July 14, 2013

Learn the science of coffee, great cup of joe’s the reward

Coffee By Design’s guru puts his faith in slow-roasted, quality beans from farms he visits himself.

By Randy Billings rbillings@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

A great cup of coffee starts with a quality bean, said Coffee by Design co-owner Alan Spear, who has visited more than 50 coffee farms since 2003 to observe the growers, farms and their practices.

But there is a science -- perhaps even a religion -- to roasting, brewing and serving coffee.

"For me it's a ritual," Spear said.

Prior to a recent interview, Spear put this ritual to work. He measured out 80 grams of whole-bean Indonesia Sumatra coffee, which came from the Lintong region of northwest Sumatra. He freshly ground the beans, placed the ground coffee in an oxygenated white filter and flipped the switch of the drip coffee machine in his office.

Spear explains that, like any other agricultural product, a great cup of coffee starts with the environment in which it is grown. That's why he visits as many of his coffee producers as possible.

He pays extra to have coffee sealed in a plastic bag before it is placed in the traditional cloth coffee bag.

When it comes to roasting the beans, Spear opts for a slow, drum-roasting process. The roasting temperature is determined by the amount of moisture in the bean, which is measured by a machine. Each step is logged onto a computer and hand-written in journals.

"It's like cooking a steak," Spear explained. "If you cook it too fast, you're not going to bring out the flavor."

The peak roast usually takes 13-15 minutes, he said, while darker roasts range from 17-18 minutes. Throughout the process, small samples are pulled from the drum so the beans' color and odor can be monitored.

Some of the coffee blends contain three roasting levels.

Spear has a test roaster in his office so he can sample new beans. He observes, feels and smells the whole roasted bean and the ground bean, before wetting it for yet more observation.

He tastes the coffee initially while it is hot and throughout the cooling stages. If a coffee turns sour or loses flavor as it cools, he said he won't buy the coffee.

"A good cup of coffee can change someone's day," he said.

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:


Twitter: @randybillings


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