Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Immaculate Caffination

The other day I went down to Laughing Whale Coffee for a personalized tour of their exciting, new, ultra-low emissions roaster. They haven't picked it's permanent name yet--for now it's going by "Joe Green".

Joe is a heck of a sight to behold. An 18 kilogram roaster made by US Roaster Corp, it takes up rougly the same square footage as my entire kitchen. The computerized controls with touchpad are impressive, as is the huge roasting barrel, but it's the wide, black, floor-to-ceiling catalytic tower that takes the cake. Smoke from the roaster spirals up into the catalytic burner, which incinerates the particulate in the smoke at a temperature of 575 degrees Fahrenheit. The output is very hot, 98% emissions-free air--which can then be redirected into the roaster or released through a vent at the top of the building. A former energy consultant, owner Steve Zubalik is contemplating adding a heat exchanger to allow them to use the hot air for building heat and/or constructing a greenhouse on the roof which can be heated with the exhaust.

After our introductory, reverential pause in front of the roaster, Steve showed me around his operation. We inspected the various green beans and the distinctions among them (long story short: decaf is unappealling at every stage of the game), measured some into a plastic bucket, smelled them, and used a robot-gone-crazy type vacuum attachment to suck them up into the roaster. While we waited for the machine to get up to temp, Steve told me about their new Cafe Feminino coffees. Not only are they fair trade and organic, but they support community programs for women across South and Central America.

The roaster kicked into action. We watched the beans circulate through a doll-sized porthole and listened for the telltale signs of successful roasting: The first crack passed by, then the second crack, and then we watched the beans spill out into the cooling tray. I crunched one up while it was still warm. Delicious.

Steve sent me home with a bag of French Roast. Until about... three days ago, I hadn't been a fan of the dark roast. Now that I know what it tastes like when it's artisanally roasted to perfection, I can't go back. 'nuff said.

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