"Espresso! My Espresso!"
An Ongoing Internet Novelette
by Randy Glass - Copyright 2002 - All rights reserved
E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
How Hot is Too Hot? This Hot!
Today I just found hot just how hot roasted coffee can get. You are more than aware that I have been testing the Hottop coffee roaster. I went out into the garage this morning to roast another three batches. The first was 250 grams of Yemen Mocha. I wanted to do this to a nice, dark roast as a single to see if it is what has been causing the bitterness in my darker roasts. The beans are a bit old and I thought it might be a factor. I took the beans well into second crack, hitting the "Plus" control which adds a bit of time for each selection of that mode before automatic ejection. I was in my third "Plus" addition when I hit the manual eject. Active second crack had just started to diminish, and although the beans at the sight window did not look that dark or oily, it was as far as I wanted to go with these beans.
The beans began to pour from the roasting chamber into the cooling tray and I was writing the time and temp data on the note sheet I had been keeping when I looked back over to the cooling tray to check the roast appearance and noticed that these beans were smoking more than usual (I could barely see the machine) as well as being quite dark- a lot darker than I would have expected them to be from the roast I had just done. As I examined them I noticed that they were also a lot more oily than I would have liked as well as the volume of the beans was only about half what I put in to roast.
This is where the exact order of things get a bit fuzzy in the memory as it all happened sort of quickly. I noticed that a mass of oily beans were stuck in the ejection chute and this is why the amount of beans in the cooling tray was quite a bit less than expected. I shook the roaster a bit and it was about this time that the beans in the cooling tray ignited- flames. Not a little flash, but an orange campfire over the beans that just dropped from the chute. I started blowing carefully on the beans to extinguish them while protecting beard and eyebrows, while shaking the machine to eject the remainder of the stuck beans. As the beans ejected they were also very hot and when exposed to oxygen they ignited. Once most all the beans were in the cooling tray the few remaining in the chute along with the chaff and oil in the machine were catching fire and the beans in the tray were acting like those joke birthday candles that cannot be blown out. The order all that happened may not be accurate, but you get the picture. The only panic in my mind was whether I would still have a Hottop Bean Roaster when all was done.
As a trained firefighter I started thinking "911" and knew that I had a fire extinguisher at hand, but I continued to blow and was able to remove enough heat from the beans that they went out and stayed out (Thanks, Smokey!). Of course, the garage was filled with very thick smoke down to the level of the open door and it was not the pleasant-smelling roast smoke, but the aroma of burnt beans. The load of Yemen goes into the trash as soon as it is cool enough to be placed there. The burnt smell will most likely linger for a couple of days (in my beard and sinuses as well as in the garage) to remind me of how far is too far and how hot is too hot.
What precipitated all of this was that the beans nearest the glass viewing window of the Hottop looked not that dark. I did not see the oily beans as I would have expected- they certainly weren't as black and oily as the beans that I now have prepped for the trash. The machine is level where it sits, so the only things that I can think of are that the cold weather out here today made the front (window end) of the machine cooler than the rear of the drum and possibly I needed a brighter light to see the beans more clearly and they were actually darker than they appeared.
I can tell you that I will see the beans during the next roast more clearly because the inside of the machine was black and I spent a good thirty minutes scrubbing at the kitchen sink to get all the parts clean.
"Oh well, it's only a half pound of Yemen Mocha." he cries into his beer as he walks away...
I could not help but think that there was something wrong here, so after I spent nearly an hour disassembling, cleaning, and reassembling I gave it another go. I roasted some other beans and blends and all seemed to be working fine, so I weighed out another batch of the Yemen Mocha, said a little prayer, and started once again.
This time I used my auto trouble light. It's one of the magnetic ones and I put it on a chunk of steel plate so that it would shine directly onto the beans as deeply into the drum as I could get it.
About the time second crack became active I immediately identified the problem. These old beans, for whatever reason, don't lose their chaff as readily as most beans that I roast. The chaff on the beans against the glass seemd to show more brightly, giving the beans at the viewing end of the roaster a lighter look, and disguising, or at least covering up how oily the rest of the beans were becoming.
The difference in roasting time between the two roasts was minimal. The first roast went to about 18:35. The second roast was stopped at about 18:05. That thirty seconds made the difference between a batch of beans I can't wait to taste and a batch of beans I couldn't wait to extinguish.
Let me remind you once again that a coffee roaster is a serious appliance that is capable of very high heat, and (as should be obvious at this point to us all,) can bring coffee beans to (and beyond) the point of ignition. If left unattended a coffee roasting machine can ignite, creating a hazardous condition. Never leave a running coffee roaster unattended. The loss of your home (or worse) can be the result.