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Down The Coffee Nerd Rabbit Hole

With the understanding that the Matter of Facts Podcast was always meant to include varied subject matter with somewhat central themes, Andrew and I have been talking about integrating in some of our hobbies and some lifestyle subjects. Now, I'd happily call coffee roasting and processing "prepping adjacent" on account of me including Bunker Beans from Disaster Coffee in my long term preps, and preps are of little value if they require processing that you lack the knowledge or equipment to perform. A bucket of rice and beans requires a method of boiling water and so on..... yes, that's my justification.

Coffee bean storage is a subject with a lot of nuance and opinion involved...because let's face it coffee is all about the taste and taste is highly subjective. The general consensus is that ground coffee will stale faster than whole bean, and roasted will stale faster than green/unprocessed beans. From these generalities we can pretty easily conclude storing coffee beans in their natural state is preferable, with the usual caveats that limiting oxygen and moisture will stretch out the period in which the beans are viable similar to other dry goods. The critical difference between coffee and rice is that coffee beans are not homogenous like other dry goods, and as a result their lifespan in proper storage is not as long. How long is an open debate, some say ten years while others say one year. I would argue if you drink coffee, buy regularly and rotate through your preps like we recommend with all the rest of your food preps. My personal method is in keeping with the rest of my long term dry goods storage; air tight buckets, oxygen absorbers, and dessicant packs.

Prepparing your coffee for consumption involves several tasks; roasting, grinding, and brewing. Roasting is one of those subjects that seems deceivingly simple on the face of it, and devilishly complicated the more you learn. Roasting is, in simple terms, the heating of coffee beans to change both the physical structure and chemical composition of the bean to ready it for brewing. Attempting to brew a green, unprocessed bean, is not advisable and will cause some impressive gastrointestinal discomfort. Roasting coffee is a subject complicated enough to merit an entire discussion on its own and a more knowledgeable presenter, but my personal method for the time involves fire roasting using a small metal wire pan. Roasting should take place at a temperature as aggressive as possible without scorching beans UNTIL the 'first crack' at which roasting temp must drop to prolong the roast and again not burn your beans. Different degrees of roast have, in my experience, yielded very different flavors.

As you can see above, when the beans were still in unground form, the differences in color were much more difficult to discern (more evident to the naked eye than the camera, but still subtle). Once ground, the differences in color were more evident. My recommendation for roasting would be to target a specific point in the roast rather than a color which can be more deceiving (and more difficult to determine depending on your roasting method.) My personal taste leaning towards very bold and dark, I know I need to roast very deep into '2nd crack' stopping just short of burnt beans. Stopping earlier changed the taste from more smoky and bold towards a gentler taste with a hint of peanuts in it. This will vary a LOT depending on your individual taste and the origin of the beans you use, just know that some experimenting will be required and the result will be targeted to your individual preference.

For this little experiment, I ground all of my coffee with my camping hand grinder. A power grinder, far from being a luxury, is a heck of a time and muscle savor if you plan to grind your coffee daily...and you should because fresh ground coffee tastes amazing. What my power grinder, and many cheaper ones do, that made it less preferable for this kind of individual taste testing is it retains some grounds from the prior batch of beans. My hand grinder, and most hand grinders, do not. Just food for thought, and also dictated by how much coffee you intend to grind at a time. Grinding 1 oz of beans took several minutes by hand. What many do not realize is that grind size can also have an affect on the taste of the coffee, and should be roughly tailored to the brewing method. Longer brew methods favor coarser grinds (like french press) while faster methods favor fine grinds (like espresso).

Coffee cupping, other than being an incredibly pretentious and nerdy activity, is the roughly standardized protocol for tasting coffee. I prepared all three cups similarly, 9 grams of ground beans to 150 grams of water, allowed to brew for 4 minutes similarly in style to 'Cowboy Coffee', scraped the crust off the top and allowed them to cool. I will not pretend to have an incredibly well developed palette, but enough to notice differences. This same method can be used not as I did, which was to test three different roasting levels of the same bean, but to test several different coffees of different origins. The intent here is to taste the coffee, without being muddled with the other variables like grind size or brewing style.

Speaking of brewing...and getting the train back on the tracks...this is the final step of preparing your coffee for consumption. Probably the best known method of coffee preparation in North America is the faithful "drip" machine adorning kitchen counter tops around the country. While I'm sure the truly nerdy can intone why one drip machine is superior to the rest, I'll just suffice to say that the action of heating water and pouring it through a bed of roasted and ground coffee is a ubiquitous one. Other methods include french press, so called "cowboy coffee", percoloation, espresso, and several others. Each brew method has it's proponents, and while I have played with several of them and found some differences in taste none was substantial enough to prevent me enjoying my coffee. I will allow that, in particular when away from home, some methods are certainly more convenient and condusive to brewing on the go. Above are the three brewers I haul along away from home, with the Nanopresso on the far left being a recent addition I have yet to fully figure out the particulars of.

If this entire article fell flat with you because you despise coffee on a fundamental level...I really think we need to reevaluate your life decisions. Otherwise, if you have embraced much of what MoF Podcast has been espousing and somewhere in your preps you have some coffee, now might be the time to consider how exactly you plan to handle that particular need if things go sideways. What started for me as a few bags of green beans in a bucket turned into curiosity regarding how to prepare them, and down the rabbit hole I'm going so far as to eschew purchasing my faithful red cans of Folgers and stock up on green beans to learn roasting myself. If you're interested, leave us a comment and I'll be sure to include everyone on this little journey with me.

Phil Rabalais

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