Monday, August 28, 2006

Hobby or obsession?

When you develop an interest in something and you sustain that interest it seems to others to be a hobby or an obsession. My blog profile indicates that I am interested in everything and this is pretty close to the truth.

My wife will tell anyone that I am a little bit weird and I can live with that because I see it to be true. One manifestation of this is how I become interested in something and how that interest develops. As an example I will use coffee. I enjoy coffee, but I enjoy good coffee and I won’t bother drinking it unless I know or suspect that it is good coffee.

I won’t drink instant – I don’t see the point and I’ll drink water or tea in preference. As my interest develops I like to find out more about the origins and history of the thing I am interested in.

For coffee this meant reading about the history of the use of the coffee plant, where it grows and a bit about the varieties that are grown around the world.

My exploration was then directed towards – Where can I by a good coffee, and where was that coffee from? It took me two years to find satisfactory answers to this question and in the process I discovered much more about coffee.

The importance of freshness for one, the influence of different beans in a blend and the source of the beans – even down to individual growers.

It was inevitable that at some stage I would become interested enough to take on coffee roasting myself, and by chance I saw some green coffee beans one day and bought about 250 grams. This led to research about roasting green beans and to my first experiment with a cast iron frypan. The result was good enough to surprise me, and partly I think because of the freshness of the coffee.

I’ve been roasting for about 18 months now, just small batches but also been learning as I go. I’ve now taken it to the next level by purchasing equipment just for roasting coffee and I am reaching beyond my narrow base of green bean supplies to find other, more interesting coffee beans to try.

In the process I have discovered a whole network of people at various stages of dedication to coffee. Some like me are fairly low tech, making do with what they have already without investing too much in additional hardware. Others though have truly magnificent facilities – of which I am envious, that allow them to really engage in their hobby/obsession.

So back to the beginning, when does a hobby become an obsession? Does it ever or is it just a hobby that you are seriously interested in? I’m interested enough to start saving money towards further equipment, but my time commitment is limited to about 2 hours a week, plus a little time to read and write about it. It helps that I like coffee – I don’t think I can achieve quite the same level of interest in tea – and my interest in wine is stalled by the cost of maintaining a decent sampling cellar.

So is coffee my hobby? I’ll keep at it and let you know in a decade or so.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Today's Adventures

Today was an at home day - we've all been a bit sick this week and needed a quieter day. For the boys this means lots of activities with mum and dad. Alec never forgets when I make a promise to him and I promised him that this weekend we could do some cooking and he could wear the apron that Alli bought him in Sydney. So I roasted coffee (detailed in full at Grendel's Green Coffee Blog)
and we made some biscuits.

Mummy was here of course - she's busy taking the photos and staying out of range of the chocolate.

Riley helped by testing the dough - his face was comment enough.

Alec then put them in the oven.

And the end result!

Friday, August 18, 2006

Naughty Man

Darth Vader will forever be known as "Naughty Man" in our house. Today we have two would-be "Naughty Man" Candidates.

Currently though both Vader juniors are watching Bananas in Pajamas.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Third Roast

Medium Dark, took 7 minutes from start to finish and I cooled it by winnowing between sieves under fresh light rainfall.

Will grind in 4 hours and drink tomorrow!

The popper seems to be working very well - of course only the third use so it bloody well better be!


I used to do an exercise on a daily basis called "freewriting" where I would spend 5 minutes and write for that 5 minutes about whatever came into my head - You'll find a bit of that ending up on this blog which means that at some point I'm going to have to seperate the Coffee, politics and life streams of the blog.

I'd appreciate any blog organisation advice!

Reflections on the job so far. . .

My new job (5 months on) has some interesting challenges and involves working with a group who have been in the field for decades. They have a wealth of knowledge which can be a bit intimidating at times.

Some days it is a bit of a struggle to remind myself that I too am a professional with my own knowledge, I haven’t had as much time to accumulate the knowledge that my colleagues have, but I do have particular skills that allow me to draw on what they know and turn it into viable strategies.

I had my first performance management session here yesterday and it went very well. I think if I can keep up the work I am doing I would be welcome to stay on if a position becomes available at the end of my secondment. I’d like this – not much point going back to where I came from if they don’t have a Strategic Policy and Planning function any more.

I miss some of my former colleagues though – there were some great minds doing amazing work in a difficult environment and it was the best preparation for what I am doing now. I don’t think I would be able to apply the same level of intellectual rigour to my work if I hadn’t experienced the last 18 months there.

I have found that I need to have a heightened political awareness in this job, and I’m finding that there are a number of political bloggers out there that are thought provoking. I tend to sample a spectrum of opinions to get some balance. I’ve also taken to participating in discussion in comments links as an additional mental exercise – it really does improve my ability to critically analyse what is going on in my own area of interest if I’ve done my mental gym session each day.

On a coffee note – the dark roast has much more body to it than my first mild roast – really impressive. A coffee importer is prepared to sell me PNG, Columbian, Kenyan, Ethiopian or other beans in 5kg lots at a reasonable price so I will buy a few lots and experiment with blends as well.

Sunday, August 13, 2006


Being a cool windy day we went out to the new nursery nearby, came home, fed the kids, put them to bed for a nap and decided it was time to try roast number two.

The beans on the left are the medium roast from yesterday, and on the right are the beans (medium/dark) from this afternoon.

It took about 5 minutes to roast to this colour and it was very even across all the beans. Much more even than I ever got roasting from green beans in the wok.

The machine. . .

If choosing a popcorn popper to home-roast green coffee beans, make sure you select one that blows the air in from the sides of the machine not from a mesh underneath. This is so the skins that flake off from the beans don't fall back into a heating element, but also because the side-air models keep the coffee moving and give a nice even roast. It also help if you don't overload the machine.

Below is a picture of the roasting chamber of my popper and you can see the solid base and airflow ports on the side.

The new job.

After my round of applications earlier in the year I was offered all four jobs I was interviewed for. This was great, but also meant that I had to choose between four quite different jobs with varying levels of security. One was in the organisation I was working for at the time - very safe, good money but pretty boring and little scope for creativity and innovation. Two others were at the same level, but again had a few restrictions I didn't like.

The fourth was doing work that required negotiation, strategic thinking with lots of deadlines and would need me to work fast, hard and require every bit of intellect I could put into it. It was a grade higher than the other jobs, but not enough money to sway me. It was also an 18 month secondment - and really only an 18 month secondment as the position had only been created as a temporary position. It lacked the security of the other jobs but the work, the work was exactly what I felt I needed to be doing.

I took it. and nearly 5 months on it has been the best move so far. Don't know what the future holds, but I am unconcerned. The work is valued and I get to make a contribution that I can see having an impact.

Can't ask more than that I reckon.

The Proof

The proof of the pudding may be in the eating but for coffee my personal proof of a good roast has always been in whether or not I need to add sugar.

I think I could do a slightly darker roast for flavour but overall yesterday's popper roasted bean are terrific. Given the ease of roasting with this method it would be a simple thing for me to roast each night the small amount of Coffee I want for the next day.

Coming up:

Coffee roasting 101 - at least from my experience.

Saturday, August 12, 2006


I've been home roasting my own coffee for over a year now - I have found it very satisfying but it does smoke out the house a bit (I use a wok on the gas stove).

Today I did something I have wanted to try for a long time and bought a popcorn maker. Many of the web sites that provide information about roasting your own coffee talk glowingly about the results achieved by the humble popcorn machine.

The picture above shows my green coffee beans on the left, and the result of 5 minutes in my $22 Black and Decker Popper.

Pretty damn impressed actually - very even roast all over, low mess, little effort and very fast. The main drawback is the amount you can roast at any one time, but still, pretty happy.

Will make the ultimate test tomorrow morning when I drink the product. . .