Adam Nolte • faculty writer
With the summer drawing near, I thought I would write about an outdoor hobby that I particularly enjoy—coffee roasting. The specialty coffee industry in the United States has grown enormously in the past few decades. At nearly any grocery store, next to the cheap, big-label, pre-ground tubs one can find any number of whole-bean “specialty” coffees that offer modestly improved taste for an often significantly higher price tag. Thus, the question: “Should you buy up?” To add a moral dimension, many higher-priced brands argue that purchasing their products results in increased economic benefits to the farmers (often in developing countries) from whom they obtain their coffee. To be sure, a full cost-benefit analysis of the fundamental coffee choice (“cheap” vs. “specialty”) would require a four-credit course spanning wide-ranging topics from consumer taste preference and psychology to questions of global sustainability and fair trade. Nevertheless, if you would like to drink great coffee at affordable prices while simultaneously encouraging fairer economic practices and consumer awareness, I offer a solution: Buy your coffee green and roast your own.Home coffee-roasting offers a number of advantages. The most attractive benefit is the incredible taste. There is simply no comparison between drinking coffee brewed from beans roasted two days ago versus beans roasted two weeks (or even months) ago—even if those beans were packed fresh into special bags or cans with that cool little one-way valve. Another benefit is cost; depending upon the country of origin, high-quality coffee beans can cost as little as $5 per pound. Even if you add an approximately 15% markup to that price to account for the loss in water weight during the roasting process, your intensely awesome home-roasted beans will come in at roughly half the cost of a bag of Starbucks.Yet another benefit to home coffee roasting is the fun factor. Granted, I’m a chemical engineer, and we love nothing more than taking raw materials and turning them into finished goods. Still, I believe nearly anyone could gain enjoyment from coffee-roasting—it is time-efficient (10-15 min per batch) and, like any good hobby, easy to learn but challenging to master. Home coffee-roasting equipment does not need to be fancy. Though you can drop hundreds of dollars on a specialty home roaster, I use a cheap hand-cranked Whirley-Pop popcorn popper on an outdoor propane grill and get equally good results. Some hot-air popcorn poppers work extremely well, too. With a little practice, you’ll be roasting your coffee to your own exacting taste specification, whether a cinnamon-brown breakfast blend or a coal-black French roast. Heck, sometimes I’ll pull half a batch at light roast and continue with the second half to a darker level; mixing them produces otherwise unattainable flavor profiles. All of this fun can be yours when you roast your own.A final benefit I have come to appreciate from roasting my own coffee has been an increased global awareness of where my food comes from and whom my consumer choices support. I purchase most of my green beans from Sweet Maria’s (http://www.sweetmarias.com), and those folks do an admirable job of visiting and documenting (in text and pictures) the various farms, families, and workers from whom they source. This has encouraged me to learn more about the various coffee-producing countries throughout the world, many of which unfortunately are marginalized and less developed, and therefore have cultures and histories less familiar to many of us.If you are interested in getting started roasting at home, the Sweet Maria’s website listed above has a particularly well-stocked e-library of resources for the beginning roaster. Perhaps in the fall when we reconvene for classes, I can share some of my favorite roasting tips and bean choices. There is something to be said, however, for the voyage of discovery—so, if you are looking for a summer pastime, read up, buy yourself a Whirley-Pop, order some beans, and dive right in!
There are few words to describe how long these ten weeks for classes can feel for a student. Homework needs completed and turned in between multiple classes while others have team meetings and projects due. Some have presentations and others may have papers and take home tests.No matter what the schedule looks like, the final weeks are grim. Many students “check out” mentally weeks in advance of finals. However, that does not mean we have to give up.This “Final Stretch” is the culmination of all students have been preparing for. With nearly fourty percent of a class grade for the average class still waiting in that final, the cards are not yet on the table.Though sleep deprived, irritated, pressured for time, and having little personal time until those tests are taken, we as students need to remember that we are almost there.Olympians don’t slow down when the finish line is in sight. Instead, that final burst of speed, a moment of adrenaline, lets the athlete push through full force to the end.Even sitting here, writing this article with two tests tomorrow, a mild headache coming on, thinking about my team meeting tonight, I continue to trudge on towards that goal.Summer will give me all the time necessary for sleep along with the relaxation required to destress from exams. This is the moment for every student to shine. “Senioritis” has struck most of those graduating this May, giving a sense of lethargy to the entire campus. This is evident in the trend of students missing that one Friday evening class that finishes up the day or the morning class because the bed is just too comfortable.Beds will be more comfortable during the summer when a student knows they gave their all to their finals and may reap the rewards of their labors. There is no greater feeling for me than that of accomplishment. Knowing that the good works I am basking in were of my own doing.So maybe that first hour class at eight in the morning sounds nice to skip over once or jetting out early so that a nice nap or a movie could be caught if you just “forgot” to go to that last class. However, every little assignment and day missed will add up. Just stick through and things will turn out for the best.I can only hope that everyone can push through, making the end of this school year an amazing one. So let thanks go out to all who had an impact on any student, faculty, or staff here at Rose-Hulman.With so much hard work put into making this school the one we all know and love, as students we should honor that dedication with a last push on this “Final Stretch” of Spring Semester.Good luck to everyone these final days and best of wishes. I am personally looking forward to hearing new opinions from all over the campus next year, along with finishing this semester with a strong work ethic and knowing this ended with my best foot forward.