Welcome to Baldur’s Brews: where a klutzy, overly curious engineer explores the often overlooked world of coffee.
By Luis Balderrama
Understanding My Coffee Background:
When I first began drinking coffee my first year in college, my whole world of coffee was based around a coffee drip machine. College was driven by it and it was one of the most useful tools I had to keep me up for hours on end. My coffee gradually got stronger and stronger the more I needed caffeine. I read that there was more caffeine in the less roasted beans, so I basically just loaded up light roasts in my machine as much as I could. I had great success with it. I got to try out lots of flavored coffee creamers and all that jazz to make your cup of brew even better. But in general the stronger the coffee, the better. Out of college, I never really looked twice at coffee. It just was. I knew some was better than others…and that was about it. I had heard about coffee snobbery, but it was something that I never really looked into. It was just a world I knew existed. It wasn’t until recently that I decided I would dive into this world of coffee, and frankly, I ruined coffee for myself. I utterly ruined my view on coffee.
How it All Started:
It began with my curiosity: I decided that I wanted to become proficient with a French Press coffee maker. I am fortunate enough to have a hot water faucet at my place of work, so I don’t have to boil anything or bring provisions to heat up water, so, I figured I would give it a try. At first, I began just pouring regular ground coffee into the pot and experimenting with that. It was indeed different, but I couldn’t figure out why people were so gung ho about the apparatus. Then I began to research the tried and true methods for making some seriously good coffee. I began to read about the 3 stages of coffee brewing, the types of flavors you can get from a coffee bean and how the grind of the bean affects the outcome of the flavor profile. Being an engineer, something went off in my head. I had to run experiments and figure out how all of these flavors came together and how they changed with grind coarseness. I acquired an old coffee grinder that had the ability to adjust the coarseness of the grind. Perfect. I started buying whole bean coffee and grind it myself with my snazzy grinder. Immediately, I was able to tell a difference in flavor. I began experimenting with the time I steeped the beans and the flavors that came out. It was a new discovery every day. One thing led to another, and nowadays I roast my own coffee and I manually grind the beans right before I make the start brewing, just to make sure it is the freshest and most flavorful pot of French Press it can be. Here is the beginning of the downfall of regular brew for me. The exposure to this amazing coffee has ruined a regular cup for me. I cannot go anywhere without analyzing the flavor profile of each cup. Don’t get me wrong, I will drink a cup anywhere I can get one, but I can’t help but analyze it the entire time. But I don’t see that as a bad thing. I rather enjoy being a connoisseur of coffee. Getting a cup of coffee now seems like such an adventure. I want to try out what different places have to offer. Like someone who has just lost his virginity, I want to go explore this new world. I have become one of those people.
Coffee Roasting: Experimental Tips
For those of you who are already roasting your own coffee, I urge you to give this a try. And for those of you who want to roast your own coffee, DO IT. Also, try this experiment. It’s very fun, DANGEROUS, and tasty. So I have been grilling for more than a couple years, but not a lot. One thing that I very much enjoy is cooking steaks. But what I like about it is the smoking aspect of grilling. I love trying different woods to see how the flavors affect the taste of a good cut. So, a couple weeks after I began roasting coffee, I had this idea. Why can’t coffee be smoked like a steak? It will still roast due to the heat, but instead of putting steaks on the grill, put in some green Burundi coffee beans. I gave it a shot. I started up my grill and got it up to around 450°F. I placed prepared wet cherry wood chips into the coals along with dry ones. Once the smoke was pouring out of the grill, I placed the beans, which were in a pan, on the grill. I monitored the beans and moved them around as necessary, but for the most part, I let them soak up as much of the smoke as possible. Once it was at about a dark medium roast [the second crack], I took them out and cooled them. A few hours later I ground them up and put them in a French press. Success. The smokiness did not overpower the flavor of the bean, but rather elevated it. It was delicious. So it got me thinking, why doesn’t smoked coffee really exist? Turns out, it does, but it’s a very small market. So go out there and smoke some coffee. You won’t regret it.
Feature Coffee Joint to Hit Up: Full of Beans, Ojai, CA
I cannot recommend this place enough. I very much enjoy going here and grabbing a cup of Joe. I absolutely love driving, so getting to this place is always a pleasure. It’s out on the CA 33 on the way to the CA 150. The drive is very scenic, but once you get there and you step in, you are met with this super cool, artsy vibe. Lots of warm, welcoming colors adorn the walls and the outdoor furniture. What I found interesting about the place was that among this cool artsy vibe was this touch of motorcycles, and being a fan of old-school stuff, I really enjoyed the combination. Enough about the location, let’s talk brews. They have a bunch of different types of coffees available and I can’t say that I favor any one more than another; it’s all solid coffee. They have different roasts and beans. Try them all, but be prepared to serve yourself your own cup. I liked that aspect of it because I could mix up any types that I wanted. I had that flexibility, but I know that some enjoy the service of having it poured for them. Either way, it’s still a great experience. They have snacks and wraps, but I recommend getting a cup of Joe and a dessert. They have brownies, and small little cakes that are delish. Also, Dave, the owner of the place, looks intimidating when he rides in on his old Shovelhead Harley, but he is such a cool guy and I enjoyed talking to him. They also have live music on weekends which just makes the scene so much cooler. So, if you want to go out of your way a little bit for some awesome ambiance, great coffee, and cool music, check out Full of Beans.