“ … and in between I drink black coffee …”

Hello and welcome to Week 2! The title of this post borrows the words of the great Sarah Vaughan and her song “Black Coffee”. This week, we’re covering two important topics (to me, anyways): coffee and money.

I really love a good cup of coffee. I own a bean grinder and a French press pot, and they get put to work every morning I’m at home. Over the last few years I’ve bought medium roast beans from a variety of coffee shops in my home town of Edmonton: Java Jive, Second Cup and occasionally Starbuck’s. They taste great, but $17 for a pound of coffee does seem a little steep. Could there be a less expensive way to get a good cup o’ joe?

This looked like an ideal challenge to bring to Library Life Hack, so I went in search of some books on coffee. I found two methods for home roasting coffee beans in Susan Zimmer’s “I Love Coffee!” This is a brilliant little book – a primer on all things coffee and 100 yummy recipes (cognac mochaccino, anyone?) I tried out both of the roasting methods in the book: stovetop and oven. Although it’s not directly covered, I also tried roasting coffee in an old air popper (the kind you use to make popcorn.) Here are the results:

Stovetop Method
You need green coffee beans, an old frying pan (it must have a lid) and an old stand-up thermometer that reads air temperature. Essentially, you heat the pan up to an air temperature of 400 degrees F, toss in the beans, pop on the lid, and shake for about eight to twelve minutes.

Pros
It was pretty quick and gave me enough roasted coffee for two weeks.
Cons
It’s a little tricky to get the beans evenly roasted. Even on my third try, I burned some of them. And once you start the actual roasting, you have to keep shaking the pan for the whole time.
If You Try This
It doesn’t actually take much heat to get an air temperature of 400 degrees F. The “medium” setting on my stove was enough. And you do need to use an old pan that you don’t care about. Heating up a stainless steel pan empty will permanently discolor it — I found that one out the hard way. Also, as soon as you’re done roasting, transfer the beans out of the pan and into a dish to cool. (If you leave them in the pan to cool, they’ll keep roasting and you’ll get burnt beans. This applies to all three methods.)

Oven Method
For this one, you just need green beans and a cast-iron frying pan (new or old). Heat up the oven to 500 degrees F, put a layer of beans into the frying pan and pop it into the oven. Shake the pan every now and again, and about 20 minutes later you have medium roast coffee.

Pros
This was also pretty quick and gave me enough roasted coffee for about ten days. It was also less hands-on than the stovetop method. I could peek in on the beans every few minutes, give them a quick shake and walk away. I used the convection setting on the oven and came away with beans that were evenly roasted and lovely.
Cons
Minor. Cast-iron frying pans are heavy. And heating up an oven to 500 degrees just to roast a single pan of coffee beans is a little wasteful, energy-wise. Get around this by using the oven to cook something else – just make sure it’s not smelly.

Air Popper Method
You need green coffee beans and an old air popper (the oils from the coffee will transfer to the sides of the popper). Put in a handful of beans and turn on the popper. Depending on how powerful it is, you should have roasted beans in about eight minutes.

Pros
It’s the quickest way to get the job done, and the beans come out evenly roasted.
Cons
It’s smoky, and as they roast, the beans will throw off this chaff that the popper sends flying all over your kitchen. The other major con is that it barely makes enough roasted beans for a week.
If You Try This
Place the popper in front of your kitchen sink so that most of the chaff flies in there. Bonus points if there’s a window nearby to let out the smoke.

And the Winner is …
My vote goes to the oven roasting method – a small amount of effort, evenly roasted beans and enough coffee for ten days or more. (Susan Zimmer does point out that roasted beans start to lose their flavour after a week. I’ll let you decide how dedicated you want to be.)

Now, the numbers. This is the sort of double whammy life hack I love. Not only does your library card save you the cost of the book, there’s a big savings on beans and you’re getting an excellent cup of coffee to boot. I use an average of 30 grams of coffee beans per day and I’m going to guess that I’m home about 345 days each year. That works out to: 30 x 345 = 10.35 kilos of coffee. So:

One year of specialty beans (@ 17.00 per pound or 37.40 per kilo) = 387.09

vs.

One year of home-roasted green beans* (@12.98 per kilo) = 134.34
*from the Italian Centre Shop

The book is 12.91 at chapters.indigo.ca and 12.26 at amazon.ca, for an average of 12.60. Add that to the money you’ll save on beans over the course of a year, and this week’s hack adds up to a total of $265.35 saved with your library card. Cha-ching! Here’s the details on the book:

I Love Coffee!
Written by Susan Zimmer
Published by Andrews McMeel Publishing
Released Mar 1, 2007
ISBN 0740763776

But Wait! There’s More!
I discovered a bonus life hack in “I Love Coffee” – making café latte without a fancy machine. You do need a moka pot, but these are reasonably priced. The book provides instructions for frothing milk with a French press or in a saucepan with a whisk, and shows you how to assemble the final product. (The French press worked like a charm for me – even with 1% milk.) Brilliant!

And that’s it. Thank you for reading this week’s post. Do you have a favourite life hack that revolves around coffee? Leave me a comment or drop me a line at LibraryLifeHack [at] gmail.com. Then tune in next week, when I’ll be using the books of running guru Jeff Galloway to learn more about running your first marathon past the age of 50. Have a great week!

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