Friday, January 27, 2012

Co-evolution and the Coffee Roaster

I've been roasting at home for around 2 years, probably longer.  I didn't realize that I was in a loop when I was doing it.

What I mean is that like any "process", your results will be fine tuned by the equipment that you use to make the "product".

How's that for a lot of hooey?

Ok, it's complex but the idea is that what you use to do something is as important as is how you do it.

I've skated 21,000 miles on inline skates.  Easily 10,000 of them were done on a very low end pair of skates.  One of my friends on the team said, you've got great form but those things are holding you back - pointing at my skate boots.  The next time I had a little extra money I treated myself to a new set of skates complete with shiny racing frame and five wheels instead of the four that are usually on a pair of skates.   My speed increased by about 10 percent.  I had tuned myself to skate with the old skates with the wobbly wheels and the breaks that would stop you on a dime.

Eventually I adjusted to the new race skates and tried the old wobblies back and realized I had moved on.

With the coffee, I have a popcorn popper that I trained myself how to get the perfect results that I wanted.   Perfect for me that is.  You may think it's too light or too dark, and I know how to get just those results too.  Since I'm roasting for myself, I'm going for the results I like.  Medium to light roast, lots of flavor, low acid and low bitterness.   Plug in the popcorn popper, the fabled "Poppery II", fill with 1/2 cup of green beans and wait 6 minutes before checking.   It's right almost 99% of the time.  Sometimes I let it go another 15 or 30 seconds depending on how I felt about the last batch.

Today's results effect tomorrow's actions.   It's a "Feedback Loop".

When Emilio came over earlier this week he had a brand spanking no name air popper.  Casually looking at it after he said "is this the right kind?" and "can it be used?" I said "Sure..." and we set to work.

Two problems showed their ugly heads. 

First the hopper was smaller.   I had poured the beans in there using a measured 1/2 cup and thought no big deal, they don't expand much.

No they really do expand and by the end of the roast some of the beans were flopping over the end of the bin.

Second, there wasn't as much air coming through the machinery.  The fan was "weaker".  What that meant is that the beans that were in there were not spinning around.  They needed to be shook around until they had evaporated some of the water. 

Roasting is a process of caramelization and deyhdration so the beans got lighter.   If you doubt me, next time you roast a chicken, weigh it once you're done and you'll see that it is lighter.

Yes, it was a usable popper, but we had to adjust the process.  

First step was to cut back the amount of time.  There was the same amount of heat, but it was not moving past the beans so it resulted in a faster roast.

Second, cut back the amount of beans.   That allowed the air to flow freely.  He needed to only use 1/2 of what I was using in my popper, 1/4 cup or 2 ounces of beans.

Third watch the time closely.  Mine takes 6 to 7 minutes to roast beans.   The first batch we did I bailed on at second crack which was at only 5 minutes.  

Second crack is what Starbucks APPARENTLY roasts to get the their distinctive flavor.   It's too strong FOR ME, and that taste is what gave them the nick name of "Burnt Beans".  I roast just before that at what has been called a City or a City Plus roast.  

Next batch was much better, the third was where I typically roasted to.  2 ounces at 3 minutes 30 seconds.

Bottom line is introduce change to the means of production, introduce change to the process to get back to the same results. 

It's just like anything else in life, be open to change, you'll have a better time with your results - or your coffee.

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