Sunday, December 12, 2010

November 13/19, 2010 – Coffee Roasting Day

November 13/19, 2010 – Coffee Roasting Day
My neighbor dona Rosa usually loads me with goodies that I still have plenty. For having a large family, she keeps giving me way too many squashes or mandioc starch fritters that we can manage to eat.
This time she failed to get me coffee ground in time for me not to run out of it. Reluctantly, after many months, I bought a meager commercial coffee bag. Not a bad brand, but lacked that fresh taste to it. Homemade roasted coffee beans has sharp aroma, much more than the body and the density of the drink. It tends to be bitter, and perhaps, with high caffeine content. This way, homemade roasted coffee tends to be lighter with thinner body, like French roast. We also like our coffee finely ground, resembling wheat flour, opposed to the coarse American coffee.
I was, then, inspired to buy a coffee roaster. It is a rustic piece of equipment, made artesanally out of tin or zinc. It is a cilindric tube with a crank and a little opening. That’s all. It cost about US$10.00. It is cheap even for Brazilian standards. It is painted black on the outside, and on the instructions read “burn it before roasting coffee”. Like many other uncooked food or equipments, it didn’t come with instructions on how to roast coffee.
My other neighbor gave me a brief tip on how to roast coffee, “when it starts smoking, you can take it out. Pile high if you think it is not quite done”. And that was it. I was also trusting that my father would help me with my very first roasting. When I showed him my new toy, he commented “this is not the good one. It doesn’t roast uniformily. The round one that I had hang you threw it away”. “It was all rusted”, I defended myself. It looked harmful to my vision as well to my health. My father brought me peeled coffee and told me that he was “running against time” on his farm job, meaning that he didn’t want to help me with coffee roasting. And he was gone with his tractor. I was left with peeled coffee, right, but mixed with impurities. I hired my daughter for 25 cents to help me picking cement pieces, dirt, twigs, irregular beans, and even bugs. I just didn’t want to find dog poops. You may not know, but after harvest, coffee beans are left air drying on a cemented patch on a open sky for days, until they are ready to be stored without risk of fermenting. During this time, birds, dogs, cats, dirty boots may pay a visit to coffee beans that are spread and mixed several times a day, heaped and covered at night.

With my spirit prepared, I hauled a good amount of orange wood and improvised a suport for my coffee roaster, an abandoned bbq grill frame. After dripping used kitchen grease, the fire burned beautifully.
The first trial batch of coffee seemed to take only a few minutes. It soon started to smoke, I called my father who (for his lack of luck) had come back to refill the water tank. He dumped the roasting coffee onto a large sieve and shuffled it a few times. He told me I could roast a little less.
My second batch was the one. Almost 4 pounds of coffee beans, I started to hand crank the equipment. “Don’t do it too fast or the beans with be stuck on one end”. It was a lot heavier than the first one, and soon the roasted started to move around, making it difficult to crank it . With poor control over the roaster and the fire, which was getting hotter and hotter, I howled for my daughter to bring me a pair of leather work gloves. She came 10 minutes later while I was burning. “Oh, I was playing with Tobby – the new dog”. I understood why all the farm women have that tan on their faces. It is not just the sun, but the fire of their roasting coffee, baking oven, wood burning stove.
Again, I tell you that farm job is always horrendously hard on repetitions. Mixing, mixing, mixing, or pounding, pounding, pounding, or kneading, kneading, kneading, or in this case, cranking, cranking, cranking. We cannot stop or the final product may suffer. That’s true for jam making, soap making, dulce de leche making, and no exception, coffee roasting. I was about to throw up by the time I finished roasting only about 5 lb. I didn’t know what to do first. To grind and try some, to take a shower (but afraid of suffering from temperature shock), to drink water and spoiled the taste of fresh coffee.
I took a warm shower, washed my roasted hair, fixed newly roasted coffee, sipped it while writing my journal. The coffee tasted a bit too “green”, not fully roasted. A bit disappointing. But I am hopeful on those batches that I roasted longer, defying my father’s advice.
November 19, 2010 – More about coffee roasting
For coffee roasting apprentice all over the world not to despair: badly roasted coffee can be repaired, in spite of what experts may say.
After several days leaving the half roasted coffee beans over a big sieve and feeling dismayed every time I saw them, I finally decided to re-roasted.
I opened the kitchen door that leads to the yard, even with all trees and shade, I gave up on going outside. It was too hot. But I was up after a nap, and in urgent need of a good strong sugary cup of coffee. Desire spoke higher than laziness. Should I say, desire made me creative to find an alternative to roasting coffee on a blazing fire outside, turning the crank squatted, while thick smoke brushed my hair and slapped my face, as if it was saying “take it, take it, don’t you want to be a country woman?”
I confess it was not my idea, I had seen on TV, but the credit is mine for remembering it. One can roast coffee in a heavy pot on a top stove. The good side is that I can see the coffee turning dark and stop at the proper moment (as if it was easy). The down side is when it starts to smoke ravenously and spreads in every corner of the house. Thank God I was fixing coffee beans for one cup of coffee only, otherwise…otherwise it was going to smoke the same way.
Just a little note (the experts taught me): take coffee beans out of the roaster (or the pot) before they become too dark, as they continue roasting with their own stored temperature. Then, quickly, spread over a big sieve and fan.
I believe, the more coffee beans, sooner we need to take them out of fire.
I took them a little bit too early, but then, I didn’t know what shade of brown they should have been. After roasting on a pot, I have an idea when to dump them. I heavily advice (if roasting alone for the first time), try to roast one cup at a time on a pot, so you can learn the right roasting degree you want.
Also, my father told me that the coffee beans should be very shiny when properly roasted. But don’t let them burn, or you will get a stomachache.
The half roasted coffee I drunk tasted rather sour and smelled like raw coffee, and made me wired. I don’t know if it is real, but it could have had a lot more caffeine than properly roasted coffee.
Now, my pot roasted coffee tasts fine. Still, I need to learn how to make it full bodied, with low to medium acidity, deep dark color, sweet tasting even without the sugar, natural bitterness, and generous aroma. Oh, yeah, superb flavor.

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