It all started when my friend Rosalie told me she’s going to start roasting her own coffee beans in her kitchen. In a popcorn popper. 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.
Turns out Rosalie’s co-worker, Dax Wilson, has taken up this hobby of home roasting in a serious way. A conversation with Dax together with a visit to a strategic website was all I needed to become equally enthusiastic.
I learned I could roast green coffee beans (half the price of commercially roasted beans) in a frying pan although that is not the most desirable. There are two methods of roasting: with hot air or on a hot surface. Hot surface allows for a darker roast, which for many tastes is preferable.
At Dax’s suggestion, I purchased an old-fashioned style popcorn popper, a Whirley Pop, a high-temp candy thermometer, a simple food scale and a couple of pounds of green coffee beans (about $4.50 a pound). My total investment including beans was less than $40.
I preheated the popper to 400 F then dumped the green coffee beans into the roast chamber (popcorn popper) with the kitchen exhaust fan on high. I began to turn the crank immediately and continued at a steady pace (one revolution per second) until the roasting was complete. The roasting chamber cooled as the green coffee beans absorbed the heat. When it reached 350 F I turned the heat down to medium-low and continued to roast until I achieved my desired roast color (light, medium or dark). Dax said a dark roast would take from 9 to 11 minutes and through the “first crack.” Coffee beans “pop” as the moisture is released and sound a lot like popping corn.
I dumped the hot beans into a metal colander and swirled them gently to allow the heat to escape and to allow them to cool quickly. That’s it! Roasting complete.
It took me a couple of tries to achieve a roast color that met my particular preference (I like it dark). I was too overly cautious in the beginning and ended up with a very light roast. But practice does make perfect, and I’m happy to say I am enjoying the best coffee of my life. My only regret is that I may have turned into a coffee snob, finding ordinary coffee to be woefully unacceptable. Freshly roasted coffee is to store-bought what vine-ripened garden grown tomatoes are to grocery or Wonderbread is to homemade bread.
For detailed information on every possible question I recommend Home Coffee Roasting: Romance & Revival, by Kenneth Davids (St. Martin’s Press, 1996, $15.95).
By the way, for surface heat roasting, a popcorn popper is a great option (like the one linked to above or an old air-popper that plugs into an electrical outlet, NOT used in the microwave oven). But check the garage first. You might already have one.