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JAVA STEW: Where it all began

How a monk told me I'd been drinking shitty coffee my whole life

· coffee,roasting,writing

There's an awesome place on an industrial corner in Hermosa Beach where you can go to meditate, learn about Buddhism, mindfulness, things like this. They also do a little service that approximates Sunday School every week and is totally laid back and everyone is welcome. About five years ago, we were in a "let's take our kids to a different kind of religious / spiritual experience" every week, and this was one of our stops.

After a short lesson and apparently the longest two minutes of my daughter's life when she was supposed to be "silently reflective" but in actuality was trying to shove her shoeless big toe up my nose while everyone else in the room had their eyes closed, we all retired to the foyer for snacks. (In retrospect, while discussing the differences in all the experiences we had at these houses of worship, it became clear to us that the kids ranked their impressions of each based pretty much entirely on the quality and assortment of snacks. This place ranked high.)

So while my children ate popcorn and compared flavor profiles of fruit tape, I found myself engaged in conversation with the monk who runs the show there, and somehow we got around to talking about coffee. I'd been a coffee-drinker my entire adult life, and he was the first person to introduce me to the concept of home-roasting. He had been using one of those old air-pop popcorn poppers to take green, un-roasted coffee and roast it in his kitchen. He said it's really messy, there's all this chaff a coffee bean gives off when you roast it, etc. None of which is my cup of tea (pardon the mixed metaphor here).

But here's where the damn dude got me, and it's been my mantra ever since: when you roast a coffee bean, it instantly begins to off-gas CO2, a process that takes roughly two weeks, depending on the bean, the roast, a bunch of other things. But after that, it's officially... stale. Two weeks. I did some quick math here, and my monk confirmed--pretty much anything you buy at the store, at Starbucks, anywhere except the third wave local roasters who understand this principle, is stale. And so the world is used to drinking really shitty coffee.

He went on to explain that fresh-roasted coffee is a different beverage than you're used to--it's not this bitter, pungent thing you need to mix with milk and sugar. It doesn't leave a bad taste in your mouth. It's a smooth, delicious beverage that has as many different varieties as wine. And all you have to do is drink it within two weeks of roasting it. So I bought my first tabletop roaster the next day, did some research online and found a couple green coffee brokers that seemed promising, and shortly thereafter roasted my first batch of coffee. I haven't looked back since.

In the ensuing years, I've tried beans from all over the world, found my favorites and am always looking for new and exciting ones, too. I've given coffee away as gifts--holidays and birthdays, or as a thank you to hosts, or just because I wanted to share this incredible discovery with friends and family.

Last year, at nearly the same moment in time, a household of friends asked me if I could roast coffee for them regularly, and a TV producer friend convinced me to roast for his writers room. It turned out to be just the kick I needed--Java Stew went from being a fun, kitschy thing I wrote on bags I gave to friends, to roasting coffee for customers in California, Colorado, Texas, Ohio, Michigan, New York and Vermont, and for folks all through the entertainment industry--writers and directors, animators and development executives, agents and managers. And the show that started it all--The Big Bang Theory--just filmed its final episode ever last week, its final season fueled by Java Stew.

At some point I need to revisit my monk friend, give him a bag of Java Stew, and thank him for opening my eyes to one of my favorite things ever. Because it's my hope to share, handcrafted right here in our awesome little beach town, the joy of fresh-roasted coffee with the world, one shitty-coffee drinker at a time.