A Guide to Making Better Coffee at Home

One February evening in 2007, while my wife and I spent a week with friends in Washington DC, I was introduced to fresh coffee for the first time. Alan asked if I wanted to see him roast some coffee in the kitchen. I had no idea what he was talking about – coffee always came canned and ground. The contraption he created, a makeshift roaster from an old 80’s West Bend Poppery II popcorn maker, and a cooling system for the hot roasted beans made out of a vacuum cleaner and a sieve, looked like more hassle than it was worth. “Wait until we have some tomorrow morning” he said. With an obligatory smile and nod, I really didn’t give it another thought. That next morning, after freshly grinding enough beans to make 2 cups of coffee and running water over the grounds at “the right temperature” (whatever that meant) I had a cup of coffee that literally changed my life for the next few years. I was hooked. And, after knowing what good coffee tasted like, I knew that I could never go back.


A business is born


When I arrived back home, I bought an old popcorn maker off of eBay and 8 pounds of green (unroasted) coffee beans from SweetMarias.com. After getting through a few batches gone wrong, I taught myself to roast coffee at home without burning the beans. I got pretty good at it. I couldn’t believe how much cheaper it was to roast my own coffee ($4 a pound vs. $8 a pound at the grocery store). Eventually I had an idea: I could sell roasted coffee online and use the profits, if not to build a new business, to at least fund my hobby. My coffee business was born and I ran it from my home for the next three years.


Uphill battle


As excited as I was to find a new passion in coffee and about the possibility of creating a business to share fresh coffee all over the United States, I knew it would be an uphill battle since most people think the coffee they drink is perfectly fine. They don’t know they’re drinking bad coffee. The quality of coffee being made in American homes has deteriorated dramatically over the last few hundred years. When this country was founded, it was the norm for households to roast their own coffee at home over fires. They had to. There weren’t any ubiquitous coffee chains down the road to run to. Flash forward to today and we buy old, stale, pre-ground coffee from the store because it’s convenient. It’s not too uncommon to find instant coffee in many homes. Everything is instant nowadays. We don’t send hand-written notes anymore, we email. We don’t check our email daily, we check email every other minute. Whenever we hear a ding, we pick up our phones and hit refresh to get the latest news. The news cycle went from 24 hours to instant on Twitter. Why cook dinner in a crock pot when we can microwave it in 10 minutes? I knew it would be difficult following my dream to introduce people to fresh roasted coffee. What I didn’t know was how hard it would be. How could I change a microwave culture back into a crockpot culture?


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