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The art of coffee-roasting on an open fire: updated atmosphere for an old tradition

Did you know that coffee beans have to be roasted before they are ground or brewed? Most people are not aware of this.

Many of our ancestors were master coffee roasters, but this art was almost lost when machines began to be commonly used to roast the beans before they got to market. Because there was no method to keep the beans fresh, early American homemakers and trail hands purchased raw coffee beans from the mercantile in town, and then took them home or back to camp where they roasted them in an iron skillet on the stove or over an open fire. This method took great skill to determine the degree of roast and bring out the best flavor in every cup.

That’s because every bean and every crop is different and each coffee bean shares its best quality at a different degree of roasting. This depends upon the roasting temperature as well as how long the bean is heated. A temperature of 390 degrees Fahrenheit causes the beans to darken. The colors vary from light cinnamon to dark cocoa with Italian and French roasts being the darkest. Without proper knowledge to understand the technique of coffee roasting, it is impossible to get the coffee beans to the same degree of roast and color every time.

At the start of the industrial revolution, the owners of huge factories looked for ways to get more productivity from their workers. Huge machines began to mass produce and package coffee and soon coffee roasting became an assembly line process behind brick factory walls hidden from the public’s eye. Once vacuum packaging became available, people could buy coffee already ground. Although roasting is easier with machines that produce a consistent flavor for every bag or can, they can never replace the skill and experience of a master roaster.

Consumers are becoming more selective and less willing to accept commercial ground coffee in a five pound can. Coffee lovers today want quality coffee that is aromatic, fresh and flavorful. They are finding this great coffee in the small independent coffeehouses that are resurrecting the old-fashioned roasting process by roasting and grinding their own beans.

Mugsy’s Coffee Company in Clarksville is a small, independent coffeehouse that has revived the art of roasting coffee beans. Stacks of burlap sacks fill the room surrounded by busy people pecking away at their laptops or making plans for the day. The roaster is carefully pulling samples from the micro roaster and as the fresh roasted coffee beans fills the cooling tray and the aroma fills the air. At Mugsy’s, you may choose from our own house select brands.

The smell of roasting coffee beans is one of the most comforting and relaxing things around town. Many who don’t even like to drink coffee will stop by Mugsy’s across from gate three on Ft. Campbell Blvd. just to smell the familiar aroma and relax on the overstuffed furniture while watching the roasting process and enjoying good company. Taste and smell the difference in fresh roasted coffee.

Ray Huothttp://mugsyscoffeeco.com
Ray Huot is the owner and roaster at Mugsy's Coffee Co., which is located near Gate 3 on Fort Campbell Boulevard. You can usually find him near his roaster in the back room at Mugsy's, or keeping tabs on the coffee-making process in his coffee shop. He has published several articles as well as a twice monthly coffee newsletter. You can visit his website, mugsyscoffeeco.com, or shop online at shopmugsys.com.


  1. Your story “The art of coffee-roasting on an open fire: updated atmosphere for an old tradition”, was interesting but, it should have been entitled Have a Cup of Coffee Down at Mugsy’s. I was waiting to hear about fire roasted coffee and it just never happened.

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