Making it fresh, like a coffee shop

SIPS

You can roast beans in oven or roaster

Sips

April 02, 2003|By Sara Engram | Sara Engram,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Coffee bars and their alluring aromas of freshly roasted beans seem to have brought a new sophistication to American streets. In fact, they are reviving smells that were familiar in earlier times.

Not too many generations ago, many stores were equipped to roast their own coffee beans. And plenty of families did their own at home.

Coffee was a popular drink, and although few people in this country had ever heard of such treats as cappuccino, much less mocha latte, Americans at least knew that the best coffee was not just freshly brewed from freshly ground beans, but also freshly roasted.

Today, despite our double-shot sophistication, we've been seduced by the convenience of pre-roasted, pre-ground coffee - not to mention the instant stuff.

But if you want to be a true coffee aficionado, you might want to hark back to an earlier era and try roasting your own. If nothing else, it will give you an appreciation of the art of roasting coffee, a vocation that in some countries is handed down from parent to child.

And with a little practice, you'll understand the real meaning of a fresh cup. It's comparable to the difference between boiling a store-bought ear of corn that was probably harvested a couple of days earlier, and running out to the garden, picking, shucking and washing an ear and plunging it immediately into boiling water.

If you're not into doing it yourself, don't despair: It is possible to find good local sources for fresh-roasted beans. But if you're game for roasting your own, there's plenty of help available. For starters, you might want to check out Kenneth Davids' guide, Home Coffee Roasting: Romance & Revival (St. Martin's Press, 1996, $16). You can also learn quite a bit about home roasting from coffee companies devoted to fresh, home-roasted coffee.

Two of my favorites are Sweet Maria's Coffee in Emeryville, Calif., (www.sweetmarias.com) and Roast Your Own, based in Portland, Ore., (www.roastyour own.com).

Both offer home-roasting equipment, a wide source of green coffee beans and a good overview of the benefits of home roasting - such as the fact that green coffee beans cost about half as much as pre-roasted beans and have a long shelf life when properly stored. Sweet Maria's even has extensive tip sheets on how to roast your beans in a hot-air popcorn popper or oven.

Both companies also offer "fair trade" coffees, and Roast Your Own goes one step further, informing consumers about the coffee farmers who provide their fair-trade coffees. The idea is to offer these farmers prices that allow them to stay in the business despite market forces that could easily put smaller growers out of business.

At present, Roast Your Own is relocating and searching out new sources of coffee beans and roasting equipment. But it's worth visiting the Web site and registering electronically to receive notice of the reopening in early summer.

If you venture into home roasting, be prepared for the smoke and the chaff. You'll want to keep the room well-ventilated or, better yet, plug in your device on an open porch or deck. Depending on how dark you like your beans, the process can take anywhere from five to 15 minutes.

I haven't tried using my oven or a hot-air popcorn popper, but I have had good success with a home roaster that uses a similar method.

Once your beans have reached the desired roast, let them rest for a few hours. Then, anytime in the next 72 hours, grind them, brew a cup and re-learn the meaning of fresh.

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