Coffee makes my soul dance. And sing. Because black is the new gold.

January 10, 2010

It’s not often I wish this blog had a scratch’n’sniff app, but this is one of those times. That way, I could fully relive a recent visit to the warehouse where my good and kind friend Richard Corney roasts his own coffee beans.

This is the second location for Richard’s five-kilo Has Garanti barrel roaster. When he originally had the idea to put his own mark on the coffee being served at his cafe, the roaster was set up in his parents’ garage. It was rough, it was rudimentary, and it was all the space Richard really needed to turn green beans into magic elixir.

I first visited Richard’s roasting operation a year ago.  We’ve kept in contact since then — his café is my go-to destination when I need a caffeine fix — and so he invited me back on the weekend to show me his new setup.

While I took notes and photos and breathed in the scented smoke — smelling, surprisingly, not so much of coffee itself, but rather of potato skins cooking on a barbecue — Richard concentrated on putting together sample packages of the 10 different Fair Trade single-origin beans he has stored in a collection of burlap sacks slumped around the room.

I maintained my silence as Richard concentrated on the roasting, because listening to the process is just as important as watching.

Coffee beans crack under heat — producing a noise like that of corn popping — first to shed their husks and then again along the beans’ natural fault line. That’s why Richard’s first step was to monitor the roaster’s temperature.

“Temperatures vary, depending on which bean you’re roasting,” he said. “That is very much the secret of roasting coffee, and some of the intellectual property of the big companies. They roast their coffee at different temperatures than other people, and you get a different drinking experience.”

Asked what it takes to attain a perfect roast, Richard said, “lots and lots and lots of practice.”

“Roasters from the big coffee companies are masters of their art,” he said. “There are so many elements that are all involved in making a perfect cup of coffee, but it starts with a good roaster who knows what they’re doing. There’s an instinct to it.”

When I prepare to depart, Richard is still hunched over the roaster, peering at the machine’s dials, making verbal notes with his iPhone, carefully monitoring the darkness of the beans, looking very much the modern-day Dr. Frankenstein intent on his creation.

I leave bearing my own bag of beans, a parting gift that I plan to grind and brew at home so that I may salute Richard’s technique and expertise at least once a day. Oh, OK — maybe twice.

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