I never really set out with the goal of roasting my own coffee beans, it just kind of happened.
It started a month ago when we got a coffee grinder. Naturally we started getting whole bean coffee, which we used at a rate of about one pound per week. While I’m not (by any standards) a coffee connoisseur, I found myself noticing that the first pot of coffee out of the new can really was just betterthan the last pot of coffee out of the old can– meaning that the coffee quality does actually decline noticeably after just a week.
Now, that’s a minor annoyance, and hardly cause for action. But, two weekends ago I happened to be browsing in a home brewing store (needed champagne yeast– that’s another story) where there were sealed bags of green coffee beans just sitting there on the shelf. Fair trade, organic, and in a number of varieites. Only 5 bucks a pound. So what the heck, right?
It turns out that there’s a common and cheap method of roasting coffee at home: using a regular air popcorn maker. You put the beans in the popper as though they were popcorn kernels, heat them for a few minutes until they’re properly roasted, and then cool them. (You can read the details of this process here, here, here, and here, amongst other places.) This is kind of neat because it doesn’t take much in the way of equipment and it roasts just enough for a big pot of coffee.
The weak point in the popper method is the cooling. The beans keep roasting as long as they are still hot, so many of the sites suggest pouring the beans back and forth between a couple of metal colanders until they cool down. We tried it, and while it did cool them faster than a cookie sheet, it was more tedious than fun. It also seemed a bit silly to use this nice semi-automatic roaster and then turn it over to a manual process for the next few minutes. So, here is our better (if somewhat obvious) solution: a dedicated coffee cooling tower, built from a second modified air popper. Continue reading →
While trying to figure out what to do with about 75 pounds of fruit that our citrus trees bestowed upon us in January, we came across an interesting fact: marmalade is really easy to make. People of older generations may know this already, but so far as we knew, marmalade was one of those mysterious things that strictly comes from a jar. It turns out that all you need is citrus fruit, water, sugar and some time on the stovetop.
We picked up some of these blueberry/yogurt candies at Trader Joe’s, which didn’t really merit a mention until we looked at the ingredients list:
Well, now, that is interesting. The last ingredient in the list is red cabbage extract, “for color.” But… red cabbage is one of those pH-indicating substances (Link 1, Link 2), that happens to make a pretty good DIY version of litmus paper.
So… if these candies have red cabbage extract for color, do we really have litmus candy? Continue reading →
Halloween is just around the corner, so in preparation we’ve updated our Halloween Project Archive with a few of our projects from the last year. If one of our projects inspires you, we’d love to see the results in the flickr auxiliary!
Sichuan peppercorns, oh yeah! Raven of Made with Molecules after eating them wrote, “There’s a war in my mouth.” They create a riot of numbing and tingling sensations, particularly if you can get relatively fresh ones (i.e. not stale from sitting around in a Whole Foods bulk bin). Raven links to an abstract about the particular anesthetic-sensitive potassium channels inhibited by hydroxy-alpha-sanshool, one of the components of sichuan peppercorns that make them so exciting.
Science aside, we recently found some in a local asian grocery store, and were particularly struck by the packaging. American packaging often has annoying disclaimers about how contents are packed by weight and may have settled. These peppercorns were not only weighed, but the precision of the scale is indicated! If only all packaging was so straightforward. I was going to complain that the package doesn’t say what kind of peppercorns were inside (sichuan peppercorns are not related to other peppercorns) but then realized that the Chinese characters are specific to these “flower peppers” even if the English words are more general. In any case, the reddish husks are recognizable through the bag.