[Ed. Note: This article concludes Off-Topic Week at TOP.
It didn't go so well, I'd say. Next time I do this I need to write the articles in advance; I didn't have much time this week for writing. Plus, I really actually would prefer to write about photography, which, I guess, makes perfect sense. I only made it till about Wednesday before I got the itch to start posting photography-related posts again. But at that point I figured yet another about-face on my part would just confuse people.
Well, I guess if you never do any experiments, then you never learn anything. But I probably won't do this again—I think one regular off-topic post a week—"Open Mike," on Sundays—plus the occasional unscheduled blip, blurt, or blat are plenty for me.]
My Behmor 1600 home coffee roaster gave up the ghost this morning. I met Zander and his girlfriend for dinner at a roadhouse in the tiny Wisconsin town of Lomira on Friday—it's halfway between Waukesha, where I live, and Oshkosh, where they're students at the U of W—and the batch of Phil Rosenberg's Kona I took to them as a "care package" turned out to be the last gasp for the Behmor. This morning the motor is dead.
That's right about on schedule. I roasted my first batch of green beans (that's what unroasted coffee beans are called) on Friday, December 23, 2011, and the Behmor 1600s are widely reputed to last for just about two years. Mine did that and another two months plus.
Cost-wise, fresh roasted coffee is about a wash. The roasting machine cost 38¢ a day; but because green beans cost about 1/2 to 2/3rds the cost of shop-roasted coffee, I probably saved at least that much over the 26 months the roaster was in operation. (Precise accounting is impossible, because I buy different coffees when I buy green beans vs. roasted, packaged commercial varieties.)
Quality is a big win for home roasting. If I were to quantify the quality of various options subjectively, here is what I'd say:
Canned, instant, and convenience-store coffees: 0–2, maybe rising to a 3 for those who have succumbed to slave mentality and habituated themselves to their misery;
Grocery store or gourmet shop whole beans, vacuum-sealed: 2–5;
Starbucks: a narrow range of about 5–6, with the substantial caveat that you must enjoy overcooked, roasty-flavored coffee (the primary benefit of Starbuck's is convenience and consistency—you'll never get good coffee there, but you'll never get bad coffee there either);
Seattle's Best, the best pre-packaged coffee I ever found (now owned by Starbuck's but operated independently, or so everyone claims): 6
Independent coffee-house coffee: 4–7 (the high end of this range might seem insultingly low to baristas, but I've personally never had a cup of coffee in a coffee house as good as what I routinely make at home. I should add that coffee houses are thin on ye ground in the Wilds of Waukesha and I don't seek them out in any case).
My fresh home roasted coffee in the Behmor: 7–9 (I'm not exactly tootling my own horn here, at least not too much: there's a lot to be said for a) truly superior beans [search this site for "Kuni'i" for more on that], and b) freshness (grinding 4–12 hours after you roast and brewing right after you grind).
Why no "10"? Just being realistic. I tend to come up to speed in my enthusiasms relatively quickly, to whatever level I choose. But I haven't become a true coffee geek. I was revving along at full speed learning the minutiae of coffee connoisseurship until I brought that particular train to a halt because I don't believe I have good enough smelling and tasting abilities to allow me to learn to become a true savant. My very good cup of Phil's Kona in the mornings is good enough for me. So I'm assuming that my subjective evaluations of coffee quality are just true for me, and might not be agreed to by real savants who have better tastebuds and more sensitive olfactory organs than I do.
Besides, every rating system needs to leave room at the top for future surprises, right?
Home roasting is more bother than buying prepackaged roasted whole beans or ground coffee, but less bother than you'd think, once you get set up to do it. You do have to come up to speed with the basic skills, which I would estimate I did over the course of about three weeks. At this point, though, I roast coffee approximately every four days, and it's as automatic as any other household chore. I would say (subjectively again) that it's as much trouble as washing the dishes. No less, but no more.
It takes about 25 minutes. Through most of that time you're just waiting (I usually read or surf the Web on my iPad Air), and cleanup takes less than two minutes.
You have to attend to the machine during the actual roast (there's a danger of fire, which means you should never let the roasting stage go unattended), but you don't have to stay in the room for the cooldown period, which is almost as long as the roasting time.
Many's the time I've woken up to find I'm out of roasted coffee and I have to roast a batch along with my other morning chores, and even that is not too much of a bother, although I usually wish I'd remembered to do it the night before.
Bottom line: I've bought another. My second Behmor 1600 is on the way. Without complaint.
Using the Behmor 1600
For those few of you who might be contemplating a Behmor 1600 of your own, I'll cover some details about how to use one. If you're interested in that bit, please click past the break.