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!

There is a method to my madness

I just added 2 more coffee brewing methods to my arsenal. That brings it to a total of 4. Some people might not agree that they all taste different but they all have their subtle nuances. Below is a description of each with what I consider to be their best qualities.

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French Press

This was the first upgrade from my high end drip coffee maker. Going from a drip system, I liked it because I was able to control the process better. You start to experience coffee at a whole new level, both visually and  in taste.

The process is as follows:

  1. Heat water in electric tea kettle
  2. Measure 3tsp of freshly ground coffee into carafe
  3. When water starts to boil, pour into carafe and stir
  4. Set timer for 4 minutes
  5. Replace lid with plunger in top position. Start timer
  6. When time expires, slowly lower plunger/sive
  7. Pour coffee into mug

Pour Over

Yet another step in the right direction. I was told about this method by a coworker. We both like really good coffee. Incidentally, he is indebted to me for life because I told him about the coffee shop/roaster that I wrote about in a previous blog. He said that on a visit to this shop, his wife accidentally ordered a pourover. And to this day, we’re glad she did. If you are on a budget, this is a good option to start enjoying flavorful coffee.

  1. Heat 500ml of water
  2. Place pour over device on mug and insert filter
  3. Measure out 30g of freshly ground coffee
  4. When the water is heated, slowly pour the water over the grounds (get it?)
  5. Let the water flow through the pour over device into the mug and enjoy

These last two I recently purchased so I’m still trying to rank them in my arsenal. I’m leaning toward the Chemex

AeroPress

This method is the most unique of the four. You use a plunger to force the water through the filter. It’s a smaller amount of coffee but it makes up for that in flavor.

  1. Assemble AeroPress
  2. Heat 240mL of wafer
  3. Measure 15g of freshly ground coffee into AeroPress
  4. Place filter into cap and wet slightly
  5. Pour in 100ml of water and stir for 30 seconds
  6. Pour in remaining water and let stand for 1:30 (total time)
  7. Place cap with filter on AeroPress
  8. Flip device over onto mug
  9. Press the plunger down (20 second duration) to push coffee into mug and enjoy

Chemex

So far this is my favorite method. The coffee that it produces comes out smooth and full bodied. I regret getting the small version of the tool but I can live with it. The filter is thicker that a regular coffee filter so it’s kind of a cross between a french press (steep) and a pour over. It’s made of glass like a french press so you really have to be careful with it.

  1. Heat 400ml of water (I have the small Chemex)
  2. Fold filter and place into carafe
  3. Measure out 25g of freshly ground coffee
  4. Pour 100ml of water into filter, wait 30 seconds
  5. Pour remaining water into filter and allow to flow into carafe
  6. Remove filter and swirl coffee a few times to mix
  7. Pour into mug and enjoy

There you have it, all the ways I enjoy coffee. As you can see, freshly ground coffee is common to all of them. Better yet, freshly roasted coffee is even better.

Why buy small batch roasted coffee?

Have you ever gone to the grocery store and said “give me your best 3 week old bread!!”? Have you ever said “I want a pre-packaged, stale chocolate chip cookie”? If you answered “no” to these questions, why would you buy old, stale coffee? The fact is, coffee starts to go stale once it’s removed from the roaster. The longer it sits in a bag, the more it loses its unique character.

Character, much like in humans, is what makes certain coffees stand out from others. Character is what true coffee aficionados look for in a cup of coffee. Aroma, acidity, body, flavor are all standard descriptors for coffee. They all can be tasted in freshly roasted coffee and they all are balanced. No one characteristic overpowers the other. If you have a coffee that lacks in any one of these characteristics, it’s probably dead.

cte_homeroasting

Like most people, I was only exposed to the big name coffees when I was growing up. My parents would buy big cans of ground coffee that they kept in the freezer so it would “stay fresh”. They would take solace in the fact that the can was vacuum packed. ***note: fresh coffee can’t be vacuum packed. It would explode.*** The coffee was bitter and because of the brewing method (I’ll have another post on that) had a burnt taste. I continued this tradition for a long time. Then one day, like most people, I had coffee at a commercial coffee shop. I thought I had found the holy grail of coffee. Little did i know I had a long way to go.

Fast forward to early last year (2015). I was suffering from some brain fog and an internet search was pointing the finger to it being a side effect of old coffee. Voodoo or not, I discovered the small batch coffee house. Little did I know, I had one right down the street from work. The first time I had freshly roasted coffee (drank it the same week it was roasted), things changed forever. Not only did the coffee taste better, I also appreciated the fact that I was able to talk to the person who was roasting my coffee. Directly supporting small businesses of this type make the products that you purchase more special compared to buying from faceless corporation.

So next time you decide to buy a bag of coffee, do yourself a favor…don’t  buy a bag of dead coffee. Instead buy a bag of freshly roasted coffee, YOU WILL NEVER GO BACK..

Why do we want to start a coffee roasting business?

I love coffee. I guess I can stop there and post this to twitter….

If you guys want the long story, here it goes. I was sitting at my desk after my wife had sent me a message that her contract at work wouldn’t be renewed. That same day we had been told at work that things weren’t going so well. We had recently had our third child. ***queue spinning room and hyperventilation***

Reality is we have it better than most and our lives are pretty awesome and unique. My wife works part- time from home so she can manage the house and kids. She also homeschools our two oldest (girl, 8 and boy, 4). My job is also really flexible when it comes to family, so I can be part of my kids lives too. Our little family is pretty tight, it is our priority and we are doing our best to raise these kids right.  BUT when you’re faced with a potential huge life change, a lot of stuff runs through your mind. Most of it isn’t good and THE WHAT IFs START BUILDING AND BUILDING.  

So on the way home I stopped to get some coffee to unwind a bit. This is my usual coffee shop when I want the good stuff and a good selection. I ordered my pour-over and handed the barista by card to take care of my $3 order. As I took my first sip, I thought to myself “I know coffee, I love coffee, I can do this and probably better”. On the drive home I made a mental list of what coffee based business I could start. I got home and told my wife “I want to start a coffee business”. Without hesitation, she agreed. She’s cool like that.

We spent the next few weeks investigating what we could do. We knew we had a little time to finalize the idea so we made sure we were ready to jump in.  When we put all the ideas on the table we figured that a small scale coffee roasting business was the right fit. The start up costs were low enough that we could cover it with an extra savings account my wife had started. Also, we realized our current skill sets and professional work experience would transfer over and be a big help in the start up.

So that’s it, Café Tres Estrellas (Three Star Coffee, one star for each of our kids) was born. We’ve been busy researching branding, social media, coffee roasting, coffee roasters, licensing, permitting, etc, etc, etc. We want to make sure we get this started right from the get go so we can focus on making really good, delicious coffee. No fancy flavors, just REALLY good coffee.

So we hope you stick around for the journey. Thanks for reading…and

Make Like Better…Drink Coffee

-Andres

First blog post

Thanks for stopping by! We are starting a small batch coffee roasting business and want to keep you up to date on all that’s going on. We are currently in the beginning stages of our start up and are excited to get things going.

This idea started when I was sitting in a local coffee shop and said “I can do that!”. Drinking coffee is one of my favorite things to do so it was easy for to convince myself that roasting coffee was right up my alley as well.

My wife and I would like to invite you to check back for all the goals (and setbacks) that we will have along the way. Along with our three kids (8, 4 and 10mo.) we are an entertaining bunch. I’m sure we’ll at least be good for a few laughs.

Make Life Better…Drink Coffee.