Archive for April, 2009

Congratulations (again!) to Gwilym!!

April 22, 2009

Gwilym Davies of the UK has won finals of the World Barista Championships in Atlanta! This is especially amazing news, as this is the third year running that London-based Square Mile Coffee Roasters have roasted the winning blend; giving two wins for the UK, and one for Ireland.

Gwilym’s set (seems to take a while to load …be patient!).

This can only be a good thing for coffee in our part of the world. Given that this is all part of a relatively small, but growing, movement of people passionate about great coffee in the UK, it should help to sustain and further promote the cuisine. It’s great to think the UK is able to be at the forefront of developing this, and it’s really inspiring, optimistic news for all of us who strive to produce the very best coffee we can day-in, day-out. Hopefully this news will also continue to filter down not just to those in the speciality coffee world, but to (normal!) people on the street – helping to make them increasingly aware of what a delicious, diverse and  magical thing coffee can actually be, and of the skill and devotion that can be involved in bringing the best from plant to cup..!

My First Ever Home-Roast!

April 7, 2009

Professional roasters, please look away now, as the following post is embarrassingly low-tech and amateurish …but it was fun!

On the other hand, no doubt the title of this post will cause a few accomplished home roasters/baristas to stumble across it, and, if so, I’d appreciate any pointers on how to improve! 

This first attempt at roasting at home actually occurred a few weeks ago, when I got back from the UKBC, but I’ve only just got around to posting.

My burgeoning coffee cupboard is overflowing with oddments of roasted beans that I’ve never quite managed to finish (I love coffee, obviously, but I don’t drink huge volumes of it – especially at home – so it just seems to gradually amass… which is a shame really – any tips for leftover old beans?). Naturally, therefore, I decided I needed …more roasted beans! Hard to resist really though: for competition I had some green samples (some of the first I’ve ever actually seen in-the-flesh), of both the coffees in my blend, to display on the judges table – and it seemed a shame for such lovely green coffee to go to waste, so near to the glorious end of its life-cycle – so what better opportunity to try my hand at roasting?!


I knew from the start this is such an art that I didn’t even attempt to go all-out with it: no proper home roasting machine, no in-depth technique – I was just curious to use the most basic, straightforward method, and see what happened.

So, after about 15 minutes online to just confirm my what I vaguely remembered reading somewhere before, I grabbed our best heavy-based frying pan, and set to work!

I decided to use some of the more ‘normal’ Brazilian Cachoeira Yellow Bourbon (rather than the Ethiopian Sidamo), and just a small amount –  about two cups-worth. The beauty of this being that I knew they were great quality greens, and I already had a good idea how this aught to taste, when properly roasted!



Pre-heated the pan (medium high), and tossed-in the beans.


With a spatula, I made sure to constantly and rapidly stir the beans, whilst also agitating the pan, to try and roast as evenly as possible.

After about 4-5 minutes the beans were noticeably turning a deeper yellow-brown.


At about 7-8 minutes the first popping started. Not as loud or violent as some info had led me to anticipate; quite a soft crackling sound (like little twigs underfoot?), with the beans staying firmly in the pan – nothing like popcorn, in this case anyway.

I didn’t want to over-do it, and the general colour looked good after about 9 minutes of roasting (or perhaps more accurately, frying!), so I whipped them off the heat and tossed them into a metal colander, and tipped them back and forth between this and a sieve, whilst also sprinkling on a little water, in an attempt to rapidly cool the beans, and arrest the cooking.


…Then I took them outside to shake and blow off the chaff.


…Finished beans!


I removed the more obviously over and underdone beans, and, although the camera seems to highlight the unevenness of the colour, I was actually fairly happy with how even they looked – although it was clear that the evenness (or unevenness) was potentially going to be a problem.


One thing that struck me, even though I could have anticipated it I suppose, was the total lack of the beautiful fresh-roasted coffee aroma that I had anticipated! More just an oily, smokey affair – quite the opposite! I’ve learnt in the last year or so that coffees’ flavours only emerge fully after a few days (or even weeks!) from roast – but I was still surprised that there were no distinctive and delicious coffee smells during or just after the roasting process.

I guessed they would emerge though, and so popped the beans into a little cup, covered them, and left them overnight, pretty happy with the result, and eager to see how they turned-out next day.

Next evening, after about 30 hours, I got in, lifted the film, and smelt the coffee. Yeaaay! Smells like coffee!! …Even smells like Cachoeira!

…*Renewed anticipation!*

Ground coffee – aroma even better – smells great!


Made a cup… 



Mmm… tastes.. pretty… good!    It’s like …coffee!


Took a 2nd mouthful… mmm… still tastes……… UH-OH! Wait! …Something not right.

…Something definitely not right!

Oh dear.

Indeed, whilst it wasn’t absolutely awful, after a few sips, I had to leave the cup, as an uncertain, weird and unpleasant taste was building that I couldn’t bear to persist with.

I guessed that one of the main problems (as well as the generally ridiculously basic method) was perhaps the unevenness of the roast – individual beans being both underdone and charred, causing unpleasant tastes to pervade throughout. But I hoped that it may improve with more resting.

After 3 days …it hadn’t.

To be honest, I’m glad, and not a bit surprised, that my home roast was pretty horrid compared to the masterfully crafted real thing. If they’d been just as good when roasted by an idiot in a frying pan with 15 minutes roasting experience, my firmly held belief in roasting-as-an-art would have been crushed, and I would have been quite disillusioned!

And anyway; it was really interesting, intriguing, and fun to see the transformation of the green coffee right to the cup – and to see that even with such a basic method, some really promising-smelling beans and grounds can be produced. The end result was disappointing however; sort of so-near-and-yet-SO-far. Maybe with some more trial and error though, something nicer might be attainable…