The Perfect Cup

Coffee Connoisseurs Share Their Methods For Making Sure Each Sip’s One To Savor

Posted: November 21, 2012

For local roastmasters Monty Ruckman and Troy Lucas, their work has always given them a rush.
 
“I’m passionate about coffee,” says Ruckman. “I just drank way too much bad coffee over the years.”
 
Here, Lucas, owner of Lucas Roasting Company in Broadway, and Ruckman, owner of Cabin Creek Roasters in Edinburg, share their passion for the perfect cup of coffee.
 
Both Ruckman and Lucas roast their beans to order, at customers’ requests. Unlike commercial coffee, which sits in warehouses and on store shelves for months, theirs are ordered, roasted and ground right away.
 
Raw coffee beans can be kept for several years, but once they’re roasted, “time starts ticking a lot faster, and the freshness starts to diminish,” says Lucas. For the pickiest drinkers, coffee should be consumed within three weeks of roasting.
 
While coffee beans don’t expire, they do get stale over time. The more oxygen exposed to the bean, the faster that clock ticks, according to Lucas, which is why grinding beans right before brewing is best.
 
Phil Kniss of Harrisonburg takes freshness to a new level: He began roasting his own green coffee beans eight years ago, using an air popper. Nowadays, he’s graduated to a more experimental setup — a combination of a bread machine and a heat gun.
 
“The results were astounding,” he said, recalling his first home-roasted batch. “I never understood what a difference several weeks or a month make [in freshness] … just to have the superior flavor of freshly roasted coffee.”
 
Global To Local
 
Why make the distinction between coffee that comes from Ethiopia or Colombia, Kenya or Brazil? The beans’ homeland determines its taste and quality, roasters say.
 
According to Ruckman, “Arabica” beans are best, grown in shade at the highest possible elevations — at least 3,000 feet above sea level. The lower elevations of commercial grade coffees are called “robusta.”
 
The plant’s soil and weather patterns in the region determine what the final flavor composition will be, Lucas says. For instance, coffee originating in the lowlands of Vietnam will have a much different flavor than beans grown in the highlands of Guatemala.
 
Brazilian coffee is sweet, floral and smooth; Combined with an earthy Indonesian Sumatra, Cabin Creek’s new Downtown Reviver blend is full-bodied. Specialty blends are becoming more popular, Ruckman has noticed.
 
Ultimately, trial and error will lead one to their preference, Lucas says. “It’s a very subjective thing, when you’re talking about coffee and picking the right one for somebody.”
 
Dark To Light
 
The roasting process controls the coffee’s color: The longer it’s roasted, the darker it gets - and the more caffeine and acidity are purged out.
 
Darker roasts tend to be sweeter than light, as roasting “caramelizes” the sugars. Natural floral or fruity notes are more noticeable in lighter roasts.
 
“The lighter the coffee is roasted, the more you’re going to taste the wild, dynamic flavors,” Lucas says.
 
Coffee connoisseurs and common drinkers alike may have strong opinions on how to store their grinds: in the refrigerator, freezer or cupboard? “It’s a point of contention among roasters, too,” says Lucas. “It’s something that’s been widely talked about and widely experimented.”
 
His approach to proper storage is diplomatic: While he believes cold storage isn’t necessarily wrong, personally, he prefers simply storing freshly roasted and ground coffee in a dry spot away from sunlight for use within three weeks. Taking roasted beans in and out of the freezer may cause them to thaw and refreeze, degrading the oils, Lucas cautions.
 
Most important is keeping the beans away from outside odors and oxygen. Like baking soda, roastmasters say, coffee is porous, and will soak up surrounding flavors — such as last night’s leftovers or a freezer’s staleness.
 
It’s also vital to store fresh coffee grounds in a bag with a one-way valve, to allow carbon dioxide released to escape. “They give off a lot of energy,” Lucas says, from explosive experience.
 
Freshly roasted coffee could be a catching trend, these experts believe. Kniss knew of no one else home-roasting in the area when he began; now, he knows a community of 25-30 Harrisonburg hobbyists.
 
For more information on locally roasted offerings, visit cabincreekroasters.com and lucasroasting.com.
 

Contact Samantha Cole at scole@dnronline.com or 574-6274