Brewed to imperfection

January 4, 2016 § 35 Comments

Cyclists love coffee and so do I.

A couple of months ago I started roasting my own beans, the primary motivation being cheapness, so I ordered a towsack of green coffee. There are only three or four pounds left from that original 15-lb. green coffee bean purchase from back in November. The total cost was about $4.15/lb, as compared to the going rate of about $14/lb for roasted coffee at Peet’s.

That’s not a typo. You’re paying the good folks at Peet’s about ten bucks to do something that at home takes about fifteen minutes.

Every couple of days I roast up a few beans in the cast iron skillet. It takes about minutes and then another few to shake out the husks. It’s a very un-pro operation. The beans roast unevenly, some of them burn, and when I shake out the husks off the balcony a few of the beans always tumble into the weeds below.

But you know what? I was back in Texas a few days ago at my Mom’s drinking her luxus coffee (whole bean as well as the little capsule stuff), and my worst coffee is infinitely better than her best. Mine is smooth and requires no milk or sugar. Hers is bitter. You know, it tastes like “coffee.”

And every cup of her Nespresso creates a little plastic package of waste that goes straight to the landfill. She’s a bumper sticker environmentalist, which means that although she wants to save the planet, when she needs her caffeine jolt the earth is just flat fucking gonna suffer.

What’s better than the coffee, though, is the little ritual of spending fifteen minutes every couple of days to prepare something fresh, from scratch. No machine, no fancy vacuum pack, just these little green beans gradually browning in an old iron skillet as I lazily stir them with a wooden spoon.

And the real payback is that the best moment in the day, when I drink my first and often only cup of coffee, comes from something I brewed deliciously to imperfection.

Now I know what you’re thinking: “Who the hell has time to fry up coffee every couple of days and shake out the husks and shit? What a pain in the ass.”

So this got me thinking because my Mom’s other coffee machine is a very fancy deal with a built-in grinder that you can time so that when you wake up the coffee is ready, freshly ground and freshly percolated. Like the Nespresso rig, the whole point is to push a button and get on about the important things in your life, like email and Facebook and cats.

The pleasure I’ve gotten out of my frying pan and burlap sack of beans is precisely the opposite of time saving and push button convenience.

Our lives are filled with time-saving devices, but have you ever considered what it is we’re saving the time for? For most of us, it’s not to put the finishing touches on our Nobel-prize winning chemistry experiment, it’s not to rebuild the burned-off faces of Syrian children war victims, and it’s not to feed and clothe the homeless on Skid Row. Rather, it’s saving time to do absolutely nothing worthwhile, which would include Facegag, football, everything on TV and anything at the movie theater.

But the single biggest reason we save time is so that we can work to pay for all of the time-saving devices that let us work more. Think about that for a second. It should make your head hurt.

And we work to pay for the huge homes and storage spaces in which we cram the time-saving devices. (Mom was renting three units at last count.) I’m not a minimalist, but I do live in a tiny place and I am cheap. I’m not anti-capitalist, but I don’t really want to spend any more of my time making money or spending it than is necessary. In other words, Target for me is not a destination.

Like commuting by bike, roasting a few green beans every couple of days can become an important ritual that fills your time with something that’s hands-on, cheap (did I mention it was cheap?), and that results in one hell of a good cup of coffee.

It might also be good, just a tiny little bit, for my curmudgeonly old soul.




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§ 35 Responses to Brewed to imperfection

  • Jeff Cozad says:

    I’m glad to hear you’re still home roasting. You might try here for some tips, I am basically using a hot air popper to do the same thing. It might help to even out your roasts. Goodwill is a pretty good source for them.

    • fsethd says:

      Thanks! Wooden spoon and iron skillet are good enough for now. Soon, however, I’ll be purchasing an industrial roaster to do 500-lb. batches.

      • josh says:

        WankStar™ Roasted and Smasher approved.

        Who the fuck has time for smashing on coffee?
        I text my order over to the local WankStarbucks and have my friend (just the one) go drink it for me. Don’t got no time to not be drinking no coffee…..

        • fsethd says:

          Exactly. I have someone manage my FB page, too. And without Blogbot 3.712, those 3:00 AM deadlines wouldn’t ever get met.

  • sorta_TX_racer says:

    But if I roast my own beans, that will seriously cut into my blog-reading time.

  • Tom Paterson says:

    Wanky, you took the words right out of my mouth (“no conceit in my family”):

    If I may (just a phony, self-serving expression meaning “watch out, I’m gonna”), an informational quote concerning this roaster from

    (quote): BACK IN STOCK. This latest Hottop model [KN-8828B-2-K+] adds USB connectivity to Artisan roasting software running on a computer. You will have the ability to run the roaster from the Artisan software once properly configured; alternately you can control the roaster directly. In either case Artisan will record the roast profile and key events during the roast. Saved profiles can be stored and serve as a background to future roasts if you wish to follow a previously successful roast of a given coffee. This roaster and software combination takes home roasting to a new level and adds immensely to its enjoyment. – See more at: quote)

    But wait, there’s more:
    (quote, from above link): Priced at at $1600 including free shipping the KN-8828B-2K+ is a revamped KN-8828B-2K which can be had for $1100. The upgrades that your $500 buys are:

    A new, USB compatible control panel featuring an advanced LED with wide viewing angle, high contrast, and full roast data displayed in real time. LEDs change color as temperatures rise.
    Four bi-directional, infinite-rotation speed-sensitive knobs for easy and fast parameter changes during the roast (fan speed, temperature control, target temperature, and target time).
    Two K-type thermocouples for separate bean temperature (BT) and environmental temperature (ET) for real-time monitoring. Both temperatures are displayed on the LED screen throughout the roast. Other Hottop models have but one thermocouple.
    The USB port is bi-directional and supports third party software (Artisan) for real-time monitoring and graphing of roasts as well as for computer control of the roaster.
    Updated heating elements allow for roasts up to 300 grams (vs 250 grams for other current models).
    Artisan software can be used on Windows, Mac and Linux computers and is open source *free* software. While free it is well supported and updated by a community of users and is surprisingly robust providing near professional capabilities.

    It should be noted that while Hottop guarantees and supports the roaster they do not provide same for the software and have several disclaimers to that point. (end quote, and quoting)
    Whoops: 10.25″ x 19.5″ x 14.25″, 25lbs unboxed, “Must be Vented”

    Wow. Control of bean and environmental temperatures through the brilliant implementation of *two* thermocouples.
    And saved roast profiles. My dog, my dog. How do I become worthy?

    And finally, that push to learn really learn Linux instead of being a lazy, free-loading, piggy-backing Mac user.

    I am abashed.

    Wanky– where do you buy your beans, again?

    • fsethd says:; they have an eBay web site as well and a regular users’ discount card that makes it cheeeeeeep. Er.

  • Tamar T. says:

    $16 for two pounds of Major Dickason’s at Costco.But I would love to try your home brew sometime. (hint, hint.) Also go riding with you before you gain any fitness,,,,,

  • Carlos says:

    I’m with Tmar T.
    By the way, wife and I come from coffee growing families but Kirkland 4 lb can dark roast is good enough… so was instant until I got a basic Mr. Coffee. But grandma used to roast her own for home consumption when I was a child and it does bring back some good memories.

  • Brian says:

    You are reminding me of when I go somewhere on vacation and see someone taking the time to do something basic and I think what a simple but beautiful existence, when will I have that? Well evidently it’s right here on your balcony in the South bay… No 20 hour flight needed.

  • kitchen_elf says:

    I still don’t understand the pleasure people get out of those pod systems or chain coffee. I was seriously considering a “real” espresso machine and was thoroughly underwhelmed.

    I went back to pour-over and fresh beans and haven’t been impressed enough to do anything else.

    • fsethd says:

      Anything that takes the fetish out of normal daily things is a win. Ultimately it’s a drink. Make it simply, fresh, drink it, and get on with the day. And don’t spend more than you have to!

  • Jim says:

    Are you going to buy your own monkey to consume and then shit out the beans prior to roasting? That is supposed to be the really good stuff.

    Seriously tho, where do you buy the raw beans?

  • dangerstu says:

    It’s the simple things that make life a pleasure. My mum broke both bones in her ankle last August, she needed an external cage to hold the bones in place and spent 6 weeks in hospital. She has been home for about 3 months now, but not able to get out much, because it’s been raining a lot in the UK and doesn’t want to slip and fall. Today she got to go to the Super Market with my sister, by the way she talked about it on the phone this morning, you would have thought she had won the lottery.

  • Minnesota Expat says:

    Does your mom know what you think about her coffee? Published in a blog read around the world? Bad Son and Grand-Pappy!

    All you need to do is deposit $2.99/month in my anonymous PayPal account and my next weekend ride won’t be round-trip to Austin!

  • 900aero says:

    Lovely read – thanks. I would probably be right there with you in skillet-vile but I have two friends who each live within 10 minutes bike ride who roast their own and will basically make me anything I wish for at a price that is beyond reasonable. One of them runs his bean business as a charity project (he drives ships for a living) and donates everything he earns. It would be churlish of me to ignore my good fortune – even though I do love a good ritual which keeps the industrial world at bay for a while.

    PS – maybe its just me but your convalescing has been quite good for your writing.

  • UstaBeFit says:

    So that’s how SCC got Smasher…Prez promised him free SBUX delivered! Man I learn some good shit on this blog all for $2.99 & month…winning.

  • bajavic says:

    Seth. My coffee “problem” started the same way! I roast my own as well, check out “Sonofresco” for beans , and look into an old air popper for pop corn, A home roaster trick. Now I have 3 commercial espresso machines to play with to go with my collection of bikes!

    • fsethd says:

      I’ve been French pressing for years, and so far the skillet + press are working, said the addict.

  • Key says:

    seth, long time reader, first time poster.

    i have a coffee roastery over here in japan. as a ‘pro’, i can tell you that your roast looks like shit-and yet, it is a thing of beauty!

    long before i bought my big nasty industrial machines with the k probes and all the fancy gadgets, i would get up early and go to a nearby park to roast my beans in frying pan. those roasts looked exactly like yours!

    i always felt like a king drinking that coffee.

    the japanese like to say- the joy is in the doing- or maybe it was the french.

    either way, roast on, seth! roast on!

    • fsethd says:

      Ha, ha, ha! They DO look like shit. Where in Japan are you? I whiled away a decade in Utsunomiya.

      The joy is partially in the doing, but it’s also in doing cheaply and with a little effort what someone else wants to do for a lot more money and no effort on my part.

      I don’t remember which dialogue, but Plato has a great one where Socrates talks about why cookery can’t be art. At the end of the morning it’s STILL just a cup of coffee.

      Thanks for posting.

  • Key says:

    what on earth were you doing in the ‘gyoza’ capitol of the world? isn’t half the population of utsunomiya yakuza? now i know why you talk so tough!

    a while back the daily yomiuri ran a story about utsunomiya saying what a ghost town it has become-lots of pics of boarded up shops thrown in to make their point. sad.

    i don’t like those cold, snowny northern japan winters where i can neither ride my bike or take my wippet out for his morning walk (he is more of a wuss than me).

    i am down in miyazaki prefecture (known for it’s tropical beauty and a population made up entirely of the elderly….you and i fit right in).

    love this blog, always the best read of my day.

    come on back over for a visit. i’ll show you my beans!

    i sell a ‘plato blend’ that socrates quite enjoys.

    roast on, seth!

    • fsethd says:

      I’ve never been to Miyazaki, but Utsunomiya has changed a bit since 1987, when it was a vibrant industrial city filled with young people. Gyoza was not its selling point; that came in the late 90’s. When I first lived there it was known for its good water. People would get off the shinkansen and fill their bottles with the tap water.

      I never stopped cycling except when there was heavy snow, which was rare. Threw on lots of layers–wool was the fabric of choice–and nutted up.

      Roasted another pan of bad coffee this morning. Ummmmmm!

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