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09 Feb 2016, 08:06

Roasting with Roastmaster and a BlueTherm Duo

I’ve been roasting coffee for 7 or 8 years. In that time, I’ve learned how to roast a great batch of beans that will make excellent, and easy to drink espresso. This tends to live somewhere between City+ and Full City+, usually right at Full City. Now, this is great, and I love the coffee that I roast, but I have realized that I haven’t really nailed the lighter roasts yet, specifically, roasting an excellent batch to City, where the bean is fully developed and has a rounded flavor.

The other thing that’s going on right now, is that I’m waiting for a new roaster setup, which is currently being built. The new setup is a BBQ top 5lb roaster from Coffee Roasters Club. The new roaster is going to be entirely manual, where I’ll completely control both the heat and time. Additionally, controlling the heat exactly is going to be tricky, since it’ll be done on the grill.

With the new setup, I needed some new tools. First, I knew that I would need some way to grab temperature data, and preferably to log it. There’s an app that a friend told me about called “Roastmaster”, which helps you manage just about everything involved with coffee roasting, and has an option to do data logging. I checked out which data loggers were supported, and found that the BlueTherm Duo looked like what I wanted. (I was looking for something bluetooth, with two probes, that could handle the heat.)

My BlueTherm came in the other day, and last night was time to roast some coffee.

BlueTherm Duo

Getting the BlueTherm set up was as easy as turning it on and plugging one of the thermocouples in. I opened the Settings on my iPad, and paired it with Bluetooth quickly enough. Getting it connected in the Roastmaster app was a little unintuitive, but it worked. Luckily, Roastmaster has excellent documentation, which I would suggest having a look at.

BlueTherm with Roaster

Now it was time to place the thermocouple. If you see the the two thermocouple leads in the BlueTherm photo you’ll notice that one has an alligator clip, and the other is a probe that you’d stick into something like a steak. The alligator clip one is the more useful one here. I clipped the clip onto the downward facing vertical part of the chaff tray, next to the drum. I maybe could’ve gotten it underneath the drum, I’ll look up ideal placement next time around. The lead wire is fairly thick, but I was able to let it out in the upper right corner of the roaster door, which allowed me to still close the door. All good.

I plugged things in, and got a roast ready to go, both with my roaster, and in the Roastmaster app. After the thermocouple was all set, and everything ready to go, I fired things up, and let it run.

Roastmaster App

Getting good readings, and things are logging correctly. Yay!

In the app, there are buttons to record the first and second cracks. The app itself is fairly complicated, and there’s definitely a learning curve involved. That said, it’s an extremely useful tool, and I think that it will be indispensable to me going forward.

Something that I thought was interesting while I was roasting was that I could see how much heat was lost whenever I opened up the door to check on the progress. It’s funny, but it had never really occurred to me before that opening the door for a couple of seconds would have that much of an impact on the roast, but when I was logging the temperature data, it was clear that it dropped significantly, and took a bit of time to climb back up.

Another interesting finding was that opening the door during the Behmor’s cooling cycle does not cool it down faster than leaving the door closed (though it does make more of a mess). This seems counterintuitive, but I think that it was designed to get a lot of airflow, assuming the door was closed. It’s similar to a PC case that has been designed to maximize airflow through the components, opening up the case door does not make it cooler, it just screws up the airflow.

Here’s the finished product, something right around City+.

Roasted Beans

I pulled a couple shots of espresso this morning with it, and it was OK. I reviewed it with the Angel’s Cup app.

For me, working with the Behmor is still pretty tricky, but I would really like to learn how to improve on that machine before my new equipment comes next month. Going to a fully manual setup is a little daunting, and I’d like to use this last month to really push the Behmor and see what I can get out of it.

27 Jan 2016, 09:27

Free Coffee!

I drink some of the best coffee in the Bay Area, every day, for free. Here’s how I do it.

Step 1

This may sound like cheating, but the easiest way to drink amazing coffee all the time is to learn to make amazing coffee yourself. I’ve spent years working on this skill, learning a bunch of different methods of brewing and extracting coffee, learning what works and what doesn’t. For me, that’s more than just knowing how to make a good pot of coffee.

I worked at a couple of coffee shops when I was in high school and college. I’ve had an espresso machine at home for around 14 years now, and this past year is when I finally started getting the extractions that I wanted consistently. It doesn’t need to take 15 years to do, having good equipment helps a lot, and that was somewhat of a barrier for me until now. Even with a great espresso machine and knowing how to pull an excellent espresso, I’m still learning how to really nail the latte. I’ve been making progress:

latte art collage

Over the years, I’ve also learned pour-over, cold brew, siphon, and french press. I’ve done cowboy coffee on a few occasions. All this to say, that at home, I’m capable of making coffee that rivals most coffee shops around. No, I’m not better than Blue Bottle, or Chromatic, but most of the time, I don’t have a reason to buy coffee out.

Step 2

Get some good equipment. The first thing is a burr grinder. You’ll want to grind your coffee just before you brew it. It starts oxidizing very quickly once ground, as that happens the flavor disappears.

grinder 1 grinder 2

I would also recommend a cheap kitchen scale, so that you can use a consistent amount of coffee, to make your coffee more consistent. A good rule of thumb is 7g of coffee per serving (6oz for drip, 4oz for french press).

If you’re into drip coffee, I’d suggest finding a drip machine that uses a stainless steel insulated carafe, instead of a glass carafe with a heating element. I would also try to find one that heats the water to between 190-200ºF, which is a typical suggested extraction temperature.

For espresso, you’ll probably want to start with a less expensive machine like a Gaggia and work your way up. I love my Expobar, it has delivered results that I have not seen on the lower end machines that I’ve used. Espresso is a bit of an expensive hobby.

expobar espresso machine

Step 3

Roast coffee at home. This is where you start saving money. Roasting at home means that you get the freshest possible beans, for cheaper than the grocery store brand (probably). Can you buy 1lb of beans that were roasted yesterday for $6.50? If you can, then maybe you don’t need a roaster.

Roasting is a skill itself, and will take some time to get the hang of, but it’s totally worth it. If you are into espresso, the difference in flavor will be obvious, and you’ll start to wonder why you should pay for espresso out. You’ll be drinking the freshest coffee possible, and freshness is what brings you flavor.

roasted coffee

Roasting is a bit of a hassle, but once you get into it, it’s really not that bad. I know the timing of my machine for the batches that I roast, so I know the 3-4 minute window where I need to be watching my machine, and paying close attention. (Warning, beans can catch fire while roasting, you’re going to need to know what to look out for in that case - primarily fire in your roaster.)

Step 4

Sell half of your roasted beans for twice what you bought them for raw. E.g., buy 1lb of raw beans for $6.50, roast it, sell half of that for $6.50. I tend to roast about 340g of raw beans, which comes out to around 290g roasted, and then sell 145g of that for $5. I tend to sell around 3 batches of the 145g beans per week, and drink about the same amount at home. Quick note here, I make sure to buy larger quantities of beans (12-16lbs) using Sweet Maria’s fixed shipping option to keep shipping costs low.

What’s great is that this is a good deal for your friend who’s buying it too. It’s cheaper for your friend than buying a higher end brand that is fresh. I sell mine by the gram, so 290g (~10oz) is $10, or $11.75 for 12oz. According to Instacart, buying coffee from Whole Foods would be expensive: Philz is $14.50 for 12oz, Blue Bottle is $12-14 for 8oz, Stumptown is $17 for 12oz, same as Ritual, SightGlass is $16 for 12oz, FourBarrel is $18 for 12oz.

Conclusion

Has it all been worth it? For me it has been. Since I started this whole process years ago, it’s difficult to calculate the savings. However, let me give it a try. Let’s say that 5 times a week, you go out for coffee, either for espresso, or a latte, or just a regular coffee. I’m going to assume that each trip is going to average $3.50. That’s $17.50 per week, or $910 per year. Let’s add to that making coffee at home, with some reasonable quality grocery store beans at $12/lb, where you go through 0.5lbs per week, that’s another $312 per year brewing coffee at home, and adds up to a total of $1,222 annually.

Cutting the investment above down to the bare essentials, you could pick up a 1lb roaster for $370 (Behmor 1600 Plus), a nice grinder for $130 (Baratza Encore), a Gaggia Classic for $300, and a pour-over v60 for $20. That’s an initial one-time investment of $820. If you get up and running roasting and selling your beans quickly, you could save money the first year, and even afford to get a nice espresso machine like mine by the second year, and still come out ahead.

Even if you ended up not selling beans, you’d likely use around 1lbs per week (making a bit more at home, and not going out), so you would spend around $338 annually.

It’s a bit of work roasting so frequently, but I really enjoy my time with my coffee.

01 Nov 2015, 13:30

Fresh Beans

01 Nov 2015, 09:44

Making Espresso

I wanted to play around with cutting a video together, and figured that pulling an espresso shot would be a good subject. So, the video is of me pulling a shot of espresso. Of course, I’m using my Expobar Office Lever Pro, Rancilio Rocky grinder, and some freshly roasted beans.

29 Sep 2015, 14:24

Happy National Coffee Day!

May you always be heavily caffeinated, and never accidentally buy decaf. 

espresso extraction

That was from espresso #3 today. I think I’m ready for #4.

Come talk coffee with us on the talk.coffee Slack community.

10 Sep 2015, 08:33

Review of the Expobar Office Lever Plus

I recently took the plunge on a new espresso machine. I had written a review of my previous machine, and how I had been frustrated and disappointed with it. After going without a real espresso machine for nearly two years, I thought that it was finally time to get back into it.

I stumbled on the Expobar Office Lever, and realized that it was exactly what I was looking for. First, it was certainly a powerful machine, that I would need to grow into a bit. Second, it was clearly well-built, and repairable, and most likely would last me at least 10 years. Checking the reviews, it was also a popular model, with lots of great reviews. As I was reading the reviews, (and reviews for other similar machines) I noticed that several people mentioned that having the option to plumb in water was valuable, so I found that the Office Lever Plus had that option.

expobar machine front view expobar machine top view

I bought the machine from Whole Latte Love, and it arrived within a week. The first shot that I pulled on it came out exactly how I wanted, I didn’t need to do anything to dial it in. (I somehow happened to have the grind setting just right.)

expobar machine

After the first week, I decided to go ahead and plumb in water. As it turns out, that was worth doing. I had run through about two gallons of water in the first week, and it’s not the easiest to refill. The top cover lifts off, and the tank needs to be removed from there. With all of the extra flushing before and after shots, you’ll go through a lot of water with this machine. I also drilled a hole in the bottom of the drip tray and added the hose for the drip tray drain, that lets the drain water into the sink.

expobar gaugges bottomless portafilter on-off switch

I’ve always wanted a bottomless portafilter. I also love the analog pressure gauges, and the on-off switch is quite satisfying.

latte art

I have never had a machine that was competent at steaming before, and this thing is excellent at it. As such, I need to work on my technique and latte art.

Cons

  • Requires 10-30 minutes heat up time
  • Requires lots of flushing before and after a shot
  • Refilling the water reservoir is a pain
  • Requires dumping drip tray nearly daily

Pros

  • It’s a tank, quality parts were used
  • Delivers high quality extractions
  • Great steamer, possibly endless (though I have not tested)
  • Hot water line is great for heating the cup
  • Easy to pulmb in water line
  • Drip tray can be converted to drain to the sink

Conclusion

This is a machine that I will be holding onto for years. I love what it can do, and the results that I’m getting with it before even spending much time with it. I really love that I have a machine that will allow me to learn how to steam milk properly, hopefully one day, I’ll be able to rival local coffee shops with my lattes - I’m already there on the espresso. In short, not only is it a great machine that will hopefully be my last, but I don’t really see a reason to go out for coffee. I can do as well at home.

02 Sep 2015, 06:41

Expobar Office Lever Plus espresso shot with naked portafilter

Expobar Office Lever Plus espresso shot I pulled this morning with a naked portafilter. No channeling, perfect shot.This is my second ever shot on this machine. First one went about exactly as smoothly. This is seriously the best piece of coffee equipment I’ve ever owned. I’m going need to try hard not to over-caffeinate myself.

29 Aug 2015, 18:23

talk.coffee

coffee

I created a new community on Slack called talkcoffee. If you’re interested in talking coffee with myself and others on Slack, then go to the talk.coffee website and fill out the form. I’ll add you as soon as I can.

26 Aug 2015, 07:40

ROK Manual Espresso

ROK setup

Back in January, I had been without an espresso machine for nearly a year. My previous espresso machine, a FrancisFrancis! X5, had failed the previous year. I had backed the now-infamous ZPM Espresso Kickstarter campaign, and was hopeful until they folded. (I’ve met Gleb a few times, he’s a great guy, and I certainly don’t hold the failure against him or Janet. Sometimes startups fail, it happens.)

I had been getting by with pour-over, but was getting a bit anxious to be able to pull real espresso at home again. I had seen the ROK machine around the internet before and thought that it was a pretty interesting machine. It is completely manual, meaning that you heat the water separately, and you supply the pressure to push the water through with the levers. I’ve had an interest in more manual espresso extraction, where I would be able to have lots of latitude to dial things in, and get the perfect shots, just the way that I wanted them. Since the ROK was not terribly expensive, I decided to give it a try, with the understanding that it was basically a stand-in for a real machine, that I would be buying down the road.

Here’s a video showing about the best extraction that you can hope for on this machine. (Note, the video is not mine.)

For the last six months, with the exception of a month-long trip to the East Coast, I have pulled shots on this machine daily. I was able to get extractions similar to what was shown in the video pretty consistently, but this is about the limit, no ristretto shots here. There is also a hard limit on the amount of force that you can exert while pulling the shot, since the press parts in the top are made of plastic, and might break if you push too hard on them.

portafilter and tamper

I do have a couple of notes on using this machine. First, I would recommend using boiling water, it will cool as it goes through the machine. You may want to run hot water through it to heat it up before trying to pull a shot. You can get a decent extraction if you dial everything in and pull hard on the levers. (Fresh beans makes a very noticeable difference.)

standalone unit milk frother

If you’re somehow still interested in a ROK, mine is currently up for sale on eBay. I’ve had this for 6 months or so, and it’s in great condition. I am also including a stainless steel tamper that fits the portafilter properly. I’m selling this because I’m upgrading to a high end machine, and don’t have a use for this anymore. The milk frother has never been used.

It’s interesting to use a totally manual machine, and I’m glad that I had the opportunity to try it out for a while.

30 Jul 2015, 08:00

Nitro Cold Brew Coffee

There is a coffee shop in San Jose, B2 Coffee, that does nitro cold brew. I always grab a cup when I’m in the area. When I was in Canada the other weekend, I was looking around for coffee shops and saw one close by that had posted on their site that they were getting a nitro system in for their cold brew. I went there and was disappointed to learn that it wouldn’t be installed for another week, long after I was gone. I’m currently in an area where there isn’t even a grocery store closer than 15 miles. Needless to say, there’s not much in the way of coffee either.

That got me thinking about what it would take to do this at home. The first thing that I found was a full-blown system, shown below.

nitro cold brew system

Add this to the list of things that I want to do when I have the requisite time/money. Realistically though, it’d be much better at the office. You’re really only supposed to keep cold brew for a week, and I don’t drink nearly enough to justify a whole keg.

You can get a mini-keg that’s basically just a stainless steel growler, and a tap for it, add a nitrogen tank, and maybe a mini-fridge, and you’re good to go:

Even a mini-keg would be a bit over-the-top for home usage for me. This lead me to Google around a little more. Apparently there’s an even cheaper and easier way to do Nitro Cold Brew coffee. Just use a whipped cream dispenser, they have little nitrogen canisters that attach, and it looks like it works pretty well. 

I’m not sure if they’re using nitros or nitrogen cartridges in the video. Typically, with whipped cream, you’d use nitros. However, I found that you can get pure nitrogen cartridges, for not too much money. From my research, I found people doing both, for both beer and coffee, so I figure that I’ll probably experiment with both when I get around to this project. Either way, if it works, it’ll be a hell of a lot cheaper than buying a keg and a nitrogen tank.