So a friend of mine once told me this story about his trip to Oregon. On this trip, he stopped at a shop outside Portland and saw something incredible. While he was ordering, a girl out behind the store with a blowtorch roasting individual beans. No, really, he said it was legitimate. Sounds like a myth? It did to me to. But I thought, wouldn’t that be rad? Just sitting around with your buddies, blow torching your own coffee?
I started to think about this more and more and as time went on, friends of mine expressed an interest in home roasting. I told them the story, they told me it wouldn’t work. So, we decided to put it to the test. What if we succeeded? How funny would it be to have a business with 6 roasters sitting in a room with a bunch of torches and beans. Then we could sell it as “artisan coffee,” individually hand crafted for quality and consistency, only the fines… Ok, well that was the ridiculous tagline we were using for our imaginary torch-roasted coffee business that was doomed to failure before we ever started. But it could be fun, right?
This morning, four of us got together at Companion with some torches and green beans from Sweet Maria’s in Oakland. We were really excited. We set up down the street and sat around in a semi circle. Unsure of how to start, we discussed a semi-strategy and went to work.
We thought it would be hilarious to roast each bean individually. So we took one bean out of the bag and put it in a pie tin. That poor thing was charred and destroyed within about 10 seconds of intense direct heat. First casualty of the day, first defect in our 40 bean batch, and not the last. Realizing this method was going to destroy the coffee completely, Ryan (the only one of us with legitimate experience in home roasting, he is getting pretty good at it), Kyle, Luke, and I formulated a new strategy. I started to do little circular motions with low heat for a few minutes. Sure enough, the beans started to darken and change color. Not in a promising way, just in a way that meant the entire process had the slightest little chance of not becoming a complete disaster from the get go. We took turns roasting, trying out different motions and amounts of heat, hoping our work would pay off.
It was fun, just a bunch of guys doing what they loved on a nice Sunday morning (maybe with the exception of Luke). We were just chatting, joking, telling stories, and laughing it up for a good 30 minutes. The coffee was nowhere near worthy of being called “roasted coffee” and after a while we realized our futile efforts were not going to pay off. Myth busted, fail. Maybe the girl in Portland could make coffee (good coffee?) with a blowtorch, but we couldn’t. As our business dreams from what had been the result of a 5 minute joke crumbled, we walked inside to grind up what we made and see just how bad it was. I take full blame for these awful ideas.
The beans wouldn’t even turn in my grinder. They were so raw that I risked breaking the burs of my Hario. Wanting to try them in some capacity, we decided to “cup” them and steeped them in hot water. If you thought we were being idoits before, you can’t imagine how quickly we all knew this venture degrading, even as we were doing it. To redeem ourselves, we turned on the popcorn popper and did some real home roasting under Ryan’s expertise and equipment. We made some pretty good fresh beans, nice and fruity, subtle yet intense since we had just roasted the batch. Both Ryan and I love Aeropress and we offered some cups around to the staff. It was pretty good as a coffee in general, not just for home roasting. I would venture to say that Ryan’s home roasted coffee is better than many shops, not able to compete in the big leagues, but still incredibly solid. He made an excellent cup of Rwanda this morning at work that had wonderful hints of Rose with a smooth body. Come grab some fro Companion if you are in the area. I also brought some Matcha imported from Japan and with Kyle’s wisk, Luke made us some pretty killer tea.
Reveling in the good vibes of Companion, the tasty treats, and our fresh coffee, we almost forgot about our monster-freak torch roasted coffee. Let’s just say, the fruits of our labor set a new standard for BAD flavors, period. It was not just bad coffee, it was just… bad. The pictures are proof. Andy straight spit the “coffee water” back in the bowl to ensure no one else would drink any of it.
In sum, it was a good experience and a great time with the guys. It was my introduction to home roasting, and you can bet we will have some articles about roasting in the coming months. Just like gathering around the Synesso, people could see how passionate we were about the craft. It was the best way to spend my Sunday morning. Just DON’T blow torch coffee, it’s dangerous and not good, at all. Be safe and have fun, we will not be responsible for anyone else who wants to be as dumb as I was for thinking it might work.