I have never been the coffee-aholic, and truth be told I make a terrible pot of coffee — I think it’s a mental block (I can’t whistle or snap either, go figure). But Big N truly enjoys coffee. Because he imbibes exactly one cup per day, he wants that cup to be perfect. And even though I drink at most a half a cup of coffee in the morning, so do I.
I also can’t resist an opportunity to learn a new DIY skill. So when my friend M turned me onto the coffee roasting class at Altadena’s Institute of Domestic Technology, I was game! First, a bit about the Institute. Altadena is becoming the hip place for foodies and DIY-ers to learn food making skills. Hosted at the Zane Grey Estate, the Institute holds classes on canning, cheesemaking (it is home to about three dozen goats at present whose milk is used for the class), coffee roasting, cocktail crafting, and the next class I intend to sign up for: bacon curing! (Note to the Westsiders- there is another location at Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills which hosts similar classes).
M and I attended the Saturday coffee roasting class, taught by Plow & Gun microroaster Daniel Kent. First, we experienced a blind sniffing and tasting “cupping” lesson to demonstrate the difference between beans sourced from various countries as well as the difference the degree of roasting (light to dark, aka City to French Roast) can make on a single type of bean. Armed with our knowledge, we were then taught how to roast in the most simple of DIY gadgets: the Whirly Pop popcorn maker. With nothing but an aluminum pot and a hand crank, we dumped our beans in our Whirly Pop that was already preheating on the stove, set the timer, started cranking, and then carefully checked as the beans went from yellow to gold to brown, and listened for the first crack (a popping sound) and second cracks (more like Rice Krispies) to determine when to remove our beans from the flame.
Once our beans hit the target temperature, we dumped them onto cookie sheets to cool, and then separated the newly roasted beans from the flaky chaff. All told, the process was extremely simple; the hardest part was turning the hand crank constantly for about 12 minutes. With a little practice, I have no doubt that I’ll be able to become more consistent with my roast quality (because small variations can result in big screw ups). We left the class with a bag of our first roast (I roasted my Guatemalen beans to a light City roast) and a bag of green beans to try it again ourselves at home (for which I purchased my own Whirly Pop).
M and I had a great time and I definitely recommend attending a class at the Institute, though you better hurry because apparently word is catching on. Martha Stewart herself has taken notice in this month’s Living magazine.
Since the class, I ordered 5 pounds of beans from around the world from trusted green bean sourcer: Sweet Marias. I’ve been studiously practicing my whirly technique and giving away freshly roasted beans for my fellow coffee lovers to try. I’m sure I don’t have to convince you that freshly roasted coffee tastes a gazillion times better than the preground stuff that’s been dying a slow death on the grocery store shelf for eight months. And while I’m still no expert, the feedback on my beans has been pretty good. Check out this satisfied relative!
Oh, and the best part: Whole Foods sells a pound of our former favorite Kenya Grand Cru roasted coffee for $16-20. I can make a fresher and better cup with Kenya beans purchased from Sweet Marias for about a third the price. DIY-ers unite!
*first two photos above of the Institute of Domestic Technology courtesy of Heather Bullard