About a year ago I started to roast coffee on a sideburner on my bbq grill. I’ve only bought pre-roasted coffee a handful of times since. Coffee roasting is a simple process, very inexpensive, and lots of fun.
Start by buying this book:
As far as I know, it’s the only book dedicated to roasting at home. It’s well written, and has just about everything you need to get started roasting on your own. While it’s on its way, go to Sweet Maria’s and start looking around. All the equipment you’ll need, plus green beans, can be bought online at Sweet Maria’s.
We roast using a Whirly Pop popcorn popper on the side burner of our outdoor grill. Roasting creates a lot of “chaff” and smoke, so it’s best if you can do it outside. You’ll also need a good thermometer that can read temperatures up to 500 degrees or higher. Sweet Maria’s gives full information on the stovetop method here. You can also order a popcorn popper kit direct from the site. It even includes a few pounds of green beans to get you started. The one item that the kit doesn’t come with is a thermometer. I recommend spending a little extra to get the Cooper thermometer on this page. Although it’s a little bit more expensive, the big face makes it much easier to read.
Where to Get Beans?
Sweet Maria’s. Hands down. No question. I ordered a five pound bag of green coffee from an Ebay auction when I was just starting out, and was very dissapointed. Coffee farms, unlike vineyards or artisan cheese shops, are in some of the poorest countries of the world. Many of these farms have substandard living conditions, or use insecticides that you don’t want to drink. Tom, the chief buyer and owner of Sweet Maria’s, is very aware of the state of the coffee buying world. He doesn’t buy from farms that mistreat their workers, or use harsh chemicals on their plants. He’s a very progressive buyer, and is helping to encourage well managed farms to be more productive. Plus, he doesn’t stock bad beans.
Read the chapters on roasting from the Davies book before trying it out for yourself. My own roasting technique follows the Davies book almost to the letter.
I’ve found that the Whirley Pop is ideal for roasting a half pound of beans at a time. I put the empty roaster on high flame until the temperature gets to around 450. Then I dump the beans in, and start turning. The temperature naturally drops to around 330 while the green beans absorb the heat. As the beans heat up, the little bit of moisture in them starts to steam. The beans “crack” at around 6 minutes. This is called “first crack”. It sounds like popcorn popping. Lots of smoke will start poring from the seams of the popper. At first it will smell very “green”, but will start to smell more like roasting coffee.
After first crack starts, you need to decide how deeply you want to roast your coffee. There’s an excellent guide to coffee roasts at Sweet Maria’s. Each bag of green coffee comes with a brief description of what Tom believes is the ideal roast. I usually go with his recommendation. One thing you’ll find over time is that Starbucks roasts way too darkly. The lighter roasts on high quality beans preserve the flavor. Starbucks wants you to taste the roast, Tom wants you to taste the bean. Go with Tom.
As time goes by, the distinctive first crack will stop, and second crack will begin. Second crack sounds more like rice krispies than popcorn. When second crack begins, you’re at full city +. I typically like to stop the roast here, just as second crack is beginnning. The beans are a deep brown, but there’s no oil on the surface. Here’s a picture from Sweet Maria’s:
Dump the beans into a wide colander and shake them to remove the chaff. Let them cool for a while, until you can touch them with your hand. In most cases you can grind the beans immediately for brewing, however, it’s best to rest them for 24 hours. Store them in a cool dry place, like your counter top, and grind them just before brewing.
Roasting coffee at home is shockingly easy. Camri and I really like to make our own food when possible. I always thought that coffee wasn’t something you could roast at home, and was amazed to find out how easy it actually is. It’s just like brewing your own beer, except without all the chemistry and tedious bottle cleaning. Don’t be afraid, don’t overthink it. If you’re at all interested in roasting at home, buy a popcorn popper, drill a hole in it, buy some beans, put them over heat, and do it. It’s easy and never ceases to amaze the Starbucks crowd.