Do brew: Coffee class with the author of 'Left Coast Roast'

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Hanna Neuschwander loves coffee. She adores it so much, that she's written a whole book about coffee roasters called Left Coast Roast. On a chilly evening this week, she had a small crowd of equally excited coffee aficionados join her for a home brew coffee class at 18 Reasons in the Mission.

The class started with a brain-teasing aroma sensory test that included sniffing little jars of unknown aromatics. The ones I felt were most difficult to identify, oddly enough, turned out to be the most straight-forward flavors, like apple and vanilla. Once the test was over, our senses were ready to take on the even more complex scent of coffee. We tasted coffee from Guatemala and Kenya and then learned the proper way to make coffee at home using a French press, the pour-over method, and the trendy AeroPress -- which supposedly has quite a following, but requires brewing hot coffee in plastic. Hmmm.

It was impressive to hear Hanna's daily coffee routine (which usually starts at 5am before work). She measures, in grams, coffee beans on a kitchen scale, grinds them in a burr grinder -- which usually produces a more even grind than your normal blade grinder -- brings her water up to 195 to 205 degrees Farenheit, and then slowly and methodically pours the water over her grounds to make the perfect cup.

That is some serious coffee making, not to mention attention to detail in the weeeee hours of the morning! What I found most interesting about the class was learning about the two methods for cleaning the cherry fruit off the coffee bean, called wet and dry processing. Wet means taking the cherry off first using a machine, then waiting a few days for the mucilage around the coffee bean to loosen, before rushing water over it to clean the bean. It sounded rather water-intensive and wasteful. Dry process means letting the fruit dry in the sun, sometimes on raised netted beds, which seemed much more environmentally friendly, and also gives the beans more of a chance to develop and absorb more sugars from the fruit, while they bask in the sunshine.

Apparently, many coffee shops consider the dry-processed beans dirty because of the possibility for fermentation and mold to occur while the coffee cherries dry, favoring the "cleaner" taste of wet-processed beans. Just another factor to consider the next time you're out for a new bag of beans.

While some elected to spit, I finished all my coffee, and left the class at 9pm, walking home with a happy coffee buzz while I hoped fervently I would be able to get some sleep.

Comments

Hi Ariel!

Thanks for coming to the class and for writing it up for the Guardian!

I just wanted to clarify something about the wet vs. dry processing. It's not so much that some roasters find natural processed coffees "dirty", though that's a reasonable way of interpreting the opposite of the "clean" flavors that are associated with wet processing.

It's more just that naturally processed coffees are harder to control—there are more factors that can affect the outcome, like weather. For example, if a hard rain blows in and the coffee is being dried on a patio, it can be problematic. Since coffee roasters usually agree to buy their coffees up front, before the harvest has happened, wet processed coffees can be a safer bet—there is less that can go wrong between the harvest and the delivery of coffee to the roaster in the U.S. Even that is an oversimplification, but hopefully it gets at the idea that one isn't necessarily better than the other, but wet processing is a little less risky from a business perspective. Hope that makes sense.

I agree with Greg that there are some absolutely amazing natural processed coffees out there—and from places besides Ethiopia, too. There are a lot of factors that ultimately lead to the quality of a coffee, and processing is only one.

My best,
Hanna

Posted by Hanna Neuschwander on Jan. 25, 2013 @ 11:35 am

Hi Ariel!

Thanks for coming to the class and for writing it up for the Guardian!

I just wanted to clarify something about the wet vs. dry processing. It's not so much that some roasters find natural processed coffees "dirty", though that's a reasonable way of interpreting the opposite of the "clean" flavors that are associated with wet processing.

It's more just that naturally processed coffees are harder to control—there are more factors that can affect the outcome, like weather. For example, if a hard rain blows in and the coffee is being dried on a patio, it can be problematic. Since coffee roasters usually agree to buy their coffees up front, before the harvest has happened, wet processed coffees can be a safer bet—there is less that can go wrong between the harvest and the delivery of coffee to the roaster in the U.S. Even that is an oversimplification, but hopefully it gets at the idea that one isn't necessarily better than the other, but wet processing is a little less risky from a business perspective. Hope that makes sense.

I agree with Greg that there are some absolutely amazing natural processed coffees out there—and from places besides Ethiopia, too. There are a lot of factors that ultimately lead to the quality of a coffee, and processing is only one.

My best,
Hanna

Posted by Hanna Neuschwander on Jan. 25, 2013 @ 11:34 am
Posted by lillipublicans on Jan. 24, 2013 @ 11:09 pm

A wild Ethiopian natural can beat the pants off of many wet processed coffees that can taste so "clean" they're to the point of blandness or synthetics. So I wouldn't leap to generalizations -- it depends on a person's tastes.

That said, I still mostly pull shots of espresso at home, so what do I know.

Posted by greg on Jan. 24, 2013 @ 10:44 pm

Cafe is a natural drink that lights up our lives!
Thanks for the fine report.
Hope you got a few winks in...
Robbie

Posted by Robbie on Jan. 24, 2013 @ 7:33 pm