Clearly, a recent post where I mentioned that my coffee roasting hobby has taken on a new dimension now that I import my green raw coffee beans from the grower in Costa Rica, piqued the interest of many of coffee lovers.
It all started about 10 years when I had a conversation with Dax Wilson, who’d recently taken up this hobby of home roasting. The motivation? First, quality and taste, but also to cut the high cost of quality coffee by at least half. That was enough to get my attention and all I needed to become equally enthusiastic.
Today I’m going to walk you through the entire process I followed to get started, complete with tips and advice on creating your perfect cup of home-roasted coffee.
Where to roast
Because the coffee beans must get hot enough to burn off the chaff that is part of each bean, this is going to produce a lot of smoke. While I know some people do, I do not recommend roasting indoors because it’s going to send your smoke alarms into a tizzy and smoke up the house. Outdoors on the porch or patio is the ideal place to roast coffee.
What you’ll need
- Air popcorn popper. You want an older model like West Bend Poppery or Poppery II. I found mine on eBay which is a good source or check yard sales, thrift stores, even your garage. The machine needs to run at 1200-1500 watts. While you can still buy air poppers, newer models don’t get hot enough to roast the beans evenly.
- Two metal mesh colanders.
- Bowl or another container to place in front of the popper
- Oven mitt
- Airtight container
- 1/2 cup raw green coffee beans.
Measure out 1/2 cup green coffee beans and pour them into the popper where you would normally pour the popcorn kernels.
Turn on the air popper. Place the bowl in front of the machine where the popped popcorn would exit, to catch the chaff. Watch the beans swirling around in the machine. They are not going to pop out the way popcorn would.
In a few minutes, as the machine heats up, you’ll see the beans turning brown. Next, you’ll hear the beans starting to making a cracking sound. At the first crack, you will have reached City Roast, which is a light roast.
The longer you let the beans roast from this point on, the darker the roast you will achieve. You will hear the beans pop like popcorn for several seconds. Then the sound will taper off.
The next stage is when the beans start to sound more like Rice Krispies crackling in milk. This is called the “second crack” and signals that you have reached what is called a Full City” or dark roast. While the beans are roasting you’ll see chaff flying off either into the bowl or box or into the air. This is normal and another reason you want to roast outdoors.
The minute you have reached your desired roast, turn off the air popper very quickly and pour the beans out of the popper into one of the colanders. Careful! The beans and the popper will be very hot. At this point, you just cool them quickly or they will continue to roast.
To cool the beans fast, you can pour them into one colander, shake them around, and then pour them into a second colander. Continue to toss the beans back and forth from one colander to the other until the beans are just warm to the touch.
Place the beans in a container that has a tight-fitting lid. However, do not apply the lid at this time. Freshly roasted beans must be allowed to “de-gas” for at least two hours, up to overnight, to achieve their full coffee flavor. If you were to grind and brew beans immediately upon roasting, you would be very disappointed. The beans are not ready to be ground and brewed until they have rested for at least a few hours, to allow them to de-gas and develop to their peak of flavor.
Education. SweetMarias.com offers tons of help and valuable information for home roasters. While I’m not into “cupping” and some of the more advanced aspects of creating fabulous coffee, I highly recommend this as the go-to place to learn. You’ll soon discover at what level you want to set your goal as a home roaster.
Book. For detailed information on every possible question I recommend Home Coffee Roasting: Romance & Revival, by Kenneth Davids (St. Martin’s Press, 1996, $15.95)
Raw green coffee beans. Go easy in the beginning, buying just a few pounds of green coffee so you can try different varieties. Remember, I didn’t invest in 150 pounds of one variety at a time until many years after starting out with my old air popper.
Amazon offers lots of green coffee beans, some with Prime shipping.
U-Roast-Em.com offers a large variety of raw green beans at very competitive rates, starting at about $5 per pound. You can buy a single pound at a time, up to 25 pounds or more. Prices vary.
Whirley-Pop. You’ll soon outgrow your air popper as it roasts only 2 to 3 ounces of roasted coffee beans at a time. The next method is to upgrade to a Whirley-Pop popcorn maker. This stovetop machine will allow you to roast more coffee per batch, using a slightly different technique.
Behmor 1600 Plus. Say hello to my current home coffee roaster. It’s a dream come true. Complete with a smoke suppressor (I still opt to roast outdoors), I can roast up to one pound of coffee at a time, and I do at least a couple of times each week.
La Minita Tarrazu Costa Rica. It did not take long for me to identify our favorite coffee, La Minita Tarrazu. It’s smooth, mild and absolutely the best. And it’s pricey in all its forms—green beans, roasted whole beans or pre-ground. By purchasing directly from the plantation in Costa Rica (a minimum purchase is one full bag, which nets about 150 pounds), we cut the cost by more than half. To give you an idea, my last shipment worked out to $4.51 per pound, including shipping. Just know that market prices go up and down dependent on market conditions and the unknowns growers face. When you are interested in this kind of investment (if not now but down the road) I invite you to contact: Drew Zent, La Minita Coffee, [email protected], 859-221-7330, www.laminita.com. Drew will take care of all of the issues of customs, import fees and delivery to your front door—all for one easy payment you will make in advance of delivery. Very easy.
I roast coffee for two reasons—to save money and to enjoy really good coffee. I’m not into formal tasting and “cupping” or any other advanced areas of serious coffee enjoyment.
As I got started home roasting, I went through more than a few old, suitable air poppers. I don’t think air poppers were ever intended to be used for roasting coffee, which requires them to run longer and hotter than required for popping corn. The poppers would eventually just melt-down from the pain of it all, only to be replaced by my next victim.
After a couple of years of nearly daily roasting, I graduated to a stovetop Whirley-Pop popcorn popper. I used it outdoors on the side burner of our outdoor gas grill. I cut a hole in the aluminum top in order to accommodate a thermometer. The temperature is critical when using a Whirley-Pop as the beans are on a hot surface and fully enclosed. They can catch fire so quickly! My hack worked OK. The best part was that I could roast 1/2 pound of raw beans at a time. But the roast was often very uneven (some beans light roast, other really dark or nearly burned—in the same batch, which is unacceptable). Still, Whirley-Pop filled the gap, allowing me to increase my roasting knowledge and hone my skills.
Once I completely burned up Whirley-Pop (did I mention roasting coffee requires very high heat, for which popcorn poppers were never created to endure), I bit the bullet and bought a small coffee roaster—designed specifically for home roasting coffee.
FreshRoast SR500 Automatic Coffee Bean Roaster was a sweet little roaster. But it meant downgrading the amount of coffee I could produce per batch—from 6 ounces to 3.5 ounces. I could go through that myself in a single day without much trouble. I enjoyed the “automatic” feature, a little thing that got me hooked and not anxious to return to a more manual method. After a couple of years, it too succumbed to the rigors of home roasting on the scale I’d achieved by that time.
Which brings me to today, where I remain completely hooked on my fabulous Behmor 1600 drum coffee roaster. Behmor is an ingenious piece of equipment created for home roasters who need a more robust, reliable machine. While the learning curve was somewhat challenging, Behmor and I are getting along well these days—extremely well.
Last, there have been a few unintended if not wonderful consequences of this hobby of mine, not the least of which is that I am never at a loss when it comes to gifting. Anyone who enjoys coffee loves a bag of fresh, home-roasted La Minita Whole Bean Coffee!
I love that I am known for this thing that I do—something quite unique in our social circles.