Totally Overwhelmed

On October 1st, 2016 I attended Coffee Fest in Anaheim California. This is an industry trade show where vendors showcased their products from industrial roasters to coffee cup sleeves. Held in the Anaheim convention center (next to Disneyland), I thought it would be a good idea to attend since it was so close to home.  

 

So I packed my snacks and laptop and headed to the show. Of course, me being me, I got there super early. There was no line at registration because even the vendors had not arrived. I was given a bag and the  conference schedule so I looked for the classes that I had registered for. They also had free classes that you could attend before the show started. I picked a class and went up to the meeting room. It was a talk on buying green coffee so it was right up my alley. Unfortunately, the speaker was nowhere to be found. I guess he had too much of a good time the night before. It was a free class, so I figured I couldn’t complain much.

 

The good thing was that there was free coffee. One of the vendors set up a coffee stand in the common area. They also had a barista competition. The baristas were competing in Latte art. All the artists we good, but you could tell which ones took their art more seriously.

 

Once the convention started, I went to my first class: coffee roasting 101. Both speakers were very knowledgeable in their field. One worked for the SCAA (The Big Coffee Association) and the other owned the company whose roaster they were using. The class lasted about an hour and it was the first time I had ever seen coffee being roasted. First crack, second crack, I was able to see, hear and smell all the things I had read about on the internet. This was a great class given the circumstances. We were all in the middle of a conference hall. The roaster was a prototype that was going to be released later that year (2016). It was about the size of the roaster that we’re going to buy (1kg).

 

After the class I had about a 2hr break until my next class. This gave me some time to wander around the convention hall. People from all over the world were there. I guess this was a big event. This was my first time in the coffee “environment”. It became apparent right away that I was out of my element.

 

After a few hours of looking like a fish out of water, it was time for my second class. Cupping 101. This was a much larger class, I guess it was going to be good. I sat in a large round table with other students. People from all aspects of the coffee industry were seated. Farmers, importers, roasters, students of coffee. We had lots of cups, water, spoons and coffee in front of us. Score cards and note paper for all the coffees that we were about to try were neatly placed in front of us. My coffee tasting experience was pretty binary at this point, and it still is. We tried three different flights (I borrowed this term from beer tasting). Each flight was different is some way. Roasts, regions, processing methods each impart their own characteristics to the bean. The people there were naming all the flavors they could taste in the coffee. Leather, flowers, berries were all terms being thrown around. All I tasted was coffee. I could tell the difference between the 6 types of coffee. But is was just good coffee to me. I’m not sure if this is a skill you’re born with or if it can be cultivated.

 

After the cupping class, I wandered the exhibit hall once again. Everyone seemed to act like they belonged there. Every stall had someone standing there asking questions. I stopped by a coffee importer that I had spoken to via email earlier in the week. They are headquartered about 15 minutes from where I currently work. I expressed my feelings of anxiety and they reassured me that it was normal. They shared that there was a lot to learn and that I should give it time.

 

I ended my visit to Coffee Fest 2016 with a trip to Downtown Disney. My kids would kill me if I didn’t bring them a souvenir. I stopped at one of the restaurants and reflected on my day. I questioned if this trip was a big waste of time because of how little I knew or if it was an eyeopener to all the things I had to learn. Either way, it makes a good story and starting point.

 

Sitting in a coffee house

I’m sitting in a large chain coffee house and I’m not liking my coffee. It is all they do but it doesn’t taste like it. It tastes like they are just completing a task and not like a passion. I understand that the college girl behind the counter probably isn’t passionate about coffee but the company should be passionate about their ingredients. They should put more thought into what they serve instead of how they serve it. I know the question on everyone’s mind is “well then why are you there?” The answer: They have an awesome location. It’s right by the waterfront and it’s 5 minutes from my house. I’m here for the WiFi and the peace and quiet. I can plug in my headphones and get some writing done.

 

The people flock here by the dozens. It’s like when you go to vacation and the food tastes like nothing you’ve ever tasted. Then when you get home and make the same food, it tastes plain. In this case, it’s the opposite, the coffee at this mini vacation spot tastes bland. Old, flat and stale are the tasting notes I would use. This is the exact reason we’re starting our own business.

first-roast

We have passion for coffee. We have a love for coffee. And it will show in our product.

 

Maybe this coffee chain had passion at one point. Maybe they had love for the coffee they made when they started. Maybe you just lose all that when you get so big and it just becomes commercial.

 

This might sound cliche but, we will never let this happen to us. We are making those important decisions now so as we grow our personal values are always in mind. We feel so passionate about coffee that we don’t want to ruin it. Not only do we feel passionate about coffee, we also feel that way about our family. Putting these two things together, we hope, will make our business a passion and not a task.

I can perform surgery after watching a YouTube video

Not really…but it feels that way. Every time I need to learn to do something, I always check with YouTube. So when I needed to find something to start testing coffee roasts, it was no different. So I searched “homemade coffee roaster” and got a long list of search results. This set-up below was the most popular and closest to what I needed.

home-roaster

All you need is:

  1. A turbo oven (as seen on TV)
  2. A Stir Crazy popcorn popper
  3. An aluminum spacer
  4. A few bolts, nuts and washers from the hardware store.

At the highest level all you have to do is:

  1. Purchase all the equipment
  2. Throw away the bottom part of the Turbo Oven
  3. Throw away the top of the Stir Crazy
  4. Rip the heater and over temp switch out of the inside of the Stir Crazy
  5. Replace the plastic motor shaft from the Stir Crazy with metal hardware you purchased from the hardware store.
  6. Assemble the Stir Crazy, aluminum spacer (I used a modified air conditioning coupling) and Turbo Oven.  And there you have it, ready for roasting.

The other things you need are:

  • Fan for cooling the beans after you’re done ( just your typical fan)
  • Wooden spoon for moving the beans around while cooling
  • Scale to weigh out your green beans
  • Tongs for removing the metal spacer (it gets hot)
  • Oven mitts for handling the Stir Crazy

Total cost (for me): $60

Now this roaster will not get you a Diedrich level (the Cadillac of roasters) roast but with the right bean it’ll be better than anything you’d buy in the grocery store. Now, you might think, if I roast them, I will have a  bias but believe me really good coffee is really fresh good coffee.

If you are interested in experimenting with roasting coffee beans, nuts or anything else, without spending a ton of money, I would recommend giving this a try. Like most things food, nothing beats freshly roasted!