No matter where I am; camping, home or at work, in the morning I need coffee. I am not a morning person and whether it's purely psychosomatic or a pure caffeine addiction, I cannot say. I really don't care. I love my coffee.
The jingle about the best part of waking up? Yes, that's right, coffee in my cup. (I don't want to promote a particular brand but some of you know the commercial I'm referencing) So when my editor asked if I might have some interest in reviewing green coffee beans, I nearly swooned with joy. Actually I think I “squeed” like a little girl. You read that correctly, green coffee beans. You can say raw, or green or un-roasted. I was so excited I did a bunch of reading right away, which was the completely boring part.
The science of roasting is very detailed and unless you are a scientist, which my husband is, (so he thought it was fascinating) you might get bored. I thought it was neat for about five minutes. I learned about the history of the bean, processing of the bean, endothermic reactions of the bean, exothermic reactions of the bean. Yeah, I lost interest right about here too. I'll move on. What I did learn was that there are different roasts, measured by the beans color, which is not boring. Especially if you like light bodied coffee and dislike dark roasts (like I do). So thanks to the wonderful people at Camping Survival (http://www.campingsurvival.com) and their generous offering of Future Essentials Organic Green Coffee Beans, I got to play with roasting my own coffee. What I got out of the experience was tips that I did not find online. I will share in a moment.
The first thing I learned was that green coffee beans have a very long shelf life, unopened of course. Green coffee beans have a shelf life of easily 20 years which, for you folks who are into food storage, is huge! Of course you also need a grinder, but if you want to go really primitive, I suppose you can use a mortar and pestle or a rock if you're truly desperate. If I am faced with post-zombie-apocalypse, you bet I am going to need my coffee. I am adding a mortar and pestle to my bug out gear. Zombies don't sleep, right? OK, all kidding aside, even if you “just” go camping, you can pre-roast and grind coffee for your trip, seal it in a vacuum or zip closure bag and have fresh roasted and ground coffee for your chilly wilderness mornings or around a roaring campfire after the sun has set. Sounds mighty nice to me.\
When I opened the can of beans, I immediately thought, “Hmm, I either have to roast this all at once-defeating the purpose of fresh roasted coffee- or find a lid to fit this can.”(no lid came with my test coffee) So I opted to roast the whole can in two cast iron pans on my grill. I think next time I will definitely invest in a lid, which they sell on the Camping Survival site. So while I cannot comment on small batch roasting, which I'm sure is more easily controlled, I can tell you about larger batch roasting. One thing is certain no matter what method you use or where you roast: there will be smoke, and it will smell weird. Another thing I thought was that the green coffee beans looked and smelled like raw soybeans, which I grew up eating in the farmer’s field I roamed back home. Don't try this. They do not taste like soybeans (which I like) and do taste like grass (which I don't like). Ick. My editor thought this very amusing though, so try it with a crowd around if you like, they'll no doubt laugh as well.
Moving on to the actual roasting, I fired up my outdoor grill and preheated two 10” pans to about 500 degrees. This is about the temperature you need to roast the beans (the website says between 400 and 500, but a grill is kind of hard to fine tune) for up to 10 minutes. I used the “shake to flip” method that the chefs use to “stir” my beans since I didn't think to use a whisk. Use a whisk. There are less coffee bean casualties that way. After about 3 minutes the beans started turning yellowish and smelled like grass or hay (I'm guessing color/flavor at this point). From here things started moving quickly and the popping started. The website calls this the first crack stage. It is here that the beans reach the “cinnamon roast” that is the most mild and lightest in color. About two more minutes later we were darker in color in some spots and reached the American/city roast which is about where most coffee roasting in the US stops. I would have stopped here if I had less beans in the pan, but I overloaded and still had some green beans so I kept going. From here, I got a mixture of a Vienna/French roast from the beans that were already partially roasted and a Full City Roast from the previously still green beans. That was about three more minutes and where the second crack occurred. This stage is different from the first crack stage in that the “crack” is louder and also where the chaff (the outer hull) comes off. Something they didn't mention in any of the sites I read; the chaff will fly everywhere. If you're outside it isn't a big deal, but inside it could make you a bit crazy. I turned the roasted beans onto a cookie sheet to cool which only took about 10 minutes. Alternatively, the Camping Survival site says you can use a hot air popcorn popper to roast your beans. I am definitely trying this next time.
The combination of the two roasts in one pan made for an interesting end result. I got a sort of dark, medium roast that made a pretty good cup of coffee. I wouldn't say it was outrageously delicious, but I think that was because I roasted the whole can at once instead of just what I would have needed for one pot. I would say it was as good as the grounds I normally use in the morning. My husband actually said he expected more of a “burned” taste with all the cracking and chaff floating around, but even he said the coffee was good. I guess I'm not an expert roaster yet, but I think with some practice I could crank out a roast that would taste even better than store bought.
The bottom line is though, that for the price (around $12) for 19.2 ounces, it costs about the same as pre-ground, store bought coffee, in my grocery store anyway. The difference though comes with its extremely long shelf life, ability to customize your coffee roast flavor by the pot (or cup) and just the sheer “neat” factor of actually doing your own roasting. The roasting was something that I really liked and I would buy the green coffee beans from Camping Survival again. Plus, I have to make sure I have coffee in any situation I may find myself. I can't outrun zombies if I'm sleepy, right?
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