What makes Arabica coffee special that most of the connoisseurs use only that? In these days of ‘instant coffee’ do people buy raw coffee beans, roast them and then brew coffee? Looks like many do! Zizira meets one such coffee aficionadao. Read on to know what he looks for in the beans, where he gets the best quality and his tips on roasting coffee.
Before we move further into this topic please take a moment to look at the image above. Maybe you know these flowers? Yes, you are right – these are coffee blooms. Each of these flower bunches will turn into clusters of coffee beans.
Perhaps you already know that Zizira explorers continue to step out on field trips as often as possible. After all, this activity is a lifeline of Zizira. It helps us get to know farmers and also spot products to market on our online store. Of course we look for unique, healthy and naturally grown products that will be of value to our customers.
In the last week of February 2016 team Zizira visited a coffee grower and his farm not far from Shillong, Meghalaya. He and a few other farmers near him cultivate coffee. Before returning, the team bought a batch of raw coffee beans from this farmer, much to his joy. The deal was that if the quality turns out good then we may want to promote his coffee on our store.
With the arrival of a package of coffee beans there is excitement at the Zizira food lab! The team is figuring out what to look for in good quality coffee and plans to train to learn the art of roasting. After all we may spot uniquely flavorful, high quality Arabica coffee in Meghalaya, as the elevation and climate conditions are right.
It was during the same time that I happened to meet a coffee lover who sources raw beans of high quality and roasts them himself! Seeing this as an opportunity not to be missed, I talked to him at length about coffee.
A Coffee Connoisseur who Loves to Roast his own Coffee
Kasturi, an American of Indian origin lives in Los Altos, CA with his wife Vasanti. Having been with British Petroleum, he has worked in many different countries and wherever he went the first thing he looked for was coffee!
He says he got interested in roasting when he was transferred to China from Chicago.
“In China freshly roasted coffee is not available. But, having that killer brew the first thing in the morning, that too the way I liked it, was important to me. So, I bought myself a coffee roaster and took some coffee beans with me when I moved to China!” he said.
Here is what he shared with Zizira – in a Q & A format.
What does he consider good coffee?
There are two varieties of coffee - Arabica and Robusta. In my view, to be considered good quality, it should be Arabica coffee, that too grown in higher elevations. Robusta can never make the grade as high quality coffee. There are two characteristics of coffee based on which it is rated – the aroma and acidity. These give it the flavor and taste.
A tip - when you buy the beans make sure that the shape and size are uniform. You should not have a mix of small and large ones. And, no infestations should be seen! What this means is no ‘holes’ in the beans.
The amount of caffeine determines the bitterness in coffee and the level of acidity is reflected in how mellow or sharp the coffee tastes. More acidic the coffee, tangier it will be. When you roast coffee it releases aromatic compounds, which gives it the flavor.
BTW, as I was mentioning, I prefer to buy raw coffee beans and then roast them myself, as I am particular about how much it is roasted and how fresh it is! You can say I am a coffee lover and an addict!
As you have had coffee from different parts of the world, which would you rate as the best?
I love African coffee as it is always Arabica and, like all Arabica coffee, it is smooth and flavorful. It does not have any bitter taste, as Robusta does. Latin American coffee is as good. In fact, many swear by Latin American coffee as they grow in higher altitudes.
I have heard that Starbucks sends people to farms to source the bean. They go all around the world, from farm to farm, to source their coffee. What I am saying is that people are looking for specialty coffee all the time.
I guess you know that Coffee was first used in Ethiopia and then it came to Yemen from where Baba Budan is said to have smuggled a few seeds of Arabica coffee to Chikmagalur in India.
I love Peaberry coffee and one of the best I have had was from Gibbs Farms, Kenya.
What is Peaberry? We found out (source)
Normally the fruit ("cherry") of the coffee plant contains two seeds ("beans") that develop with flattened facing sides, but sometimes only one of the two seeds is fertilized, and the single seed develops with nothing to flatten it. This oval (or pea-shaped) bean is known as peaberry. Typically around 5% of all coffee beans harvested have experienced this small mutation.
So, Peaberry coffee beans are sorted berries which are rounded. What makes them special is their mellow taste with no bitterness.
Can you tell us about roasting coffee?
Roasting, is an art - pretty much governed by temperature and aroma that comes out. There are special roasting machines that can increase or decrease the temperature. You should not allow the coffee beans to get over done. Once it starts to smoke slightly and the oil is released, it is close to the getting done and time to stop roasting.
Mild roast has more acidity and caffeine in it, while darker roast has lower caffeine and lower acidity. Certain coffee beans cannot take higher temperatures. I have found that hard beans can take high temp roasting. You have to test each variety to know the temperature it can be taken to.
For those of you looking for more on coffee roasting check this out.
Walk us through the steps when you roast.
I roast half to one pound at a time. I have a roaster where I can set the time, but cannot set the temperature – it sets it by itself. There are higher-end roasters where you can set temp. Not that mine, a Behmor 1600, was cheap – it cost me $ 500!
I know of some German coffee roasters that cost USD 10,000 to 15,000! One can get machines that can process up to 100 lbs.
When I am roasting, I am on 'alert mode' all the time! I note the changes in the color and watch for smoke. Most importantly, you need to be very vigilant to hear two cracks. The first crack and, soon after, another. Some beans transition quickly, there will hardly be half a minute between the two crackling sounds. Others take a minute or two to go to the second crack. Once you hear the second crack you stop roasting. In fact you will see a whiff of smoke coming out at that stage.
Many people stop after the first crack as they prefer a milder roast. I prefer a darker roast, to get the full flavor and best taste. BTW, I have heard a lot of good things about a German coffee roasting machine, Probat.
How do you store roasted coffee beans?
Good question. It is so important to store properly. You should know how and when to store after you have roasted the coffee beans with care. Always store in an air tight container, else the beans will become stale very quickly. Did you know that roasted coffee beans emit a gas? In fact, it is Carbon-Di-oxide (CO2).
As the freshly roasted beans continue to release gas it is better to let them sit for a day or two before making coffee.
Like I said, store roasted coffee beans in an air tight container so that the aroma is retained. You may wonder - if it has to be in airtight container where will the gas go? Let me tell you what I do.
I store my coffee in two types of containers. One is called Airscape. It has a tight lid that can be pressed to release air. If there is build up of pressure from inside, the lid gets pushed up and it can again by pressed to release the gas.
The other way, I store is in a thick walled ceramic container. As Co2 is released, it simply builds up pressure, but is not high enough to damage the container. When I open the lid to take coffee out, the gas escapes. Of course it builds back again.
If being packaged for sale, the pouch should have a one-way degassing value that will allow Carbon-Di-oxide to escape from the bag, at the same time preventing oxygen to enter from outside. This will help retain the freshness.
BTW, never store coffee beans or coffee powder in transparent bottles. Use only opaque containers, preferably ceramic ones. Light and moisture are poison for Coffee.
I roast beans to last me a week or ten days max. After that I roast a fresh batch. I shudder to think of the quality of coffee powder and coffee beans that would have been sitting in stores for weeks! Did you know that Peets Coffee, a specialty coffee roasters and retailers, roasts coffee every day? Not surprising that their stock of roasted coffee beans is always fresh.
Which coffee maker do you use?
I have 20 different coffee makers, from the South Indian Coffee filter to the latest percolators. The best is the drip coffee machine with a conical filter where the hot water drips from the top. I use a Japanese one.
By the time he ended the chat Kasturi was ready for his afternoon cup of coffee! I thanked him for sharing his rich knowledge and experience with coffee and went back to check on the activities in the Zizira food lab!
Meghalaya has the potential to grow coffee at higher elevations. Zizira explorers are on a quest – to identify single farms coffee of high quality. We hope to have people like Kasturi and other coffee connoisseurs as our customers someday!
Do you have a question for Kasturi? Or about Meghalaya coffee? Or farmers growing Meghalya coffee? Please post them here, as comments, and we promise to follow up.
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