Feast Portland Inspires: Wake Up and Make the Coffee

In additional to the Grand Tastings, wine dinners, Night Market and more at the now-annual Feast Portland festival, classes and tasting panels are a compelling draw. At last weekend’s event, I sampled my way through the Beer Breakdown, did a little pig head butchering at the Face Meat workshop, and learned about miso-making at the Fermented Foods of Japan class.

Of greatest interest to me, though, was the Roast Your Own Coffee class. Despite 14 years in Seattle, I’m a fairly new convert to the caffeinated drink—one who quickly jumped from coffee novice to coffee snob. A garage sale loving friend recently gifted me a Wear-Ever Popcorn Pumper to roast beans at home, so the class was a chance to learn more about the science and technique of roasting.

In preparing to teach the class, Adam McGovern of Sterling Coffee Roasters said he was surprised how well an old-fashioned Whirley Pop Popcorn Popper works, so that’s what we used over stovetops at Portland’s Le Cordon Bleu. McGovern explained the Whirley Pop serves three essential purposes: it holds the beans in place, allows heat through, and moves the beans around.

Actually, the person roasting has to move the beans around by constantly cranking the handle to avoid scorching them. Over medium heat, the beans reach first crack in about six minutes (you can pull them just afterward if you like a light roast), then second crack several minutes later (at this point you’ve got a medium roast, though you can go longer for a dark roast). The Whirley Pop enables indoor roasting of about one cup of beans at a time, whereas the Popcorn Pumper my friend gave me is limited to less than a half-cup (yielding enough to make only four cups of coffee per roast), and is best used outdoors, as chaff flies everywhere. (My Popcorn Pumper does have advantages. For example, an electric air popper doesn’t require cranking, and it roasts more quickly and uniformly than the Whirley Pop.)

Both poppers are low-cost ways to start small-batch home-roasting. Green beans are relatively inexpensive, and they keep for about a year, which means that even casual drinkers can have freshly roasted beans. You can buy two-pound bags of various beans at Seattle Coffee Works (or sister store Ballard Coffee Works) for about $15 per pound. For even more bean variety, plus a wealth of home roasting information to geek out on, check out Sweet Maria’s online. Prices are lower at SCW (with one-pound bags available), though savings can be offset by shipping costs if you don’t buy a large quantity. Either way, while it’s fun to feast on the many great coffee shops in both Portland and Seattle, McGovern rejoices that home-roasting is “an economical way to experiment and make something supremely yours.”

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