Friday, September 21, 2007

couple more

some final, quick pics before "big brown" arrives next week. remember, everything you have seen up to and including this point is completely homemade using regular off the shelf parts. Only a couple pieces of stainless steel were special ordered.

forgive the background with the starbucks coffee brewer. at least, to your right, you can see a well used french press. yes, the wood looks a bit bulky and awkward. yes, the amazing steelwork looks brilliant. we'll get it sorted out soon.

this is the cooling tray. i should say, it's the cooling tray 1.0, as it will no doubt be upgraded next month with an agitating arm(s) of some sort. yes, it is detached from the roaster (i.e., has its own separate fan apart from the airflow used on the roaster).

the part you're meant to see is that this arm lowers the screen of the cooling tray to dump beans into a separate holding bin after cooling.

next week she arrives. set up will be slow as we aren't in our roasterie yet. hopefully early november to be up and running.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007


those (four) of you who read this blog regularly know that i started in on a topic a month or so ago that i have yet to finish posting about. we were discussing the political, social, economic and quality ramifications of the various agencies and bureaucracies currently associated with the specialty coffee trade.

since that time an interesting thread has gotten going over on coffeed about fair trade pricing and all its attendant ramifications. in light of that educated discussion i'm going to bow out from completing my thoughts on it, as i have put my little hat in the ring over on that thread and don't want to be potentially talking out of turn.

in other news, the new roaster will be here shortly. in one week, to be exact. the last things to get done are the cooling tray, the trier and setting the rpm's correctly for the drum size. because we're basically short on time, my father-in-law is setting up a rudimentary but functional cooling system that will incorporate a regular box fan (separate from the roaster) and a lift type system to dump them into a bin once the beans are cooled. the trier will be fashioned out of stainless steel and will have a replaceable handle so i can use wood or something else in the future. i am seriously thinking about getting one of those custom reg barber triers seen at right (hat tip: geir oglend's flickr account).

the changeability of the cooler also highlights one of the great features of this roaster: it is easy to add, change, move and otherwise alter stuff on it in the future. tweaking will be a necessity, i'm sure. thank goodness it'll all be done under the watchful eye of my good ol' dad-in-law.

next item on the agenda: finalizing discussions on my new roasterie/warehouse. more on that soon (i hope).

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Friday, September 07, 2007

rounding third

we're almost round third base, heading for home. that, of course, is my father in law--the man responsible for cooking up the recipe i've concocted. thank goodness he knows what he's doing and how to put stuff together. this pic to the left is a view of the gas controls side panel and the pulleys that turn the drum inside the roaster. if the gas controls look familiar, say, kitchen-like-familiar, that's because they are formerly a part of a kitchen stove. with four burners arrayed like the top of a gas stove and a middle pipe-type burner running down the center of those, we should have the btu's to get 'er done right. natural gas, in case you're wondering.

speaking of the right, that's him again holding on the hopper and chute throat. on the drawing board the hopper's diameter seemed appropriate for our purposes. once it got sized up next to the actual roaster body, however, we both agreed that it is too tall, too thin. it may require a step stool to load manually, something i'm not too keen on doing, especially at near-capacity loads. but it's an easy fix for some future date and not a critical error. just fabricate a lower, wider one and voila!

today, i got this email from him that read:
Hi Aaron,
Just a quick note...You're looking, for the first time, through the sight glass of Big Brown. You're good to 1200 degrees F and have a 3 x 3' viewing area. The trier goes by the little tick mark just below it. -Dad
i think he went to the local fireplace shop to get that, since the other day he told me his son, my brother-in-law, had recently gotten some replacement glass for his fireplace there and it clicked that this would also serve our purposes. i would've probably also preferred the trier and sight glass to be on the left side as you face the front of the roaster, next to the gas controls. but now i think i might just be getting nitpicky. after all, my father-in-law did place the sight glass and trier at the exact heights i requested so i wouldn't have to stoop or tippy-toe up to see them, or have to hold my arm/shoulder in some ergonomically uncomfortable way for any period of time.

you can also see the drop door that will empty beans into the cooling tray. ah yes, the cooling tray. running into a spot of trouble there. the plan as it stands right now is to basically attach (possibly detachable) a box with a separate fan to the bottom of the chute area. time is a little low for us now, so that may be the running option and we can tweak or change it after it arrives. and about that e.t.a.? we're looking at just over two weeks now. unfortunately, i won't be roasting with it in two weeks, as I still need to find and sign for a new place to put her. but i've got a line on some places and the move in shouldn't be too big a wrinkle to iron out.

more later. just wanted to share some of my excitement.

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

has it really been almost a month?

i'm getting pretty bad at blogging. maybe i blogged so much in the early days because i didn't have any real work to do. in any event, i just wanted to highlight an event i participated in a couple weeks ago that ties in with another project i've begun work on.

not long ago i took a trip up the road to austin to be part of the Texas Coffee Think Tank. the name sounds auspicious, but it was really just an informal gathering of texas coffee professionals designed to share experiences and encourage each other around coffee. i was asked to lead a cupping session for our inaugural meeting and afterward we would share lunch, beers and conversation around what we wanted the group to accomplish coffee-wise.

i thought about all the regular cupping sessions i've done in the past (geography as flavor, how roast affects flavor, cupping for defects, pre-ground versus fresh-ground, etc.) but since it was august i realized it was a golden opportunity to undertake a very special cupping.

some of you who have read here for a while know i am participating in a two year study with some colleagues that focuses on packaging and storing greens in ways that can possibly help maintain freshness better than traditional jute/burlap. with my friend jaime acting as catalyst we decided to vacuum pack several samples of fresh greens during our january/february '07 trip to guatemala. the idea was to separate vac-packed samples into room temp green samples and frozen green samples, and then every six months for two years we would open the corresponding samples from each storage method, roast them identically, cup them and capture any notes. jaime and i have both blogged about this before, so i won't rehash it all now. but i did notice in the run up to my meeting in austin that since it was now august (six months after returning from guatemala) it would be a golden opportunity to utilize the unbiased palates of the others at the meeting.

for the meeting's cupping i decided to try something a little different. it just so happens that i have greens from the same lot of the same farm in guatemala from '06 and '07, as well as the frozen samples from '07. so it was the nearly perfect apples to apples comparison i was looking for to determine the affects of time on greens. i say "nearly perfect" because both the '06 and '07 non-frozen have been carefully stored at room temperature, but the '07 non-frozen has actually also been rebagged out of jute and into plastic. and of course, the '07 frozen has been removed from jute, vac-packed and frozen immediately upon my return home at a constant zero degrees fahrenheit. close enough for government work, i guess.

anyways, visually, the greens were easily identifiable. the '06 had a pallid color relative to the solid jade of the '07 non-frozen. but the frozen '07 looked so much richer jade than even the non-frozen '07 that it almost looked as though they were different beans altogether. the roasted aroma of both whole bean and ground was almost a dead giveaway. and finally, of course, the tasting was the real test. no surprises...the frozen sample ran away with it. unbelievably fresh, fruited and sweet with a high degree of jasmine-citrus aromatics and fragrance.

now, typically i'm a big fan of blind cupping; and normally i would have conducted this session blindly as well. but i felt it was more important to make it known which was which for the purposes of level-setting everyone's palate to what fresh tastes like. did i tip the jury? i really don't think so. half the group had to ask me which was which anyways because they were busy talking among themselves as i was explaining. but they were asking which was which because when they got to the frozen sample they were blown away and were only asking to confirm what their tongues were telling them.

the rest of the meeting was productive and fun. john from jp's java (the founder of the group and our host for the day) made lasagna for everyone and supplied the beer. some great ideas were borne from the meeting and everyone looks forward to september's get together at austin java, where we are trying to get a screening of the movie black gold. eventually brown will host a meeting, if and when we get our roasterie built here.

oh and by the way, the purpose of the frozen greens experiment is not to get everyone to freeze their greens (although that was a clear winning argument from our first cupping). the purpose is to open the conversation about moving away from storing in jute/burlap by giving viable alternatives. i do have some '07 crop from that farm that is being purposely kept in jute to run against our frozen samples a little later in the year and into next.

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