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Fat Guy

Coffee Plateau

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I feel I've reached a coffee plateau. I'm currently roasting my own with a FreshRoast, grinding with a Solis Maestro, and brewing in a press pot or, on lazy days or for larger production, in a Braun drip machine. I'm pretty sure I'm producing the best or nearly the best coffee I can produce using the equipment available to me. But I'd like to do better.

I don't have the time, money, or inclination right now to get into the whole world of espresso.

Is there anything -- either equipment-wise or in terms of advanced technique of which I might not be aware -- I can do cheaply and easily at this point? Or am I stuck on the plateau until I buy espresso gear?

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It's all about the bbean. The variety and source of beans. The blend of beans. The degree of roast. The degree of roast of each bean within a blend. There are unlimited possibilities.

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I'm doing pretty well on that front, though. I've been roasting for awhile and I've gone through about 50 types of beans in all sorts of permutations in order to arrive at the various blends and roasts that work for me. I'm also somewhat limited by the FreshRoast, which roasts very quickly at a high temperature; thus, everything it produces is fairly "bright." Still, the freshness factor makes its output markedly superior to store-bought, even from a good store that roasts its own with better equipment than I'll ever have.

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I'm also somewhat limited by the FreshRoast, which roasts very quickly at a high temperature; thus, everything it produces is fairly "bright."

I may have something to break your plateau, Fat Guy! My husband also used a FreshRoast, and like you, has found it limiting because of it's high roast temperature (he much prefers medium roasts). As a computer and electronics geek, he likes to hack things, and has found a bunch of instructions on line for hacking your FreshRoast (adding a Variac to modify your household current, modifying certain other parts, etc). Apparently, once you've done all the mods, it will turn you FreshRoast into something as good or better than the most expensive roasters on the market!

I've been trying to use the coffee and tea forum as a means to suck my husband into posting to eGullet - I'll see if I can get him to post his plans here...

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I would really appreciate some guidance on FreshRoast hacking. That's exactly the sort of thing I hadn't thought of but that I knew someone on eGullet would come up with!

I'm not exactly what you'd call a handy guy, but I can use a soldering iron and follow basic instructions. I have a Radio Shack right in the neighborhood, so if this can be done with basic parts I can probably pull it off.

This is very exciting.

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Well, my efforts to suck him into eGullet continue to fail (probably for the best - like we need _two_ people in the family spending all their time on the board!).

But here are some links to help you get started:

Good basic getting started guide (note that you'll only understand after you read this - my husband just bought a 20 amp variac instead of subsituting a 20 amp fuse into the 5 amp variac as the article suggests)

Short thread from CofeeGeek forums

Google search on "Fresh Roast Variac" in alt.coffee

Hope that helps!

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You could try the "cold brewing" method. Some people prefer it to hot brewing. It also works well at high altitudes where water boils at lower temperatures.

Toddy is one equipment supplier.

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Well, my efforts to suck him into eGullet continue to fail (probably for the best - like we need _two_ people in the family spending all their time on the board!).

But here are some links to help you get started:

Good basic getting started guide (note that you'll only understand after you read this - my husband just bought a 20 amp variac instead of subsituting a 20 amp fuse into the 5 amp variac as the article suggests)

Short thread from CofeeGeek forums

Google search on "Fresh Roast Variac" in alt.coffee

Hope that helps!

Ok, but doesnt the variable transformer cost 100 bucks or more? Doesnt it make sense just to buy one of the better $300 home roasters if you are going to bother to hack a hundred dollar air roaster?

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The upcoming I-Roast from Hearthware looks pretty awesome. I have loved my Hearthware Precision over the years, and am seriously thinking of picking up an I-Roast when they become available. These specs sound especially interesting:

  • User can set up roasting curves, or use preset roasting curves: At each roasting stage, temperature is accurately controlled. This is a function that only the most sophisticated machines that may cost thousands of dollars have. This is the very first time it has been used in a home roaster.
  • Accurate roasting time and temperature adjustment: Roasting time can be changed by 1 second and roasting temperature can be adjusted by 5°F or 2°C increments.
  • Check the roasting temperature during the roasting cycle: Built-in function for users to check the roasting temperature: no need for thermometers any more. It gives the user a clear idea of the inside temperature.
  • Increase/decrease roasting time during roasting: It gives the user the flexibility of controlling the final roasting results.
  • Memory function: stores the previous roasting curve.
  • Patented wind tunnel and thermoflector design for even roasting
  • LCD display shows time, temperature, stages, and other functional/processing/error information.
  • A custom designed stainless steel smoke vent support is also available as an attachement. With this vent support, user can easily attache a standard 4" (100mm) size vent pipe to vent the unwanted smoke out.

This for <200 bucks.

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Ok, but doesnt the variable transformer cost 100 bucks or more? Doesnt it make sense just to buy one of the better $300 home roasters if you are going to bother to hack a hundred dollar air roaster?

Hubbie reports that the feeling among people who've tried it is that the results are as good or better with the variac/fresh roast combination than with those from a more expensive roaster. Might just be the hacker boy mentality, though...

His variac cost $110 including shipping, and came with a free "multi-meter." I got him the Fresh Roast as a Christmas gift, and it cost $69.

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The I-Roast sounds awesome. However, I'm going to wait for the early adopters to buy it and deliver the verdict based on real-world use. Just as I'd never buy from the first model year of a car, I wouldn't buy an untested product like this without good reason. First person to acquire one gets to be the guinea pig.

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Ok, but doesnt the variable transformer cost 100 bucks or more? Doesnt it make sense just to buy one of the better $300 home roasters if you are going to bother to hack a hundred dollar air roaster?

Hubbie reports that the feeling among people who've tried it is that the results are as good or better with the variac/fresh roast combination than with those from a more expensive roaster. Might just be the hacker boy mentality, though...

It sounds like way, way too much trouble and that if you don't know what you are doing, you could ruin the coffee or worse, set fire to your house.

I've "hacked" a lot of consumer electronics in my time but this just sounds like it isn't worth the trouble.

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It sounds like way, way too much trouble and that if you don't know what you are doing, you could ruin the coffee or worse, set fire to your house.

I've "hacked" a lot of consumer electronics in my time but this just sounds like it isn't worth the trouble.

Generally, I'd agree about the safety concern, except that in this case, all the hacking really entails is plugging the variac into the wall, and then plugging the roaster into the variac and playing with the dial. Especially if you do as my husband did, and actually buy the more expensive 20 amp variac instead of putting a larger fuse in the 5 amp, which just seems like an inherently bad idea...

The people who've done it have been really happy with the results, apparently. Eric hasn't had a chance to try it out yet, so I don't yet have any personal experience to report on. We'll see how it goes... I think he sees it as a fun opportunity for experimenting and tweakin, rather than too much trouble - but he definitely has that hacker mentality...

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Hello Fat Guy,

The real answer is clear, It is way past time to enter the espresso world.

Get a good manual espresso machine with a pump and you have the ability to rise above that coffee plateau. This will lead to a new challenge of espresso bean roasting, the a search for the perfect grind for your machine etc....

You can always try the el cheapo entry level espesso machines with no pump just a prayer that the preasure vesel dosen't explode as the water heats up and expands. I started using one of these things when when my sister brought one back from Italy. These machines are finiky but given the right conditions you can make very good espresso with them. There is an added excitement of making sure you finish making the coffee and steaming the milk before the water is all gone. These machines are kind of fun. I even saw a real cheap on for $29 CAN at Zellers(Canadian K-Mart). That machine can probably last at least a year.

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There is no way you can make decent espresso with a steam toy machine. The water is too hot and the pressure is too low.

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There is no way you can make decent espresso with a steam toy machine.  The water is too hot and the pressure is too low.

Yeah, what you need is one of those $600 La Pavoni's. 1920's technology.

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detai...G/egulletcom-20

People say that the lever-style machines are actually capable of making the best shots, since the barista is in total control. But the learning curve is really steep.

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Like sex, good espresso requires a learning curve.

And a long handle...

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I would love to get a full blown hand pump machine. I will keep an eye open for a used one.

By the way I can make decent espresso with a steam toy machine!

You can get a better result than at many crappy coffee shops and restaurants.

Timing is everything with these steam toys. (use good coffee ground the proper way)

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And the ability to press down hard with it when necessary.

And a tamper fitted to exactly match the, uh, receptacle.

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I would love to get a full blown hand pump machine. I will keep an eye open for a used one.

Yeah, well, wouldn't we all. And the used ones could smell funny.

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Of course, you could just grow your own beans, too!

Or take over your own Pacific Island and corner the Kopi Luwak market...

Edit to add: as usual, I'm way behind the curve on the jokes.


Edited by jsolomon (log)

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