A few years ago, my son, who is a writer/editor for a magazine, mentioned that he was evaluating a small-batch coffee roaster for an article he was writing about the ubiquitous brew. Being a coffee connoisseur (at least in my own mind), I paid close attention to what he wrote. Months later, after I had read some articles and books about the subject, I decided to give it the acid test: I bought a small roaster. The roaster, a FreshRoast 8, could cost about $100 at that time, but I googled the daylights out of it and found a vendor who dealt in “refurbs” and got one for $87 including shipping!
The process is quite simple, I found. You load up the roasting chamber with two scoops of green beans, set the timer, and wait for the device to do its job. Like a car, where you can drive from Point A to Point B without ever considering how or why it works, you don’t need to know any more about the roaster. The part that makes it fun is where you start considering the effects of variations: Do I use Ethiopian beans, or Mexican, or Costa Rican? Do I roast it for 8 minutes or 6 minutes? Why does an 8-minute roast look so oily? What makes it so noisy after a few minutes (called the “first crack”) and again a few minutes later (called the “second crack”)? What changes can I make which affects the quality or richness?
Once you start considering the questions and searching for answers, it captures your attention and your curiosity. What got my creative and investigative juices really flowing was the realization that I could actually make the perfect cup of java from what looks like dried green peas, controlling the process every step of the way. To my wife’s amazement (and perhaps, consternation) I researched and bought all kinds of green beans from all over the world, roasted them at all combinations of time and heat, ground them in all kinds of grinders (yes, there are many types of grinding devices, some with finite control of the coarseness/fineness of the grind) and brewed in all kinds of coffee brewers — percolator, vacuum, drip, etc. Her chagrin is triggered by how short a time I use a particular brewer before I start shopping for the next perfect device. You can really create a myriad variety of tasty — or nasty — and delightful cups of joe (my least favorite, percolator brew, will never cross my lips again!). Coffee has an astounding range of possible variations when you consider you can now choose where the bean came from, method of cultivation (full sun, shade, etc.), time of roast, temperature of roast (to some extent), fineness and method of grind, method of brewing (including type of filter), even the kind of water you use (tap, filtered tap, distilled, cold, room-temperature, etc.)! Best of all, you can control the ‘when’ of it: you can roast today and grind and drink tomorrow.
But wait, there’s more! Half of this post’s title is “That Pays”!
I found that coffee beans at the store vary in price and quality, depending on where they came from, how old they are, how you grind them, and how you brew your coffee. Some of us will pay upwards of $18 – $25 dollars a pound and convince ourselves that it’s “heavenly coffee”! But, when you consider that by the time you purchase and drink such store-bought java, it’s weeks, or more likely many months old already. Stale even as you check out at the grocery store!
On the other hand, excellent green coffee beans can be had for prices under $5.00/pound! And green beans have a very long shelf life, though even green coffee’s flavor can fade over time. Nonetheless, excellent coffee made from beans I’ve had over two years is not unusual. Find a dealer who only stocks the current year’s crop and whose coffee doesn’t roast to a mildew tainted flavor and you’ll have green beans you can depend on for more than a year. You can obtain information like that if you find and join the many discussion groups who are on the internet.
So, let’s see: I can buy coffee at $5.00 per pound, roast it to my specs, and drink it only days, if not hours, after roasting! I’d say I have a tasty hobby that pays! One great book for a comprehensive look at coffee roasting history, technique and where-to-buy is this by Kenneth Davids.