Tuesday, November 5, 2013


Eastside Road, November 5, 2013—
YOU ASKED ABOUT our coffee. Well, it's Fast Day here today, nothing else to write about, so here's our coffee setup.

We buy our coffee beans from Sweet Maria's, in Oakland. Currently we're drinking their Taller del Taller. (Nothing to do with Alice's mushrooms: taller is Spanish for "workshop.") This is a marvelous blend; I fully agree with Sweet Maria's description.

The Neighbor Down the Hill turned me on to roasting coffee at home a couple of years ago, when she gave me a popcorn roaster and a pound of beans. I soon burned out that roaster, and a replacement or two, and realized I'd be money ahead buying a dedicated piece of equipment. This FreshRoast roaster does about three or four days' supply at a time, since we only have coffee at breakfast. And while the purchase price is three or four times that of a popcorn popper, it's far outlasted that many of the cheaper things, and is easier to use: I just put the green beans in the glass container and plug the machine in.

You have to shake the popcorn popper, or take its lid off and stir the coffee beans; the Fresh Roast machine has a forced-air blower that takes care of that problem, and it continues to stir the coffee after the heating element goes off, cooling the beans. It's pre-set to 5.9 seconds of roasting, but I increase the time to 6.2 for these beans. (Other blends seem to have other optimum times.)

Home-roasted coffee is best after three or four days. I just leave it in the roaster glass to age, as you see; when the grinder's empty, the roasted coffee goes into its container, and it's time to roast the next batch.

(That Caffé del Doge can is full of green beans; the big plastic bag is there only to give you an idea of Sweet Maria's packaging. But I must say Caffé del Doge remains my favorite commercial coffee, with Tazza d'Oro a close second. Their only drawback: you have to be in Italy, the Veneto or Rome, to get them. There is or was a Doge outlet in Palo Alto, but it just isn't the same as being in Venice.)

I grind the coffee just before making it, of course, in a period Faema "Contessa" grinder I got used at Mr. Espresso, in Oakland. For years we drank Mr. Espresso's coffee, too, and I'm still partial to it, partly because Carlo's such a serious and loyal man, partly because, let's face it, his coffee continues to be sound and tasty. I suppose it's been supplanted by the new generation of roasters: Blue Bottle, Sightglass, Four Barrel and the like. But there's always room for the tried-and-true.

I make our breakfast coffee in our Faemina, which I know I've written about before. Lindsey found it in a second-hand shop on Grove Street in Berkeley, back in the middle 1960s. I borrowed $25 from my mother to buy it. It was brand new, I'm sure, still with its European power plug. It's designed for twice the voltage I have, so it takes a while to heat up — just enough time for me to get the coffee bowls out, slice the bread for toast, set the table, and step out onto the patio to verify the morning sky.

I imagine this reduced voltage has also prolonged the life of the heating elements, but it's been hard on the Faemina's two switches: one on-off, the other high-low. I've sent this Faemina to the shop more than once, sometimes with unpleasant results. Once, in New York where I'd shipped it for repair (it needed gaskets), various parts were stripped from it, and I've had to find their replacements. Last time, a local repairman rewired it incorrectly, putting each element on its own on-off switch, complicating things more than necessary.

We have our morning coffee with milk, foamed at the Faemina. Occasionally I'll have a black espresso in the early afternoon, and the Faemina does a good job of that, and this Taller de Taller, with a spoonful of sugar, is a delicious thing. (That's a photo of such a cup, hanging next to the stove-sparker, at the top center of the photo.)

If you don't want to roast your own coffee, well, I can understand your reticence, it sounds like a lot of work. But it really isn't, and the green beans go for less than ten dollars a pound, considerably less than good pre-roasted coffee, even supermarket-available brands like Lavazza (not bad) and Starbuck's (no comment).

I've seen Faeminas like ours listed on Ebay in the neighborhood of $700, but of course you can't be sure of their condition. I don't know what I'd replace it with. I hope I never have to.


Unknown said...

There's a wiring diagram at the bottom of this page: http://www.orphanespresso.com/Faema-Faemina-Schematics_ep_600-1.html

And lots of spare parts here: http://www.coffeeparts.com.au/faema/faema-spare-parts-10

Charles Shere said...

Wow. You just never know who might drop in on your blog.
Thanks very much, Mr. Berry. I'd already found the wiring diagram, and put it to good use rewiring my machine. And I'll probably buy a switch, as the on-off switch is burned out, and I just bypassed it, since my machine is plugged into a switched outlet anyway.

Curtis Faville said...


Thanks for the presentation.

No, I'm too busy to roast my own.

I'm never sure why one batch of coffee tastes good, while another is bitter. Is it the age of the beans, the time of roasting, the beans themselves, or some combination of these factors?

The coffee we drink is so much richer and sophisticated than anything my parents drank. They would probably have regarded our grinding and French press-pot as finicky.

Charles Shere said...

"Too busy": You're right, it does take time. Since I roast coffee every three or four days, I thought I'd time it today to see exactly how much time I spend. It took twelve seconds to put the beans in the roaster and turn it on, and another thirty to step outside with the roasted coffee to blow off the hulls and empty the hull-basket. Add fifteen seconds to rinse the apparatus and set it in the drainbasket to dry: about a minute.

Then there's the two or three minutes on line to order five pounds of coffee, every couple of months. It does add up, doesn't it?