100 Mile Diet and DIY Home Roasting Coffee

6:56 AM

I've recently started reading 100-Mile Diet by Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon. It is a book about a couple who spend one very interesting year consuming only food and drink grown within 100 miles of their BC home. This time last year I attempted to organize a 100 mile diet Thanksgiving dinner for my friends and I but convincing people to go out of their way to research and source southern Ontario foods was harder than expected. The moral of the story is that it's great and honourable to attempt local eating, however the theme of this blog is, ironically, how to roast coffee at home.

Coffee is quite a beast for me because on one hand it is my favourite beverages, hands down, and I am often asked if I love it so much why don't I marry it? (The answer is because I'm already married, and that's the only reason.) On the other hand, it is one of the most underpaid industries in the world, bordering on slave labour in some parts, and it is a crop that simply can't be grown around here, necessitating long transportation and the inevitable toll on the environment. Here is where the two themes collide.

In my opinion, Fair Trade* practices and certification alleviate some of the moral burden of purchasing and consuming items like coffee, tea, cocoa, spices and sugar. These are things that we have to import if we want to enjoy them - they will not grow here. I will note that there are many teas and spices that are native to Canada, and there are also sugar alternatives like maple syrup and honey that are equally if not more delicious, but that's neither here nor there (I've always wanted to use that phrase in a blog). Now on to what I do with my fair trade coffee, besides the obvious.

A few years ago I began roasting my own coffee, both to save a few dollars per pound and to do something fun and productive with my mom. It's truly one of the funnest Saturday morning activities a person can get up to, after they're home from the farmers market of course. Here's what you'll need:

85 grams of green (unroasted) coffee beans - if you live in London go see Dave, Pat or Jason at the Fire Roasted Coffee Company in the Western Fair Confederation Building - www.fireroastedcoffee.com
An air popcorn popper - just the cheap kind you buy in a hardware store or at a garage sale
A metal colander
A wooden spoon

Begin by measuring out 85 grams of green beans.While you are seeking out a professional baker or drug dealer to borrow a scale from, heat up your popcorn popper so it's good to go when your beans are. A minute will do.

Drop the beans into the popper and immediately start mixing them around with the back of the wooden spoon, even if your popper is doing a nice job of stirring them around with its whirling motion.

Watch as the colour changes from light green-grey, to golden to dark espresso. The aroma will change dramatically too. As you roast more often you will be more in tune with what the smells and colours mean. I keep the lid off because I roast outside and don't care about the chaff flying around. If you do this inside, you need to know a few things: number one, there will be smoke, and number two, the outer layer of the coffee bean is separated during the roasting process and will be lifted up in the air creating a mass exodus of papery chaff that won't be fun to clean up no matter what childhood song a clown named Luna is singing (ha ha?).

Less than 5 minutes in, if you're listening, you'll hear a cracking noise. This is aptly named first crack and signals the beginning of the time that you can choose to finish roasting. Beans taken off at first crack will be quite light in roast, best suited for a Latin American coffee as far as I'm concerned. Not long after you'll hear a second, different crackling noise and this, as you may guess, is second crack. Finishing the roast at second crack or beyond will yield a dark roast, so you should probably invite me over. Dark roasts are nice for African coffees or anything you'll be using for espresso. When you want to pull the beans, turn off the popper and quickly dump the beans into your metal colander, then sift the coffee around like you're looking for gold. This will remove any last chaff and will get cooler air flowing through, thus stopping the cooking process.

Now the hardest part: rest the coffee for 1 - 5 days. It needs time to degas. This is why you should be doing a roast a few times a week. Don't worry if you make too much coffee, I will drink it. When your newly roasted coffee has had time to sit, then pull out a fresh press, just some filtered water heating, and grind up a batch.

Congratulations, you roasted coffee. 

* For more information on what Fair Trade means, request that I write a blog about it!

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  1. I request a blog about fair trade. And maybe rainforest alliance?

  2. Fantastic post. I've never tried this because it seemed intimidating. Now I'ma gonn do it. Have you ever tried Dandelion root as an alternative to coffee?


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