Coffee Snobs Move on to Homemade Roasts
Tuesday, November 21, 2006; 1:20 PM
ARLINGTON, Va. -- America's most finicky coffee drinkers tout their caffeine connoisseurship in many, often contradictory, ways. They spend a bundle at Starbucks, or refuse to patronize big chains. They only drink espresso, or decline any cup of joe they didn't brew themselves.
Then there are people like Chris Becker of Arlington, whose coffee worship involves a ritual that places him at the outer edge of the country's java culture.
Becker roasts coffee beans at home.
"Even my less-than-good batches are fresher than any (beans) I'd buy in a store," said Becker, a 30-year-old government employee who uses a gas grill to transform flavorless green coffee beans into savory dark-brown kernels that he then grinds and brews within a few days, if not hours.
It doesn't require a lot of time, money or equipment to roast coffee beans at home _ less than 10 minutes in an air popcorn popper does the trick _ but enthusiasts devote plenty of each to the craft.
Home roasters congregate at Web sites such as coffeegeek.com, where they exchange techniques; they get together in person to sample, or "cup," each other's beans; and many maintain log books, where they record details such as the amount of time and heat applied to each batch they roast.
"Some guys are over the top," said Dave Borton of Monroe, Wis., who has been roasting at home since January, belongs to an Internet-based bean buyers club and gives away about two pounds of freshly roasted beans every week to co-workers and members of his church. "My wife would tell you I am over the top."
To cater to this tiny-but-growing market, a cottage industry that exists mostly online has blossomed over the past decade, selling countertop electric roasters that cost anywhere from $75 to $500 and green coffee beans from the world's best growing regions priced at around $5 a pound. These items can also be found at some brick-and-mortar specialty shops, such as Fante's Kitchen Wares Shop of Philadelphia and Zaccardi's of Scarsdale, N.Y.
Perhaps the most popular purveyor of green coffee beans is Oakland, Calif.-based sweetmarias.com, which sells around 400,000 pounds a year, according Maria Troy, who has run the business for nine years with her husband Thompson Owen, the founder and something of a folk hero in the home-roasting community.
Sweet Maria's offers customers more than 60 varieties from Central America, Africa and Asia. Prices range from $4.45 to $29.90 a pound.
There are also plenty of smaller distributors of green beans.
Dean's Beans, a 12-year-old Orange, Mass.-based seller of organic roasted beans began selling green beans about 18 months ago after customers requested them. Without any advertising, the company now sells a couple hundred pounds a week and owner Dean Cycon said "if we put the pedal to the metal on green beans, we could actually support an entirely separate company."