Coffeeheads. We don't mean the folks who drive around clutching mocha-frappa-cappa-javawhip with extra cinnamon and a half pint of whipping cream. We're talking java junkies, caffeine cruisers, the people who savor the rich, full, lush flavor of coffee without seven kinds of sugary syrup messing it up -- the sort of folks who used to rush home with a precious stash of freshly roasted coffee beans, carefully decanting them into a quaint glass jar to be stored in the altar of the freezer.
On an evolutionary scale, about 10 minutes ago the "in" thing to do for the freshest cup of coffee was to grind your own beans. Prior to that, it was to buy the best pre-ground, vacuum-packed coffee your supermarket carried. Ancient history (that would be pre-World War II) tells us that prior to interstate commerce trampling middle America into the dirt, neighborhoods had actual coffee roasters, where folks bought freshly roasted coffee on an as-needed basis.
Before that? Can you believe that when this great country was settled, people actually roasted their own coffee? Already hooked on this mysterious bean, it was easy to transport the green (raw) beans and store them pretty much indefinitely. They could be roasted in a cast iron frying pan over an open fire or a wood stove, and thus fresh coffee was available.
What goes around comes around. People who care about the coffee they drink are going back to roasting their own coffee; some (probably most) for the taste, some for the cost (a fraction of the price of roasted coffee), and some because they want to vote with their dollars, supporting small, independent coffee farmers instead of huge multinational conglomerates that are gobbling up tillable land just to grow coffee. (Coffee, incidentally, is the second most traded commodity on the world market after crude oil, according to Sweetmarias.com.)
Sweetmarias.com is probably the most caffeine-driven, information-packed Web site out there, devoted to home-roasting coffee. Not only do they detail the home-roasting tradition, they also spell out the home-roasting basics for anyone interested. They discuss (in incredible depth) the pros and cons of air roasting, radiant drum roasting, stove-top roasting, wok roasting and oven roasting. They'll tell you how to be successful at whatever your chosen method. You can buy a home roaster (starting around $60), which strongly resembles a hot-air popcorn popper in size, shape and noise, or they'll tell you how to convert that two-dollar hot-air popper you picked up at the local thrift shop.
And then you can start buying coffee. The beans start around $4/pound for regular and decaf, and you can get all the history you want on where, when and how the beans were grown and by whom. Organic? Got it. Shade grown? Got it. From a particular region of a particular country? If they don't have it, they'll tell you why not. If you ever thought that wine aficionados were detail-oriented, that's because you never talked to a serious coffeehead who knows what monsooned coffee is (aged in the moist monsoon winds) and how it got started (by accident, actually).
But while Sweetmarias.com is a great resource, there are places here in town where you won't have to suffer the interminable wait for the postman to bring your package. Boulder Street Coffee Roasters sells green beans for $6-$6.50 per pound and availability depends on what they have in stock. (They don't, however, sell their signature blends as green beans.) They sell a small roaster, which includes a half-pound of beans, for $80. You can also purchase green beans at all the Pikes Perk locations, for approximately $3-$6 per pound, or at Fire Dance Coffee, which is located in Olde World Bagels on Austin Bluffs. If you'd like to compare, would you rather pay $5.50 or $12 per pound for unroasted Kenya AA beans? Likewise, would you rather pay $13.80 per pound for unroasted Kona beans from Hawaii or $26 to have someone else roast it?
If you truly enjoy the flavor of coffee, it's well worth roasting your own beans to get the freshest cup of coffee you will ever drink in your life. The roasting process fills the house with an incredible aroma, and the entire process takes approximately 15 minutes to roast enough coffee for a week. You can roast your coffee to exactly suit your own preferences, whether light or dark. It is only slightly more complicated than popping corn, although you do have to pay attention to listen for the first crack and second crack. Home-roasted coffee makes an excellent gift for your coffee-loving friends who don't mind grinding their own beans. And you get to thumb your nose at agribusiness, if that sort of thing floats your boat.
Sources for green coffee beans:
Boulder Street Coffee Roasters, 332 N. Tejon St.
Pikes Perk, 5965 N. Academy Blvd., 14 S. Tejon St. and 1798 W. Uintah
Fire Dance Coffee, 3609-29 Austin Bluffs Parkway (inside Olde World Bagels).