Today I’ve got a really exciting project for you – you’re about to learn the ins and outs of roasting coffee beans at home. This guest post is from fellow writer and food aficionado James di Properzio, co-author of The Baby Bonding Book for Dads: Building a Closer Connection With Your Baby. When I learned that James roasts his own coffee beans at home, I just about fell on the floor; I always figured this was a long, complicated process, reserved for coffee shops and the highest echelon of coffee geeks. Turns out I was wrong.
On top of maintaining a flourishing writing career, James plays full-time daddy to four kids (including a newborn!), so if this busy guy says that roasting coffee beans is a fast and simple process, I’m inclined to believe him.
Roasting Coffee Beans at Home
I am always shocked when foodie friends of mine have not learned the fine art of coffee. In my case, I was a coffee gourmet before getting as deeply into food; but the two things are linked, in my idea of good cuisine, just as are food and wine. I have a collection of working antique espresso and vacuum-brewer machines on my counter top in regular use, and grind my coffee fresh by hand, which takes me 30 seconds (or no time when I make use of child labor). For the best coffee, it has to be fresh-ground, and the beans need to be fresh and high-quality.
The problem with fine coffee beans is age: 14 days after roasting, coffee beans have lost over 80% of the aromatic volatile compounds which give it its complex flavor have evaporated, and even $100/lb coffee is no longer ‘specialty coffee’ quality. It’s hard to get really good beans shipped to you quick enough, and can be hard to use them in that time frame.
The answer is buying them green and roasting your own coffee beans. For one thing, they’re cheaper: fine specialty beans you would pay $16/lb for at the roaster, such as an organic Ethiopian, can be had for $4 or $5/lb green, and they keep for years. You roast what you need and drink it fresh. And it’s cheap to get started, with no learning curve.
Getting Started Roasting Coffee Beans at Home
First, you need a roaster. You can use a hot-air popcorn popper, or even a cast-iron skillet on the stovetop; but I recommend getting an air roaster that does it all for you and doesn’t let you burn the beans (as I would otherwise). I use the entry-level Fresh Roast, which I bought from online retailer Sweet Maria’s for about $80, though I see that they now instead sell a new model starting at $109. It’s cheap enough to pay for itself within a year, with the greatly reduced cost of beans, at least if you drink much coffee and buy high-quality beans. It also makes a very nice gift for a foodie or coffee hound–I’ve bought two for friends, and we’re all still using them, without repair, several years later.
Of course, you can go for a higher-end Behmor for $300, which will give you more control, better roasts, and larger capacity, as I intend to eventually; but it’s easy to try things out on the Fresh Roast for starters. You can move up to $1000 home roasters later, to go with your $1500 copper-plated espresso machine.
Buying Green Coffee Beans for Roasting
You need beans, too. There are several vendors online of green coffee beans, of which I have used Dean’s Beans (only organic and fair trade, which are my pre-conditions) and the above-mentioned Sweet Maria’s.
Your local roaster may also sell you green coffee beans if asked: after all, they have dozens of giant bags of them lying around, and that is how I do it these days. If you need to get them shipped, divvy up the shipping charges by buying more than a pound at a time (like 5lbs, for which there is often a lower price per pound). Green coffee beans keep for so long, you could buy the original 50lb. burlap sacks full, and really save on price!
- ⅛ pound green coffee beans
- Put the measured amount of beans into the hopper of your coffee bean roaster. Sit the chaff catcher/filter on top, and set the timer for 6 minutes for a medium roast. When you hear the sound of popcorn popping, that’s ‘first crack’, when the water in the beans has boiled and exploded, just like with corn but without such noticable change in size. You can turn it off anytime now to stop the roast when you think it’s almost where you want it–just anticipate a bit, like you’re steering a boat.
- After another couple minutes, if you listen carefully you will hear a ticking or crackling noise, ‘second crack,’ when the hard structure of the bean starts to break down in the temperature, and from there on it’s all dark roast. You can either set the timer for ‘max’ and eyeball your degree of roast, or set the timer for a certain level, once you get to know how long it takes, and forget it.
- The timer kicks into an automatic cool-down mode for a few minutes at the end to stop the roasting, then shuts off. Remove your beans from the roaster, grind them as you would any other coffee beans, and prepare the freshest cup of coffee you’ve ever tasted.
Roasting Coffee Beans: the Freshest Coffee You Can Get
Big national roasters will try to tell you that the roasted beans are good for a couple weeks, or even that they have to off-gas carbon dioxide for several days before they ‘peak’ so that you don’t want them too fresh; but the first time you drink coffee roasted just minutes before, you can see what you think of that marketing spiel.