Sunday, November 6, 2011

Trekking for a Jolt of Java

Backroom Coffee Roasters




Espresso, Latte, Mocha, Americano, Café au Lait, Breva, Macchiato, Cappuccino, Frappuccino….the seemingly endless list of coffee beverages goes on and on and on. Once you finally narrow in on your caffeine fix of choice, you must iterate another set of clarifying adjectives; single, double, skinny, dry, decaf, half-caf, extra shot, with soy, without whip. Is it possible to just get a fresh cup of coffee? Backroom Roasters isn’t giving in to all the hype. Although they are relatively new to the scene, roasting a superior quality coffee bean for you to brew at home is their goal and it is worth getting out of bed for.

My search for a local roaster led me straight to the Trek store on Lane Avenue. The name Backroom Coffee Roasters isn’t just a coincidence; they are located in the backroom of this well known bicycle dealer. As I made my trek to the backroom I was first greeted by the intoxicating smell of freshly roasted coffee beans, then by owners Chris Bishop, his wife Cara and his mother Trish. As his wife and mother were busy roasting, labeling, filling and sealing bags with fresh beans, Chris took a moment to tell me how it all began. In April 2010, Chris opened the independent bicycle shop (one of three he owns in the Columbus area). At first, he wasn’t sure what to do with the roughly 900 sq. ft. of backroom space, but quickly an idea began to percolate. Chris’s desire for fresh coffee led him to start dabbling in home roasting a few years back, making ½ pound at a time for him and his wife. He felt there was a need for fresh, locally roasted coffee so he decided to give it a go, slowly building his coffee roasting enterprise while he ran the bike store. They sold their first bag of coffee by June of the same year and the buzz about this local roaster has been rapidly increasing since.

What started out as a hobby has quickly become a secondary business, with a little comingling between the coffee and bikes. One of the many things that make Backroom Coffee Roasters unique is that they deliver their product to 90% of their accounts via bicycle. These accounts are numerous specialty markets and stores that push local ingredients across Columbus and a few in greater Ohio. The beans are delivered the day after roasting and are typically on the shelf that day or the next. If you haven’t experienced a true freshly roasted and brewed cup of joe, Backroom Coffee Roasters has it covered. You will be sipping your way to sweet bliss a day or two after the beans are roasted, resulting in unique flavor combinations you just won’t get from your routine java off the store shelves.

Before you can wake up and smell the coffee, the beans need to go through a dramatic metamorphosis. Chris explained that the taste of coffee is dictated by the type of bean, the region in which it is grown, how it is processed, and how soon you enjoy it after it is roasted, ground and then brewed. The two types of coffee beans, Robusta and Arabica, grow along the earth’s equator between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. Backroom sources their beans from all of the main growing regions including Indonesia, Africa, Central America and South America. Backroom Coffee Roasters hand selects their beans out of the best available. The beans are harvested and then depending on where they are grown they are processed by either a wet or dry method. During the wet method, the fruit, known as cherries, run through a pulper where they are smashed then pressure washed clean. The dry method, or traditional method of processing is both cheaper and more time consuming. The fruit is spread out in large beds while the sun does all the work. The dried out fruit decays and rots off leaving the two seed halves (hence the unique coffee bean shape.) Backroom Coffee Roasters receives the small greenish grey beans after they are processed and roasts them in small batches once a week. They can roast up to 18 pounds of coffee at a time in their drum roaster, carefully controlling the temperature and roasting period depending on the specific type of bean. Most roasts are in the range of 385-475 degrees for around 15 minutes. During the roast process the bean goes through a cycle where it expands 20% and looses 20% of its weight due to evaporating moisture. As the beans cell structure grows its makes a cracking sound similar to popcorn. The first crack, also know as the light or cinnamon roast, occurs around 385 degrees, followed by a medium or city roast, dark or full city roast and then finally French or espresso roast. It is a common misconception that darker coffee has higher caffeine. In actuality, a light roast is higher in caffeine than an espresso roast. So how do they make decaffeinated versions? This closely guarded secret takes place during processing. Only a few processors in the world take the raw beans, dump them into a bath and then carefully extract the moisture along with the caffeine. Part of the moisture is returned to the bean so the flavor is not lost and voila - you have decaf coffee.

What began as an earthy smelling bean quickly transformed into something that took on an entrancing aroma that engulfed the back room. With these freshly roasted beans, Backroom Coffee Roasters is currently creating five single origin and hand mixing five blends from various origins. Chris stated that by blending coffee beans from different regions you “eliminate the bad aspect of the bean and highlight the good”. They offer these staple coffee beans as well as limited release blends based on what is seasonally available. The focus of their brand is to source and produce local freshly roasted beans that have an outstanding quality. Most coffee shops deliver the promise of freshly brewed coffee, but not many have the bragging rights of freshly roasted. Next time you purchase your coffee at the grocery store try to search for their roasted date. Chances are that you will not find one on anything other than Backroom Coffee Roasters beans. It is important to them to hand stamp each bag of whole coffee beans, guaranteeing that they are as fresh as possible. Small batch, high end coffee, unsurpassed freshness and quality delivered in an environmentally responsible way. Not only is Backroom coffee guaranteed to be the best part of waking up, you can be sure it is good to the last drop.

Coffee Beans




The Backroom Coffee Roasters coffee (pictured left) traveled 0 miles to Columbus. While the Starbucks brand coffee (pictured right) traveled roughly 2,445 miles from Seattle, Washington to Columbus.

As mentioned above, the two types of coffee beans are Arabica and Robusta. While Robusta contains more caffeine, Arabica has been noted to have better flavor characteristics. Both beans have been linked to amazing health benefits such as preventing cancer, lowering depression risks, and protecting against Type 2 diabetes, just to name a few.

References

Big Perks: Coffee’s Health Benefits
7 Health Benefits of Coffee

Chocolate Pumpkin Coffee Cupcakes with Mocha Frosting

Ingredients - Chocolate Pumpkin Coffee Cupcakes

  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1 can (15 oz.) pumpkin
  • 1½ cups all purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup Backroom Coffee Roasters Biker Blend, freshly brewed
  • 1/3 cup roasted & salted pumpkin seeds

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 350°F
  • Line cupcake pan with paper liners
  • In a large bowl, mix together butter, sugar, applesauce and eggs
  • Add pumpkin and continue to mix until fully incorporated
  • Stir in flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt
  • Slowly add hot coffee and blend until you get a smooth, fluffy batter
  • Spoon cupcake batter into liners until 2/3 full and bake for 20 minutes
  • Place on wire racks and cool completely
  • Top with Mocha Frosting (recipe follows) and roasted & salted pumpkin seeds
  • Makes: 2 dozen

Ingredients - Mocha Frosting

  • 2/3 cup dark chocolate chips
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon Backroom Coffee Roasters Biker Blend, freshly brewed

Directions

  • Place chocolate chips and butter into a medium bowl
  • In a small saucepan, heat cream on medium just until it starts to boil
  • Pour hot cream over chocolate chips and butter
  • Whisk until fully incorporated
  • Add hot coffee and continue to whisk until smooth
  • Frosting will thicken as it cools



Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Power of the Pawpaw

Integration Acres




It was just about a year ago I was first introduced to a strange, and what I initially thought to be exotic fruit. Just one bite of its delicious pulp and I knew it was something I had never before tasted. It was as if someone took a banana, a mango and a few berries and mashed them together into one amazing flavor combination. My first thought was that this had to come from some tropical destination thousands of miles away, but as I soon discovered the mysterious fruit (otherwise known as a pawpaw) was actually indigenous to Ohio and the one I sampled came from Integration Acres, only 88 miles southeast of Columbus.

If you grew up in Ohio and have never heard of a pawpaw, you are not alone. The founder of Integration Acres, Chris Chmiel, is determined to rectify this injustice by rescuing this fruit off the endangered species list and into your cart at the local market. Chris was born in a rural area of Indiana and after his family moved him to a more urban environment in Cincinnati, he longed to get back to the less populated, simpler way of life. He applied to Ohio University for his undergrad, designed his own major (Holistic Transition to Sustainability) and began focusing on how to live a more sustainable life. After traveling out West post graduation, he and his wife sought to settle back in Athens County, lured by the appealing sense of community and agricultural opportunities.

Shortly after moving back, Chris discovered the pawpaw tree and, after becoming tired of seeing its fruit rot on the ground, he knew that this was the perfect tool to educate people about biodiversity. He began researching the pawpaw, a tree that is native to 25 states east of the Mississippi, and spoke with The Kentucky State University Pawpaw Research Program. He discovered that in the early 1900’s the American Genetic Association had a competition for the best pawpaw and 5 out of the 10 best came from southern Ohio. Integration Acres was soon born. Today, the farm is comprised of two properties: the first is 32 acres where currently 75 goats are raised and delicious varieties of cheese such as chèvre, feta, smoky goat, cheddar, and gouda are produced. The second property, just a stones throw up the road, consists of 18 acres where the family’s home, the pawpaw orchard and around 15 acres of wild pawpaws reside.

At Integration Acres, part of their mission is to design energy efficient systems and focus on sustainable agriculture through silvopastoralism, or the practice of combining forestry, pastures and grazing animals in a mutually beneficial way. The goats do not disturb the pawpaw trees because of the natural pesticide inherent in the pawpaw. The bark contains powerful chemicals know as Annonaceous acetogenins which are potent compounds that are poisonous to most insect feeders and keep the goats at bay.

Because of the short shelf life of the pawpaw fruit (and likely the reason they are not at your local Kroger) Chris wanted to come up with several ways to process it. Integration Acres was able to take something that was rotting on the ground and turn it into a profitable business by hiring local women, affectionately dubbed the “desperate housewives”, to clean, peel and mash the pawpaw pulp in order for it to be frozen and sold year round. Other pawpaw products being produced by Integration Acres include pawpaw popsicles, chutney, jam and salad dressing.

After creating all of these appetizing pawpaw products, Chris became a self proclaimed “gorilla marketer” of the pawpaw. He even started the annual Ohio Pawpaw Festival which takes place mid September at Lake Snowden. What better way to introduce people to this delicious fruit than to create a fun and educational event centered around it. All of the food and beverages (even beer) for sale at the festival must contain the secret ingredient: pawpaws. At the festival you will find a cornucopia of everything pawpaw along with activities such as the Pawpaw Cook-off, Pawpaw Eating Contest and Best Pawpaw Competition. This year, I was lucky enough to be asked to be a judge in the Best Pawpaw Competition and I did not take this opportunity lightly. I judged each pawpaw keeping in mind several categories including appearance, aroma, flavor, and texture. After sampling around 20 pawpaws, a winner was declared and I rewarded myself with a pawpaw beer!

Since 1996, Chris’s mission to bring “Pawpaws to the People” is one he passionately shares. With the Pawpaw Festival going on its 13th year and awareness being spread like wildfire, pawpaws are soon to be the sought after fruit in Ohio.

Pawpaws




The pawpaws pictured traveled 88 miles to Columbus. Not one fruit alone can be compared to the pawpaw, but it tastes like a combination of several tropical varieties grown thousands of miles from Columbus.

The pawpaw is the largest edible fruit native to the United States. Pawpaw trees shaded deep in the forest do not produce fruit, while the trees exposed to ample sunlight produce a generous amount of this custard-like textured treat. There are several varieties of pawpaws and a lot of genetic diversity and difference in flavor between them. The fruit grows in clusters and contains numerous flat black seeds. The peak of its harvesting season is August-October.

The nutritional aspects of a pawpaw are immense. It is high in niacin, calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, protein, potassium, vitamin C, phosphorus and it contains all of the essential amino acids. Not to mention, there are more antioxidants in ½ a pawpaw than a whole apple or pear! In addition, ongoing studies have confirmed the benefits of the pawpaw in clinical cancer treatments and its use to prevent the growth of cancer cells. You can purchase your pawpaw products directly from Integration Acres or in Columbus at Katzinger's Delicatessen, Hills Market and many other locations to start reaping the benefits of the power of the pawpaw!

References

KYSU Pawpaw Research Program

Pawpaw and Raspberry Smoothie

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup fresh or frozen Integration Acres pawpaw pulp
  • 1/3 cup fresh raspberries
  • 3/4 cup low-fat milk
  • 1/2 cup fat free vanilla yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon ground flax seed
  • 3-5 ice cubes

Directions

  • Mix all of the ingredients in a blender until smooth
  • Makes 2 (12oz.) smoothies



Sunday, August 14, 2011

Honey, It's the Bee's Knees

Honeyrun Farm




We have all heard the expression “busy as a bee”, but until I went to Honeyrun Farm, I had no idea the simile we should utter is “busy as a female bee.”

A little ways South of Columbus, I met up with Isaac, full time teacher and part-time beekeeper. He and his wife, Jayne, moved from Montana a few years ago where he worked for a commercial bee keeper and dabbled in keeping a few of his own bee hives. A year after returning to Ohio, he turned his hobby and experience into his own honey-making business. He started with about 20 hives and today has 150; 100 of which are honey producing. Besides honey, Jayne makes heavenly smelling handmade soaps and cleverly molded beeswax candles. Isaac took me on a tour of where his honey is bottled and Jayne’s soaps are aging as he brought me up to speed with my local ingredient.

At Honeyrun Farm, they only sell raw honey. That means that they do not pasteurize or heat their honey, ensuring all of the good-for-you contents stay intact. Other commercial honey producers will heat their honey to above 120 degrees to keep it from granulating or crystallizing. During that heating process, the enzymes break down and all of the healthful reasons you eat honey in the first place are lost. Isaac mentioned to be leery of the really inexpensive honey on the shelf, as most likely that is cut with corn syrup, so read your labels! Don’t worry if your Honeyrun Farm or raw honey begins to crystallize, honey doesn’t spoil and all you need to do is place it in a pan of hot water for a few minutes to break up the natural forming crystals and it will be good to go. Raw honey is healthier for you and in my opinion tastes better too!

To collect all the delicious golden liquid, Isaac runs the collected honey combs through a capper to remove the protective wax layer covering the combs and then places them into a large centrifuge. This machine spins around and all the honey drips to the base. He then takes honey and filters it through a fine screen before bottling. While the process sounds fairly straightforward, we need to take a few steps back and go behind the scenes to see why the females truly rule the hive.

The Bees

Honey bees originated in Europe and didn’t arrive in the states until the mid 1800s when they were introduced by European colonists. At Honeyrun, their bees are Italian – the three-banded species to be exact. In the world of bees, everyone has a part to play and each role, no matter how seemingly minimal, is essential for the survival of their colony. There are three main types of bees in each hive, the queen, the worker and the drone. The worker bees are non-fertile females and the drones are males. In any given hive, the male bees are way outnumbered; 9 to 1. Maybe it’s their lack of numbers that causes insecurity or maybe they are just smart and let the females do it all.

I didn’t realize that the overwhelming majority of the tasks at hand are completed by the female bees each day! The workers are foragers and travel to collect nectar, pollen and water; three elements needed for survival. They have been known to travel up to 5 miles away from their hive, but usually stick between 1-2 miles to find food. The pollen they discover collects in sacks on their tiny bee legs and is used as a protein source. After returning to the hive, the workers evaporate the water out of the collected nectar to make honey and are also responsible for creating the beautiful hexagonal pattern we know as honey comb. Honey is what the bees eat to survive, but don’t worry as they make an over abundance and don’t seem to mind sharing. There are also nurse worker bees that look after the brood (bee larvae). The larvae must remain a constant temperature, so if it is too hot the workers fan their wings to cool things down and if it is too cold they huddle together to create warmth. The most important role a worker plays is creating a queen bee. (I’ll explain this further when I talk about splitting hives below.) Besides doing all of this, the female bees are the only ones that posses a stinger. So, if you have been stung by a bee, it was a female that is in protection mode of her colony. Just to recap, the female bees collect and make all of the food, build the hive, watch over the young, protect the hive and most importantly create the queen. Pretty busy bees!

The drone on the other hand, is a fat and lazy baby maker. He can go from hive to hive, unlike the workers who remain in their original hives. He basically hangs out, eats honey, and mates with the queen. Besides not really doing much, the honey bee’s biggest predator, mites, are more attracted to the drones and are most likely brought into the hive by them. Having said all this, Isaac did mention that the hives with more drones seem to be happier. As a bit of revenge, after the first frost when the queen has used the drones for all they are good for, the workers board up the hives and won’t let them back in. You will see a pile of dead drones at the hive entrance and although this isn’t a good time to be a drone they had a great run and lived like kings for the season. The colony continues because the queen is pregnant with her future sons and produces more drones in the spring.

Splits

In order to control the mite population at Honeyrun, they split their hives – basically moving bees from an existing hive to a new location to start a hive of their own. Splitting hives is a more environmentally responsible way of controlling the bee’s biggest predator. They could use chemicals, like a majority of commercial farms, but decide to take the greener and healthier route. I tagged along with Isaac as he went to work splitting the bee hives. Before heading out we both put on the infamous bee suit complete with the mesh helmet and gloves caked in beeswax. Honeyrun rents fields from local farmers and has their hives spread out over 14 locations. They pay the farmer “honey rent” which equates to about 2 gallons of honey for the year depending on the number of hives. Sounds like a pretty sweet deal for the farmers, who let the beekeeper take over portions of unusable land.

We arrived to our location and began splitting a hive. There are 60-70 thousand, yes I said THOUSAND, bees per hive. Isaac attempts to take 20-30 thousand in a split. Only 50% of his original hives will survive from year to year, but he is more successful with his splits and 90% of those endure the tough Ohio winters. He tries to introduce mainly nurse bees and brood in the splits. The bees do possess a natural instinct to return to their original hive, but they also have a maternal instinct to take care of the brood and will not leave them. Within 15-20 minutes after bees are split from their original hives they know something isn’t quite right and figure out through their pheromones and communication system they are without a queen. Alarms go off and they go into survival mode because without a queen they know they are goners. Worker bees make a new queen out of larvae that is less than 3 days old. They do this by feeding it royal jelly (a highly nutritious milky substance that develops the ovaries in the queen). It takes roughly two weeks before the queen hatches and then the workers can take a sigh of relief and go back to their hundreds of other responsibilities like standing guard at their hive.

Isaac warned that female bees are aggressive protectors and the further we dug into the hives the angrier they became. It is true that the bee sacrifices her life for that of the colony and essentially rips out her guts when she stings. The bees were anything but placid that evening and as I was trying to get close to take an essential photograph one decided that I was close enough and got me square on the chin through the mask! Getting stung was not a fortuitous encounter, but luckily I’m not allergic. Isaac began pumping the hive with smoke to calm the bees. The smoke interferes with their communication, they think their tree might be on fire and it triggers their natural instinct to eat honey to survive until they have time to relocate and make more. They eat until they are lethargic, fat, happy bees and are not so aggressive. Unfortunately, a little too late for me! After a few more splits and some pollen collecting, we took the hives down the road to their new location and called it a night. As I pulled down the drive, I tried to not let the fact that my chin was still stinging be a buzz kill to a great evening.

You can purchase Honeyrun Farm Honey at Greener Grocer and the Dublin Whole Foods location as well as both North Market and Worthington Farmers Markets. Isaac’s goal is to expand from 150 to 300 hives so he can also support the Lane Avenue Whole Foods. Besides honey, they also sell homemade soaps, beeswax candles and bee pollen on Etsy.

Honey




The Honeyrun Farm Honey (pictured left) traveled 37 miles to Columbus. While, the only raw honey sold at the commercial grocery chains traveled from Sioux City, Iowa, roughly 845 miles to Columbus.

Honey varies in taste and color depending on the season. Listed below are the different types produced and sold by Honeyrun Farm.

Spring – The black locust flower produced Spring locust honey. This is Isaac’s “pride and joy” and in his opinion the best honey he produces. It is lightest in color with a mildly sweet light flavor.

Summer – Clover, thistle and summer wildflowers produce the Summer honey. Clover honey is 99% of what you see on the traditional grocery store shelves and is medium in color.

Fall – Goldenrod and aster produce honey sold in the Fall. It is the darkest in color with a rich deep honey flavor.

Lavender Infused - Honey infused with their home grown lavender. All the beautiful honey flavor with a bright floral component.

References

Everything About the Honey Bee

Honey and Sweet Corn Cornbread with Lavender Honey Butter

*This recipe is not only an opportunity to make honey your local choice, as you can choose local Ohio Sweet Corn as another great seasonal ingredient!

Ingredients – Honey and Sweet Corn Cornbread

  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • ½ cup flour
  • 1 cup fresh sweet corn, cut off the cob (about one large ear)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 4 tablespoons Honeyrun Farm Honey
  • 1 large egg, beaten

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 400°F
  • In a large bowl, mix together cornmeal, flour, corn, baking powder and salt
  • In a small bowl, whisk together milk, melted butter, honey and egg until fully blended
  • Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and mix until blended
  • Pour into an 8” square baking dish
  • Bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes
  • Serve with Lavender Honey Butter (recipe follows)

Ingredients – Lavender Honey Butter

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons Honeyrun Farm Lavender Honey

Directions

  • Blend butter and honey with spoon until fully incorporated