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Adventures in Home Coffee Roasting


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#1 Fat Guy

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Posted 16 October 2002 - 10:15 PM

Today I entered the deepest, darkest level of coffee geekdom.

This morning the UPS man, sporting his spiffy brown uniform, brought me a box of home coffee roasting equipment and supplies from The Coffee Project. The basic starter kit contained several varieties of raw coffee beans, the book Home Coffee Roasting: Romance and Revival, by Kenneth Davids, and a FreshRoast 2.5 ounce roasting machine that looks like this:

Posted Image

What I'm going to do over the next few weeks is try to get to the bottom of the home coffee roasting phenomenon. First I'll learn how to roast my own coffee beans. Then I'll brew coffee with my home-roasted product. I'll examine the question of how quickly coffee degrades once roasted. And I'll conduct some comparisons of my home-roasted coffee against commercially roasted coffees.

Along the way, I'll be trying to educate myself about coffee in general. I'm basically a coffee neophyte. My coffee comprehension at this time extends only as far as "I like it"/"I don't like it."

I also aspire to develop a caffeine addiction.

Tonight I unpacked the machine, cleaned the glass container with warm soapy water as specified in the instruction manual, and roasted a batch of Columbian "Supremo Bucharamonga Especial." Though this sounds like something drug kingpins do to punish deviant underlings, it is a kind of coffee bean. Before roasting, however, I tried to familiarize myself with the instruction manual and the Kenneth Davids book. But ultimately I resorted to e-mailing James Vaughn at The Coffee Project in the hopes that he would send me the idiot-proof, executive-summary version of the instructions. He did:

There are two distict sounds you'll hear when roasting. The first is a kind of crack, like twigs breaking. The second sound is more of a sizzle as the beans darken. The sizzles are the sugars carmelizing, and we like that. I suggest letting the coffee roast until you hear this second sizzling sound, you will also see wisps of smoke at this point. If the timer hasn't already run out set the machine to "cool". The beans will continue to roast a bit more as they cool down. Don't go too dark on the first roast, better to err on the lighter side than ruin a batch by making charcoal.

With that advice in mind I activated the machine and it made a startling noise. I don't know what I expected. I guess I didn't think it would make a noise. But actually it seems to have inner workings similar to those of a hot-air popcorn popper. (I subsequently learned, through further exploration of the Davids book, that you can use certain models of hot-air popcorn poppers for this task.) So it makes a noise like a small jet engine. Not terribly loud, but loud enough to startle both me and my dog, who observed the process with more than a little curiosity.

The beans, propelled by the hot air, bounced around like Mexican jumping beans and for a minute or so jumping seemed to be all they were doing. Eventually, odors started to emanate from the machine but they were totally un-coffee-like -- sort of a decaying vegetable-matter smell. Eventually, I heard the promised first round of crackling and the beans started taking on the color of roasted coffee beans. At long last, just as I was thinking I must have missed the second round of noises -- the much anticipated sizzles -- they arrived. Almost immediately after I heard sizzling, a little smoke started coming out the top of the machine and within just a few seconds the entire apartment was filled with the most wonderfully comforting aromas of roasted coffee that I've ever had the pleasure of inhaling. I switched the machine to "cool."

Once the cooling cycle was complete, I placed the beans in a glass mason jar that originally housed Marie's blue cheese dressing and then, for a time when we had an inexplicable surplus, several small boxes of dental floss. Apparently I am not allowed to make actual coffee until tomorrow because the beans need to rest overnight. So, until then . . .

>> NEXT INSTALLMENT >>

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
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#2 Sandra Levine

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Posted 17 October 2002 - 04:22 AM

Can't wait.

#3 Huevos del Toro

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Posted 17 October 2002 - 05:40 AM

Welcome to the fascinating world of coffee roasting! I buy my roasting and brewing equipment and green beans from Sweet Maria's. You might consider purchasing a few of those zip-loc bags with the one-way valves. That will let the CO2 out when the roasted beans outgas but won’t let any oxygen in.

You’ll have fun learning all the little tricks, but the one thing in particular that helped me was keeping detailed records! Dates, times, bean variety, etc. I record time to first crack, to second crack, total roasting time, starting weight, finish weight, appearance when finished (no oil, oily sheen, droplets of oil, color, etc.) Then if I didn’t like the result I could go back to the record, change one thing, and try it again.

I let my beans “mature” for 24-36 hours before brewing a pot. I grind literally seconds before brewing. And I don’t keep them in the freezer. There is some controversy over that but I tend to agree with not freezing them. Quite a few coffee aficionados feel that freezing the roasted beans damages the volatile oils that provide the aroma and flavor. You’ll roast in such small quantities that shelf life won’t be a problem.

I also tried several brewing methods and settled on a vacuum pot. I bought a Yama and alcohol burner from Sweet Maria’s. The one huge advantage to vacuum brewing is the fact you cannot get the water hot enough to over-extract, with the resulting bitterness. The water temperature is just perfect when it’s forced into the upper chamber. Then the fineness of the grind and the steeping time are the only variables you have to pay attention to. Those are also entered in the log for future guidance. In addition to all the detail stuff, I note my impression of the finished brew. Some have not been to my liking because of the variety of bean so I make a note to not buy those again. I only buy 2 lb. bags at first. I don’t want to be saddled with a big bag until I know that particular bean is one of my favorites.

For an interesting read, and links, you might also want to go to Homeroast for additional info and links.

Keep the updates coming!
--------------
Bob Bowen
aka Huevos del Toro

#4 Fat Guy

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Posted 17 October 2002 - 05:51 AM

The Kenneth Davids book has a handy coffee log that you can photocopy and fill in (or you can write directly in the book) with all those data and more. I'll start using the log once I overcome the basic hurdles of not burning my hands off or my house down.

Right now the plan is to use one of those cheap miniature blade grinders and to brew with both a standard drip filter machine and a press pot. At some point I'll no doubt upgrade that equipment, though.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
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#5 Schielke

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Posted 17 October 2002 - 07:20 AM

Awesome, and you dont even live here in Seattle!

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#6 Huevos del Toro

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Posted 17 October 2002 - 02:04 PM

Right now the plan is to use one of those cheap miniature blade grinders and to brew with both a standard drip filter machine and a press pot.

It's my guess you'll find the press pot gives you a lot more control over the outcome. My drip machine went directly to the dumpster. I like a press pot except I still have to watch the water temp and put up with a little sludge. But all in all a press pot can make a pretty decent cup. I have a couple of vacuum carafes that I immediately decant my coffee into when it's finished steeping. That way it stays hot but doesn't overheat and burn like a drip pot has a tendency to do.

Be forwarned; if you're going to become a caffeine addict and coffee aficionado, you'll have to be on guard for the (potentially) very expensive and all consuming espresso beast. :biggrin:

You'll go to bed and dream of Silvia and Rocky.
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Bob Bowen
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#7 bigbear

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Posted 17 October 2002 - 03:29 PM

Right now the plan is to use one of those cheap miniature blade grinders and to brew with both a standard drip filter machine and a press pot. At some point I'll no doubt upgrade that equipment, though.

The grinds that you get out of those little blade grinders can vary wildly. In the interest of eliminating variables in the formulas for my findings, I'd go for a good grinder in the beginning, say, a Solis Maestro.

-- Jeff

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#8 Shiva

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Posted 17 October 2002 - 05:27 PM

Jeez, now I'm really gonna feel like a slacker when I walk across the street to The Bagelsmith for a cup of Joe tomorrow morning... :blink:

#9 Fat Guy

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Posted 17 October 2002 - 10:04 PM

Tonight I made my first cup of coffee from home-roasted beans.

Since my first goal is simply to gain basic proficiency with the roasting technique, I just put a fistful of beans (the ones I had yesterday) into my cheap little grinder, processed the beans until they seemed about the right consistency for a press pot (actually I ground them a bit too fine), and added about two tablespoons of ground coffee to my individual-size pot (it accepts something like 10-12 ounces of water). I allowed the coffee to remain in contact with the water for four minutes, slowly depressed the plunger, and poured a cup.

It was a remarkable cup of coffee, and as I was thinking about what made it remarkable I realized I was without a coffee vocabulary. As luck would have it, however, the handy Kenneth Davids book contains a section on coffee tasting terminology sufficient to elevate even the most incompetent food writer to an authoritative sounding level. It was thanks to this cheat sheet that I realized my cup of coffee possessed the property of Complexity (defined as "a wide range of sensation") as well as superior Depth ("the resonance or sensual power behind the sensations that drive the taste of the coffee") not to mention more than its fair share of Body and Balance. But most of all there was the Aroma, and all joking aside the coffee smelled incredible. It had all the primary aromas I associate with good coffee (not that I've separately identified these yet) but it also possessed a whole secondary range of aromas that I don't believe I've encountered before.

I'm not saying it was the best cup of coffee I've ever had, but it was certainly the best I've ever made at home. It exceeded my expectations in just about every way. I was concerned that my home-roasted coffee would taste about as good as other people's homemade beer. Instead, on my first try I created a cup of coffee that was very pleasing to my palate.

There were, to be sure, some defects resulting from the grind. In particular, the coffee lacked Clarity because there was too much stuff floating around in it. I immediately gave in to the reality that in order to do these experiments I'm going to need to purchase a burr grinder. This should provide superior press pot coffee because the grind will be uniform and correct, and down the road it will also make for fairer and more consistent comparisons of different batches. As stated on the hilarious, riotous, fun-loving CoffeeResearch.org site, "For any scientific analysis, a blade grinder is unacceptable due to its lack of reproducibility."

I am also at this time unable to make an evaluation of Acidity or Varietal Character. An understanding of these properties will no doubt come with additional, more rigorous tasting over time.

As I descend deeper and deeper into coffee geekdom, I have started keeping a log. I decided on an Excel spreadsheet that looks like this:

Posted Image

As my last coffee-related gesture of the day, I roasted two additional small batches of coffee to the same specifications. I plan to bag and date some coffee every day for the next couple of weeks and store some at room temperature and some in the freezer. Then I'll conduct some comparative tastings that will reveal a lot more than my isolated impressions above.

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Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
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Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)


#10 Toby

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Posted 18 October 2002 - 05:05 AM

Did you use tap water or bottled water? When I lived in San Francisco, my tap water was so yucky tasting that I switched to spring water and it made a big difference in the taste of the coffee.

#11 Steve Plotnicki

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Posted 18 October 2002 - 05:10 AM

I want to place an order for a pound of "Fat Guy's Home Roasted Coffee" (see I started a business for you already with a snappy name.) How much is it and where do I pick it up? Or do you deliver? Grind it for cone drip please.

#12 Jason Perlow

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Posted 18 October 2002 - 05:21 AM

$63 for that 2.5 ounce machine doesnt sound so bad when you consider how fresh that coffee is going to taste after you roast it and consume it shortly thereafter.

Do you gain anything by keeping green coffee beans around? Do they stay fresh longer than ones that are roasted? I would imagine you can keep them around for a long time, right?

How well can you fine tune the 63 dollar one? It seems that they are out of the intermediate models, although it looks like they have a sturdier built 275-dollar one (as well as the 3000 dollar one). Is there any benefit to getting a more expensive one?
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#13 Rachel Perlow

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Posted 18 October 2002 - 05:45 AM

From FG's first installment it sounds like our popcorn popper would do a similar job to his current model.

#14 Fat Guy

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Posted 18 October 2002 - 05:56 AM

Plotnicki, lucky for you you're in my delivery radius, so we can work something out. I hooked you with "Complexity," right?

Jason, I haven't done any actual price comparisons on green beans versus roasted beans but all the information I've seen from the home coffee roasting advocates indicates that you can easily save enough by roasting at home to pay for the equipmet. Kenneth Davids quantifies the savings at 25%-50% per pound.

In terms of what you gain by keeping green beans, yes the point is that degradation begins after roasting. You measure degradation of green beans in years, whereas degradation of roasted coffee is measured in days. Again, this is just what all the sources say -- I haven't done my own experiments. Another advantage of starting with green beans is, of course, that you can roast them to whatever level of darkness you prefer.

With the basic home machine like I have, the only variable you're really looking to control is time. There's also an available adjustment for the power output level but it seems primarily intended as a device to compensate for minor variations in household voltage. With fancier machines you get some additional and more precise controls and readouts, you get the ability to roast much more coffee at a time, and you get a better-built unit in terms of materials and craftsmanship.

Toby, I'm using Brita-filtered water for everything.

Rachel, there's a chapter in the Kenneth Davids book about using a hot air popper for this and it includes pictures of which ones work and which ones will burn down your house if you try to roast coffee with them. So do check that out before you try to use the popper. Also just from looking at the sketches I can see that the popper is an inferior solution, primarily because one of the things the dedicated coffee-roasting unit does is it separates the chaff (the little bits of the skin of the beans that come off during roasting) and presents it to you in a tidy little filter basket that you can just empty into the garbage. With the popper the chaff gets blown out the nozzle that the popcorn usually comes out of, and since there's airflow behind it I imagine it gets blown around a bit.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
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#15 fredlet

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Posted 18 October 2002 - 02:23 PM

"I like a press pot except I still have to watch the water temp and put up with a little sludge. "

Actually they say that the coffee press sludge is what is good for you.
Go figure.

Hook 'em horns, huevos!

fredlet :blink:

#16 Tmnoland

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Posted 18 October 2002 - 04:45 PM

[ Today I entered the deepest, darkest level of coffee geekdom.]

Coffee CAN be about the best thing on the planet at 5:00 a.m.
At that hour, I can't think of anything better. I'm sure your efforts will be worth it. I'm seething with jealousy over how good your abode is going to smell whilst the beans are roasting.

therese
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#17 Fat Guy

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Posted 18 October 2002 - 04:55 PM

Not just whilst! The aroma lingers for hours. Even if I had no intention of drinking coffee, I'd roast beans every morning and every night just to keep the house smelling this way.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
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#18 Tmnoland

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Posted 18 October 2002 - 05:06 PM

Not just whilst! The aroma lingers for hours. Even if I had no intention of drinking coffee, I'd roast beans every morning and every night just to keep the house smelling this way.

If you throw some homemade cinnamon rolls in the oven I guarantee your neighbors will be beating your door down. The aroma of pastries and coffee... divine.
Many parts of a pine tree are edible.

#19 ahr

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Posted 21 October 2002 - 01:06 PM

It will be interesting to see how quickly the freshly roasted beans degrade with time. If they last for more than a day or so, then any difference in quality between FGHRC and that at shops in the city that reportedly sell day-old beans will be due to the quality of the beans themselves.

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#20 Steve Plotnicki

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Posted 21 October 2002 - 01:55 PM

I hooked you with "Complexity," right?


Nah. I would buy anything you are selling Fat Guy. At least one time.

#21 maggiethecat

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Posted 21 October 2002 - 03:15 PM

Hee hee. This makes me think fondly back to the early days of our marriage and the worst damn coffee we have ever had.

My husband bought some green coffee beans of unknown provenance, and came home to the third-floor walkup glowing with anticipation and pleased as punch with himself. He dumped those babies into the big cast-iron skillet (see numerous other threads) and stuck it into the oven at 350, or something. Stirred occasionally and and removed when dark brown.

We ground them up, ran them through the trusty Bodem and voila!

Complexity doesn't begin to describe how awful it was in oh! so many ways. Bitter, grassy, hints of dung and overboiled cabbage. And weak!

Obviously, we knew nothing about coffee roasting and I'll happily pay S&H for a pound of Fat Guy's. But it's still one of our favorite..."those Wacky Newlywed foodie" stories.

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#22 Fat Guy

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Posted 21 October 2002 - 03:58 PM

It will be interesting to see how quickly the freshly roasted beans degrade with time.  If they last for more than a day or so, then any difference in quality between FGHRC and that at shops in the city that reportedly sell day-old beans will be due to the quality of the beans themselves.

The literature suggests -- and of course I am attempting to confirm or deny this by conducting my own experiments -- that beans are at their best 1-3 days after being roasted, and then go through a really significant dropoff about 6-7 days after being roasted. But there are more factors than just age and quality of beans. One thing to bear in mind is quantity. I can roast two ounces of beans at a time -- just enough for a few cups. If I buy a pound of coffee at a store that roasts fresh, I'm still faced with the issue of not being able to use it until much more than a week has gone by. In addition, I can't control the roast at a store -- I just have a choice of whatever they do, which may or may not be my preference and may or may not be consistent. Also, even at stores that roast all the time, the chances of all their coffees being very fresh are slim to none. These places usually offer 20+ bean choices, and you're not going to convince me they roast 20+ batches a day. You can tell just by looking at the bins at places like Fairway and Zabar's. They have big roasting machines right there, but in the bins there are many examples of obviously old beans exuding a ton of oil. Finally, if you roast beans at home you can get stores to sell you the raw beans. Just in the past few days I've asked around and everybody has said, "Sure, why not?" So if the suspicion does arise that a store is working with better raw materials, acquiring those raw materials shouldn't be a problem.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
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#23 Wilfrid

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Posted 22 October 2002 - 07:15 AM

Coming out of left field here, I was staggered in Brazil to be offered a cup of coffee from a machine which was a thick, oily shot of some of the best espresso I can remember drinking. It can be done! Unofrtunately, it didn't seem appropriate to walk out of my meeting in order to examine the coffee machine, so I don't have details. :sad:

#24 Fat Guy

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Posted 22 October 2002 - 07:23 AM

What do you mean by a "machine"? I mean, esperesso always comes from a machine, doesn't it? Are you talking about something that isn't like a regular espresso machine?

Also, though I'm not investigating espresso at all for the purposes of this particular experiment (it's a whole different thing, requiring specialized brewing equipment that you don't acquire casually), I'm interested in your description of a good espresso shot -- especially the "oily" part. Is that considered a mark of good espresso? Also, was there a proper crema on this espresso you had?

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
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Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)


#25 ahr

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Posted 22 October 2002 - 10:00 AM

They have big roasting machines right there, but in the bins there are many examples of obviously old beans exuding a ton of oil.

So if the suspicion does arise that a store is working with better raw materials, acquiring those raw materials shouldn't be a problem.

You're the Mr. Guy with the roaster and the stack of books, but I always thought that freshly dark-roasted beans were oily, losing that sheen as they aged, i.e., that the oil was a good sign.

On the second point: Based on your descriptions to date, I was expecting FGHRC coffee to be better than even carefully purchased commercial roastings, not worse, due to the enthusiast's ability to find higher-quality beans.
"To Serve Man"
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#26 Wilfrid

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Posted 22 October 2002 - 12:27 PM

What do you mean by a "machine"? I mean, esperesso always comes from a machine, doesn't it? Are you talking about something that isn't like a regular espresso machine?

Also, though I'm not investigating espresso at all for the purposes of this particular experiment (it's a whole different thing, requiring specialized brewing equipment that you don't acquire casually), I'm interested in your description of a good espresso shot -- especially the "oily" part. Is that considered a mark of good espresso? Also, was there a proper crema on this espresso you had?

I'm sorry, I thought it was obvious from the context that I was not talking about a Gaggia-type esprsso maker, but an automated machine - the kind which delivers your beverage in a little plastic cup. Viscous might be a better word than oily - a good espresso should have better mouthfeel than hot water - and yes it had a crema. It was amazingly good. Maybe it was the beans.

#27 Vanessa

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Posted 22 October 2002 - 12:56 PM

I'd guess it's a bit of both. There must have been some major technical advances in fully automated machines in recent times. The best espresso I know at the moment is what I get at work. These are fully automated machines (brand 'Black & White') which, although they appear superficially to look like normal Gaggia-type espresso machines, are really only like the type of 'plastic cup under a spout' machine you are talking about. The person operating the machine has absolutely no contact with the coffee-making process other than pressing a button for 'espresso', 'capuccino', 'large black' or whatever. The other reason it is good is that they happen to use what seem to me to be the best beans available in London these days, from Union Coffee.

(However some people say the capuccino is not so hot - but not being a capuccino drinker, I've never had the opportunity to be disappointed).

v

#28 Spoonful

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Posted 22 October 2002 - 01:06 PM

I want to place an order for a pound of "Fat Guy's Home Roasted Coffee" (see I started a business for you already with a snappy name.) How much is it and where do I pick it up? Or do you deliver? Grind it for cone drip please.

Me too. Do you deliver in Canada?

#29 g.johnson

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Posted 22 October 2002 - 01:10 PM

I can’t see any reason why an automated machine shouldn’t make a perfectly decent espresso. The skills involved seem minimal and might be better performed by machine. Or am I missing something?

#30 Vanessa

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Posted 22 October 2002 - 01:14 PM

Quite right. The point being that automated machines used to make crap coffee. Now it appears that ain't necessarily so. Although beans of course play a pretty important part.

v