My name is John and I’m a coffee addict.

September 2, 2008

I’m generally a morning person but there is a big difference between being awake and being mobile. During these final, frigid days of our New Zealand winter, only one thing lures me from the heated cocoon of our bed and into the personal Antarctica that is our little unheated, barely insulated, typically Kiwi house.

And that one thing is coffee.

I love coffee. And by that I mean good coffee. I don’t drink alcohol. I don’t smoke. Never done drugs. But I will drink four cups of coffee of a morning before breakfast and think myself hard done by if I have to share with Viking Woman.

Actually, it’s her fault I’m addicted to the Devil’s Bean. I was 38 when we first met and at that time coffee barely registered on the Top 1,000 Things Most Important In My Life. But our courtship consisted of sitting in the Starbucks in Peninsula Village (South Surrey, B.C.) and staring lovingly into each other’s eyes. I became an addict. To coffee and Viking Woman, not necessarily in that order.

Say what you want about American corporates ruining the McWorld, but I’m a Starbucks man, to the bone. That’s partially because I’m a filter coffee kind of guy. None of those espresso drinks for me. Add milk to coffee and it’s not coffee anymore — it’s dessert.

And Starbucks brews a mighty fine filter coffee. In a city like Napier, where a million cafes sit shoulder-to-shoulder on every downtown street, the lone Starbucks in town is the only outlet that serves filter coffee. Probably the only reason (along with feijoas and Shortland Street) why I’m not on the next Air New Zealand flight home to Canada.

I have a cheap-ass filter coffee maker at home. Nothing fancy — does the job without complaining. Twelve cups of water, 12 scoops of ground coffee, one more for the filter, a half more for the coffee gods. Fire up the computer, onto the Internet, and the world’s just fine with me for a couple of hours.

I’m buying ground coffee from a supermarket — Pak’n Save, if you must know — and that is the worst kind of coffee you can use. I know that but it’s all I can afford: $5.98 for a 200-gram package of Jolt by a company called Screaming Turtle. It will do for now, until I’m working full-time and can buy the good stuff from Starbucks. Sulawesi maybe. Or perhaps Kenya. Something to get me through to November and the arrival of the Christmas blend, with its mix of Aged Indonesian, my all-time fave.

Now imagine my delight when Richard Corney invites me over to watch his new coffee roaster in action. I met Richard soon after I started writing business stories for the Hawke’s Bay Today newspaper. A mere whelp, Richard owns the Espresso Garden Cafe in the nearby Mitre 10 Mega (hardware store) and I wrote a story about him starting up a coffee appreciation course (of which I was one of the first attendees).

Richard loves coffee. He worships coffee. He understands coffee. It has replaced the blood in his veins. So, naturally, he’s my new best friend.

His goal, when I first interviewed him, was to have his own roaster and thus produce his own product. That dream is now a reality: a five-kilo capacity Has Garanti roaster. Richard has it set up in his parents’ garage, using sheets of plywood to wall off a small space. That’s the typical Kiwi way of doing things — a minimum of material and a maximum of ingenuity.

Richard roasted three batches while I stood to one side taking notes. He pushed buttons and fiddled with the timer and eyeballed the temperature readout and explained how, like a barista monitoring the crema, roasting is all about instinct and gut feelings and perfect timing.

No instruction manual, just a good eye. And a good ear — the bean cracks twice, once to shed its husk, the second time to split along its natural fault line. You need to get the beans out of the roaster and onto the cooling tray very quickly after that second crack.

There is a mixture of smoke and steam emitted during the roasting process and each variety of bean has its own distinct aroma. Smoke from a Sumatran bean reminded me of potatoes cooking in their skins on a barbecue. The Papua New Guinea beans smelled woody, like a fireplace. They both smelled delicious.

Richard has dubbed his new company Flight Coffee and is now using it exclusively in his establishment while his business partner knocks on doors around the country to find other cafes to take on their product. I’m meeting with Richard on Thursday for an interview and will write about his new enterprise in one of my final features for the newspaper.

In the meantime, Richard gave me a couple bags of roasted beans, partially because we’re now mates, partially to thank me in advance for the impending story, and mostly because he has bags of roasted beans lying around from early calibration experiments and he needs to find them a good home.

That was yesterday. Today I tried the PNG and found it just OK. By that I mean, it was a bit on the watery/weak side.

That may have to do with the roast having occurred 10 days ago, or my grinding technique (12 nods of my head, which equals 12 John Seconds). The end result was not as strong as I like it (strong = my heart races and then actually hesitates for a beat) but I may be able to remedy that by adding one more full scoop.

Richard also gave me a second, smaller bag of roasted beans. He explained these were from Timor and warned they were so powerful/explosive/fierce that he only uses them in blends. I smiled and explained that “powerful/explosive/fierce” was how I liked my coffee. (And my women, for that matter, but more on that in a future blog.)

Tomorrow morning I’m going to run the Timor beans through a French press (plunger), a method I find produces a truer taste sensation. If my head doesn’t explode with the first cup, that will be the subject of my next blog.

Stay tuned. This should be fun.

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One Response to “My name is John and I’m a coffee addict.”

  1. George said

    Ha ha! Very entertaining John. At times the wee man on my shoulder put in his 2 cents but overall – great job! Filter coffee is not real coffee however, on this we will have to disagree. And Starbucks is going out of business in NZ – isn’t it? So does this mean you will be home-bound? PS. the name bitemymoko could be a little ‘un-PC’ for this incredibly PC NZ. Otherwise, carry on!

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