It was an early start on a grey morning in the Burren. Having said that, it was worth every minute we got up earlier than on normal days. We, the staff from the visitor centre of the Burren Smokehouse, and Birgitta Hedin Curtin had been invited to witness coffee roasting first hand.We were greeted by a chirpy Brian O'Briain, the founder and owner of the newly set up Anam Coffee, who was already in full swing in his roasting premises next to his beautiful house in the middle of the Burren. In one corner, two black and gold-rimmed cast-iron roasters were waiting patiently for their part in the action. Right inside the door were some beautiful burlap sacks with raw coffee beans.
While we were drinking differently prepared coffees, Brian introduced us into the fascinating world of coffee roasting.
Did you know that coffee doesn't need a long time to roast? Most commercial coffee is produced in big factories where they blast roast coffee with a very high heat for about 70 seconds and follow that by quenching the scorched beans with water to cool them. The blast heat would burn the beans and make them taste bitter. None of the many fragile flavours and aromas would stand a chance of survival.
In order to create a really high-class coffee, the beans would need more time, a lot less heat and a lot more attention than that. Anam Coffee typically hand roast coffee in small batches in anywhere between 10 and 15 minutes to optimise both flavour and sweetness. In fact, each coffee has their own individual recipe or roast profile to optimise both flavour and sweetness. We are of course not at liberty to disclose any of recipe details, as roast profiles take a lot of time and practice to develop and are a closely guarded secret. But let's just say that the beans enjoy their time in a more moderate heat almost 10 times longer than mass-produced beans and we really can guarantee you will taste the difference!
While we were there, Brian roasted about 1.2 kg of beans in the small roaster. We witnessed every little step of it, the constant monitoring of the temperature, and finally heard how the beans popped while being whirled around in the drum of the roaster.
Finally the batch was released into the cooling tray in front of the roaster, and the pedals worked their way through the beans to cool them quickly and efficiently.
The different coffees roasted by Anam Coffee are all very unique, full of flavours and aromas. They are typically smooth and not one bit bitter.
Admittedly, it takes a bit of practice to identify even just a few of the 800 possible flavours and aromas attributed to coffee. Okay, it does take a lot of practice. But it is very obvious even to the untrained nose that Anam Coffees are very different from what we are used to drinking. The Burren Seasonal Blend was such a pleasure to drink while we were thinking with glee of the charcoal coffees served elsewhere.
Or let's brew and sip the Ethiopia Guji. This is the coffee with the most obvious of all differences. The name Guji refers to the high geographical location in Ethiopia where these special coffee beans are grown. To the coffee drinker used to the strong Italian strength & bitterness, the Guji must seem like tea. It is light in colour, quite ressembling the physique of tea in fact. On the palate, it is rather floral, providing sweetness, herbal and citrus notes.
There is even a decaffeinated coffee, the Mexican Mountain Water Decaf. The caffeine sits on the outside of the coffee beans, and it is being washed off naturally on the farm using just glacier water and a carbon filter right after being harvested. This removes 99% of the caffeine.
The sourcing of the coffee beans is done in close cooperation with the speciality coffee merchants who have a keen interest in supporting coffee farmers in an ethical and sustainable way through different projects and by paying coffee farmers premium prices which are a lot higher then those paid by bigger commercial coffee roasters.
And one last bit of information that you might not have been aware of: Coffee is seasonal! Yes, it really is. The aforementioned Ethiopia Guji for example is a new harvest for 2016 having only arrived in early September and is already proving incredibly popular.
Look out for more exciting things to come. Not only can you already buy Anam Coffee in our visitor centre, Brian is planning on having tastings here! And a bit further down the road, he will conduct tastings and talks at his roastery. So check back at his website Anam Coffee from time to time, and don't forget to order some coffee as well!