5 Questions: Alex Finkelstein

Alex Finkelstein owns Big Mouth Coffee Roasters at 387 Main St. in Beacon. 

Alex Finkelstein

Alex Finkelstein

Can you explain the roasting process?
We use a solid drum roaster — a rotating steel drum that resembles a clothes dryer but costs about the same as a mid-level sedan. It’s preheated to between 350 and 450 degrees. Green coffee beans are dropped into the drum from the hopper. Software monitors the time and temperature. The analytics translate into subtleties that you will taste in the coffee. Flame and air-flow levels also affect taste. A roast takes 10 to 18 minutes. You don’t roast expensive, high-quality beans too dark. Light roasts have brighter acidity, are sweeter and have more nuanced flavor. Roasting cheaper beans super dark can mask their shortcomings, but some of the more exciting stuff gets cooked away and you’re left with the more bitter compounds. 

How significant is the source of the beans?
Indonesia, specifically Sumatra, as well as Brazil, Kenya and Ethiopia produce distinctive coffees. You used to be able to say one country or region was better than another, but in the world of specialty coffees, it’s at the micro level of a farm or mill now. Rare coffees are being grown in Panama, Burundi and Nicaragua. With specialty coffees, smaller beans tend to be denser. They’re grown at a higher altitude under harsher conditions, stunting their growth, which produces more concentrated flavor. Tanzanian peaberry is highly sought after because it’s more flavorful. 

Is it possible to make good decaffeinated coffee?
Some roasters specialize in decaf. The standard is the Mountain Water Process, which extracts nearly all the compounds from the bean, separates the caffeine, then injects everything back in. In the past, roasters used methyl, ethyl, alcohol and other hard-to-pronounce things in the process, and the coffee tasted bad. It’s funny to say this, but we’re getting some exciting decaf now. 

What are some trends in the business?
Specialty coffee is growing quickly. In Columbia, they’re experimenting with fermenting the coffee fruit — “the cherries” — from a few hours to a few days. There’s a lot of research in the microbiology of fermentation. They’re also drying the coffees differently. They’re mixing all these factors together to create coffees that are weird and wildly different. 

Any tips for making coffee at home?
The grinder is often overlooked. Be sure you have an even grind; don’t use a blade grinder. The water is important, especially temperature and taste. Filtering is a good idea. I don’t do it here because we have good tap water in Beacon, but if I go camping or to the Catskills, I always bring bottled water for coffee.


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