Monday, August 10, 2009

DIY Coffee

I love the crazy diversity of my neighborhood. Some of my neighbors like to drink enormous quantities of soda and then toss the cups in the street. Others drink beer while sitting in their parked cars, listening to 70's R&B. And then there are the east African families whose serious love of coffee necessitates home roasting. When I arrive home from work around 9:15, the air in my neighborhood is often heavy with the scent of coffee roasting in the tiny apartments scattered throughout Parkrose.

I imagine these women, swathed in colorful cottons, carefully tending their beans in a cast iron skillet or perhaps some sort of fascinating bit of specialized equipment, passed down through families and carefully wrapped for the journey from Ethiopia to the US. What I never pictured was a hot air popcorn popper but, as it turns out, these silly things make decent one-batch coffee roasters.

Intrigued by this idea, I asked my friend Doreen for some green beans (which, because they are decaffeinated, are actually a light tan color before roasting). Doreen and her husband run ZBeanz, a local coffee roasting company whose coffee I love. While I was curious to try roasting my own coffee, I had no illusions that I'd produce anything brilliant and wisely bought a bag of their Sumatra decaf for backup.

You can read about popcorn popper coffee roasting all over the web, but I found this page at Coffee Geek to be particularly informative. After reading thoroughly I took the popper outside to avoid setting off smoke alarms. I put in about half a cup of beans, turned the thing on, and puttered around in the garden for 5 minutes or so while things warmed up. I was soon rewarded with a lovely aroma as the beans began to darken. I peered carefully into the popper to keep an eye on the darkening beans and soon noticed that along with the rich coffee smell I was also breathing in the less lovely aroma of melting plastic! When I realized the hood for the popper was starting to melt I unplugged things and decided the beans were dark enough.

I immediately heated water and ground the beans for my French press. The resulting coffee was good but not as full bodied as I would have liked. My 16 year old coffee loving son declared it "bland". And he was right. We both prefer a darker roast which was prevented by my early shutdown of the popper.

I may pursue this more, just because I love the idea of doing my own roasting. On the other hand, I don't love the idea of inhaling plastic fumes at all. Thank goodness I always no where to go for more excellent coffee!

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Dr. Eviatar said...

Hmmm, fresh-roasted coffee, a lovely thought.

Question about the popper: my kids like to use it for making popcorn ;-). Does the use for coffee make it smell/taste of coffee forevermore? IOW, I have a separate grinder for herbs/seeds because my coffee grinder could not possibly be used for that ... would one need a dedicated popper?

Lisa said...

I've been roasting my coffee with an air popper for about three years now. The key is getting an older, say 70's vintage air popper, because the new ones use a different kind of plastic, which will indeed melt. My older popper hasn't melted at all and no plastic fumes to taint the coffee. I purchased mine at Goodwill for 1.99, but I haven't seen many lately. I have a friend who just bought an older one on Ebay because she couldn't find on around. I buy green beans from a local roaster (Caravan Coffee in Newberg) and for less than $4/pound we have sustainably grown, freshly roasted, French pressed coffee every morning!

Also, if you have a sturdier popper, you can roast as dark as you like. I prefer a medium city roast, but you can do a French roast in there, too.

And to Dr. Eviatar, yes, you need a dedicated popper. It gets very infused with coffee oils.

Andrew Wilder said...

I haven't roasted my own beans yet, but I did help a friend get started. I remember hearing that you should let the beans sit for 12-24 hours after roasting before grinding and brewing. Maybe that'll help?

Alisa@Foodista said...

Wow,I didnt know I could do that with our old popcorn popper!I cant wait to try this.