Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Roastmaster's Apprentice

The beans at the top are raw, on the left are Sidamo (Yirgacheffe) from Caribou and my first roasting attempt on the right. Note the uneven color of mine vs. Caribou's

Our Mini Chef is a valuable resource for exploring small markets, sniffing their air ("that smells good") and charming store owners as a seven year-old can. Today's outings were to four small east African markets within two blocks of Snelling and Sherburne. They largely overlap each others' inventory, but distinguish themselves by the owners' native culture (Ethiopian, Eritrean, Somali).

I've been teaching myself how to cook the dishes from this region through trial and error. The internet has been of help, but wandering the markets and asking about ingredients has been as great an aid. Invariably, fenugreek, cardamon, cinnamon, oregano and the spice mix berbere show up, but next to them I've found green coffee beans. I may have graduated from Maxwell House to buying whole beans and grinding them at home, but green coffee beans? I asked.

No one had to explain to me that "baby carrots" aren't a special type of carrot conveniently shaped and miraculously cleaner than regular carrots. I understood that green coffee beans were unroasted coffee beans, but why? The man at the Piazza Market explained with a Turkish coffee maker. "You put the beans in here; cook them; grind them up and make coffee." I blushed. The Mini Chef's presence allows me to ask questions with impunity.

Ethiopia is the home of coffee. A gardener learning about carrots from Baby Carrot Inc. makes about as much sense as Ethiopians learning about roasting coffee from Starbucks. I had to try it.

Within minutes of getting home, the beans were on the stove. I had been advised that slower roasting worked better. I had even learned that from TV commercials. I kept the heat on low to medium. Nearly half an hour later, the gray green beans had turned chocolate-colored. They were uneven, some lighter, others closer to an oily French Roast. A minute in the grinder. When I sniffed the freshly ground, still warm beans I got a nose full of chaos. It was too rich and complicated to describe.

A purist might scold me for using an automatic drip coffee maker rather than a French Press. Oh well. This may not have been the best cup of coffee I've ever had, but I've been eating a lot more carrots out of the garden lately and I'll be roasting more coffee too.

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