4.08.2010

The Local Food Report: a personal preference

Before we get into things today, there's something you need to know: I am not, by any respectable caffeine junkie's standard, a coffee drinker. I like coffee, to be sure, but I don't need it in the way that reputable addicts like my father and mother and sister do. I drink coffee for fun; they need it in order to brush their teeth.

Luckily for all of us, my friend John Simonian is incredibly serious about coffee. He is one of the guys behind Beanstock Coffee, a small, local roasting operation in Eastham. Alex buys his coffee for his restaurants, we serve it at Blackfish, and we always try to have a bag it in the house when my family comes to visit. The other day, I asked John to tell me everything he knew about selecting a great coffee. Here goes—my words, his notes:

1. Find out how the beans are picked: Good coffee is hand harvested. This is not because something happens flavor-wise to the beans when they are machine picked; it's because machines can't tell the difference between ripe and green beans. Ripe beans have a much better flavor, thus, hand harvesting to avoid picking green beans pays off.

2. Find out where the beans are from: Things like elevation and soil richness, John says, are preferences. He likes beans that grow at high altitudes or in rich soils—places like Ethiopia and Kenya and in parts of Indonesia and Hawaii—because they tend to have big, rich, earthy flavors. This might not be your thing, but if you pay attention to where coffees you like are from, you can figure out what sort of geographic profiles you're likely to enjoy.

3. Pay attention to how long the beans are roasted: There are two "cracks" in the coffee roasting business: the first crack, which happens when the coffee beans suddenly expand around 400 degrees F, and the second crack, a series of more intense crackling noises that take place around 440. Some people roast only through the first crack, which makes for lighter beans; others go into the second, producing dark beans with more intense flavors. How dark you go is really a personal preference.

4. Drink your coffee fresh: This means buying your coffee beans freshly roasted, in small enough batches that you can grind and brew them all within eleven days. After this time frame, John thinks the flavor starts to go downhill; after three months, he thinks you might as well throw the beans out. Fresh also means buying your coffee whole, as beans, and grinding it just before you're going to brew it at home. And finally, fresh means storing the beans in an airtight container, away from sunlight and extreme temperatures, which are, as he very dramatically puts it, Coffee Enemies.

5. Pay attention to processing if you drink decaf: Not all decafs are created equal. Some decafs are water processed, some are processed using CO2, and the majority are processed using chemicals. These chemicals have names like methylene chloride (carcinogenic when inhaled) and ethyl acetate (naturally found in fruits; synthetically produced to decaffeinate coffee). Water processed decaf is the safest from a health standpoint, and also tends to be the tastiest (more on that here). You might also want to pay attention to where the beans were decaffeinated: oftentimes, decaf coffee has a much larger carbon footprint than regular does, as the beans have to be shipped not just from the farm to your roaster, but also to a middleman for processing.

6. Make coffee infused brownies: Ok, John didn't say that, but I will. Seriously, this is his recipe, and they're good. And given the weather recently, I'd say you should probably make an iced coffee swirled up with cream, too.


BEANSTOCK BROWNIES

Every year, John gives some of these out to the restaurants and markets Beanstock works with as a sort of customer appreciation thing. I can't speak for any of his other customers, but I can speak for the one I'm married to, and these brownies made us both feel very appreciated indeed. I was even happier the next day, when I called him to up ask for the recipe and he sent it my way. Here it is, with a few tweaks, and one note: do not worry when the brownies don't look like they're cooking. They might not appear to be, but they are. Err on the side of underdone, don't panic about the not-quite-firm top, and you'll be okay. A-okay.

6 ounces baker's chocolate (unsweetened)
1 stick butter
2 large eggs
1 and 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons brewed coffee, strong
1 cup minus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
a generous pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour an 8" by 8" baking pan. Melt the chocolate and butter together in the top of a small double boiler. Set aside to cool.

In a large bowl whisk together the eggs and then mix in the sugar, vanilla, and brewed coffee.

In a smaller bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, and salt, and then stir these dry ingredients into the egg mixture. Pour in the melted chocolate and butter and mix gently until everything is combined. Spoon the batter into the prepared baking pan and bake for about 25 minutes, or until the top starts to look a bit brittle around the edges and the middle no longer jiggles. Enjoy warm or cold, with a glass of iced coffee.

P.S. I promised a list of local roasters to those of you who listened to this morning's show. Here it is—a work in progress, I have a feeling, as some coffee shops roast their own but aren't too vocal about it—so if you have any to add, let me know:

The Art of Roasting, Chatham
Beanstock Coffee, Eastham
Cape Cod Coffee Roasters, Mashpee
Nantucket Coffee Roasters, Nantucket
Pie in the Sky, Woods Hole

5 comments :

Anonymous said...

Cravings in Kingston serves Beanstock Coffee....a bit off the Cape, but worth noting!
http://www.whatareyoucraving.com/

Anonymous said...

If your, sister, mom and dad are caffeine junkies, then I must be off the scale. We love Beanstock in our house. The darker the better.
Joe from Needham

Anna said...

As a coffee AND brownie junkie, I can say with 100% certainty that these will be baked and devoured this weekend. And just my luck that I have a fresh bag of Beanstock from The Sweet Escape in Truro!

Elspeth said...

joe,

it's true. i am such an improper addict that even lightweights like them seem intimidating to me. i would hate to go shot to shot with you!

and anonymous, thanks for the tip. i'll be sure to stop by next time we're in the area.

anna, lucky you. i devoured some of mine, but sent the rest away as a birthday gift! we will have to make another batch soon.

all the best,
elspeth

Anonymous said...

A really interesting report -- thank you! I've always kept my coffee in the freezer, but if temperature extremes are the enemy, then it sounds like I've been making a mistake there. I appreciate all the good tips here. --Liz P.

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