I really hate flavored coffees (e.g. hazel cream). I generally prefer African and Asian coffees. My favorite coffee of all time was a Celebes Kolossi I bought in a grocery store(!) in Truckee(!), California about twenty years ago. It was as impressive a coffee as the two 1961 first growth Bordeaux's I have had. I haven't had the same quality of coffee since, but that hasn't stopped me from trying.
Now there is wide availability of home coffee roasters and relatively exotic green beans, both at reasonable prices, which have the potential to seriously improve our coffee quality. I haven't purchased roasted beans for several years, so this page now reflects the same obsession.
Sweet Maria's Home Coffee Roasting
This company deals ONLY in green coffee and home roasting equipment. Their hot-air roasting setup works well, much better than my own attempt to use a hot-air popcorn popper. As with any home roasting, it will take a few tries to get it just right, but the effort is worth it. When I say worth it, I mean always better than your typical local "gourmet coffee" store. Green beans keep for months without any loss of flavor, so you won't feel compelled to use it all immediately as you might with roasted beans.
They have added more equipment over the last year, but my first choice of roaster is still their medium-wattage hot-air popcorn popper (see more detail below). They a have a superb selection of green coffees.
Their listserv for homeroasters is a revelation. You will be amazed at the variety and depth of homeroasting experience out there, but you will be bored by the sort-of-scientific roasting experiments. That said, this listserv and site are a good example of community on the web -- it really works. This is mostly due to the light-handed leadership of Tom, the co-owner. A friend of mine went up to Oakland and visited him some time back -- he's a good guy.
These people are fanatics. Henry, the owner and buyer, knows his beans. He is reputed to be an excellent roaster, but I have little knowledge of that. I do know he can find great coffees from small farms. Available green or roasted.
Connoisseur Coffee Company
Even in the bay area this is not a well-known coffee roaster, but it does a land-office business in the area (40 miles south of San Francisco). More importantly, they will roast to your specific order as few as two pounds of beans. They go through about 4-8 bags (~150 pounds ea.) of green Celebes coffee beans a year.
There sure is a lot of hokum on this. While everyone can agree that percolated coffee is terrible, even middle America has figured this out. The debate usually centers around, "which form of drip coffee making is best". I have found that for everyday use, drip or French press coffee is great if the water is boiling hot. The two methods produce different tastes, primarily because of the paper in filters and the sediment in the French press methods. The paper overtone can be largely eliminated by making at least three cups of coffee at one time. Most commercial coffee makers fail badly because of low water temperature. You only really need boiling water, a cone, and some paper; even paper towels work.
The sediment via the French press method is not really objectionable, just different. It really helps to have a burr grinder to keep the grounds size uniform. There is a wonderful scene in "Blackhawk Down" where one of the characters makes French Press coffee. I use a cup-sized french press for camping, but I do drip at home.
There are many ways now to roast coffee at home. There is an excellent book on this process, Home Coffee Roasting by Kenneth Davids. Highly recommended. Sweet Marias has a great email list to subscribe to and sells many types of roaster.
One way to roast coffee at home include putting green beans on a cookie sheet and put them in the oven to roast. The result isn't very even, but it's not bad either. The trick is to pull the beans when they start seriously smoking, which is hard to do if you can't see inside the oven very well.
Another (not recommended) way is to put the green beans in a skillet and heat them on the stove top, stirring constantly with a fork. This produces very uneven results, but you can't miss the "smoke point."
A third way is to buy a hot-air popcorn popper and custom-cut a small piece of 1/4'' or finer wire mesh to cover the pot opening. Put a small amount of green beans in the popper and turn it on. The result is even, the "smoke point" is easy to spot, and the process is fast -- about five-seven minutes. The drawback is that the heat of some types of hot air popcorn makers is too high. This is not too bad if you like dark roasts, but if you like light roasts, the insides of the beans will still be green when the outsides reach the desired color. If your house is lightly powered, sometimes turning on another appliance while you are roasting will bring the temperature down just enough.
A fourth way is to buy an integrated hot-air (popcorn) roasting kit from Sweet Maria's. It works well. This is better than my "third way" mentioned above. The key is to pick the right hot air popcorn popper. Unless you want to buy a bunch of hot air popcorn poppers and enjoy testing them, I suggest buying their package. The price is right ($30-40) and they work.
The Unimax is expensive, but the most idiot-proof.
A very thorough review of home coffee roasters by Kenneth Davids used to be listed at www.coffeereview.com. I wish he would do an update...
A critical concern is how you as the user handle the smoke. If you want to roast inside the house, the unit producing the least smoke is the Unimax. The heating element is at the TOP of the unit and seems to reduce the smoke by re-burning it. Even if you don't have a hood over the stove, you might be able to use it indoors. The Hearthware Precision and hot-air popcorn poppers can be used under a stove hood. They direct the smoke in an orderly way, and although some smoke will float around the kitchen, it won't be unbearable. For unbearable smoke in the kitchen, even with a powerful hood, the Hearthware Gourmet is incredible. This unit directs the smoke to the four corners of the compass, making stove hoods ineffective. After roasting 3-4 batches, I gave my unit to a coworker (who had introduced me to the Hearthware Precision before this review came out) His kitchen has no hood so he has to roast outdoors anyway.
A second concern is how to know when to stop the roast. The two Hearthware models let you see the roast, but without a color wheel it is hard to judge what the roast will look like, especially if you never clean the glass (you're not supposed to clean the glass!). I found it easy to under- and over-roast using these units. The Unimax doesn't let you see the roast, but it compensates somewhat by roasting repeatably. I recently pulled the hot-air popcorn popper I bought from Sweet Maria's out of storage to see how it would do against these units. The view of the beans in the popper was as good as in the Hearthware units. However, much more important, in my opinion, is that the "crack" is much more distinct in the popper than any of the automatic units I've tried. The first crack is obvious, and the second crack is both obvious and precise. Using the second crack in the popper I could get exactly the right roast every time. The Fresh Roast produces as distinct a second crack as the hot-air poppers, and you can see the color well.
A third concern is that hot-air popcorn poppers were not included in the Kenneth Davids review. The $30-something popper produced better tasting coffee than the reviewed units I have and they did it more precisely (my ears are better than my eyes). The only possible issue is the chaff, which the Sweet Maria's popper didn't scatter (...much) beyond the bowl I put under it. I have used more powerful poppers that needed a kind of muzzle on the opening. OK, the popper is cheaper, better, faster, quieter, handles smoke OK, handles chaff sort-of-OK. This is a no-brainer if you're roasting under a hood.
Last modified: 05/08/2006
|Top of page|