"Espresso! My Espresso!"
An Ongoing Internet Novelette
by Randy Glass - Copyright 2006 - All rights reserved
E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
It seems like it has been a while since I have been able to tell a coffee story, but I have a good one. At a visit to my MD's office I asked if anyone there drank coffee. Other than the expectant nurse it was a resounding "yes," so I promised to supply them with some next time I visited.
The afternoon of the day before my next visit I roasted two batches in the Hottop (a sum total of about 620 grams or so- I didn't weigh it. I use a cup I have marked as a volume measure). After roasting I divided the batches into four equal parts, ground them for drip coffee (which is how most people use it), and packed it into four heat-sealed, vacuum-packed bags.
This coffee is the Arabica sweep I get. it is, exactly as the name implies, swept off the floor from spills and whatever might be left in the bottom of a bag here and there. Some of it is decaf and some of it is comprised of stray roasted beans, and a Robusta gets in there every now and again, but mostly it is the stuff you would expect- various Central and South American, some Indonesian, and the sort of thing you would fing at most commercial roasters.
Being sweep it comes to me pretty dirty so I have to spend some time cleaning it. I start by pouring it from a height in front of a large box fan , into a five gallon bucket. This gets rid of the loose dirt, bits of string, jute from the coffee bags, and other lighter-than-green-coffee foreign matter. After that I hand sort through it to remove any bits of other matter. Before roasting I remove any roasted beans, most of the decaf, and any small bits of concrete, rocks, pop rivet debris and such. I repeat that after roasting as well. It is labor intensive, but I get the coffee at a really good price and since I give away about 20-30 pounds of coffee each year it is worth the time, saving me over $80 a year and giving me the opportunity to give away a lot of coffee.
So about a week after I gave them the coffee I had the opportunity to return to the office. As I signed in I noticed that the receptionist was at the desk, on the phone. Before I could say anything she placed her hand over the receiver's mouthpiece and said, "Everyone loved the coffee!" I smiled and waited for her call to end.
When her call ended she related how the coffee seemed to have an odd aroma when she opened the bag, but it tasted really good, and that this seemed to be a universal reaction. My guess was that the coffee, being so very fresh, was much higher in carbon dioxide gas than anything she normally consumed (which she said was pre-ground Yuban in cans from the grocery store). I went on to discuss how, even though the coffee I gave her was "nothing special other than Arabica" it tasted superior to what she was use to drinking, mainly because it was fresh.
So I wanted to share this story with my fellow coffee roasters and urge you to share your product with as many people as possible. Spread the word that the most important factor with coffee is that it must be fresh. Fresh mediocre coffee is better than old, quality coffee.
Speaking of fresh, we came back from Costco yesterday, and as always they use their surplus boxes to pack items. It just so happens that one of the boxes we received or goods in was a "San Francisco Bay" coffee company flat box that use to filled with, in their own words, "vacuum sealed roaster fresh for maximum flavor." They go on to proclaim that they sell "The world's finest gourmet coffee... Roasted in the Richer, Darker European tradition."
We received this box on June 14, 2006. Let's extrapolate that it took one week for the coffee to get from roaster to distribution center, to our Costco. Yes, that is probably being kind, but follow along. Now, let's say that from the time it get to Costco, to the time that it was stocked, to the time I got the box was another additional week, so the box, when I received it, was two weeks from roasting. Sure, the truth could be double that amount of time, but let's play nice. So we can safely assume, giving the folks at San Francisco Bay" coffee the benefit of the doubt, that the coffee in question was roasted on about June 1, 2006.
I didn't even notice the source of the box until late in the afternoon when we got home. I was reading the various platitudes and mottos on the box when I noticed a sticker. On one side of the box, next to where it says, "French Roast," was the following sticker, reproduced photographically here:
So they are telling us that their coffee is "Best if.." it is consumed before it is 49 weeks old (343 days), giving them the benefit of the doubt, and we would probably be closer to the truth in assuming that this date is one year from when it was roasted and bagged. If it is now my turn in their game of coffee-packing semantics, playing loose and free with the freshness of their coffee, I would ask, "If it is at its "Best" if used before it is a year old, how old can it be before I can't use it?"
If you have been following along with my since I began here in late 2000, you already know that fresh coffee is critical no matter what method you are using to brew your beverage. How fresh? Hands up when done- wait for Jerry in back.. Everyone done? About ten days old from the time the coffee is roasted is getting pretty old for espresso, and about two or three weeks is at the edge of coffee for most any other beverage. Sure, there are storage methods that can help extend that amount of time to some extent, but once opened to the atmosphere and/or thawed, the coffee rapidly stales to about the same level it would have been if not stored in some manner. At least to say that has been my experience.
Those of us who home roast, or at least have access to local, fresh-roasted coffee of known age and quality, know what freshness means. On the other hand, we rarely have to suffer the pangs of stale coffee so we may not always appreciate the difference that some folks experience when they drink our fresh coffee. So when you give away coffee, be sure to discuss freshness- it really does matter!