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Step Aside Wine, This is a Job for Coffee!

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A darn fine cup of coffee

A few months ago I was visiting Master Vintner World Headquarters and while I was there one of the nice Brewmasters gave me a couple of pounds of coffee beans that had been aged in a bourbon barrel. They smelled strongly of vanilla and toasty oak, and after roasting, they were terrific--like a flavoured coffee, but without the weird chemical aftertaste that such coffee always seem to have. 

Then I read an article about a coffee place in Napa Valley that was making super-secret coffee that had been soaked in wine before roasting. They claimed a bunch of stuff about it, but the big thing was the aroma and fruit notes that they said the coffee carried. They also said it was a proprietary process, long in development, that ensured theirs was the only coffee like it. 

They also charged an absolute fortune for it.

Proprietary knowledge? Desirable item out of my price range? New activity tied to my favorite things? Fire up my Attention Surplus Disorder,  I'm in! 

Everything I need

Step one was to choose the wine. I already had a ready supply of green coffee--I've been roasting my own beans for a few years--and I had a lot of wine to pair it with. I wound up choosing some Guatemalan beans--they've got a dark chocolate note to them that I thought would pair up well with a heavy bodied wine. I had a few things open that I'd been tasting, and I chose my Rosso Ardente, as I wanted a wine with big fruit and heavy tannins to make a real impression on the beans. It hadn't been ageing for very long at this point, but that probably wasn't going to hold it back from flavouring the beans. 

 Close enough for coffee

First step was to measure our a quarter pound of beans. The wee digital scale that came with my coffee roasting kit works like a charm. If you've never seen green coffee beans before, they look a lot like little green pebbles--not really very promising. 

Bottoms up!

Next step was to measure out a cup of wine. From previous experience in soaking dried beans of other types, I thought they'd soak up more than double their volume in liquid, so I made sure to cover them well. 

Kind of like canned cherry pits

I sealed them up and soaked them overnight on the countertop. I wasn't sure how long the place in Napa was doing it, but again, from bean soaking for chili, I knew overnight could saturate a little bean like that completely. 

Not something you see every day. 

Turns out I was right. The beans had doubled in size and taken on a lot of colour from the wine. Time to dry 'em off. 

Now they remind me of grubs from under a log

It may not look like it when the beans are green, but they have a papery husk on them. This blows off during roasting and becomes chaff, light enough to get everywhere. In this case, a lot of it had dissolved into the liquid and the beans looked kind of scabrous at this point. 

Somebody asked me how the wine tasted after soaking. 'Bitter' doesn't really cover it. Caffeine is a very bitter alkaloid chemical, and I think a lot of it was now in the wine. 

Low and slow, like a coffee barbecue--without the smoke

I couldn't roast the beans until they were actually dry--they'd just steam otherwise. I could have left them on a rack for a few days, but I have a small convection oven that can hold a low temperature. It's the perfect thing for low-key drying. 

Salt peanuts!

It was remarkable how much they looked like Spanish peanuts. However, after ten hours at 160F and an overnight rest to cool off, they smelled like coffee and wine--a lot of wine, reminding me of barrel rooms in large wineries. 

Roasty McRoasterface

It was finally time to roast. I use a Behmor 1600, the best small-batch roasting setup I've ever used. Roasting coffee is one of those activities that is very Zen for me: you have to adhere to the precepts, understand the moisture content of the beans, how ripe they were at picking, how much sugar they have, and then you need to make a series of decisions about temperature ramping, length of roast, and then you need to concentrate on the process the entire time--if you walk away from roasting coffee you'll probably ruin it. For someone with my sort of issues, concentrating on far too many things at once, roasting coffee is a kind of meditation. I think that if I stopped drinking it, I'd probably still roast coffee and give it away, just for the mindfulness it induces. 

A gentleman's hands proclaim his habits

About 18 minutes on roast program 5 and I hit second crack. I let it run for the count of four, and hit the cooling button. Fifteen minutes later I had beautifully roasted beans that smelled so strongly of wine I was floored. There were very distinct aromas of red fruit, bright cherry notes and berries. I immediately brewed myself a cup. 

The worlds simplest, and probably best, coffee-making apparatus

My coffee making rig is an Aeropress, which is kind of like a manual espresso maker, only more so. If you like coffee--really like it, as in you're not just saying you like it to get it to go home with you--then you'll want to forsake all other coffeemakers for it. three pieces, a paper filter disc and you can get anything from the intensity of a shot of espresso to a delicate brew that brings out the softest aromatics of your beans. 

Steeping the grounds

Since this was a medium-light roast rather than an espresso/French dark roast I chose to make a fairly attenuated cup of coffee, rather less strong than what you'd get in a Starbucks, but more robust than truck-stop brown water coffee (also known as Lutheran Coffee, the stuff you get from the big urn in the church basement). 

Oh my goodness, the smell!

It brewed up just fine. Darker roasts throw a crema, the foam you see on top of really good espresso, but Arabica beans like these, roasted more lightly, don't do that. The aroma that came off was wild, in a literal sense: it smelled of wild botanical and fruit aromas, much more strongly than I could have imagined. The time finally came to taste! 

By Jove! A socially acceptable way to taste wine for breakfast! 

And wow, what a taste. It was very winelike, right down to a firm tannic character that really made it stand out. I usually take my coffee with just a little half-and-half, but that would not have worked in this coffee at all because the tannins would have wrassled the milk into the ground. I considered adding a little sugar (something I never do to coffee, except in Cuba, where it seems to work) but wound up sipping all of it slowly, plain black, and really enjoying it. 

I'm considering options now: I think this coffee might just be wonderfully suited to Spanish coffee, with the wine character folding into the brandy, the sugar offsetting the strong tannins, and the whipped cream being whipped cream, needing no justification. 

This went better than I had expected, so much so that I'm also thinking of doing this with some more subtle, fruitier wine, without the tannins. Next up I'm going to soak some beans in my Moscato, for a strongly fruity tone and go from there. Expect me to be jittery and edgy for the foreseeable future. 

Do you roast your own coffee? Ever flavored any? Let me know, I'd love to hear what happened. Catch me on Facebook or send a note to info@mastervintner.com and if you've got a picture of your coffee roasting rig, I'd love to see it. 


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