Sunday, July 2, 2017


I've mentioned before that Big Mike doesn't just make a cup of coffee; he buys green coffee beans, roasts them himself, and proceeds from there.   Glen, the proprietor of Filthie's Thunderbox heard about this and was on it faster than a Jack Russel Terrier after a big, fat, rat.  What follows is a link and a second hand lecture about coffee beans, roasting, and brewing your own coffee.

There are many places you can go to buy green coffee beans and related supplies, but the best is to be had at Sweet Maria's. The proprietor travels to any number of odd, out of the way places where the chief legal export is coffee.  He talks to the growers.  Before he buys any beans, he roasts, grinds, and brews a cup of coffee.  Then, assuming he buys a quantity of the beans, he writes a detailed review of the bean in question, where it comes from, the weather conditions, and adds a host of adjectives as obnoxious as any traditional epicure reviewing an impertinent new California wine.  The green coffee beans then go on sale at the Sweet Maria's warehouse (order online).

The thing to remember here is that you're getting a coffee bean selection that is quite unique.  The other thing to remember is that if you find something you like, there is absolutely no guarantee that it will ever be available again.  People change, weather varies from year to year, and next year's harvest might not be any good at all.  Be prepared to live with that.

Roasting your own beans requires a quantity of green coffee beans.  When they're green, the beans will keep for several years.  After they're roasted, they have a shelf life of two weeks at the most.  Buy a pound of beans - just pick one.

Next you'll need a roaster.  Fortunately, you can use a hot air popcorn machine to roast coffee, so long as the weather cooperates.  You need clear weather, with an outdoor temperature of 70° F or higher.  You'll also need a short, heavy gauge wire extension cord, about 10 feet or so.  The wire should be about as thick as Big Mike's little finger, and Mike doesn't have hands; he has chow hooks.  Hot air poppers have a cord on them that's about a foot long, and you'll want to do this away from the side of your house.  If you use a regular extension cord, the cord will heat up and the popper won't work correctly.  You'll also need a metal colander.  Not a plastic colander; a metal colander.  No, I'm not just screwing around with you.

You also need oven mitts.  I recommend the glove type mitts that are proof against an oxyacetylene torch, but that's just me.  You'll end up having to handle the popcorn popper, and the thing will be hotter than the hinges on the gates of hell.  Get the mitts. 

So far, we got:
  • Green coffee beans
  • Hot air popcorn popper
  • Heavy gauge extension cord
  • Metal colander
  • Good weather, at least 70° F and no precipitation
  • Oven mitts

Plug the popper in and brace yourself.  Start with about three ounces of beans.  Put them into the popcorn hopper and turn the machine on, then listen to what happens.  Yards and yards of black, oily smoke will roll out of the popper.  Just imagine what this smoke would do to the old Ball and Chain's kitchen, and how much hell you'd catch for pulling a stunt like this.  Now do you see why you're outside?  Watch while the smoke and bean husks drift out and over to your neighbor's house, maybe through the neighbor's window.  I'm digressing.  I want a drink.

You roast beans by the sound of the bean, not by time, not by sight.  You'll see the beans bouncing around in the hot air popper (if they aren't bouncing around, you blew it genius.  You put too many beans in the hopper, and the hot air won't stir them around so they'll roast evenly.  Use fewer beans next time!).  Now listen.  You'll hear a popping noise similar to popcorn popping, only softer.  It'll start up the same way, too.  First one pop, then a few more, then a lot of popping.  This is called the first crack, and it's important.  The beans have 'popped' or expanded to the point where they have shed the husk, and are now roasting in earnest.  Once your beans are past the first crack, wait about 20 seconds and unplug the popper.  Pour the beans into the colander to cool (and stop the roasting process before you burn the whole business up).  The first crack happens about 3 minutes into the roasting process; the entire process should not take over 5 minutes.  The longer you wait after the first crack, the darker the roast.  Dark roasts are not always desirable, as these are high quality beans you're using.

If you want French Roast coffee, you'll have to wait for the second crack.  The second crack happens after the first crack, and it happens because the moisture in the beans turns to steam and the bean explodes.  Since all French Roast coffee tastes the same, I think this is a waste, but it's your coffee.  If you want to ruin it, go ahead.

Any roasting that takes place after the second crack results in a lump of carbonized, biodegradable stuff that you can run through an industrial grinder and give to your neighbor, calling it coffee.  See how he likes it.

As soon as you dump the beans into the colander, you'll remember that you forgot to bring an oven mitt or two with you, so run into the kitchen and get a pair of oven mitts.  Feel free to curse Mad Jack for not telling you that you'd need an oven mitt.

Repeat the roasting process as you like, but remember this - once roasted, the shelf life of the beans is two weeks on the outside.  Got it?

Leave the roasted beans in the colander for 48 hours.  The beans give off some kind of toxic gas during this period, so keeping them in a cool place outside may be a good idea.

Congrats!  You now have roasted coffee beans.  Now you need a storage container and a grinder.  Keep the roasted beans in a dark, air tight container.  Grind only the amount you are going to use right now for coffee.  Ground coffee beans have a shorter shelf life than whole beans.

This being your first experience and all, just use a cheap coffee grinder.  One of those things that looks like a tiny blender will work fine.  Grind up the beans and taste the coffee.  If it's better than Maxwell House, you did real good.

You can buy all kinds of roasters, grinders, and brewers.  Experiment a little and see what you might like.  I think Big Mike has around a half-dozen different brewing systems, including a complex vacuum system that would include a licensing  requirement if it were sold in any first world country.  Try a French Press, which you can generally find a garage sale.

Good luck.


Glen Filthie said...

Very interesting. I've always drunk whatever's in the jerry can, and recently I have become so debased and degenerate that I even drink the swill from Tim Horton's.

I feel the need to redeem myself Jack - and I appreciate the primer. The wife will probably want to get all over this too.

Mad Jack said...

Once you start drinking real coffee, the swill served at any fast food place tastes like - swill.