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My Big Picture.

1Sep09

Hi all,

This blog is so I can talk (at length, let’s be honest) about roasting coffee. I won’t be advertising the blog widely – except where I feel like there might be something that the home-roasting community would be interested in – but may do so in the future. For a start, here’s my coffee story:

I’ve been into coffee since I was about 11 (at a guess). My great friend Alice and I used to make each other (instant) coffee after church – I can imagine we did so because it made us feel adult and sophisticated. I still remember the quickly-concealed look of surprise when we proudly asked the morning-tea ladies for Two Coffees Please. My parents were keen (though, at the time, indiscriminate) coffee drinkers and when they noticed my interest in coffee they offered me the occasional cup of their evening plunger brew. Yuk! I thought. What’s this bitter rubbish? I wanted the passive, nutty, cardboardy flavour of International Roast! Thanks, but no thanks, Mum and Dad. (To my shame, I even insisted that they buy me some Nescafe Blend 42 for home!) From those heights of coffee connoisseurship, things improved a little. I eventually tolerated, then liked, then loved the flavour of those plunger brews.

A compulsive tinkerer – I can’t stand not knowing why you do something a certain way! – I started to look into what made a good plunger. I discovered that you could burn the coffee if the water was too hot … I learned that coffee grounds go stale and need to be stored carefully … I discovered that heating the milk makes it taste sweet (while also satisfying my Mum’s requests for scalding hot coffee). Soon I was made put in charge of most coffee-making duties.

My interest in coffee continued to grow. Years later a couple of friends started working at a whole new style of cafe – one which roasted its own beans! This opened up a whole new slant on the appreciation of coffee. I guess it also lent the notion of gourmet coffee an enigmatic edge – there were so many factors which I didn’t understand, and so few sources of information on them.

Another couple of years later I had just moved to a new city (Launceston, Tasmania) and was searching for the best coffee beans available. Soon, I was also looking for the best grinder available (is this story of a sudden downward-slide into spending lots of money on one’s home coffee set up sounding familiar to anyone?). It was around this point that I found CoffeeSnobs (while looking for grinder reviews) and found information on roasting coffee at home. I’d heard of a select, insane few who roasted coffee beans (with a heat gun, for goodness sake!) but here they were in the flesh. Well, photos of them, at least. But there it was. All that information I craved that would (and did) dispel the enigma of roasting coffee.

I mentioned the idea to Humf (good friend and fellow obsessor-of-coffee) and within 2 weeks I’d ordered our first beans and we’d bought a heat gun. What the? When I’d mentioned the idea my wife Elly had raised her eyebrows emphatically. She’s not prone to cynicism but I knew those eyebrows were telling me (emphatically) that this sounds like another Stu-project, my dear! I’m pleased to report that Elly’s feelings of doubt-verging-on-embarrassment were steadily reduced with each cup made from freshly-roasted coffee. She’s now our number one fan. Officially. We’ve been roasting for nearly 18 months now and our roaster (and other gear) has improved greatly in that time. We even started selling beans through our little creation, Zombie Coffee. We also met a couple of other keen roasters as well as checking out Peak Coffee – a new roastery that set itself up in Launceston – where Tim and Mel are doing a great job at breaking into the coffee market with some seriously tasty beans, freshly roasted!

Like every other home-roaster out there, I dream about starting my own cafe, or roastery, or something (anything! as long as it’s all about the coffee!). Like every other home-roaster out there, I love the discovery process of researching new beans, new roasters, new profiles… I love the conversation you can have with a new coffee bean as you roast it by all manner of methods and unearth its secrets.

Now? My wife and I are living/working in Bulgaria for a year doing some other fun, amazing things and so our coffee adventures are on hold for now. One of the things I want to figure out during our time away is What next? I would love for that future to include a role in the coffee industry. I spent a year as a barista just prior to our trip and that is certainly an enjoyable and challenging job. But roasting coffee is what it’s all about for me.

Here’s a possibility: I’d love to return home and have a go at building a roaster capable of doing a couple of kilos at a time – something with which we could make a real go of starting a business that would get our noses in the door of the industry.

Bring it on.

Cheers,

Stu.

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