Firedance Coffee Co. a good, fresh cup of joe

Dec. 3, 2009

Avalon Manly

There is no menu on the wall of Firedance Coffee Co. There is, instead, a list of blends from around the world, ranging from light roast to dark, any of which can be used to make your favorite coffee or coffee-related beverage. Because Firedance isn’t just a coffee shop – it’s a coffee roaster.

Coffee beans are actually the pits of “cherries,” the plump red fruit of the coffee plant. The beans purchased by Firedance are all hand-picked rather than machine-harvested, which means the cherries are gathered at the peak of ripeness, giving the resulting drink a fuller flavor.

Firedance’s owner and roast master Stacy Touch buys coffee beans raw from third-world countries at fair prices carefully negotiated between the farmers and official “green bean brokers.”

Monica Morrell is the usual daytime roaster at Firedance. She’ll pour several pounds of beans at a time into the belly of the giant drum roaster (which, painted a cherry red with gold trim, somewhat resembles a stranded Victorian steam engine) and manipulate the device to the correct temperature and air flow.

Roasting coffee is suspiciously like cooking popcorn in a microwave. As the beans heat, their outer and inner membranes expand, producing a series of cracking noises. Those “cracks” are vital to producing good coffee: because they occur at certain temperatures, they are the methods of measurement for roasters.

Light roast coffee, removed from the roaster at or around the first crack, has more caffeine than anything short of a raw bean. Espresso made from a light roast (contrary to popular belief, espresso can be made from any blend of coffee; it is not a specific type in itself) is a pale tawny color and tastes not at all like coffee – with three times the amount of caffeine as a normal shot, it tastes rather like an electric pine nut.

Beans removed at halfway through the second crack (called “full city” roast) are a medium-light blend, like medium-rare in a steak, said Touch. Dark beans are roasted longer, past the second crack and into the domain of French roast, and the even darker Italian roast, both of which boast classic coffee flavors but little caffeine.

Touch and Morrell spend a lot of time trying to find the “sweet spot” of any given coffee bean; that is, “cupping” (brewing and tasting) the bean at five different stages in the roasting process to choose which point results in optimal flavor.

“A lot is trial and error,” Touch said. “A lot of beans don’t play well together.”

“It takes a lot of time and practice to pick out a bean, to know a bean,” said Morrell as she sorted by hand through a newly roasted batch, picking out individual under- or overcooked beans. “It took me a year to learn…and I’m still learning. I’m always learning.”

Because Firedance makes money as a roaster, brewed coffee from the shop is less expensive than one would expect. Touch pointed out that if customers can put up with the shop’s little quirks – the location and hours, for instance, or Mac the doggy greeter – they’ll be rewarded with $2 lattes and $3 cappuccinos, not to mention her and Morrell’s efforts to provide the best coffee they can.

Customers can buy individualized blends or flavored coffees for about $9 per pound; with Christmas just around the corner, Firedance has a plethora of flavors available – even kosher ones – applicable to all their usual blends.

Firedance Coffee Co.

2814 N. Prospect St.

Colorado Springs, CO 80907

(719) 577-4398

Open 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. weekdays