Don’t ask me why it took so long for us to invite the roaster into the household, what with all our other forays into quality beverages, but we finally did it.
We opted for the microwave-sized Behmor 1600 recommended by none other than my fanatic dentist, and started up the machine as soon as we checked to make sure our fire extinguisher was still charged. And the first thing we did was under roast some beans. Whoops.
Though I take full responsibility for being a little too trigger happy on the “Cool” button I have to say my confusion for when to stop the heat was partly due to mediocre descriptions for when “second crack” (the critical point in a roasted bean’s life) is reached. Most people describe “first crack” as loud pops similar to popcorn (basically the bean heating up and emitting CO2, hello—it’s farting) and “second crack” is softer, more like rice crispies (apparently the cellular matrix of the bean itself is getting fractured). Whatever. I just know the cracks started happening and I couldn’t tell whether they were popcorn-y or rice crispy-y, and all I could see was the giant warning in the manual of “Do not go 10 seconds beyond second crack or you will have FIRE!” and little pieces of chaff were flying about and landing on the heating coils and bursting into flames, and one timer was ticking down to zero and another timer was ticking up to infinity and things were just a little chaotic.
And so. There’s nothing like the sour-bellied recoil from an under-roasted coffee and the fact that you have no other beans in the house to help get over that learning curve. All it took was a little practice.
I have to say though, that “second crack” sounds an awful more like sizzling meat than any kind of rice crispies, and, since sizzling meat is the most familiar sound to me second only to the coffee grinder, that would have been a much easier sound for me to spot. In addition, what’s happening to the beans between first and second crack is that the sugars are undergoing the coveted Maillard reaction, which has something to do with deprotonated amino groups, but without which we’d have no browning of meats, toasted brioche or fried onions!