My First Commercial Coffee Roasting!

in Buying Coffee, Coffee and You


     I’m so excited to share this experience with you.  I have roasted my first commercial batch of coffee!

Up to this point, I’ve only dabbled in home coffee roasting.  That started with a simple popcorn popper, which is the most basic form of a coffee roaster.  In fact, it helps to think of advancements in the coffee roaster being improvements and scale-up of the popcorn popper.

Read: How does coffee get roasted?

From there, I invested in a small home coffee roaster for hobbyists, a definite improvement from the popcorn popper.  The challenge with roasting coffee is in the ventilation since it creates so much smoke.  My first home coffee roaster would set off the smoke alarm until I moved the operation to the garage.  The last roaster I bought was yet another improvement, this one with a catalytic converter (same as your car’s exhaust system) to reduce smoke.


   On a recent trip through Reno, NV, I made a point of stopping in at Coffee Per, manufacturer of the San Franciscan commercial coffee roaster.  CEO Bill Kennedy gave me a great tour of the facility, and also invited me to roast a commercial batch of coffee, my first ever!

Read: Coffee Per – the San Franciscan Roaster

Bill let me do all the work, although he definitely helped.  The roaster we used was the San Franciscan SF-25, 25 as in the number of pounds that it can roast at one time.  Coffee Per is not only a manufacturer of roasting equipment, but they are also a wholesale coffee roaster, using their own equipment.  Bill had an order to fill, and in his words, he was going to do all the talking, and I was going to do all the work.


     Here’s a very quick rundown of what we did.  Bill had the green unroasted coffee beans in a bin ready to be loaded into the hopper at the top of the roaster.  I lifted the bin to the top of the roaster, and dumped the green coffee into the hopper.  We then fired up the roaster by turning on the heat beneath the drum in which the coffee would be roasted, when dropped from the hopper.  Gauges on the roaster identify the temperature inside the drum, and would also let us know the bean temperature as the roasting progresses.

On Bill’s signal, I released the green coffee from the hopper into the drum.  A small circular window (see to the left, above) lets you see the beans turning in the drum so that you can keep your eyes on them as they roast.  A small “trier” even lets you pull out a sample of the beans from inside the drum in case you want to take a better look at them without stopping the roast.  As the beans are roasted, there are two audible “cracks” that help determine if they’re ready.  Roasting past the “second crack” produces a dark roasted coffee.


     Given an assessment of the color of the beans, the sound of the cracks, the smell of the roasting process, and the roaster’s experience with this particular bean, there’s a definitive point where they are considered “done”.  At that point, they are dropped from the drum into a “cooling bin”.  Coffee continues to roast from its internal temperature, even after it is dumped from the drum.  The cooling bin agitates the beans while they are blown with cool air.

As a last stop on understanding this roasting equipment, I made the short drive from Coffee Per to a local roaster in Carson City, NV named San Rafael Coffee Company.  Owner Landon purchased his roaster from Coffee Per, his is a 6-lb version.  While at San Rafael, I enjoyed a brewed cup of fresh Nicaraguan coffee, roasted on the same machine that I was using earlier.

My first commercial coffee roasting – another very cool and eye-opening coffee experience!

Trip Report: 2014 CoffeeCon San Francisco

in Brewing Coffee, Buying Coffee, Coffee and You


     I was honored to once again attend CoffeeCon as a Media representative, this time in San Francisco, one of my favorite cities anywhere, on July 26th, 2014.

Check out: Official CoffeeCon home page
Read: Trip Report – CoffeeCON 2013

CoffeeCon is THE show tailored not necessarily to the coffee industry, but rather to the coffee drinker.  For those who love coffee, there is a full day of brewing and home-roasting workshops, interaction with local roasters, and presentations for the coffee drinker by industry giants.  I had my work cut out for me, looking at the schedule and having to finalize which workshops and presentations I wanted to see.

Read: CoffeeCon 2014 San Francisco (planning)

IMG_0946     I’ll have many updates in the coming days and weeks to talk about all the cool stuff I saw.

My first presentation of the day was by Kenneth Davids, author of three books on coffee, and founder of Coffee Review, the leading coffee evaluation website and report.

I was so pumped to see this presentation on the method behind how Kenneth evaluates coffee.  I own the three books that Kenneth has written, and I follow his Coffee Review closely in order to run out and buy coffees in my area to which he has given a 90% rating or higher.

In an afternoon session, I was able to meet Alan Adler, inventor of the AeroPress coffee brewing system.  I use the AeroPress at home, and for some coffee lovers, it is the only acceptable way to brew coffee.


     Alan led a wall-to-wall packed session on how to properly use the AeroPress and get the most out of it.  It was very cool to learn by the inventor himself.

Throughout the day, there were similar workshops given on how to properly use the Chemex and iced pourover methods of making coffee, as well as presentations on the science of coffee and importance of grinding.  Keynote speaker George Howell gave the day’s longest and most in-depth presentation, as he did when I attended in Chicago last year.

Read: Blog posts on George Howell


     Finally, one of the coolest things about CoffeeCon is the people you meet, or see again.  Everybody there loves coffee, no matter where they are in the chain.  To the left, I met Wilford Lamastus, a coffee farmer from Boquete, Panama.  We were introduced by Jason Griest, owner of Sacramento’s Old Soul Coffee.  I am visiting Panama in the early part of next year, and Wilford had great advice for planning my trip, and visiting his farm while I’m there.

And now, the big news…CoffeeCon has one more stop in 2014.  Los Angeles on November 8th.  Go to the official CoffeeCon site for information on how to follow them over social media, and stay updated.  I’ll be there at the Los Angeles show, and if you’re in the area and love coffee, you should be too!

Profile: Renegade Roasters Design Group

in Buying Coffee, Coffee and You, Coffee Gear

photo 1

I always love hearing a business story that combines a lot of dedication and a little bit of luck, to create something brand new.  That’s the story of Cheryl and Boyd, of the Renegade Roasters Design Group in El Cajon, California.

For 20 years prior to 2000, Renegade was installing and servicing coffee roasting equipment.  At that time, they were the company helping install Krispy Kreme‘s coffee roasting plant.  Boyd was getting increasingly frustrated with some of the common design features of coffee roasters.  He truly felt as though he could design something that better fit the needs of the coffee roaster industry.

While they were doing their work for Krispy Kreme, Cheryl and Boyd asked if they could be provided space on the production floor for Boyd to tinker with different ideas he had.  It was then that the Renegade roaster was invented.  Fourteen years later, it is available in at least three different sizes depending on the amount of coffee that needs to be roasted.

Since then, the company has sold roasting machines throughout California and all over the world.  While I visited them, Cheryl told me about a local roaster that I’ve been to before, that has been roasting for 25 years.  When they needed to expand production by buying a new roasting machine, they turned to Renegade.  They liked their trial of the Renegade, and if it fits in with their business, Renegade will be their future provider of roasting equipment.  And this is a company that’s been doing the same thing successfully for 25 years.  There’s always room for improvement.

photo 2

     So, why the name Renegade?  Simple.  Because the big established roasting equipment manufacturers don’t like them.  They have taken a step back from how coffee was being roasted conventionally, and re-thought the model.  In re-thinking the model, they have identified ways to better customize how coffee is roasted to bring out the best in it, and how to make the coffee roaster’s life easier in the process.  For instance, Cheryl showed me how easily a Renegade can be cleaned and maintained, versus the conventional machines.  When a big company has had the good fortune to do things the same way for so many years, it’s the companies like Renegade that reconsider how things are done, invent something better, and force the much slower-moving big companies to change.

Just as customer service is a must for the coffee roaster, so too is it for Renegade.  As Cheryl pointed out to me, “we answer our phones seven days a week”.  When the coffee roaster is working, Renegade is working.

CoffeeCon 2014 San Francisco

in Brewing Coffee, Buying Coffee, Coffee and You

coffeecon2014     I am honored to once again attend Kevin Sinnott’s CoffeeCon show, this year in San Francisco, attending as one of the event’s Official Media Bloggers.

There are all kinds of coffee shows for the industry, where people in the coffee business get together.  CoffeeCon however is the first, and as far as I know, only show for the coffee drinker.  It’s for you and I.  If you love coffee, there is no shortage of great information, vendors, and demonstrations at CoffeeCon.

Check out: Official CoffeeCon home page
Read: Trip Report – CoffeeCON 2013

coffeecon sf 2014 schedule

The biggest challenge of all is how to see everything that I want to see.  To add to the challenge, we’re attending a sporting event in San Jose that late afternoon, so I won’t even have the luxury of the whole day.

012Intro     10 AM: This is the time of day where I wish I could be in four places at once.  George Howell is the keynote speaker, and his cupping/tasting workshop last year was a highlight of the show.  However, since I attended the whole workshop last year and also interviewed George afterwards, I may forego his workshop this year, or sneak in before it ends.

Read: What is Direct Trade coffee? (George Howell interview)
Read: How A Coffee Professional Makes Good Coffee (George Howell interview)

This narrows my options to the AeroPress workshop led by AeroPress inventor Alan Adler, Cacao Tasting (I am a dark chocolate fiend!), and How to Review Coffee with Kenneth Davids, founder of Coffee Review.

IMG_1619     There’s no easy choice here, but I have to go with How to Review Coffee.  I own three books that Davids has written, and I follow his Coffee Review evaluations so that I can try the coffees that he reviews that are local to me.  I also plan to interview him later that day, and would be embarrassed if I didn’t attend his presentation.

11 AM: Here, I’m torn between the Chemex lab, and Helen Russell‘s presentation on Coffee Social Responsibility.  I am a proponent of responsible coffee buying – thinking about where coffee comes from and conditions in those parts of the world.  However, I attended a similar presentation last year and it was at the expense of a formal presentation on proper use of the Chemex as a way to brew coffee.  I have to go with the Chemex lab.

IMG_1600     12 PM: Hands down, I have to go with the Science of Coffee at this time.  I am by no means the science type, but I think a basic presentation on the science of coffee would be very cool and informative.

1 PM: It has to be the Aeropress lab, led by its inventor Alan Adler.  I’m upset to miss Scott Merle‘s presentation on Coffee Sustainability, but as you can see, there is just way too much I want to see at each time slot.  I love my Aeropress and use it often at home to brew coffee.

At 2 PM, we bust a move to catch live UFC in San Jose at the SAP Center!  Fellow fight fans, Ruthless Robbie Lawler vs. Matt the Immortal Brown!!  Yes, I said earlier that coffee takes precedence, but as you can see above, I’ve outlined four solid hours of coffee education before I’m on my way.  It will be another great experience, and one that makes me appreciate coffee all the more.

How does coffee get roasted?

in Buying Coffee, Coffee and You, Coffee Gear

typical drum roaster

Recently, I participated in an online course by the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA), the coffee industry’s trade association.  In representing the needs of the coffee industry, they also provide education in specific areas.  This course was an Introduction to Roasting Equipment.

At the most basic level, coffee roasting comes down to two things: applying heat, and keeping the coffee beans in motion.  Without heat, they won’t turn brown from their original green color.  And without motion, you won’t get an even roast.  Ironically, the appliance that both applies heat and keeps material in motion is the popcorn popper.  Years ago, I used to use a popcorn popper to roast my own coffee at home.

As time has gone on, I have upgraded from the popcorn popper to home coffee roasters.

Read: Marc’s Coffee Bar


A farmer has gone to great effort to grow a consistently good coffee, and from there, your local roaster brings out the best in its flavor.  Here is the jist of what your local roaster does.

The green coffee beans are fed into the hopper at the top of the machine, and into a drum that will turn at a certain speed while a burner underneath the drum provides hot air flow.  The coffee roaster determines at what temperature he wants to set the drum, as well as what speed for it to turn.

It helps to think that the coffee flavor we all love is at the center of the bean.  As it is roasted, the flavor is “unlocked” and brought to the bean’s surface.  The roaster can hear this happening at a stage called “first crack”, the earliest point at which you would stop roasting the coffee.  “First crack” sounds like popcorn popping.  Further along, there is a “second crack” that sounds as though you were playing with cellophane wrapping in your hands.  Darker roasts go to and beyond “second crack”, at which point the coffee will take on flavor characteristics of the roasting itself, replacing the flavor nuances that are specific to the coffee’s origin.

There are a couple important additional steps in roasting coffee.  The first is cooling.  After the coffee is roasted and removed from the drum, it maintains a high internal temperature.  The beans need to be cooled down so that they don’t continue cooking from within.

The second additional step is incinerating.  The by-product of roasting is a skin that falls from the coffee bean called “chaff”.  This chaff burns, requiring strong ventilation when roasting coffee.

These are the basics.  While the machines don’t differ greatly from one to the next, the real art of roasting is in how the machine is used to bring out the absolute best that the coffee has to offer.  This requires much trial and error, strong knowledge of the roasting equipment, and a dedication to constant learning.  When you find coffee you like from a local roaster, stick with them!

What happened to the Percolator?

in Brewing Coffee, Coffee Gear

percolator2     Question:

“We have an electric Percolator.  You don’t write about that (or I haven’t found it yet).”
– Andy


Andy, great to hear from you.  We had an electric percolator in our house for years when I was growing up.  I was in high school before my parents made the switch from a percolator to a drip brewer, and that’s when I started drinking coffee.  I’d never known the joy of percolator coffee until a recent trip to Maui, where the kitchen in the rental home had a percolator for making coffee.

Read: The Melitta – Simple Pour-Over Coffee


More importantly, what happened to the percolator?  Most of us will remember it from when we were kids.

For starters, what is a percolator?  It is a type of coffee pot that brews the coffee by constantly cycling boiling or near-boiling water over the ground coffee until the desired coffee strength is reached.

What happened to the percolator, and why?  It was replaced in most kitchens in the 1970s-80s by the drip brewer that is familiar today.  The drip brewer emerged as an improvement over the percolator for a few reasons.  First, you spoil some of the flavor of coffee by boiling it, and the percolator relies on boiling water more than once to brew it.  Second, some of the coffee that you keep in the cycle may already be brewed before you remove it, which will cause something called “overextraction”, where the coffee is thicker than is desirable.  The smell of coffee brewing may be nice, but flavor in the cup won’t be.  Third and related to the last point, there is less consistency with the percolator – unlike a coffee maker with a clearly defined cycle end, you can keep brewing the coffee in the percolator as much or as little as you want.

In the late 1970s, many of the large percolator manufacturers were scaling back production.  The drip brewer heated the water, but didn’t require that it boil.  The drip brewer’s cycle runs once, and consistently, and your coffee is ready – the same as the last time you used it.  The percolator because obsolete, but fear not, Andy.  To this day, the percolator has advocates that have learned its nuances and still swear by it.

Coffee is an Air Freshener

in Buying Coffee, Coffee and You, Coffee Maintenance

yuck     A few years ago, a friend of mine who drives a semi, was telling me about how they used to use coffee as an air freshener when hauling fish.  He said they would literally throw bulk coffee beans into the back of the trailer with the fish, to help with the smell.

Read: Coffee Beans in the Fish Truck

It’s the same reason you don’t want to keep coffee in the fridge or freezer.  Coffee absorbs from the air around it, and the fridge is full of stuff.

I recently moved to the beach outside of San Diego, CA.  Most of the apartments near the beach are, well…beachy.  For instance, my building is at least 40 years old, and it looks it.  Some of the cabinets throughout the apartment have an old smell, and I thought of coffee to do something about it.

I’ve been traveling a lot recently and when I do, I tend to buy more coffee than I need from roasters in the cities I’m visiting.  Long story short, I had way more coffee than I needed.  Instead of throwing out coffee, I’ve been using it as an air freshener in old cabinets.

That’s my MacGyver trick for the week! 🙂

Where Does Coffee Come From?

in Buying Coffee, Coffee and You, Coffees of the World, Fair Trade and the Environment


     All too often, we look to coffee as that hot drink that wakes us up in the morning, and gets us through the afternoon.  Few stop to think about where it comes from.

I still remember the first time I walked into a Starbucks and saw their diagram about how the coffee bean begins as half of the seed of a coffee cherry, before it’s harvested and roasted.  I couldn’t get my head around it.  At the time, all ll I knew is that you could either buy it in dark brown beans, or pre-ground.

The first step to truly understanding coffee is understanding where it comes from.

Take five minutes to read about the people behind the coffee.

mauigrowncherries    Check out the new Coffee Sustainability page.  It is a work in progress, and meant as a quick overview of two things.  First, the problem today with poverty in coffee-growing countries.  And second, the solutions that are in place and what little things you can do to make a difference.

As a coffee drinker, you’ll have an even greater appreciation of it after you learn about the people who make it possible for us.  Check out the new Coffee Sustainability page.

The Future of Single-Serve Coffee

in Brewing Coffee, Buying Coffee, Coffee Gear


coffeepods     “You’ll likely scoff as soon as I mention the idea of single-instant coffee such as Keurig and Tassimo but in a world where fast and convenient reigns champion they aren’t going away.  Where do you see this market going over the next 1, 3, 5 years?  Keurig is also promising a locked-down machine with the claim it will ensure the highest quality by only using their cups but customers will definitely see this as a move to limit using cheaper alternatives or re-usable options — are they shooting themselves in the foot?

Our culture thrives on entitlements and convenience – just look at the explosion of Keurig and Tassimo.  The next logical step in this market is the increase of single press brewing and I’m curious if you have plans to review any (notably AeroPress).”

– M. Millar


Mr. Millar, no scoffing here.  These are great observations and questions, and in order to do them justice, I’ll answer in the following order.  I’ll let you know what I think of the single-serve pod coffee makers.  I’ll speculate where the market is going.  And finally, I’ll let you know what I think of Keurig‘s decision to launch the Keurig 2.0 incompatible with unlicensed K-Cups.

makerandpodsPod, or single-serve, coffee was at one point the largest growing segment of the coffee gear market.  I assume as I type that, that it is still the case.  You hit the nail on the head in terms of why – convenience.  Check out my blog post with initial reactions to the pod coffee system: The Skinny on Pod Single-Serve Coffee.  Since I wrote that, there is one other advantage that I have to give these systems, and that is consistency.  The system produces the same cup of coffee every time because each step is automated.  Now, the cons.  First of all, the coffee in the pod, even if airtight, cannot be as fresh as the whole beans that I keep in airtight cannisters and grind only as needed to brew.  Second, the method by which the pod system works makes a good cup of coffee every time.  When I recommend brewing methods such as Pourover, French Press, or the AeroPress, these methods are designed to be more manual, but for all the right reasons.  These methods make a great cup of coffee, and only require a little skill and repetition.

I speculate that in the years to come, the single-serve coffee system will gradually replace the drip brewer that has been in kitchens for decades.  Just as the drip brewer replaced the percolator used by generations before us.  Both the pod coffee maker and the drip brewer are convenient, make decent coffee, and are consistent from one brew to the next.  Except in the case of the pod coffee maker, it is better in all three respects over the drip brewer.  The drip brewer has one advantage, in that it makes a lot of coffee at once, which is why I still use it when making coffee for a lot of people.  However, the people I know with pod brewers make a cup of coffee in a few minutes and I’m not seeing them carrying a drip brewer as well – in those homes, the substitution has already taken place.

Green Mountain Coffee Lawsuit     Keurig’s decision to launch the 2.0 and make it incompatible with unlicensed pods? – meh!  The worst part about it is that it is probably a great business decision, but limits the choices of coffee lovers.  If my speculation on the pod coffee market above ends up being accurate, and Keurig is the most recognized brand in the category, they will reap much benefit from this exclusivity.  So, good for them.  Bad for a coffee lover like me, that can make literally ANY kind of coffee I want with my chosen brewing methods.  If I replaced all my coffee gear with a Keurig 2.0, I’m limited to what they license.  Today, there is no limit to what I can brew for myself, or for you when you’re a guest in my home.

brewing_small     I sum it all up by saying that when a system is fully automated, it’s likely more efficient for the greater part of the system.  However, a small part of the system that can greatly impact the final product cannot be automated because it requires a human touch.  A machine cannot pourover like I do.  A machine cannot work the AeroPress like I do.  For this reason, the pod coffee maker will always make a good cup of coffee, likely good enough for many people.  With the inexpensive gear I have, I’ll always make a great cup of coffee.  If you drank the two side by side, I promise you could tell the difference.

How to Make Good Coffee When You’re Moving

in Brewing Coffee

3dbeans     Several years ago and after much trial and error, I finally cracked the code on how to make good coffee when you’re camping.

This week, I am moving from my apartment in downtown San Diego, formally known on Foursquare as San Diego’s Best Coffee.  Forgive me, I don’t like Foursquare, so I have fun with it.

When I first moved to this apartment from Portland, Oregon, and before the delivery of my precious coffee bar gear, I was without for a whole week.  It reminded me of when I first moved to Portland from Canada, and went for more than a week without the ability to make good coffee.  In both cases, I had to rely on mediocre local coffee stands with their bankers’ hours.

presspotI decided this time, I would prioritize making good coffee, and wouldn’t you know, it isn’t that much different from my advice for when you’re camping.

As I type this, I have both apartments, the old and the new.  There is some touch-up and last steps needed before I fully move to the new place although most of my things are already there, and until then, I’m in the old apartment with the basics only.  Here is how to make good coffee in a situation like this:

French Press: While I’m ‘camping’ out in the old apartment, I have electricity and water, and that means a working stove that can boil.  This is not only a great way to make coffee, but an incredibly simple one.

– Good coffee: Of course.  I usually have two good coffees on hand at any given time.  One of them has been moved with everything else to the new apartment.  The other is on hand here at the old apartment.

Grinder: The burr grinder stays with me.  I thought about shipping it to the new apartment and using one of the propeller grinders that I keep on hand for an emergency, but there’s no need.  A burr grinder is not a large kitchen appliance.  This is a variant on the camping advice, where there is no power (although a fire to boil water) in which case I would grind all of the coffee that I need in advance.

travelmug– Travel mug: That way I’m ready, whether I’m on the run to rent a steam cleaner, or sipping it here.

Folks, that’s it.  For my third move in as many years, I’m finally enjoying good coffee.  Whether you’re camping, moving, or simply preparing good coffee for yourself at home, the guidelines of making good coffee are not complicated.  You simply need to do a little planning in advance, and make coffee a priority.

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