Here is how to make excellent coffee, no electricity necessary!
First, the beans. Coffee tastes best when the beans are freshly roasted, which would mean roasting your own! You can buy green coffee beans from this website. If you’re buying green, you’ll pay less per pound, so you can actually afford to “go green”. My favorite beans are organic, fair-trade Sumatra. Sumatra beans produce a smooth, nutty tasting coffee. Rob’s favorite are organic, fair-trade Nicaraguan. These beans are rich and slightly chocolaty. Read up on different origins, try a few, and see which is your favorite.
Now it’s time to roast the beans. This website gives you lots of information to get you started roasting. For more specifics on roasting in a skillet, try this site. I do own a lovely electric roaster, which is great for roasting beans in a hurry and roasting them evenly. When we’re on the boat, though, or when I’m in the mood to be off the grid, I roast them in a cast iron pan. I do some test batches in my skillet, to determine the optimal time for the beans I have (different origins will do best at different roasting levels). Then, after I have it perfected, I will do a large batch in my saucepan. A word of caution: there will be smoke! Lighter roasts won’t produce as much, but be prepared. When I French roast, we have to run fans. At the marina, I will do my roasting outside!
When roasting coffee, you will eventually hear the beans make a popping noise. This is the first crack. After the first crack, the beans are lightly roasted. If, after some time, they pop again, you have reached the second crack. Dark roasts start shortly before the second crack. I’ve found that Sumatra beans are best roasted for 2 1/2 minutes after the first crack. They will make a coffee that is light in color but delicious in flavor. Nicaraguan beans are best French roasted, midway through the second crack (or when there is so much smoke that you have trouble seeing the beans!). If you use Sumatra beans, be aware that it is easy to burn them. And it is sad to brew your coffee, only to find that the beans have turned to charcoal.
After the beans have cooled, it’s time to grind them. The cheaper, blade grinders will not produce a nice, uniform grind. However, the burr mill grinders are quite expensive. My solution? An antique hand grinder made by Spong. It’s reliable, uses no electricity, and can be mounted on the wall (at home) or on a counter (on the boat). I fill the tray on it twice for Sumatra, 1 1/2 times for Nicaraguan.
Now for the brewing! After going through numerous defective electric coffee makers, we switched to a French press. French pressed coffee is significantly smoother than drip coffee. We heat the water to boiling, in a tea kettle (on either my vintage stove or the portable propane stove on the boat). Then, we turn off the heat while we grind the beans and place them in the French press. We pour the coffee in, allow it to settle, and stir it. It sits for 3 minutes, and then we plunge it.