Coffee connoisseurs are roasting their own
In the quest for the perfect cup of java, Americans have ground, French-pressed and steam-extracted warm liquid from beans from Sumatra to Hawaii.
But now to get a truly good cup of coffee, connoisseurs say there's nothing like roasting raw green coffee beans and grinding them up fresh.
Most chains don't roast beans in their stores because it's a laborious process, so small coffee shops hope roasting will give them an edge.
Two roasters have opened in Englewood in the last few months, and in Sarasota, Latitude 23.5 Coffee and Tea has a 10,000- square-foot roasting facility for its two retail stores and 100 area retailers.
For the average coffee drinker, roasting might be much ado about nothing, but for the aficionado, it's the only way to get a fresh cup of java.
"After seven days, (roasted) beans start to get skanky," said Ed Murrill, owner of Roasters Coffee Bar on Dearborn Street. "You can really taste the difference."
Some in the coffee industry say roasting won't go much further than the mom-and-pop shops because it isn't practical.
"I don't see it as a trend," said Jeanine Martins, who owns Fiamma Coffee Connection, a Sarasota distributor. "It's tough to do both roasting and running a retail operation. There are master roasters who have been doing this for 20 or 30 years."
Roasting is so grassroots that the coffee industry hasn't quite caught on with affordable roasting accoutrements, so small shops and consumers are improvising.
Some "coffee geeks" on a Web site devoted to the practice swear by air popcorn poppers.
Murrill uses a rigged George Foreman rotisserie to roast his beans.
"I didn't even know that's what it was when I bought it on the Internet," said Murrill.
Regardless of its origins, Murrill says the roaster gives him the control to make a variety of strengths and blends.
Ceremoniously, at 4 p.m. every day, Murrill goes to the back of Roasters Coffee Bar, which is part of Village Gifts and Gallery, and puts a pound of green coffee beans into a basket affixed to a skewer intended for chicken. A modified switch rotates the basket for even roasting.
After about 15 minutes, the beans start to crackle and pop, sounding a lot like popcorn. A sweet wood-burning smell fills the air.
The beans have to rest for six hours to "release their gases" before they're ready for grinding and brewing. "I don't sell in bulk; I just don't have the time," Murrill said.
While roasting may sound a bit out there, it's just the beginning of what's happening in the coffee industry. There are 20,000 coffee shops in the United States -- about 37 percent owned by Starbucks, according to an industry representative. And just about every gas station sells coffee these days.
"People are much more educated about coffee," said Martins. "Beyond the lattes and espressos, there are hundreds of coffee varieties and just about as many ways to brew them."
With the Starbucks phenomenon, coffee is not just coffee, said Joseph Rivera, director of science and technology for the Specialty Coffee Association.
"We train cuppers to assess coffee quality much like you do with wine," Rivera said. In the practice called cupping, cuppers inspect the beans before they're roasted and after roasting, "nosing" the aroma and tasting it after it's been brewed to assure quality.
The association uses the same scent vials and "sweet, sour and salt" training as the wine industry, to cultivate the perfect coffee palate.
"It's a whole new world," said Mike Ferguson, association spokesman.
"You can spend a lifetime studying coffee."