There is poetry in the coffee term – the inherent staccato of the often-Italian words we use to define size, coffee-to-milk ratio, and relative frothiness of the foam. Ristretto. Lungo. Cortado.
Coffee is also an inherently geographic story. From drinks names (Americano) and brewing methods (French press) to roast types (New Orleans, European, Viennese, Italian, French) and regional coffee bean varietals (sometimes broken down so far as the farm and plot where they were grown), geography defines much of what we understand about coffee before it touches our lips.
In a way, coffee is like baseball. Both are granular and attractive to those drawn to the trivial. Their most ardent fans are predisposed to deep dives and revel in superlatives. Best right-handed pitcher, best coffee shop in Chelsea (Cafe Grumpy, if you were wondering), most third base steals, most caffeine per serving. It's hard to have a lukewarm interest. Like Airstream travel trailers, the fandom here is filled with die-hards.
The secret is that whether it's a baseball stat, a travel trailer brand, or a cup of coffee, it's only as complicated as you want it to be. You can appreciate the bulk beans you get at the grocery, as well as the five-minute pour-over you get in Manhattan. The best cup of coffee might have nothing to do with the coffee itself, and more to do with the conversation, the book you're reading, the ambiance of a backyard terrace, or the quiet morning on the couch before the kids get up.
Whether you’re an aficionado or prefer the pre-ground simplicity of coffee in a round, red plastic tub, there’s no denying how much work goes into your coffee before it ever reaches your preferred method of brewing. So much of the flavor and consistency of coffee comes in the roasting process, an art which the folks at Honest Coffee in Franklin, Tennessee have mastered.
“It’s equal parts art and science,” says Honest Coffee’s head roaster, Matt Leonhardt.
The science is in controlling the temperature. The art is in the senses. Coffee roasters listen for the distinctive popping of the roasting coffee beans as they reach a temperature of approximately 385 °F – what coffee roasters call the “first crack.”
“The coffee beans are literally cracking open,” says Matt as he listens to the coffee churning in Honest’s industrial roaster. “The split as the oils and water inside them heat up.”
Depending on when the coffee roasting process is halted, different roast profiles can be achieved.
“If we stop after that first crack we’ll get a very light roast,” says Matt. “Between 410 and about 437 you have your medium roasts. Then there’ll be a second crack, when the beans crack again, and from there out you have your dark roasts.”
Light roasts tend to exhibit more of the bean’s regional flavor profile. The darker the roast, the more the roast itself begins to dominate the flavor, leading to what some call a “burnt” flavor – though, as with most things in the coffee world, that’s a matter of preference.
“The best coffee you can get is coffee that’s just been roasted,” says Matt – a sentiment shared by those with an abiding sense of dedication to the art and craft of coffee. “You might brew it this way or that way, but if the coffee’s been roasted fresh, then you’ve got a good start.”
When you’re in Franklin, stop in at Honest Coffee to experience their dedication to expert roasting yourself. Or order a bag or two from Airstream Supply Co. and have it shipped directly to your door. While you wait, you can perfect your brewing technique with our tips and tricks, including an ultra-precise brewing method from Laura Austin, one of Airstream's favorite Endless Caravan participants.
In the spring of 2018, photographer Laura Austin took a Nest by Airstream out on the road as part of Airstream's Endless Caravan. Along the way, Austin – a self-confessed coffee geek – shared her recipe for the perfect cup.