Sunday, January 8, 2012

Thoughts on Roasting Coffee

I've been thinking about coffee lately, and how it's so different between cultures.  South Africans seem to like a lot of milk and sugar with their coffee.  What they call a cappuccino, Americans call a latté.  What South Africans call a latté, Americans call café con leche.  This is neither here nor there... just different.  It took me a long time to get used to the high milk content, however, as I am a bit of a coffee purist: I never sweeten my coffee, I grind my coffee beans fresh every morning, and I like to roast my own coffee when I have the time, choosing beans from specific regions of the world and even specific plantations. This is perhaps where my story really begins...

I'm only a beginner when it comes to roasting coffee.  I like to roast on the stovetop - a single layer of green beans in a cast iron skillet stirred constantly with a squared-off bamboo spoon (this is my own quirky method - highly inefficient and messy - which I am not advocating here).  I watch every bean carefully to stir and circulate them as evenly as possible.

When the beans reach a certain temperature the oil inside expands and is released.  The chaff is released and blows all over the kitchen (I told you this was messy). This is called the first crack.  I then watch the smoke.  At the beginning of the second crack, the smoke changes from being thin and fickle to thick and intense.  This is when I turn off the heat, but don't be mistaken - the beans are still roasting.  The pan must still be stirred and tended until the beans cool down.  The rest of the chaff is blown away and the beans are set aside to rest.  Pause... breathe deeply...


We all know the story of separating the wheat from the chaff by means of threshing.  It's the same with coffee - the chaff is separated by means of high temperatures - fire, roasting, burning... whatever you want to call it.  Only in extreme heat are the oils - what's inside the bean - released.  What is dead and no longer needed is blown away.  What remains is something of great worth possessing the richest of aromas.  It doesn't come without hard work.

As I was thinking about coffee and the process of roasting, making the obvious analogies to humans and character development, I realised that I still complain when things don't go my way.  When I am under pressure, facing the heat, being threshed... I don't embrace it as a precursor to richness and beauty of spirit.  I don't see it as an opportunity for transformation or transcendence.  I complain.  Bitterly. 

Nothing tastes worse than burnt coffee.

2 comments:

Elisabeth said...

YOU know more about roasting coffee beans than most people who work for Starbucks. I'm impressed!
Thanks for the analogy!

mamaforhim said...

What about leche con cafe'??!!! that's my kind of coffee!
love ya more than leche and water!
me