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Jason Panella

Coffee

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We've been down this road before, Jason. Here's what will happen. Rich will come in here to back you up. I'll then have to post a ringing defense of Dunkin Donuts, noting that in the 1990s, as coffee consumption seemed to explode in the D.C. area, Dunkin was the only alternative to Starbucks in terms of general availability and quality. It was always fun to tell Starbucks drinkers that, although I like Starbucks coffee very much, Dunkin Donuts was my preference on any given day.

This is more of a class argument, a way to test if people really were measuing the taste of the coffee, or the ambiance of the coffee shop. Of course, there's a large contigent, of which you may be part, that takes no position in the Dunkin vs. Starbucks battle because they dismiss both as subpar. I have no objection to those folks, but most people in this area, 10 years ago and still pretty much today, go to Starbucks and look down their noses at Dunkin Donuts. It annoys me, because although I do like Starbucks, I really like Dunkin Donuts coffee quite a bit, too. And this is supposed to be a scandal?

NO NO NO NO. No scandal. And the ambiance question is null and void since, well, it's being served in a cafeteria that's stuck in '70s time warp.

That said, Christian, now having had Dunkin' Donuts coffee, I'd probably take it over Starbucks.(And trust me, it was certainly better than any gas station coffee I've had.) I'm definitely one of those snobby wankers (the last category you mention), but I'm more interested in getting people to realize that Starbucks is nothing but a gold-gilded turd.

Edited by Jason Panella

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I'm ready to buy some green coffee beans and roast 'em at home, but don't really know what should guide my purchase. Here are my choices. (I'll choose from the "Green Coffee Beans" options in the top section.)

I've purchased roasted beans from Columbia, of course, as well as Guatemala and Ecuador. Don't think I've done Costa Rica. I'm drinking some Sumatra right now. My taste lean toward a smoother bean, but still strong.

Any recommendations? Less than $6/lb., please.

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I've purchased roasted beans from Columbia, of course, as well as Guatemala and Ecuador. Don't think I've done Costa Rica. I'm drinking some Sumatra right now. My taste lean toward a smoother bean, but still strong.

Any recommendations? Less than $6/lb., please.

my votes:

burundi

tanzanian peaberry

rwandan bourbon

haven't had the panama but most of the central american coffees are nice and smooth...

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haven't had the panama but most of the central american coffees are nice and smooth...

I'm leaning that way. Should I go for Guatemala or Costa Rica? I'm thinking Guatemala.

Burundi hadn't registered with me until you highlighted it. If I venture beyond the Central American blends, maybe I'll go for that one.

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We've been down this road before, Jason. Here's what will happen. Rich will come in here to back you up. I'll then have to post a ringing defense of Dunkin Donuts, noting that in the 1990s, as coffee consumption seemed to explode in the D.C. area, Dunkin was the only alternative to Starbucks in terms of general availability and quality. It was always fun to tell Starbucks drinkers that, although I like Starbucks coffee very much, Dunkin Donuts was my preference on any given day.

Heh, heh, let me go on record (wait a minute, this part of the discussion is two weeks old? Where've I been?) as saying that DD's donuts (kickass crullers) are way better than anything baked that Starbucks has to offer. I've grown less fond of Starbuck's, which puts me in the pox-on-both-your-houses category. Forced to pick a coffee kiosk, I'll take Caribou.

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We've been down this road before, Jason. Here's what will happen. Rich will come in here to back you up. I'll then have to post a ringing defense of Dunkin Donuts, noting that in the 1990s, as coffee consumption seemed to explode in the D.C. area, Dunkin was the only alternative to Starbucks in terms of general availability and quality. It was always fun to tell Starbucks drinkers that, although I like Starbucks coffee very much, Dunkin Donuts was my preference on any given day.

Heh, heh, let me go on record (wait a minute, this part of the discussion is two weeks old? Where've I been?) as saying that DD's donuts (kickass crullers) are way better than anything baked that Starbucks has to offer. I've grown less fond of Starbuck's, which puts me in the pox-on-both-your-houses category. Forced to pick a coffee kiosk, I'll take Caribou.

or second cup.

haven't had the panama but most of the central american coffees are nice and smooth...

I'm leaning that way. Should I go for Guatemala or Costa Rica? I'm thinking Guatemala.

Burundi hadn't registered with me until you highlighted it. If I venture beyond the Central American blends, maybe I'll go for that one.

i like the costa rica highland tarrazu...try the guatemala (though i'd take burundi over that). and if you can find the indian monsoon malabar - mmmm....

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I've finished off my first 8 ounces of roasted Guatemala beans, and was generally pleased with the results. I'll roast a second batch this weekend.

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More details, man, more details! :)

What's the roast level? Are you getting typical Central American tastes (slight citrus-y aspects, etc.)? I'm excited that you're roasting!

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Thanks for responding, Jason. I was hoping you would.

I heard "first crack" and thought at the time that meant "first crack of first bean," but have subsequently learned -- and I'm not sure the source is entirely reputable -- that "first crack" can describe the first series of cracks before the cracking stops.

When I looked at the color of the beans after the first bean cracked, they didn't look nearly dark enough to my liking. Now, my only experience with Guatemala beans has been a bag I bought at Costco -- uniformly pretty dark in color, although not as dark as some other varieties, but a taste that was ... fruitier, perhaps? Lighter, in a way, than, say, French roast or what I think of as "dark roast" coffee. Also lighter than Columbian and Costa Rica (moving into Central America, from South America).

So I kept turning the popper, letting the beans roast, heard more cracking after a while. The timer was set to 7 minutes, but I let the roast go at least 10. I had been warned of the dangers of burning the beans, so I turned off the beans at that point, cooled them, tried to get rid of the chaff (have since developed a much better technique for this), and stored the beans immediately. As I was told would happen, the beans got darker and smelled much more fragrant by the next morning, when I made my first cup.

I was pleasantly surprised at how good my first cup tasted. Seemed definitely in the ballpark of what I remembered of Guatemala roast, although again, I'd only had one bag of it, several months earlier. Additional cups throughout the week confirmed my admiration.

For my next batch, I'm going to roast probably the same amount of time, but see if I can get a more uniform look to the beans, many of which were lighter than others. Remember, this is 8 ounces at a time in a Whirly-Pop, not just 2 or 3 ounces in an air popper, so maybe my expectations of a uniform roast need to be amended. I don't know.

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I don't roast on my own, but my knowledge comes from just being around my close friends running their coffee shop's mammoth roaster. One thing worth trying is this: adjust the roast level and see what comes of it. Don't be afraid of going light roast (or close to burnt). Test the ends of the spectrum. EVERY batch of beans will have different nuances that come out at different roast levels, and you'll have to pick the ones you like best. Americans are used to hearing that 'dark' = 'bold' (whatever that means), but some of my favorite micro-lot brews come from light or medium roasts.

Sounds like you'll be a pro in no time!

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For my next batch, I'm going to roast probably the same amount of time, but see if I can get a more uniform look to the beans, many of which were lighter than others. Remember, this is 8 ounces at a time in a Whirly-Pop, not just 2 or 3 ounces in an air popper, so maybe my expectations of a uniform roast need to be amended. I don't know.

By Whirly-Pop, do you mean an automated whirl, self heating? Or one of those aluminum kettles on a stove with a crank? If the latter, beans in a bare kettle, or lightly lubricated surface?

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One thing worth trying is this: adjust the roast level and see what comes of it. Don't be afraid of going light roast (or close to burnt). Test the ends of the spectrum. EVERY batch of beans will have different nuances that come out at different roast levels, and you'll have to pick the ones you like best. Americans are used to hearing that 'dark' = 'bold' (whatever that means), but some of my favorite micro-lot brews come from light or medium roasts.

Today's batch took longer -- nearly 15 minutes! But I like the look of the beans right now, and they'll only get darker. They're a bit more uniform, although my main source, Kenneth Davids' "Home Coffee Roasting," says the beans roasted in a Whirly-Pop should be expected to be less uniform than those brewed using other roaster methods.

Part of the trick is internal temperature. Davids says a candy thermometer should be installed in the Whirly-Pop to guage temperature, and points to an online retailer that sells them pre-equipped with the thermometer. They're easy to install in units not already equipped, as mine is, although he hasn't met me and doesn't realize that the "easiest" of tasks involving drills and screws can be monumental for me. I'm mechanically challenged that way. So I wait a few minutes for the unit to preheat, then dump in the beans. I'm still experimenting with "low heat," which Davids recommends, versus medium to upper heat, which is what I had to revert to today to get the beans cracking after several minutes on low heat.

By Whirly-Pop, do you mean an automated whirl, self heating? Or one of those aluminum kettles on a stove with a crank? If the latter, beans in a bare kettle, or lightly lubricated surface?

It's an aluminum kettle popper, bare, no lubrication, with a crank that I turn manually while the beans roast.

Edited by Christian

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Excellent! Though, I'd say that in a worst case scenario, the risk is worth it if you have a decent pallet for good coffee.

I gave up cigars for a high risk of gum cancer. Risk. I draw the line at coffee. Life must be lived, and fear of its loss is not living.

Edited by Rich Kennedy

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That said, Christian, now having <i>had</i> Dunkin' Donuts coffee, I'd probably take it over Starbucks.(And trust me, it was certainly better than any gas station coffee I've had.) I'm definitely one of those snobby wankers (the last category you mention), but I'm more interested in getting people to realize that Starbucks is nothing but a gold-gilded turd.

I'm bringing this up again because while at Slate this morning in search of new posts for its annual Movie Club, I saw that the site was highlighting its most-read articles of the year. Here's Number 1. I love these taste-test articles.

Note that final paragraph:

It's worth noting that all three chains scored less than half of all possible points.

Edited by Christian

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That was a great article, Christian. Thanks for posting that!

Here's another article, posted on the blog from one of Pittsburgh's great coffee shops (tangent: they've produced several East Coast champion baristas!)

What does "French roast" mean?

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That was a great article, Christian. Thanks for posting that!

Here's another article, posted on the blog from one of Pittsburgh's great coffee shops (tangent: they've produced several East Coast champion baristas!)

What does "French roast" mean?

Fantastic article! The picture is worth a thousand words. I'm slowly adjusting my taste preferences from "darker is better" to "let's see what happens when we don't scorch the beans." But I still like French Roast and have been going near that level when roasting my Guatemala beans as of late. I'm going to step back somewhat with my next batch.

An acquaintance of mine who also home-roasts his beans swears by Sweet Maria's (mentioned in the linked article). He gets their 8 oz. sampler packets of different beans. Meanwhile, I'm still workin' on my 25-lb. purchase of those raw Guatemala beans last year.

I should say that I roasted them at various levels and gave about 8 oz. to several friends and family members as part of a Christmas gift package, and the comments I've heard back have been glowing. Maybe I'm getting the hang of home roasting?

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Here's Number 1. I love these taste-test articles.

Sheesh, I've not been impressed with any of these companies recently (from a coffee POV). I definitely sense that Starbuck's has gone downhill with respect to its regular brews. I tried McDonald's "premium" coffee once. Once. I thought it not really worth the money. I'd never buy a capp from a twist-a-whirl machine. When I have, there seemed to be an unavoidable flavor of evaporated milk.

I say, stick with privateers and maybe Caribou. This could also be the downside of being so fussy at home. Christian, you brew your own. Why still the torch for DD? Or alternatively, have you benn able to duplicate their brew yet?

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Fantastic article! The picture is worth a thousand words. I'm slowly adjusting my taste preferences from "darker is better" to "let's see what happens when we don't scorch the beans." But I still like French Roast and have been going near that level when roasting my Guatemala beans as of late. I'm going to step back somewhat with my next batch.

i'm generally a fan of medium dark roasts meself -- that's 4 on a scale of 5 (from light to dark). of course, i think most of the central and south american coffees lose their delicacy when roasted that much (the brazil santos being a wonderful exception). indonesian coffees (such as the sumatra mandheling and the celebes kalossi) are gorgeous as a medium dark roast. and now i think i will go make me a pot of that kalossi.

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"This week, I became a man." Monday, I forgot to sweeten the pot when brewing my coffee for the day. My french roast tasted fine. I've not sweetened the pot since. Unsweetening my coffee has been a 20 year evolution, now apparantly finished. We'll see.

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That's great, Rich! I, too, have been trying to move away from Sweet 'n Low, although after a year's effort of putting in half a pack rather than a whole pack for each cup, I've gone back to full packets. This makes me less of a man, but for now, I want that (bitter)sweet taste in my coffee.

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Sweet n Low!? Why care about the taste of the coffee if you're just going to poison its taste profile with that?

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Sweet n Low!? Why care about the taste of the coffee if you're just going to poison its taste profile with that?

Adding anything alters the taste profile of coffee. It's a matter of degree.

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As much of a purist (elitist, snob, jerkface) as I am regarding coffee, adding a dash of cream or sugar CAN underline certain aspects of its natural taste (kind of like making a note staccato, or something). Or, better yet, it's like adding a little bit of salt to a meal. Anyway, 95% of the time I just drink coffee black, but sometimes I play with it to see if I can encourage that slight hint of citrus or earthiness out in a Brazil coffee with a pinch of sugar.

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I am avoiding sugar for lent and to get through the day I have finally succumbed to the rich warmth of coffee. I have always loved coffee, but it makes me a bit mad and gives me the shakes as though I'm an alcoholic daytime chat-show host, so have never drunk it very much and am very new to making it for myself.

However, I can't seem to get the brewing bit right. It's always just that bit too bitter. I think I may turn it off before it's ready, or fill up too much with ground coffee.

Hints and tips would be welcome.

Edited by gigi

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