One of my more popular, and shorter, posts was me sharing the fact I bought a coffee plant. I am happy to report it thrived this Summer.
I keep the plant inside and water it once a week or so, whenever the soil is dry about an inch or so down. When I water it I give it a pretty good soak. I probably pour 1 to 1.5 cups of water into the soil. It sits on a table near our kitchen where it gets plenty of indirect sunlight. Basically, this mimics the shade that most coffee plants historically preferred. In the wild coffee usually grows under the canopy of much larger trees.
Unfortunately, I didn't measure the height of the plant when I started but it appears to have added almost two inches of height and a dozen new leaves grew. The gloss of the leaves is what really makes coffee plants look great.
It took me over a year of roasting to fill up one Field Notes full of my observations and scribbles for each roast I did. I recently looked back through the notebook and here are some interesting takeaways from my first roasting log.
My earlier roasts including a lot of notes about what I was smelling. Grass, hay, popcorn, chocolate, burnt popcorn and kettle corn are a few examples.
I tinkered more early on with the speed of the fan on the SR500. My later roasts were a little more “dialed in” so there was less tinkering.
My roasts got longer and so did my quality. I think this speaks to getting better at smelling and hearing the triggers. Early on I was panicking and pulling some of my earlier roasts way to soon.
Even though the SR500 roast chamber is clear, the beans look darker in the roaster than when they are taken out.
With many of my earlier roasts I would let the roaster “cool off” between batches. Now I start the next batch as soon as the previous one is done.
When I started roasting in the garage with the doors open to let in natural light I could see the beans much better in the roast chamber.
Cura Coffee recognizes one of the big downsides to the coffee industry. Poverty. Most coffee growing regions are extremely poor. This is despite the fact that coffee is only second behind oil in terms of global consumption. Some of the reasons the farmers are poor include politics and poor infrastructure. The specialty coffee industry has really tried to raise awareness and help the situation but, like most political issues, it is a tough fight.
According to Cura Coffee…
10% of sale proceeds go to our primary mission of developing sustainable dental care for the remote farming communities who produce our coffee. Since 2008, we’ve seen nearly 4,500 patients and performed more than 7,700 procedures through Foundation for Worldwide Health.
Cura Coffee was founded by a dentist and their goal is clear. Help bring fair pricing on coffee and dental care to the local farmers and their families. The 10% is used to help provide dental care to individuals who would most likely never see a dentist during their lifetime. One of the very interesting ideas Cura is trying out is allowing others to sell their coffee as a fundraiser. You can sell Cura Coffee for your cause or organization and have 20% of the sales go toward helping any cause you choose. Cura still contributes 10% of these sales to their sustainable dental care program.
I don’t typically love Nicaraguan coffees and I have certainly had some better ones and definitely some that were worse. But, at $15 per bag and knowing that a portion of that is going to a great cause somehow makes the cup even better. It is still a very solid cup of coffee on it’s own and I think the idea behind Cura is a great one.
A number of years back I got into craft beers. I dove dip into the community for a little while. I never tried my hand at brewing but I tried a lot of different beers. I went away for a couple of years and gave up beer completely. I gave up grains/wheat/gluten completely. Well, I returned a couple months ago. While I am still Paleo and never eat wheat, I do have a few craft beers every weekend.
The return has been great but what I found amazing was how much growth the craft beer industry went through over those couple of years. Smaller breweries are barely small now. The distribution seems to have increased dramatically.
What does this have to do with coffee?
I see the coffee community at about the same place I feel like the craft beer community was a few years back. It should be interesting to see where coffee is a few years from now. I'm looking forward to it.
I have been roasting on a much more consistent basis for the past couple of months. Why did I go through a period of months where I roasted very little? I got spread too thin with trying to keep up with the “coffee world”. I was too interested in what new devices were popping up on Kickstarter. I was pre-occupied with trying coffees from tons of different roasters (although this really helped me improve my palette for tasting coffees). And, I cared too much about what new things were happening in an industry that quite honestly is growing too fast to keep up with.
You see, I got away from reading stuff from the home roasting community and got caught up in the specialty coffee industry as a whole. There is a big difference. Home roasters are coffee geeks. They want to drink good coffee but they also want to tinker with their roasting and brewing methods. They are always in search for the perfect cup...knowing they will never find it. They are amateurs who do it for the fun of it.
I make no apologies for the fact that I am a big fan of Sweet Maria's. The amount of content and knowledge they give away on their site has no equal. The more of their content I consume the more I realize they are one of the "good guys". They experiment. They share. They aren't scared to fail and they aren't full of shit like so many in the specialty coffee industry.
Since we moved in March I have been able to roast in our garage which is an overall much better experience than trying to do it in a kitchen. I have had some really good success with a couple of Costa Rica Helsars from Sweet Maria’s. The one thing I did have to account for, although only slightly, was the change in the ambient temperature. The garage is much hotter (or colder) than the house. This has shown to change my roast times a bit. But, since I tend to roast more on sight and sound than on specific “recipes” it isn’t a huge problem. I continue to use the FreshRoast SR500 and I am definitely looking forward to an “upgrade” to something that can do larger batches.
I have been going with 100g roasts (green) at a time that come out at around 83-85 grams after roasting. I try to do four batches consecutively which gives me about 340g or 3/4lb of roasted coffee. This can usually carry me for about 7-10 days which works out nicely when trying to keep the coffee I drink fresh. The downside that it takes me over an hour to do the four roasts. I enjoy the roasting, of course. But doing four roasts straight inevitably leads to inconsistencies. Even if I roasted all day long and tracked data meticulously I still couldn’t eliminate these inconsistencies. For example, using the roaster 4 straight times without letting it cool off has an impact on each subsequent roast. None are ever the same for me. This is why I have to go off sight and sound.
Do these inconstancies matter?
Let’s say, for instance, MadCap coffee roasts a batch of XYZ coffee this week and ships out their orders. Next week they roast the same XYZ coffee and ship out more orders. Chemically it is highly likely these orders have some minute differences. My question is, can anyone taste the difference? I doubt it. I am sure some of the coffee elite would say they could. MadCap could also argue that their expensive roaster and roasting software eliminates inconsistencies. For the most part, however, the difference would be so negligible that no customers could realistically tell the difference.
Back to my roasts. There is zero doubt that the roasting I do on my little SR500 is inconsistent. There are too many variables to control and the most important, temperature, is the hardest with the SR500. As long as I get my batches to about the same level I can’t tell the difference after combining them. For me, the result is either good or bad. In fact I have yet to have a roast that was just “ok”. I either liked it a lot or I hated it. When I hate it I just use it for my bulletproof coffee.
My conclusion is that unless you totally screw up a batch, inconsistent roasts do not matter. My guess as to why? Starting with good beans in the first place. Most of Sweet Maria’s beans have a recommended roasting range. For example it may be City+ to Full City. Now that I have quite a number of roasts under my belt it is pretty easy for me to hit such a range. The fact I believe in the coffee Sweet Maria’s sells gives me added confidence.
I spent hours scouring the web and app store last year looking for a roasting app. Finally, here is one.
RoastWatch is a simple, yet powerful iOS tool to help you track and log your coffee roast profiles.
I will be using the app this week.
No, I do not actually expect to harvest coffee beans from this guy. But, when coffee plants thrive they can make great houseplants. Their shiny leaves are extremely nice to have around. I called my local nursery and they do not sell coffee plants. That wasn't a suprise. I was suprised, however, to find one on Amazon. I have had it for a few weeks and it is adding new leaves every week.
Smaller coffee companies (small in comparison to Starbucks) are getting some big funding and making some big growth. Supersonic could be confused with a tech start-up in the way it has built it’s team. It is also an example of where I hope high end coffee is headed. Cool, fun and beautifully designed.
But, what about taste? I have tried a lot of coffees. One thing that I have noticed is that it seems to be a highly replicable process to make really solid coffee if it is sourced and roasted by people who care. Although distribution can be tough, it is easier than ever to get your product and brand out there. People are making full careers in the coffee industry. They enjoy what they do and look at it as a career. Call me crazy but if you assemble a team like Supersonic has done then you can’t help but source, roast and sell great specialty coffee.
Enter the money. Venture capitalists know good businesses and they are not scared to plow money into specific industries. A large part of the success of a lot of tech companies can be traced to funding by VC's. These VC's see something in the coffee industry that they find very similar and they obviously believe it is a great opportunity. The investment in Blue Bottle by a ton of VC's is an obvious example.
I am just a coffee fan and occasional home roaster. I am certainly not all that tuned into the coffee industry. But, I do think where it is headed can only be a good thing. I am sure there are a lot of people who wish companies like Peet’s and Blue Bottle had stayed small. What they need to understand is their growth is what will bring investor money into the industry even more. Hopefully, giving more roasters a chance to make it out of a garage and into a space where they can roast and sell their great coffees.