On a cold afternoon in February I went to visit a coffee roaster, by invitation. He lives with his family in the forest at the edge of a subdivision and makes his coffee there, in a small slatted building he calls the sugar shack. His name is Mike Russo and, with his wife, Sarah Russo, he’s proprietor of Firebean Coffee Roasters. In that capacity, he’s the maker of my favourite coffee, Firebean Inferno.
Don’t get me wrong, in my house we patronize all the local coffee roasters and we have a roast from each of them in our cupboards right now, from Bean North Coffee Roaster Co., to Midnight Sun Coffee Roasters, to Atlin Mountain Coffee Roasters. We drink them all with pleasure, but I am a fan of the dark brews and there is something about deep, dark, Firebean Inferno that speaks to my soul.
Russo’s operation is a simple one developed through trial and error and with help from his friends and a “metal guy” in town. His roaster is a modified pizza oven. His source of heat is kindling. His drum is powered by a small motor under the oven. His cooling racks are a couple of sheet pans on kitchen shelving outside the shack, underneath the spruce trees. He winnows the chaff from the roasted beans by pouring them from a bucket held high. The chaff flies up to meet the snowflakes coming down.
Russo roasts in small batches two or three times a week for five hours at a time and it’s busy. There’s no time for wasted motion. He moves quickly from roaster to woodpile to cooling station.
“This is the fun part, being outside, being in the forest,” he says as the drum in his roaster rotates. “I want the metal on the bean, I don’t want air.” He says conduction heat leaves more life in the bean.
It takes 25 minutes to roast a batch of Inferno. After 15 minutes, you can hear the crackling of the beans above the crackling of the kindling fire and watch chaff spit out from the drum. At 20 minutes, the blue smoke rolls up and gets thicker as the clock ticks on. At 25 minutes, Russo opens the drum and lets the beans pour into a metal bucket he’s arranged on the fire. Then you get out of the way as he runs with the bucket to the cooling station and pours out the still crackling beans. Ravens croak overhead, passing a stick between beaks. The Inferno is done.
I came home from this visit smelling like coffee. All fired up, I began to cook. In these recipes you may use any roast you like—the effect will be different with each one–but be sure to use a fine grind. The coarser stuff can be unpleasantly gritty.
*Rough guide: For rare moose steak, cook a 1-inch thick steak for a scant
Makes 1/4 cup rub, enough for about 2 lbs steak.