By BRENDA REES
LINCOLN HEIGHTS — “If you can make a pie, you can roast coffee,” announced Vlad Gallegos to a group of caffeine-lovers at the recent “Roast Your Own Coffee Beans” workshop, held outdoors under a shady tree in the Church of Epiphany’s Lincoln Heights Community Garden.
A Lincoln Heights resident, Gallegos shared his knowledge of coffee, a beverage he’s been drinking since about the age of 5, having grown up in El Salvador where it’s a common beverage. “I even made espressos for my friends when I was in first grade,” he said.
Gallegos’ do-it-yourself attitude came later. Working at City of Hope in Duarte, he used to frequent Peet’s Coffee for his $5 morning ritual. But after he was laid off, he realized how much money he was spending. “You can save a lot of money doing it yourself and actually get a better tasting coffee,” said Gallegos, who now works at the Eagle Rock branch library while studying geography information systems.
Walking through the steps from bean to cup, Gallegos explained that he learned the nuances of home roasting from Sweet Maria’s, an Oakland-based coffee company that sells single-origin and blended green coffee beans. “You can even enroll in a virtual coffee university and really get involved in the details,” he said.
Displaying the tools of his trade, Gallegos explained he was lucky to find a brand new, $300 brand coffee roaster at a thrift store for only $25. “I was willing to invest in one anyway, but this just appeared to me, and I had to have it.”
But fancy roasters aren’t necessary. Gallegos says that people have successfully roasted in cast iron pans and even woks. “Our grandparents used cast iron pans for coffee, and think about the cowboys out on the range,” he said. A warning: the smoke will likely set off your smoke alarm. Roast outside or near a window. YouTube videos are helpful.
Gallegos is also proud of his other used-coffee find: a German-made coffee grinder, an older model that trumps new ones, he said.
Participants sampled green coffee beans, tasting the chewy tart seed (a coffee bean is encased in the fruit of a flowering shrub) and then tasted roasted beans in comparison. Their responses: “Yum,” “What a difference,” “Delicious.”
While Gallegos’ beans were roasting in his machine, he explained that roast time determines flavor. He showed a somewhat complicated matrix of roast levels and a bean color chart showing shades ranging from mild green to brown to almost black. Over the years, roast times have been associated with certain regions. For example, an Italian roast is lighter (shorter) than a French roast.
After 18 minutes or so, the beans “pop,” signaling its first crack. Some beans are roasted to the second crack, but not these. Gallegos will let these beans rest for 2 to 3 days before grinding them, allowing them to relax, release Co2 gas and draw the sugars to the surface.
“When you see shiny coffee beans, that’s coffee that’s been sitting out too long and the oils have now been extracted outside of the bean,” he said. “Not a good sign.”
Participants sampled fresh-drip brewed coffee and/or espresso (“Always use filtered water for your coffee”). Gallegos asked what they tasted. “Soil,” “Charcoal,” “Sour,” “Raisins,” and more. “I know distinct flavors but I couldn’t tell you what it is,” said one participant smacking his lips. The conclusion: coffee and wine tasting are very similar.
“When I started doing this, I really learned to appreciate what it takes to brew a good cup of coffee and I enjoy learning the logistics and the skill,” said Gallegos. “I have a lot of fun with it.”
Brenda Rees is a writer and resident of Eagle Rock.