Well, I didn't actually make them, I mean I didn't grow them in my garden or anything. But still, I had something to do with their transition to that state.
If you didn't know, I'm a bit of a coffee snob. If someone offers me a cup of coffee and I accept, and they immediately take the can of Maxwell House out of the freezer, I always have second thoughts. Sometimes I'll change my mind and say I'd like tea instead, or sometimes I'll choke it down if I'm trying to be polite. I think "Good to the Last Drop" is probably one of the biggest and oldest marketing lies out there. In other words, I prefer to grind my own beans and I am partial to a darker roast and using a french press.
And then it all went to hell, because I read a stupid article on the stupid internet about how I could roast my own stupid coffee using nothing but a stupid $20 ebay popcorn popper.
I had to try it. Apparently the popper I wanted was called a WestBend Poppery, or Poppery II. I found a Poppery II cheap, so I Bought it Now, baby. Then I went on a search for green coffee beans, having visions of the sweet, sweet aroma of freshly roasted coffee wafting through my house.
I researched a few other things, too. Technically, coffee is "stale" about 5 days after it's roasted. You can slow that down with vacuum packing, but once you open your bag, use it up quick. Green coffee beans supposedly stay fresh and good for 6 months to a year in their unroasted state. I learned about chaff, and first crack and second crack. I found a place called Sweet Maria's, and I ordered up some coffee.
I got the popcorn popper first. It sounded like a worn out blow dryer with a bad bearing, but it got pretty hot and looked clean. I cleaned it up a little more, found a glass lantern chimney to replace the plastic top, and waited for my coffee to arrive.
I had ordered the "sampler pack" which means I got about 8 pounds of coffee total, with four different types of beans from different countries. It finally showed up a few days after the popper, and I was ready to roll.
The labels on the beans read like terms you'd hear at a wine or beer tasting. "Fruited bittersweet balance, chocolate biscuit, plum, sweet spices like cinnamon, ginger, clove and coriander" was on one package, and another read "Dried mango, peach, tamarind, rustic chocolate" (Rustic chocolate? That doesn't sound very appetizing.) I was excited. I had to try this asap.
I set everything up on the kitchen counter and plugged the popper in. I opened one of the bags of coffee and dumped in around 4-5 ounces of green beans, and got a wooden spoon to stir it with until it lost enough moisture to stir itself.
The first thing I noticed was that roasting coffee smells like ass. It smells nothing at all like coffee, and instead of a heavenly aroma of coffee wafting through my house, instead what I had was something that smelled like rotten grass slowly heating up in the sun. I turned on the fan over the stove, and started stirring the beans with the handle of the spoon. Immediately I noticed another problem. In order to look at the coffee, I had to put my head directly over the top of the popper, and since it's a hot air popper, air that smelled like ass was blowing directly into my face. It was like being forced to talk to someone with bad breath because they have something you want. After a minute or so, I noticed the chaff starting to come off the beans. This is the outer skin of the coffee bean, and it's very light. Think of that thin covering over a peanut when you take it out of the shell. Like that. This isn't so bad, I thought, leaning in for another stir.
Suddenly, I was in the middle of a brown, smelly snowstorm and chaff was blowing all over the kitchen. I had half-expected some kind of mess, which is why I decided to do this when my wife wasn't home. It was then that I heard what they call "first crack" and it sounds exactly like it was described. Sort of a popcorn-y sound, but not quite. It was less violent, maybe more like the sound you'd hear if you broke a candy cane in half. Suddenly, all the beans were doing this, and the popper was getting pretty lively. The smell didn't really improve much, however.
After most of the chaff had blown away, the beans started to brown. After about 14 minutes of this, I heard what I thought was "second crack" which sounds just like first crack except it's one higher. I wanted a nice dark roast, so I kept things going for a bit, watching the color of the beans until I had what I wanted. The fan over the stove wasn't cutting it, and the room was getting a little bit hazy. I was pretty sure that I saw the beginning of a little smoke, but I wasn't positive. Maybe the bean fumes were getting to me.
When I had a color I could live with, I unplugged the popper and dumped the beans into a metal colander, in order to quickly cool them. As I swished them around, I leaned in to take a little whiff, and sadly, things hadn't improved. It didn't smell like rotten grass anymore, but it certainly didn't smell like coffee. But that was OK. It was my first try, and I figured I did something wrong. I dumped the beans into an airtight container, and cleaned up my mess. Mission accomplished, sort of.
That night while I was in bed, I kept smelling that ass-grass roasting coffee smell. My wife didn't mention anything when she got home, so I figured airing out the house had worked OK, but this was really strong. It took me a few minutes to realize it was my hair. From sticking my face over the popper, I had that oily stench pretty much embedded in my scalp.
The next morning, I went downstairs to the kitchen and opened the container and...it was coffee! Honest to god, fantastic smelling, fresh-roasted coffee that smelled like you would expect it to. I brewed it up, and I thought it tasted pretty good for my first attempt. It wasn't as strong as Starbucks, but it wasn't as bitter either. I am now going to try a bunch of other bean types, and roasting times, just to see what I end up with. Also, I'm doing this in my shop now. No more kitchen counter. Here's a little video of that roast in the first picture when it was almost done.
I've tried all four in my sampler pack and here's what I've written down in my log so far:
Ethiopia Harar Longberry:
What I am supposed to taste: Hints of dried mango, peach, tamarind, and spicy cinnamon
What I actually taste: Weak-ass Coffee
Sumatra Dry-hulled Aceh Bukit:
What I am supposed to taste: Fruity, chocolate biscuit, plum, sweet spices
What I actually taste: Your Basic Really Good Restaurant Coffee
Brazil Cerrado DP Fazenda Aurea:
What I am supposed to taste: creamy body, very nutty, chocolate in darker roasts, banana, melon
What I actually taste: Average Coffee
Costa Rica Bajo Canet de Tarrazu:
What I am supposed to taste: Brightness (?), heavy fruit aromatics, banana, melon, orange peel, dark brown sugar
What I actually taste: More Coffee
So clearly I have to work on my tasting skills, because I have none. They all taste like coffee to me. Good, and fresh, but similar in nature. I need to learn more about the limitations of this corn popper method, too. Maybe that's my problem. Maybe I need to get an $800 home roaster so I can turn into a pretentious dickhead and pretend I taste all that stuff in those descriptions.
More so, I mean.