The coffee world is abuzz with conversations about home roasting. For those who are unfamiliar, home roasting uses green (raw) coffee beans and can be done in a variety of ways, from the stove-top to the oven to a popcorn popper to a small roaster built specifically for coffee. At first glance, home roasting coffee might seem like a difficult, or even ridiculous, notion but in reality it’s quite easy, with numerous personal stories to prove it. All over the world, coffee lovers are discovering that roasting coffee within the comfort of their own home is both an easy and exciting way to create fresh, great-tasting coffee with a personalized roast profile. The added bonus? It’s incredibly economical. Whereas a lb of specialty roasted coffee costs $10-$20, a lb of green coffee can cost as little as $6, or even less for those buying in large volumes. (See C2C’s green coffee bean selection here).
To gain more insight into home roasting phenomena, I chatted with a few home roasters to get the skinny on how it’s done, their experiences, and tips for creating the perfect roast.
Christina Keibler, Seattle, WA Roasting method: Stovetop
Christina was drawn to home roasting due to her curiosity and a desire to learn the skill. Her preferred roasting method is using a cast iron skillet on the stove. To roast in a skillet, she places the skillet on the stove, or a hot grill outside, and heats on medium until it’s hot. Coffee is roasted dry, so she warns to not put oil or anything similar into the pan. Next, she dumps the green coffee into the skillet and starts stirring using a whisk, stirring constantly to keep the beans from roasting unevenly. She stirs until her desired level of roast is reached, turns off the heat, and immediately dumps the beans into a colander. She shakes the colander to cool the beans, removes the papery chaff from the beans, and voila! You have roasted coffee beans. The longer you leave the beans in the skillet, the darker the roast.
Christina’s roasting tips: Buy green coffee in bulk. Since they are still raw, they keep for a very long time, making them much more economical. Also, roasting beans gives off a lot of smoke, so set your kitchen fan to high and, if possible, also use a window fan or simply cook outdoors.
Chris Waite, London, England Roasting method: Oven
Chris is new to home roasting and shared his first experience with me. Being an avid coffee drinker and enthusiast, Chris finally decided to try out home roasting. Choosing the oven as his method of choice, he first preheated the oven, filled a perforated oven tray with green beans, and stuck the tray in the oven. Every few minutes, he stirred, or “agitated”, the beans with a wooden spoon. After about 10 minutes, he removed the beans and quickly poured them into one of the sieves, shifting the beans from one sieve to another to cool them. After they cooled, he poured the beans into an empty mason jar. First roast complete! He says the beans didn’t turn out perfect – his coffee tasted slightly burnt – but he attributes this to overfilling his oven tray and leaving the beans in the oven for too long. However, he really enjoyed the experience and looks forward to doing it again and perfecting his roasting technique.
Chris’s roasting tips: Be prepared for a lot of chaff (the husk/skin that separates from the bean). If possible, conduct the cooling process outside so the chaff doesn’t get all over the kitchen. Also, be careful about overfilling the oven tray and pay close attention to the cracking noises the beans make as they roast, which will indicate when the beans are ready to be removed.
Note: There are 2 “crack” periods during the roasting process (with a silent period in between). The first is a bit quieter and indicates that you’ve reached roughly your light roast level. Once you’ve reached the very first sounds of the second crack you’re getting into darker roasts. Fully into a cacophonous second crack or even past means you’re well into dark roasts. We don’t suggest continuing past the second crack.
Winslow Jenkins, Portland, OR Roasting method: Home roaster
Winslow is a coffee enthusiast who began home roasting after realizing he was spending a fortune on coffee and beans each month. Additionally, he was interested in learning about the process and expanding his coffee knowledge base. His first try was in the frying pan, but found it messier than anticipated and began looking for an alternate route. Next, he tried using a hot air popcorn popper but discovered it was difficult to remove the beans from the popper before any burned. This led him to a search for actual roasting equipment and he purchased a Fresh Roast SR500 home roaster, instantly falling in love with all its controls, cooling cycle, and chaff collection system. After his friends started asking him to roast coffee for them, he upgraded to the Behmor 1600 to handle increased volume.
Winslow’s roasting tips: Different methods work for different people but the important thing is to at least try! There’s nothing like drinking a delicious cup of coffee at a reasonable price that you’ve roasted yourself.
Dana and John Shultz, Wichita, KS Roasting Method: Popcorn popper
Dana and her husband, John, started home roasting after realizing that buying quality coffee beans was becoming increasingly expensive. It was a delicious success and the couple swore never to buy pre-roasted coffee again. Dana and John’s roasting method is simple, requiring just mason jars (or tupperware) and a popcorn popper. First, they take about a half-cup of green beans, place them in the popcorn popper, and roast for 5-7 minutes, depending on the heat level of the popper and how dark they want the roast to be. They recommend 5 minutes for a lighter roast and 6-7 for a darker roast. Once the beans are done roasting and mostly cooled, Dana and John pour them into mason jars, seal the jars and let them cool for at least 4 hours before grinding or brewing. The aroma upon opening those sealed mason jars will make your morning.
Dana & John’s roasting tips: When deciding on a popcorn popper, make sure that the well is deep enough to contain the beans without popping them out. Also, set the roaster outside to avoid a mess. Be cautious to not over-roast the beans, experiment with small amounts at first to test out different times and roast effects. Have fun!
Bill Walsh, Glassboro, NJ Roasting method: Oven
For Bill, home roasting was a natural step after discovering the wonders of well roasted coffee. He began home roasting during graduate school as an economic alternative to purchasing high-quality roasted beans. Like Chris, Bill uses the oven for roasting. During his first roasting experience, he spent several hours honing his skills and, after a few iffy batches, succeeded in producing great roasted coffee. Since then, he has roasted hundreds of pounds of coffee mostly for his own personal use but also occasionally donated to fundraisers.
Bill’s roasting tips: Be patient. It’s not easy on the first try and may take a little time to perfect. Also, do your homework on roasting methods, don’t simply go with what’s “trendy” and figure out what works best for you and your home. Lastly, don’t be afraid to ask questions! There’s a wealth of knowledge on roasting, both online and in print.
Also, check out Bill’s blog, www.purecoffeeblog.com, which reviews different coffee brands and coffee establishments all over the country.
– Alix Schroder (C2C Intern #2)