Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Cheapskate Coffee is on the air...

This is my adventures of becoming a coffee snob without spending a fortune.  Actually I'm considering a Rancillio Miss Silvia, but since I've not yet done that I'm still a "cheapskate",

I don't know if you can get Italian Barista quality with what I've done so far but it beats the heck out of Starbucks IMHO.  Okay that isn't that hard but...

I started to drink coffee because I needed, for medical reasons, to drink a couple of skim milks a day.  Well I hate skim milks.  I lost like 150 lbs and at the same time needed a "transfer addiction."  Getting into coffee seemed perfect.  Except I didn't like most I tried.

So I started to grind my own.

Cheapskate grinder:  Best choice, IMHO Japanese manual hand grinder, Hario Slim Mill MSS-1 - available for around $30-40 on many sites.  Conical Burr, the best for Espresso.  This takes effort but will grind down to Turkish if you have the time and strength.  But sine they lack bearings on both sides of the mill (unless you pick up a modded one from Orphan Espresso for 2x as much, but a good deal nonetheless) they aren't good for coarse grinds beyond drip.

If you prefer French press, then a plate type burr mill cheap grinder such as my crappy (but on sale for $30 when I got it) Cusinart works well at that level.  With some Aluminum foil you can get it fine enough for Moka pot.. but not quite for a pump Espresso machine.  The Hario will work with a Miss Silvia if I can ever get one... :O(

If you want to only do drip (why?) or French Press, then the Hearthware $30 special from Burman would work fine too or the $50 Cuisinart which is only a bargain when you can find it for <$35...

Note:  Do not use a blade grinder for anything.  It's supposedly okay for grinding up Cumin for your weekly chili, but even in that use it doesn't grind evenly and roasts the spice again.  Really whoever came up with blade type grinders has a special place in hell waiting for them.  They ruin coffee.  Period.  End of debate.

Brewing Equipment:  I don't like drip.  I don't like paper filters.  However, I do make an exception for the Aeropress.  This combination French Press/Espresso maker is like the Frankenstein of the coffee world.  At about $30 it's the best possible taste compromise to have in a desk draw at work.  Therefore, that is what I recommend it for.  It looks a lot like a "pump" you'd get at an adult bookstore for...ahem... male...enhancement.  But it's good at work.

Because I don't like paper filters, espresso and French press are my preferred methods.  It's like Black versus White, AC versus DC, night versus day.  The coffee tastes completely different with either method.  French press is good and a $15 Mr. Coffee works as good as a $30 Bodum.  It simply doesn't matter if your coffee is good and ground correctly coarse, it's s great choice for a Gourmet that's in the poor house.

For Espresso, unfortunately I now use a Stainless steel Moka pot (the "Radig" from IKEA).  Okay.. they are cheaply made in India but work well for a Moka pot.  The Bialetti's that you see everywhere might be okay, but they are made of Aluminum which IMHO is about the worst material out there to come in contact with coffee.  The Radig works for a long time but the stainless is cheap quality and discolors quickly.  If you don't care about that.. it's as good as it gets for a steam pot.

I had a Mr. Coffee pump espresso machine for 35 days that made about 40 pulls before it caught on fire.  I know now I need to get a pump machine again.  It was a sucky machine but it did so much better than the Moka pot.  I am dreaming about a Miss Silvia now.. PID controlled.  But realistically I might try a DeLonghi and a $16 PID from China first.. If a add thermal mass to the boiler and PID it.. maybe..

I've also thought of a Saeco Aroma.. but at $230, that's 1/2 way to a Miss Silvia...

Of course then again $4 coffees are the reason for going cheapskate, isn't it?

Beans:  Well here is where I'm going to concentrate initially on this blog.  I decided to do this at all because of the series of posts over at Sweet Maria's coffee.  They are one of two reputable sources I have personally dealt with.  I will mention the other one because I'm not posting to SM's site.  The other one is Burman Coffee Traders in Middleton, WI.  Tom and Maria at Sweet Maria's encourage cheapskate coffee people like us to get into the hobby cheaply and their site is a cornucopia of information for the beginner.  Tom also really prides himself on carrying only coffee he thinks is good.  This means you can't go wrong with his samplers.  This also means that about 1/4 of types of coffee you might like will likely never be available from him. 

I've kinda filled that void with Burman Coffee Traders who seems to have complimentary tastes in coffee.  Which in my case lately have more been in line with my likely less "enlightened" tastes.  In my case, living in IA, he also can ship with a local delivery service that makes it considerably faster (overnight) and cheaper than ordering from SM.  I do owe Tom and Maria another order though.. it'll happen once I see something there I can't live without.
Beans, Beans.. the not so musical fruit...

Notice that both these sources are "GREEN" sources.  Well, if you are going to get premium grade coffee, you don't want it stale, do you?  Coffee over two weeks old roasted is stale no matter what you do to it.  No, your Keurig with the Nitrogen filled pods don't do crap to keep the coffee from getting stale.  Oxidized, yes, that matters too... maybe 50%... but even in the vacuum of space roasted coffee will go stale.

So what is the cheapskate to do?  I now know that you can get $6-7/lb coffee that's better than the best swill at Starbucks and even better than the $15/lb crap you get at the "Whole Foods" place.. but what do you do to roast?

But a $600 HotTop?  Yeah, if you are into that whole spending money thing..
$400 for a GeneCafe?  Well.. maybe..
$300 for a Behmor?  Closer but still not "cheapskate"
$159 for a SR500 or even a Nesco?  Okay if you want basically a corm popper for 3x the price.

My current suggestion if you are going to spring for new is the West Bend Air Crazy from Target or Menards.  $19.99 at either place.  $14.99 on sale at Menards if you can catch a sale (I DID!)  Now that Poppery I I got from my Mom will eventually be my deluxe roaster.. but I'm waiting for something I can't fix in 5 minutes to go wrong with the Air Crazy first.
West Bend Air Crazy, with discoloration in the chamber from COFFEE OILS!

You need to bypass the thermostat.  I'll eventually show some pictures of how to do that.  But once done, with the proper technique you can do a decent home roast with the Air Crazy on 7-10 minutes per 1/2 cup or 3 oz by weight green (about 2.8 oz roasted).  This is enough for maybe two French press pots or 6-8 espresso pulls.

I also use a chimney... that is a light sconce from Menards.  This allow the chaff to come straight off of the Air Crazy while you shake them off with my technique.  Here is a picture of the chimney...

Chim Chim-en-ey, chim chim cherie..
 And the chimney on the Air Crazy...


Ignore the Sweet-N-Low package and the messy stove, please...

My next post will be a little out of order in that I will posts some pictures and video of the beast to keep my promise to the members of the SM web forum to show them my technique.

But here are a few examples of what you can do for even roasts...

Robusta.  Tough, dirty crap to roast, but occasionally your Espresso blends need 3x the caffeine and a slight tinge of burnt rubber.  This is worst case, and proves you can burn the beans if need to.  Notice they are all oily even though there are a lot of "quakers".

More like it.  Very fine Rwanda.. roasted at about City+ to Full City.  Tasty stuff.. really.  Among the best.  Notice how even the roast is with good technique and beans.



Costa Rican At FC.. still a very even and tasty roast!

So.. do you want to see the innards of the Air Crazy?  Why not.  These pictures are when I tried to clean up the inner chamber, got it together wrong and blew out the thermal fuse.  That's bypassed in mine too so I think I might have lost my UL approval.. oh well..

See, the heating element isn't quite as cheap quality as the rest of the unit.  It CAN survive shaking.. so shake away!

The horizonal "squirrel cage".. see... the thing really is a turbine!  I don't advise taking this apart, it's hard to get back together correctly and if you don't.. you will "DO" the thermal fuse like I did!

The "cost reduced" DC motor.  Hell, it works fine though!

Anyway.. I'll show the thermostat bypass too.. why not?  I didn't get a good picture of the switch.  What you want to do is take off the wires on the thermostat on the top aluminum part.  Connect those to the power switch... after taking off those wires.  The wires that went to the power switch go like the following:


Hobby brass cut to a snug fit to splice the connectors.  Heat shrink as shown in the first picture.

That's about it for the first post in the series.. I went into what should have been a separate post on modifying the Air Crazy.. but why not.   I'll go back to cheap brewing and cheap grinding soon.. but lets do a little more cheap home roasting first...

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