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Saturday, February 6, 2010

Coffee Coffee Coffee!

I'm not a daily coffee drinker, but I do love a good cup. For some reason, there seems to be only one coffee shop in Santa Fe that makes a good cup of coffee--our wonderful friends at Cafe Phenix (the NY Times thinks so too).

We wanted to up our game at home by experimenting with roasting our own fresh coffee from green beans. We ordered our beans from sweetmarias.com, a website that will teach you more than you ever cared to know about the complexities of coffee in its various incarnations. What I love about Sweet Marias (aside from its encyclopaedic descriptions of each variety they offer), is its commitment to fair trade purchases. In fact, they have a program called Farm Gate, which allows their representatives to purchase coffee directly from the grower, with no middle man. FarmGate coffees guarantee that farmers received at least 50% over fair trade minimums for their beans, but often farmers get 100%+ over fair trade minimums. It feels good to know that you are buying coffee whose price has truly been fairly negotiated by a company that has direct relationships with growers.

We bought two different Farm Gate coffees for our first attempt at roasting: a Nicaraguan
"Mama Mina Microlot" and an organic Peruvian "Cusco Canelon - Tomas Ovalle". I always try to support Nicaraguan coffee growers for the selfish reason that I lived there for a summer as a volunteer. We decided to try roasting the Nicaraguan first.

We don't have a fancy roasting device, so we tried the less precise oven-roasting method. We set the oven to 500 degrees, spread the beans out flat on a cookie sheet, and waited for the "first crack", when the beans first begin to pop, sort of like popcorn. We stirred the beans around a few times to promote even roasting, and used a pictorial roasting guide to guess when we thought the coffee was roasted to "City+", the roast recommended for this particular coffee. When it looked right, we took it out of the oven and cooled by putting it in a colander and taking it outside. When you roast coffee at home, there is chaff that comes off the beans, which need to be winnowed. This turned out to be a pretty simple process of blowing on the beans, stirring, and repeating.

After roasting, the coffee needs to sit for a minimum of four hours to oxidize and off-gas. We left the finished beans overnight, and woke up this morning eager to taste the fruits of our labor. We made the coffee in a french press (our only coffee-making device) and sat down to take our first sip. The bag describes the flavor profile of the coffee thusly: "Guatemala-like brightness, very well-structured with sugar cane sweetness, mild floral and fruit tones, strawberry and pear, caramel." When I took my first sip, I immediately noticed a much more complex flavor than any other coffee I've had. It was akin to tasting a wine--several different flavors and stages presented themselves. Unfortunately, after that first impression came a fairly strong bitter quality. I added a tiny bit of sugar so that I could enjoy the other flavors of the coffee. I actually think we might have brewed it too dark (duh!), though it could be the guerrilla roasting process we employed.

The roasting process was easy, and the green beans are less expensive and higher quality than pre-roasted store-bought beans. Not to mention the fresh-roasted factor.

And now, as a reward for reading to the end of the post, I present you with a star-studded scene from Jim Jarmusch's classic ode to coffee culture, Coffee and Cigarettes:


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