasts it becomes drier, and lighter, and so it rises up the column while greener and more dense beans fall. This method has some inherent issues. The roast chamber is far warmer at the bottom, where the air jets in. It’s possible for beans to become trapped at the bottom of the cylinder –exposed to direct heat– so the temperature has to be strictly managed… especially given the very small roast chamber. Perhaps to compensate, the Freshroast is designed to shut off its heating element at 450 degrees F, restoring the heat again only...

Smithfarms Kona Peaberry, 2001 Crop

Rating: [rating:4/5] It’s a pretty rare thing today when a coffee consumer has the opportunity to communicate with, much less buy from, the coffee farmer. Hawaiian coffees provide a delightful exception, and few, perhaps, are more delightful [coffees and farmers, alike] than Bob and Cea Smith of Smithfarms on the Kona coast of Hawaii. Smithfarms is a five acre family-owned and operated farm, some 1,800 feet up the slope of Mauna Loa [itself 13,300 feet]. Bob and Cea are clearly passionate about their arabica typica coffee trees [and macadamia nut trees, and their honeybees]. While not certified organic, they use no insecticides, their coffee is naturally shade grown, hand-picked and sun dried, and they practice sustainable farming, aided in no small part by Bob’s degree in tropical agriculture. Smithfarms offers two green coffees – “Estate Grade Run” flat berry coffee [a mix of unscreened number 1, fancy and extra fancy grades] and Kona Peaberry. This profile is of the Kona peaberry, as I favor peaberry coffees. There’s little reason to believe that the Estate Grade Run coffee would differ substantially, if at all, from the peaberry’s profile. For a peaberry, these are big beans, and very uniform. I’m finding very few defects, even for a premium coffee like this–about seven or so per pound. [I *have* found a couple very small lava-rock type pebbles. No problem in the air-roaster, but mind your grinders.] Smithfarms has produced what I view as the archetypical Kona coffee–a very clean, light, well-balanced cup. It is intensely fragrant dry, and nearly so brewed in the cup. This is a very bright coffee. It’s acidity...

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