You never know where a cup of coffee will take you.
Twelve years ago Marc Strid, director of educational technologies at CAFNR, tasted something remarkable. It wasn’t from Folgers or even Starbuck’s, but a casual cup of coffee from a friend who had gone to the time and effort to choose his own coffee beans and fresh roast them just before turning on the coffee pot.
The taste was nothing like anything that Strid had encountered before. There were multiple and sharp flavors. There was no bitterness. In comparison, even the name brand coffee fare seemed stale and lifeless. It was like eating bread fresh from the oven when all you ever had before was four-day-old bread bought off the discount rack.
Since that first cup Strid has roasted his own using a variety of small capacity and homemade roasters. A year ago, to satisfy his own desire to excel at making gourmet coffee and to keep the cups at the Gathering Place Bed and Breakfast filled with an exclusive brew, he decided to engineer and build his own coffee roaster. Soon, the machine will be ready for its first pot.
Roast Your Own
Home roasting is the process of roasting coffee from green coffee beans on a small scale for personal consumption. Home roasting was practiced for centuries, using simple methods such as roasting in cast iron skillets over a wood fire and hand-turning small steel drums over a kitchen stovetop.
Store-bought prepackaged coffee didn’t become prevalent until after World War I. There has been a revival in home roasting as a hobby, and home roasters enjoy experimenting with various beans and roasting methods. A small industry has developed selling green coffee beans in small quantities and manufacturers making counter-top roasters.
The big attraction is freshness and taste. “Once you try fresh roasted, you never go back,” Strid said.
Home roasters typically roast small volumes of coffee to consume before it goes stale. Depending on the bean’s origin, whole bean coffee flavor stays at its peak up to seven days after roasting. If you are a real gourmet, freshness is measured in hours.
Part of the fun is experimenting with the roasting profile, Strid said. This profile is the time the beans spend at each temperature during the roasting process including the final temperature prior to cooling. The profile chosen greatly affects the flavor, aroma and body of the coffee, and, once mastered, is tuned to individual tastes. Home roasters go to great lengths to control parameters, often carefully listening for the distinctive cracks as the coffee beans burst open and timing when the beans are removed and cooled.
Given his technological expertise, Strid is planning a high-tech approach to establishing his perfect flavor profile by using a computer, dual temperature sensors and programmable controllers to monitor the roast and chart the best method. With that, he can repeat the roasting for almost scientifically reproducible results.
There will be one variable – the outside temperature where the roasting occurs. Coffee roasting produces chaff and acrid smoke, so it must be done in a well-ventilated area. Strid’s roaster will be set up outdoors on the patio of the Gathering Place. Changes in air temperature and wind speed will require fine adjustments to the roasting process, even with the computer’s help.
Plastic Popcorn Popper to Custom Stainless Steel
After tasting that first cup of fresh-roasted coffee 12 years ago and like many beginning enthusiasts, Strid took an old popcorn popper headed for a garage sale and started roasting a few ounces of beans for he and his wife Debbie. No computers then. He used a wooden spoon to stir the cooking beans and trial and error.
The popcorn popper wasn’t big enough when the Strids took over the Gathering Place Bed and Breakfast, so he converted an outdoor propane-powered barbecue grill with a rotating drum.
The popularity of the coffee among guests – he was using a pound of coffee each week and another pound on Saturday – meant another upgrade. As professional roasting machines cost more than $7,000, Strid decided to design and build his own.
Strid got a lot of advice from fellow coffee connoisseurs, each proffering their opinions, biases and experiences. Strid decided his roaster would be a hybrid of the best designs liked by people who shared his tastes and methodology. With that, he purchased a computer-aided design program and got to work.
Strid’s machine will be built mostly of industrial-grade stainless steel. The rotating drum that holds the beans during cooking will be made of a mild steel known for its consistent heat distribution properties – a piece of advice from a seasoned enthusiast. The motor that will turn the drum, the thermocouples and controllers are off-the-shelf industrial-grade pieces repurposed for coffee making. A local steel company is using water-jet cutting to form the metal parts.
The machine, now in final assembly, will be ready for test roasts after Strid gets back from Spring Break in Honduras – where he and Debbie will meet and work with the farmers growing his beans.
A Coffee Roaster and a Cause
People who make their own coffee roasters are just as particular about the green coffee beans they use. Strid got his from a well-known commercial vendor until he discovered how little of the premium price he was paying was going to the farmer.
Historically, farmers of Central and South America are poorly paid for their coffee crop. Strid said that as little as 30 cents of the $7 pound of coffee gets to the farmer. Generations of these farmers have lived in poverty, unable to escape the low prices paid by the big companies.
Looking for a better way, Strid met a Kansas City transportation businessman and a recent MU graduate who together began importing and distributing more equitable coffee to consumers.
The first 100 pounds of green coffee beans from Revive arrived in Columbia last month and is waiting to christen the new coffee maker.
But that first brew will have to wait until after Spring Break. The Strids will travel to Choluteca in southern Honduras between El Salvador and Nicaragua. Along with other volunteers, including 25 MU students, they will provide help constructing a small home, build wooden bed frames and pour concrete floors in existing dirt-floor homes.
You never know where a cup of coffee will take you.