Monday, January 31, 2011

Archer Farms: Peru San Ignacio Review

Coffee lovers, if there was one piece of advice I could give, it would be, "Don't buy hype."  Fancy hipster designs, 15-20 dollars for 12oz of coffee, or special certifications do not make good coffee.  Often peripheral points such advertising, price point, and organic designations can influence our judgments, i.e. "I payed 20 dollars for X coffee, it must good."  

Certainly, Archer Farms "Peru San Ignacio" coffee presents itself being a select roast.  It is packaged in a tin can, points out the coffee is directly traded from the farmer to Archer Farms (skipping over the middle man), and has a little card explaining where the coffee is sourced and what you should taste.  Cool!  Yet, the price point is key: 8 dollars.  While, the presentation is rather good, the taste backs up the marketing around it.  Most importantly, the coffee is dripping with flavor.

As an espresso, the instant the liquid gingerly washed over my tongue, it began tingling.  Pear notes and the medium body mixed together creating a pleasant coffee bath for my tongue (there's probably a better way to state this, but I like the image).  At the end, I detected some bittersweet chocolate flavors. The banana taste eluded me.  What surprised me was the tingly sensation and I considered it the standout part of the espresso!

The French Press mellowed the tingly acidity, and brought out the bitter chocolaty flavors (in a good way), producing a unique, well rounded cup of coffee.  Though, I am partial to the espresso manifestation of it.    

The blog Coffee Adventures reviewed this coffee, and came to a similar conclusion.  Archer Farms Peru San Ignacio impressed me with its nuanced and delicate flavors, all at an affordable price.  Available at Targets, I highly recommend it as a "go-to" coffee when you need to pick something up. You will not be disappointed, if you keep in mind the price you are paying for it. 


Sunday, January 30, 2011

DC Coffee Map: A Visual Guide to DC Coffee Houses

View Metro Espresso's guide to DC area coffee in a larger map

Visiting DC soon? I have created a "Coffee Map," for quality coffee houses in the District.  This list is certainly not exhaustive, but a spotlight on a handful of places you should visit if you are looking for good coffee.  I have not included Alexandria, Arlington, or Maryland suburbs.

If you are a tourist walking the mall, the best bets are Chinatown Coffee Company and M.E. Swings Coffee.

Going to the Kennedy Center?  Bourbon Coffee near George Washington University is the place for you!

A tourist who is looking to go "Beyond the National Mall," should visit Eastern Market on the Orange/Blue line.  Peregrine espresso will be a nice respite from the Farmer's market and shops.

Going north of the Mall?  Check out Tryst, Dolcezza Gelato, and Mid City Caffe.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Coffee Guide: How to Make Coffee/Espresso Syrup

The following recipe is derived from Coffee Love by Daniel Young

Want to make coffee syrup from your favorite coffee beans?  It's easy!  Follow these short steps, and you will have some fresh coffee syrup to drizzle onto cookies, ice cream, or other comestibles worth coffee syrup.  Point of note: This is my first time making syrup, so if you have suggestions or amendments to add, please contact me.

The following recipe makes a 3/4 cup of espresso syrup.  Espresso syrup is slightly sweeter than using brewed coffee.  If you want to make coffee syrup, use one cup of coffee rather than espresso.

1 cup of sugar
1 cup of espresso (Yes, you read that right.  It took 4 double shots of espresso, roughly)
1 sauce pan
1 whisk
1 small glass or tupperware container for storage

1.  Brew one cup of espresso.  This will take multiple shots.  Hopefully, the results will look similar to this:
Trust me, I wanted to drink it.
2. Turn the stove to med-high.  Pour the espresso and cup of sugar into the sauce pan on the stove.  Whisk till sugar is dissolved.  
The sugar is now mixed in.

3.  This is the tricky part.  I read in my recipe book that the mixture should be heated right before boil, and reduce for 7-10 minutes.  I found that the mixture did not reduce at this temperature quickly enough.  I attempted a "mini-boil," by turning up the heat, where it reduced for another 10 minutes. 

Mmmm, espresso syrup
4.  As the mixture reduces becoming viscous, it is a matter of preference when you want to remove the pan.  The longer it reduces, the thicker it becomes. 

5.  Wait for it to cool (~4-5 minutes).  Pour the syrup into a glass or tupperware container.  Place in fridge.

Conclusion: Woolah!  Now, you have 3/4 cup of homemade espresso syrup.  The taste was quite strong and sugary.  If I did it over again, I would cut the sugar to 3/4 cup and lessen the amount of reducing time.  Hopefully this would retain more espresso flavor. 

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Death by Caffeine: The Trenta

"Poison is in everything, and no thing is without poison. The dosage makes it either a poison or a remedy."  -Paracelsus

If I slurped 141.82 shots of espresso I would die.  This is according to Energyfiend's online applet which figures this out by asking for your weight and your favorite caffeinated beverage.  Then, it calculates the fatal amount of caffeine for you.  There is an impressive array of coffee beverages to choose from ranging from "brewed" "instant" "espresso" or "decaf."  Additionally, there are other options such as Red Bull, Energy Star, et al.  According to the applet, the Starbucks Tall coffee (12 oz) would kill me after 42 cups.  Trenta anyone?

The next time you are sipping your coffee, you will now have a nagging feeling of caffeine's fatal potentiality.  Coupled with the reality that coffee is the second most traded commodity in the world, (oil is the first) and the introduction of the 30 oz Trenta by Starbucks (which is bigger than the human stomach), we can rest assured that humanity is now screwed.


P.S. Now you know I weigh 160 lbs.  Please keep it a secret!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Bad Coffee Gift: The Indispensable Coffee Dispenser

I realize by plugging this gadget, I am adding to the likelihood someone will buy it.  Nevertheless, this product is a "teachable moment."  This contraption doses out one tablespoon of coffee.  Each time you click the button, coffee is dosed out into a brewer below.

What is the problem?  I am sure it is functional and works as directed, but the issue is the fundamental idea.   Anyone following this blog knows, if you want the freshest coffee possible, grinding your coffee right before brewing is best.  Despite what the infomercial below states, this dispenser is not keeping the coffee fresh!  Nor is the vertical nature of the container a benefit!  Grinding a whole bag of coffee and pouring it into the "Indispensable Coffee Dispenser" ruins the coffee by making it go stale more quickly.

The idea of dosing is a good one.  In fact, expensive coffee grinders come with them built in.  This "Coffee Dispenser" is marketed towards people who don't know any better and already buy pre-ground coffee.  Ugh.
For more bad coffee ideas, check out Coffee Nate's post, "5 Bad Coffee Gifts."
After watching the video one more time, I found another coffee faux pas.  Never store your coffee in the refrigerator.  Either freeze it, if you are not going to be using it for a month in a way that moisture cannot get to it, or put it in an air-tight container in a closet.   

Monday, January 24, 2011

Coffee near Union Station: Ebenezers

I apologize for the blurry photos.
Located one block east of Union Station at the intersection of F and 2nd street in North East DC is Ebenezers coffee.  Ebenezers is the best alternative for a coffee fix while waiting for your Amtrak train or a small respite from the large amounts of people rushing in and out of the historic building. *See below for pictures of Union Station*  Instead of drinking at the Starbucks inside, take the 5 minute walk to Ebenezers, especially if your new to DC.  On the brief walk, you will see the Capitol building and the Federal Judicial Center.  Click here for the directions.

 Atmosphere:  Upon entering, the interior greets you with warm colors, DC decor, and an open area with ample seating ranging from bar stools to readings chairs.  The brick walls, tile flooring, and orange tubing on the ceiling emit a welcoming industrial vibe.  I loved the art pieces of the Metro system hanging on the wall.  The artist separated the different rail lines, and pasted pictures of famous landmarks and POI you can find when you take that specific Metro train.  Neat idea!

The only issue are laptops.  Granted, this was my first time visiting and my impressions are based simply on one visit, but laptops were a-plenty!  After ordering our drinks, my friend and I waited by the creamer stations for 10 minutes waiting for a table to clear up.  Normally I wouldn't mind, but when the tables are dominated by laptops it can be frustrating.  This isn't a critique of Ebenezer's specifically, but a problem facing all coffee shops, and I wish there was an easy solution.  I simply state that while there is ample seating, the ample seating can be monopolized.

Notice the oranges!  Unfortunately, laptops have invaded most of the table seating.  Though, this is largely a pet-peeve than a critique of Ebenezer
The Orange Line: Home of Honest Abe and the White House
Interesting Fact: According to their website, Ebenezers is owned and operated by the National Community Church, which has a few locations around the Metro Area.  The profits of Ebenezers supports their ministry, and one can buy Christian literature at the registrar. While a little "off-putting", they don't verbally proselytize you.

Coffee:  Ebenezers serves One Village Coffee, which means they are not roastery.  One Village and Ebenerzers support sustainability, using only coffee that has been certified "Fair Trade."  Ebenezers motto is "Coffee with a Cause."

The coffee selection offers the standard range of coffee drinks from espresso to soy lattes.  I was hoping for a "pour-over" option or a possibility of trying different coffees, but unfortunately these two options were not explicitly offered on their menu.  With that said, generally only specialty coffee roasters have the latter option.  Though, hopefully in the future, Ebenezers could expand some of their coffee offerings to buying a French Press or a "pour over" coffee to differentiate themselves from other coffee shops.   I would love this!

The drip coffee had a bold, dark taste!  I was hoping for a little more flavor from a specialty coffee shop, but also, one must consider that to make it marketable for the common coffee consumer it cannot diverge too much from a bold, dark taste.  With that stated, it certainly wasn't bitter.

Conclusion: Ebenezers is a wonderful coffee shop near Union Station.  It is an excellent alternative for people waiting in Union Station to get a cup of coffee and see a site or two on the brief 4 minute walk.  As Ebenezers develops and grow more popular, which it will, I hope they expand their offerings to include brew on-demand options, principally French Press pots and "pour-over."  

Sorry for the long post!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

"Is This Coffee Good?" A Simple Guide to Discern Good Coffee

File:Washington Coffee New York Tribune.JPG"Is This Coffee Good?"

I constantly second guess myself whether some coffee I drink is "meh," "ok," or "good."  Excellent coffee is easy to differentiate when the first sip hits the tongue, and you recognize the myriad of dynamic, interesting flavors indicating its freshness and the skill of the barista brewing it.  But, other coffees that are less impressive can be hard to grade.

This guide posits three simple questions to consider when drinking a coffee of unknown quality.

1.  When was it brewed?

Coffee brewed to order will always be fresher and more flavorful than coffee sitting in a glass container on a burning plate (Think 7-11 or a diner).  If the coffee has already been brewed, but in a larger thermos-like container, its a step up.  If you don't know, ask!  The workers may fudge the answer, but at least you will get a ball park answer.  Anything over an hour or two, will be a strike against the coffee.  If it was brewed in the morning, and it is now the afternoon that is not good.

2.  How was it brewed?

A contributing factor to an overall "goodness" of coffee is how it's brewed.  French press and pour over methods are one of the best ways to get quality coffee.  Drip machines, the ones you see at most coffee shops and restaurants, vary in quality.  As noted above, coffee sitting in a glass container over a heating plate actively ruins coffee flavor over time.  Once the coffee is brewed, the container should attempt to contain the heat from the brewing process, not add more heat.  If the coffee is in a thermos, good.  The coffee will stay fresher than in a glass pot.  Also, some places have the time written on the container when the coffee was brewed.

3.  What kind of coffee is it?

This is tough.  Many factors contribute to quality coffee beans, principally when it was roasted and ground.  Was it ground when you ordered it?  If not, mark it down.  Pre-ground coffee is less fresh.  Does it anywhere on the packaging or menu say "Gourmet Coffee"?  As in the words of fellow coffee blogger Coffee Nate, "Gourmet coffee means garbage coffee."  Look for single origin coffees from Latin America, Africa, or Indonesia, which means that the coffee is not a blend.  Single origin coffees tend to be fresher as the coffee retailer is marketing towards coffee lover people, not Folgers coffee people.  Generally, coffee blends hide bad coffee by mixing it with marginally better coffee.  If you have no idea where the coffee came from, either who sells it or where it was grown, the chances of it being "meh" are greater.

Conclusion:  These three questions help guide you in ascertaining good coffee.  My elaborations are not answers, but some suggestions to consider.  There are exceptions.  For example, specialty coffee shops can purvey an image of having quality coffee, but brew average or bad coffee.  Watch out for trendy imagery and marketing.  Its about taste.  Coffee should not be exceedingly bitter, ashy, or burnt.  Good coffee can be black without evoking a "sour face." Good coffee has unique flavor profiles like spicy, chocolatey, earthy, or piquant.  "Ok" coffee isn't bitter or ashy, but doesn't necessarily have anything going for it either.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Metro Espresso "Business Card" Design

During the week, I designed a "business card" for the Metro Espresso blog.  Something simple, something to the point, something easy to print.  I like it for conveying the most important information, the url and that ME is a coffee blog targeted towards DC.  Additionally, it has the DC flag design on the cup.

Question:  How would you improve upon this design?  Would you add color? Email?  Twitter user Cagrimmet recommended adding the saucer and rounding the cup.  I added the saucer, but I need some more work with rounding the cup.  My GIMP skills are the equivalent of a toddler. 

Also, feel free to design a Metro Espresso business card yourself if you have the free time!  I would love to see user creations. 

Visit tomorrow for a review of Ebeneezer's coffee house near Union Station!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

M.E. Swings and City Life

I love to stare out windows.  Watching businessmen walk by screaming into their blackberries, fashionistas complimenting each other on their purchases, or catching fleeting views of police cars whizzing by, I savor any respite from my academic studies.  

Today, I enjoyed such a time at M.E. Swings Coffee (Swings for short) located at 1702 G Street Northwest, only a block or so away from the White House and Farragut West Metro Station.  Often the line snakes back and forth within the store, serving government workers, students, and all others who need their coffee in downtown DC.  Don't worry the line goes quickly enough.  M.E. Swings roasts their own coffee in Alexandria and sells it to local businesses, such as Toby's Ice Cream in East Falls Church.   Many people rush into Swings, grab their coffee, rush out to their high stress jobs.  Me?  Not so much.  I work in academia.  I scoff at businessmen and bankers from the IMF and the World Bank (located a stones throw away).  I sit and relax.

Swings serves excellent coffee.  The lattes, cappuccinos, macchiatos, and espresso are flavorful and demonstrate an eye towards careful preparation.  They rotate out different single-origin coffees for drip.  Today, I ordered a mellow and smooth Rwandan coffee that I nursed slowly.  Situating myself at the bar seating in front of the window, I witnessed a police motorcade speed by lights flashing and horns buzzing.  I wondered whether this was the Chinese president going to his State dinner at the White House.  Probably not.

Swings is part of downtown DC, and I suggest everyone get a small coffee and relax by the window.  Everyone should have some time to themselves. 

Thank You to Tvol for the Pictures!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Coffee Sludge on the French Press. Use a Q-tip

Coffee sludge: The stealthy, ever-present, clogging, schmutzig material that bitters and destroys complex, dynamic coffee flavors.  Pictured left, right below the metal coil is a coffee ring of sludge that had slowly formed over a period of weeks.  
If it is one thing I despise about coffee, it is cleaning.  I hate cleaning.  The Fiance can tell you that.  Cleaning, especially cleaning coffee equipment and properly disposing coffee grounds is a pain.  *Note to self* Coffee grounds can not go into garbage disposal!  Yet, despite my best efforts coffee grounds pepper the kitchen, hide in the crannies of my French Press, and defy my overtures to be cleaned up.  Nevertheless, cleaning is necessary to maintain a good cup of coffee, whether it be drip coffee, espresso, or concocting a perfect latte.  I tell myself that a little clean up every time avoids the long clean up later.  

Unfortunately, I did not follow this advice and now I am forced to a get a paper towel and clean out the coffee sludge on my press.  Yesterday, Barista On Duty and I tweeted a conversation, yes that is possible, on how to clean those French Press coils.  I initially used a paper towel, then a tooth pick, but nothing scraped out all the grime.  He recommended a wet Q-tip.  We shall see.

Yums, coffee sludge

Monday, January 17, 2011

Morning Coffee/Morning Reading

Coffee and reading, one of the finer things in life, is a weekend tradition at the Metro Espresso apartment-hold.  Slowly waking up to the morning news or learning what is happening to poor Tom who you left in a rushing river the night before as you closed your novel, is a small thing in life worth to stop an appreciate.  Often I read the Washington Post and the Christian Science Monitor for my international and domestic news.  If not, I read my current novel on the Kindle.  If I feel adventurous I pick up History and Class Consciousness by Georg Lukacs.  The Cat in the Hat? To console me after reading History and Class Consciousness

My question is, "What do you read when drinking coffee in the morning?"  That's assuming you read while drinking coffee.  I think this is a safe assumption since you are reading this blog.  I am curious to know what books, newspapers, poetry people are reading.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

SCAA Flavor Wheel Continued: Guest Coffee Reviewers Wanted

From Metro Espresso: DC's Coffee Blog
Citation: Click to expand

In Part Two of the SCAA flavor wheel, the picture is roughly divided into four quadrants: External Changes, Internal Changes, Aroma Taints, and Taste Faults.  I will first state that half of this wheel I do not understand, demonstrating my limits.  Yet, this wheel speaks to the intracy of coffee roasting.  

What is most important to the everyday coffee drinker are the sections, Aroma Taints and Taste Faults.  For example, in "Taste Faults" when one roasts too light not completing the "first crack" the coffee tastes grassy to the tongue.  Unlike rare meat which is yummy, underroasted coffee is not.  In "Aroma Taints," the scorched and baked sections often appear in gas-station coffee or McDonalds.  

I invite Metro Espresso readers to print out the SCAA coffee wheels, and write coffee reviews! (The other is found here)  Send the reviews to duderino102*at* and I will post them.  This is your chance to be to featured on Metro Espresso, and demonstrate your coffee love.  You by no means need to be a coffee expert, but one who merely enjoys coffee.  Be sure to include a short little bio that can be included with your review.

Friday, January 14, 2011

SCAA Flavor Wheel

Describing coffee flavor is hard.  Impossible even.  Is it earthy or spicy? Piquant or nippy?  Acidic or bitter?  Aromas can be equally puzzling.  Was that pine I smelled?  Oh no, that is definitely floral.  Errr...oak-like?  Many foodies know conveying flavor is fraught with generalizations and the impossible barrier of communicating something so delicate and nuanced as taste in words. 

The SCAA (Specialty Coffee Association of America) created the solution to our descriptive problems.  Behold the "Coffee Wheel"!  Now, we can utilize grandiloquent words like camphoric, enzymatic, and phenolic, along with easier descriptors such as citrus, nut-like, turpeny, and carmelly.

How to use:
1.  To describe Taste, use the left side. Aroma, right side.
2.  Work outwards from the center to the periphery.

Now, my coffee reviews shall be quite exact with the perfect adjective to describe what I am tasting.  Check back this weekend, as SCAA has a second wheel to describe the roasting process.
Citation: Picture grabbed from Sweet Maria's CoffeeClick here for larger picture.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Coffee Blog Spotlight: Coffee Blog Rolls

File:Espresso-Tamper 02.jpg

If you are on the lookout for new coffee blogs, look no further.  I have two great links for you that will be fufill your wildest dreams.  Well, your coffee dreams at least.

First, Daily Shot of Coffee compiled a list of 42 blogs, including descriptions and links covering the coffee industry.

Second, "I'm Here For The Coffee" snippets the most recent coffee posts from selected coffee blogs around the internet.  Yours truly is listed!  I love this site as you can quickly scan posts without clicking on individual blogs. 

While I have scoured the internet for coffee blogs, I am positive I have missed some.  What are your favorites that you visit?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Coffee House Review: Sip of Seattle

Environment: Small, but tidy.
Coffee: Good, not great.
Price: Cheap to Average
Location: Near Metro Center at 1120 G St NW

Sip of Seattle is located near one of the many entrances at Metro Center.  Placed far enough away from Chinatown Coffee Company (CCC), Sip of Seattle is worthy of a stop-in to get your daily coffee or espresso if the 10 minute walk to CCC is too long.  Initially appearing as a hole-in-the-wall coffee joint, once you open the doors, a pleasant, tidy environment welcomes you in beckoning to try one of their many coffee concoctions.  Additionally, they have a coffee dispensers containing Sumatra Mandheling, Kenya AA, and coffee blends from Seattle for 10.50 lb.  While a small space, they offer 6 chairs with some table space near the walls to work at.   
Everything has a spot!

Coffee:  I ordered a double espresso and a small coffee to go.  The double espresso was ~3-4oz, fairly large.  The barista used a pleasantly warm espresso cup, which many baristas do not do or heat the cup to a scalding temperature.  The espresso had a full body and bold taste.  Some sweet notes washed over my mouth, yet ended with a slight bitterness.  The espresso was better than most I've had in the city, but it did not blow me away.  If you are looking for a full body espresso, I would heartily recommend coming here.  If you desire a lighter body, but lots of flavors I recommend Chinatown Coffee Company, Peregrine in Eastern Market, or Dolcezza Gelato in Dupont Circle.

The drip coffee initially seemed flat, but grew on me as I passed the White House sipping it.  I wondered to myself if the anti-nuclear protester encamped there would like this coffee.  The coffee lacked flavor or complexity, but was not bitter or watery.  Decent is the watchword for Sip of Seattle.

Price:  Sip of Seattle will be generally easy on the wallet.  A small coffee is 1.20 and medium is 1.70.  A small latte is 2.40 and medium is 2.95.  A single espresso is 1.70 with a double being 1.95.  Pictured below is there menu accompanied by the price.
This was the best possible picture I could get
Conclusion:  For an innocuous coffee shop, Sip of Seattle surprised me with a relatively good espresso and a non-bitter coffee to satisfy my caffeine addiction.  Speaking to the amount of business they receive, 5-10 people entered into the cafe in a span of 5 minutes buying coffee to go.  I recommend Sip of Seattle for those who need their coffee, but can't make it to the specialty coffee shops in the area.  

Update: Recently I learned that Sip of Seattle uses different beans for their drip coffee each day, some days its Kenya AA, others Colombian Supremo, for example.  Perhaps, I had a cup that didn't suite my particular taste.  I will have to go back, and try out some new drip coffee.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Coffee Blog Post Spotlight: Rainforest Alliance Certification and Maxwell House

File:CoffeeCatucai.jpgThe blog "Coffee and Conservation" spotlighted the misleading use of the Rainforest Alliance seal by Maxwell House.  While technically allowed to use this certification, "Maxwell House premium roast frozen liquid coffee concentrate blends" only uses 30% of beans harvested in a sustainable manner.  The rest of the coffee in the package...not so much.  Yet, the issue is not Maxwell House, but in the standards of the Rainforest Alliance.  To achieve this certification the coffee needs only the aforementioned 30% of beans collected sustainably.  

While I am not an expert on the coffee certifications, promoting awareness of each one and what it entails is important when buying coffee at the supermarket.  Please look at Coffee and Conservation's Guide to Coffee Certifications.  It will not only be educational, but you can inform others on the logos you see at the grocery store.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

New Year's Coffee Resolutions

Happy Belated New Year!

Having a moments peace from my travels this holiday season, I wanted to make a few resolutions to improve Metro Espresso for the coming year. Beginning in late June, I started ME as a hobby at the request of my Fiance, then girlfriend, to do something beyond graduate work in History.  Despite bouts of inactivity at certain times of the semester, I have continued to work on quality content, developing the blog's design, and engage with the coffee blog community.  In thinking about the coming year, I have three lists, one short term, one long term, and one about my own coffee habits.

Short Term:
1.  Make one quality post a week.  Quality posts meaning coffee house reviews, interviews, or  guides/tutorials.
2.  Swap out the "Featured Video" once a week.
3.  Read one coffee blog a day.  By doing so, my posts will be in conversation with other like minded people.  While I read other coffee blogs, doing it regularly will help in quality of posts.
4.  Create a ME logo to use to represent my blog on Twitter profile and in other capacities.

Long Term:
1.  Develop Metro Espresso to be more aesthetically pleasing and functional.  While I have the general lay out, adding smaller touches such as choosing the best font, the color of section titles...etc. Additionally, adding more interactive sections such as messaging on the main page.  I have done this before, but I didn't particularly like how it was laid out and executed. 
2.  Categorize posts and make the blog more easily navigable to find older content.
3.  Guest posts by people in the coffee blogosphere.
4.  Engage in DC coffee culture.

My Own Coffee Resolutions:
1.  Only drink two cups of coffee a day.  *Gasp* I know...One must account for blood pressure!
2.  Stop hounding my Fiance when she puts cream and sugar into her coffee (I'll break that one quickly)
3.  To clean my espresso machine more often.
4.  To start a coffee notebook that will record each coffee I have.

If you have other ideas you would like to see me any of the three lists, please comment below.

I will be MIA till Monday as I am attending a wedding this weekend.  Expect some new content about roasting or, hopefully, a coffee house review.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Two Coffee Roasting Machines: Nesco Home or Behmor 1600

I have a conundrum that I know my readers will be able to solve. I am in the market for a personal coffee roaster. I hope to use it once or twice a week for two coffee drinkers. While the oven and the popcorn popper served as excellent makeshift roasters, a smokeless or smoke reducing machine is needed in my unventilated apartment.

The first choice is the Nesco machine priced at 130-150 dollars. It has a small capacity of 1/3 cup of green coffee and a catalytic converter to eliminate the smoke. Unfortunately, the Amazon reviews have been less favorable but Sweet Maria's remarked that the negative reviews were mainly due to people not cleaning it and user error rather than the machine itself. The few videos I have seen make the machine appear rather loud. Finally, roast time is from 20-30 minutes ranging from a City to Vienna roast. With that said, the price point and the smokeless part make it quite attractive.

The second option is the Behmor 1600 at 299 dollars. It roasts using a drum that holds up to 1lb of green coffee, but Sweet Maria's recommends using no more than 3/4lb. Reviews have been largely positive, and appears to be better constructed to last many years. It also includes a smoke reducing (not smokeless like the Nesco) apparatus. Roast time, from what I remember, is a little shorter but cannot do a Vienna roast.

I simply can't decide which one to get, as I often hear the axiom, "When you buy cheap, you buy twice." Yet, the Nesco is more in my price range and would fit better in my apartment taking up less space. Additionally, from what I understand the Nesco, if taken care of, can handle a lot of roasting. The Behmor can roast more coffee at one time, and would be a better long term investment.

What do you recommend? Have anyone tried either the Nesco or Behmor? Do you have a different roaster to recommend under 299?

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Coffee Guide and Tutorial: Roasting Green Coffee in an Oven

All roads of coffee love lead to roasting. Coffee love typically starts with a french press, spreads with the burr grinder and espresso maker, and becomes terminal when roasting coffee begins. I and many others have reached this stage. In this post, I want to tell Metro Espresso readers on how to roast green coffee in a typical kitchen oven.

What are the benefits from roasting your coffee rather than buying it at the store?
1. The freshest, most flavorful coffee possible.
2. It is cheaper! 1lb of unroasted coffee is ~6 to 7 dollars.
3. Begin a fun hobby that most everyone can relate to. (Roasting coffee is more socially acceptable than making boats out of soap. Less creepy too!)

What you will need:
1. One pound of green coffee. Green coffee simply denotes that it is unroasted.
2. One medium-sized baking sheet. I use one that is 10 3/4 in x 17 in.
3. Tin foil
4. Two metal colanders preferably, though only one is needed.
5. Wooden spoon or plastic spatula
6. Oven mitt
7. Stop watch
8. A sense of adventure!

1. Assemble your materials and preheat the oven to 460-500 degrees. I prefer around 465, as it is a slower roast and lets you judge when you want the beans out of the oven. At a higher temperature, the roasting happens too quite quickly for me.

Wrap tin foil around the baking sheet. This allows for quick clean up and a visual contrast to let you see the browning of the bean. Also, be sure to have your two colanders handy. Place one in a dry sink, this will allow you to dump the roasted beans quickly without fearing a small mess. Preparation is key when roasting coffee. A well laid out workstation aids quality roasting, tools within reach, and a quick transfer from the oven to the outside.

2. Place approximately .5 lbs of the green beans onto the sheet. Spread them evenly so it is one bean thickness.3. Place the sheet in the oven and start a stopwatch. Roasting coffee in an oven takes from 9 to 12 minutes. Every 3 minutes or so, stir the beans quickly using your spatula or wooden spoon to ensure a relatively even roast. The oven is not heated uniformly. I find that initially I can wait 4 or so minutes before I stir, but in the 6th minute onwards I stir every 2 minutes. Do no worry so much about timing, but what you see in the oven. It's about feel!

When one roasts coffee, there is what is called the "first crack" and the "second crack." The first crack occurs 6-7 minutes with an audible popping noise. This is a light medium roast, also known as a City roast. After the popping has stopped, you may pull out the beans at any time. They have sufficiently roasted. The second crack is a darker roast, where the beans make a quicker, but softer popping noise similar to a crackle. Roasting beyond this point makes it a Vienna roast, which is quite dark. It depends on the coffee bean you are roasting, but I recommend pulling out the beans somewhere at or between the two cracks.

(Above: Roasting ~3 minutes: Notice the slight brown)
(~8-9 minutes: Quite brown. Beyond the first crack. This has roasted past a "City roast.")

4. When the beans have roasted to the desirable level, pull the sheet out as quickly, but safely, as possible. Dump the beans into the colander in the sink, and rush outside to cool the beans. Despite you taking them out of the oven, the beans are still roasting internally. Taking the second colander, you can pass the beans between the two allowing the cool air to stop the beans from roasting any further, and allow all the coffee chaff to blow away. Coffee chaff are small papery husks on the coffee beans that are shed during the roasting process. Continue to swap the coffee between the colanders for a minute.
5. Put into an air tight container, but do not clamp it shut. Freshly roasted coffee emits CO2 for a day and must be allowed to escape. After 24 hours, close the container and the coffee will be ready for brewing in another 8-10 hours. It is best to wait a day or two as the flavors of the coffee bean mature. The optimum time frame for the roasted coffee to consume is 3-12 days after roasting Afterward, the coffee begins to lose flavor and complexity.

Pictured above is the finished product. A wonderful roast of an Ethiopian blend from Sweet Maria coffee retailers.

1. Open up windows and doors to the outside, have the stove fans on, and make sure the smoke detector is shielded. No matter what, smoke and barley smell accompany the roasting process. Having a well ventilated area helps in keeping the area less smelly and smoky.

2. Do not roast too darkly! Remember, roasting past a French roast, the darkest possible, can catch the coffee beans on fire. If you want to know what a French roast looks like, Bing it!

3. If a fire does occur, opening the oven door allows fresh air into the oven feeding the fire. It is best, to my limited knowledge, to turn off the oven and let it burn itself out. If you follow my tips and pull out the beans at or before the second crack, this should never be a problem.

If I have missed a point, failed to elucidate a technique, or you simply have a wonderful comment or question, please leave a message below. I am learning how to roast, and would love to hear from all the readers of Metro Espresso.