Back in October, I took you guys inside Coutume Café and concluded that entry with the promise of soon taking you behind the scenes to see exactly how they roast their coffee. That day has clearly arrived. And I should point out that this is not just coffee roasting we’ll be seeing. This is coffee being roasted by one of the 2011 Meilleurs Torréfacteurs de France (best roasters in France), Antoine Netien. He’s among a small, but serious and growing, contingent of craftsmen restoring dignity to the woefully enfeebled Parisian coffee scene.
In the top shot there you’re actually seeing the climax of the torréfaction process, the moment the roaster erupts with steam and kilos of perfectly toasted beans. But we’ll come back around to that, in time. Because of course the full process begins with gigantic sacks of delicately fermented & dried beans . . .
Antoine, co-owner Tom Clark, and their talented team not only import some of the finest beans in the world, they occasionally travel to the small villages where they’re grown. It’s only in heading off to Ethiopia or Costa Rica that one can truly source the ultimate raw materials and experience the genesis of quality – from the maturing coffee cherries, yet to be harvested, all the way through the fermentation and drying process. Antoine is a font of knowledge on the whole cycle & all-things-coffee and is full of stories about how less seasoned roasters routinely get screwed by middlemen who exploit their lack of knowledge. Here at Coutume, though, he ensures only excellence is nestled in these giant burlap sacks.
Now a big part of what sets the Coutume roasting process apart from others is the overt fusion of artistry and science. In the shot below you see Antoine manning a computer that is connected to a series of sensors he’s had custom-installed in the 1950s-era classic (read: extremely amazing quality) roaster. The computer charts temperature, humidity and a range of factors, from multiple sensors, in real-time, allowing Antoine to control every single aspect and moment of the roasting process.
One of the first steps, before the beans are even put in, is to warm the main drum of the roaster. With a few buttons pressed and settings digitally dialed-in, the gas flames kick on in the belly of the machine. Antoine undid the side of the beast for me here so that I could take shots of the long series of burners . . .
The flames start out an eery blue, then turn orangey-red, before returning to the same wild, ghostly azure. You can even see these amazing trails of sparks shooting up from the burners. It’s such an intense heat, too.
Since the machine takes a bit to properly heat, I snapped a few photos of the setup. Below is the too-cool-looking pyrometre (temperature guage), which of course has since been replaced in utility by all the probes Antoine had custom-installed. And off to the left, a bit blurred, is a custom piece of copper tubing that was also retro-fitted to the machine, for use in giving finer control to humidity regulation.
Although the roaster is a German-made Probat, you can see the plaque that attests to its further French pedigree and customization by Virey & Garnier. Both Antoine and Tom are exceedingly proud of that distinction for their machine. It also happens to just look awesome.
Moving behind the machine, you can see the serpentine series of ventilation and duct-work that serves as the main respiratory system.
Once the roaster was thoroughly heated, Antoine measured out his beans, to the gram, and filled the bean hopper . . .
With a slide of the trap door, the beans tumbled into the main drum and began the roasting process.
Over the next 17 ½ minutes (my photos are all conveniently timestamped), this Meilleur Torréfacteur de France showed just why he’s earned the title. Every couple minutes, he’d pull a sample from the machine, inspect its color, take a quick sniff and continue to monitor the computer’s output. As a I said, it’s truly a blend of art and science here – quantitative and qualitative measurements are key.
Early in the roasting process, the beans have a very light color . . .
That begins to deepen to a much toastier brown. By the time the beans have taken on this tone, Antoine is pulling samples from the machine every few seconds, giving the color and scent a quick check.
The very instant Antoine sees that they’ve achieved the perfect hue, he opens the machine for the beans to be released and begin cooling. In the shot below, you can see that exact second, just as the first few beans slip out.
Then there’s the full avalanche, the scent of which is . . . amazing!
For a little more than a half-hour, the arms of the machine sweep through the beans, helping to ensure an even cooling to the, technically, still-roasting little guys.
The final product is picture perfect and, yes, tastes exactly 1,000 times better than any coffee you’ve ever had. True fact.
I actually stayed to watch several rounds of roasting, each of which unfolded a little differently, according to the sensitivities of the artist himself. In the final shot here, Antoine has a batch roasting, while he simultaneously monitors the computer and philosophizes to me about the importance of multiple temperature probes and the control of bean humidity. As someone who is equally consumed with measurement in his own baked-good and beverage endeavors, I was eating it up.
So I hope you’ve enjoyed this exclusive behind-the-scenes view of the great French coffee master at work! Assuming you have, I think you’re also going to love next Wednesday’s ultra-special feature. After months or work, espionage and code-cracking the secrets of the most famous Parisian hot chocolates — and completely dispensing with any feigned modesty here — I’m unveiling what might well be the finest hot chocolate recipe ever conceived. I’ve pretentiously named it L’Essentiel, and I have a feeling it will just blow your mind. Expect your regular Friday and Monday pastry updates until then, but ready yourself for Wednesday. Parisian chocolat chaud is finally getting the respect it deserves.
47 Rue de Babylone
Facebook Page: Coutume Café