The other day I was talking my father out for a drive and decided to drop by the A&E Custom Coffee Roastery in Amherst, New Hampshire. This was totally a last minute idea but getting his reaction …”That organic stuff is a bunch of malarkey, what the heck are you thinking?” … was…Priceless … If nothing else it would get his circulation going, sort of like a mild cardio routine. Anyway, I called and dropped by with absolutely zero notice. Emeran the owner as well as Justin the roaster were kind enough to drop everything to chat for awhile.
So I’m told that they are the only USDA Certified Organic Coffee Roaster in New Hampshire. Thank God we have at least one up there. And, being a processor you need to do more than just purchase organic green coffee beans. As part of the organic standard they are required to be certified USDA Organic by undergoing an annual audit. … But the fact that they are organic means more than just producing awesome aromas and having to close your eyes while savoring their blends. Much more. You see, for coffee the environmental and health considerations are ratcheted up a notch from where they usually are. I know, I know, coffee as compared to other organic foods has low residual levels of pesticides since it’s the internal bean that’s consumed (and some feel that the high temps of the roasting process destroys anything left… although I haven’t
seen the before and after chemical analysis to know if this is true or just a combination of speculation & wishful thinking). The big issue really is that coffee is basically a third world crop where growers tend to raise their families in intimate proximity to the farm. Also, the rules for pesticide and herbicide usage can get pretty loose and fancy-free in some of these countries. .. So.. we have a direct exposure issue and then there’s the run off … and then there’s the potential drinking water supply issues etc etc. Definite issues in every case? No. A definite concern? Absolutely. .. This just isn’t a visual I feel comfortable with. Anyway, with coffee, more so than with most products, I feel that I’m doing the world as well as myself a favor by going organic.
So much for the “malarkey theory” of organic food. … Now what about the the coffee in and of itself? First, we need to know how fresh is fresh and does it make a difference? Well this morning I sauntered down to the corporate coffee cafe and took a peek at a pound of French Roast. Noted that the expiration date is a mere seven months from now. This of course would make Justin and Emeran just about pass out (my father would say what’s the rush). These guys, like every coffee connoisseur, states that after a week forget about it, it’s morphing into instant. … A week vs. seven months. … But they do qualify this statement by saying that the coffee changes, evolves, as soon as roasting is complete. First, in a universally good way.. you need to give the newly born roasted beans about 24 hours to degas and otherwise settle down before they can be truly appreciate in their full coffee flavored purity. But they continue to change, age and as a general rule, get as my old friend Ray Kavanaugh would say, “not-good”. But like anything there are exceptions .. Justin mentioned that one coffee he found tends to become better with age to his palette.. but I doubt he was talking seven months worth of aging.
In addition to these post birth from the roaster issues, there are also considerations beyond the organic pedigree for the prenatal green coffee beans. For instance, Emeran mentioned how the industry is continuing to evolve where in the past it was generally assumed that a one year shelf life for the green beans were acceptable where now things are beginning to turn where three months is starting to become the more prevalent standard of excellence. And then of course there’s the trend towards micro-lots where they will separate the better grade high altitude coffees form the the other “not so good” beans instead of bagging everything together was was traditionally done. … And, even the bags themselves. Where jute tended to be used exclusively is now giving way to the use of so called “GrainPro” Bags which help maintain freshness.
But getting in the finest beans (Emeran generally looks at cupping data to make her choices…BTW her staff recommended the Brazil Blend for it’s ashy notes.. Awesome! So good I finished the bag before taking the earlier pic) and keeping them fresh is only part of the beautifully complex world of coffee roasting. Since coffee is a natural product it will obviously not only vary by grower and farm but also season to season from such things as a particular year’s unique climate (here wine has the upper hand where a vintage from 2007 could be excellent … with green coffee, after three months… not a pretty picture). So the raw materials of the roast, the green beans, are a constantly moving target and it takes a bit of artistry to combine and roast them to achieve a consistent and almost decadent product. Making a low end product is easy.. High end is hard. And high high end with ingredient variations like coffee… now we’re starting to drift into artistry. And I’m not being dramatic. It literally takes years of apprenticeship before one is considered a Master Roaster. In fact, one business in the next town over makes it known to new roasters that they would like to see at least a ten year commitment to the company before starting out. … These are important people you want in your bunker .. And here’s a small snippet as to how they go about their craft. .. When fresh beans arrive Eneran & Justin will roast small batches and after a day taste test the coffee. Depending upon the attributes found they will make their adjustments in order to produce a consistent flavor and aroma profile for the various blends. And for those not yet introduced to the world of coffee tasting.. there’s an entire vernacular to learn and understand … they’ll mention taste notes such as chocolatey or blueberry (that’s right blueberry) … if you’ve ever heard a wine tasting described you’ll know what I mean. According to Emeran coming into a coffee shop and asking for French Roast is like going into a bakery and asking for bread. .. Indeed. .. A word of caution to the uninitiated. Get into the world of freshly roasted coffee at your own risk. By this I mean that you really don’t know how bad your current on the shelf for seven months coffee is. But once you learn, it will ruin you for life. .. Take my father. He has been drinking this horrible mass marketed $2.99 a pound stuff forever. .. And he’s happy with it. It’s a disaster but he doesn’t know any better so he’s satisfied. .. That’s one hand. … On the other, however, is that I really don’t see him savoring his coffee. He just chokes it down and calls it a day. A nice piece of home-baked chocolate cake … this he savors..
So bottom line is that if you haven’t as yet taken the plunge I highly recommend that do and pick up some really fresh roasted coffee. It has a depth and complexity you’ll never find in the cheapo or even the corporate specialty coffees. Fresh is best in coffee, it truly is. And looking at the price, I can buy Corporate French Roast for about $11 a pound or purchase freshly roasted beans from someone such as A&E for just about the same money (with shipping & handling it may or may not be pricier, and if so, not by much). To me this is a total no-brainer. Superior product for the same to a few cents more per cup, no pesticide issues, feeling the love, etc etc. .. And if you were wondering, my father did ask Justin (seriously he did) if he got his coffee from the poo of some animal (if you don’t know what I’m talking about rent the movie “The Bucket List” or read this New York Times Article, BTW Justin said no) … I think he meant this as a good thing, a gourmet thing, but who knows. He has been known to slide in a zinger under the radar to avoid detection. . .
Hope you enjoyed this post and that it gets a few people interested in the Fresh Roast Revolution. If you think this is any good please pass it along to your friends or family members who insist of torturing you with the black coffee swill of the past. Spread the word about Organic Test Kitchen.com … Best, Theo