I love coffee. I can't imagine a morning not spent with a lovely cup. I don't love the high price tag, however—or, worse yet, a stale, tasteless brew. Fortunately, I can roast my own coffee for out-of-this-world flavor.
And that’s just one reason to roast your own! You can roast and brew your coffee at the peak of freshness. (No more stale coffee.) You can roast your coffee to the exact darkness you enjoy. (No more weak coffee.) You can explore all the nuances of the bean. (Roasting the same bean to two different degrees will give you two different experiences.) You can even make your own special blends.
And then there’s the price: Fair-trade organic green coffee beans purchased in bulk are often cheaper than a similar quality and quantity bought preroasted. Plus, green coffee beans have an almost infinite lifespan. You can buy coffee once a year and save yourself the hassle of worrying about running out. Maybe best of all, roasting coffee at home is a fun new skill to add to your repertoire. Let’s get started!
WHAT YOU'LL NEED
» green coffee beans (more info below on amounts and where to find them)
» metal colander
» wooden spoon
» popcorn popper (with small vents around the bottom—not mesh)
» large glass bowl
» large skillet (not nonstick)
WHAT TO DO
1. BUY YOUR BEANS. Remember, you’re looking for green, unroasted coffee beans. If you live in or near a major city, you may be able to find a local supplier (search online for “green coffee beans” and the name of your city). Most coffee brokers only deal in large quantities of coffee, though: 50 to 100 pounds, depending on the company. While this is not a good route for your first time out, a bulk buy might be worthwhile if you become addicted to roasting. If a friend also roasts, you can split a bag for a more manageable price tag. Either way, green beans will keep for years.
I buy my beans online. Many online sources cater to the home roaster and sell in smaller quantities, anywhere from 1 to 20 pounds. Most sites offer a discount on larger quantities, so once you find a bean you love, you might want to buy in bulk. You can browse sites by region/country of origin, and some sites even offer sampler packs so you can try several different beans. Some sites I recommend that offer organic and fair-trade green beans include Roastmasters, Dean's Beans, Coffee Bean Corral, and Sweet Maria's (on this last site, look for the "Farm Gate" label indicating fair-trade options).
2. ROAST YOUR BEANS. Some people buy a fancy home roaster. Since I roast my own beans for self-reliance and for saving money, I avoid extra single-use gadgets that crowd my kitchen. If you don't use a roaster, there are two practical ways to proceed at home, and neither requires special equipment: roasting coffee in the popcorn popper and roasting coffee in a skillet. That said, not just any popcorn popper will do. You need one that has small vents along the bottom of the popper rather than a mesh bottom. Mesh bottoms are a fire hazard since coffee beans shed a chaff that can ignite.
The popcorn popper provides the most even roast and is the neater of the two methods, so it’s probably best for perfectionist types. On the other hand, the skillet method is more hands-on, and therefore, more fun—at least for me. You can also roast more in each batch by using a large skillet and save yourself some time.
One warning: Roasting coffee stinks. Your beloved brew-to-be doesn't smell like a warm, lovely cuppa during the roasting process. There's a bit of smoke and some fumes, so turn on the exhaust fan or open a few windows.
Add ¼ to ½ cup green coffee beans to your popper, following your machine’s recommended amount for making popcorn, and put the plastic hood on top. Place your metal bowl under the hood opening, as you would when popping popcorn. As the beans roast, the papery chaff will blow out of the opening into the bowl and can be dumped in the compost bin.
Turn on your popper and listen. You will hear the beans swirling around, eventually followed by a chorus of tiny pops. This is the first crack. Within 30 to 60 seconds after the cracking ends, your coffee is at what is called a “city roast.” This is a very light roast but has the highest caffeine content of any roast, since caffeine degrades at higher temperatures.
As the coffee continues to roast, you’ll move through city++ to full city—a still light, still flavorful roast with moderate to high caffeine levels. Right after the beans have reached full city roast, you’ll hear a second cracking. In the middle of the second crack, the coffee turns darker, with a richer flavor. This is Vienna roast, a good espresso roast.
About 30 seconds after the cracking has stopped, the beans reach French roast. At this point, the beans will be oily. Remove them immediately. If the beans continue to roast, they will burn and you'll be left with charcoal and a smoky kitchen. (From here, skip down to "Finishing," below.)
Bring your skillet to medium heat. Pour in enough beans to form a single layer in the pan, approximately 1 to 1 ½ cups, and start stirring. Stir constantly to keep the beans from burning. The roasting indicators here are the same as in the popcorn popper. After the first crack, turn down the heat slightly, as your beans will get dark fast. Remove the skillet from heat when the beans are slightly lighter in color than your desired roast. Even once the skillet is off the stove, the beans continue to cook for a bit, due to residual heat.
FINISHING YOUR BEANS
Pour your roasted beans into a colander and swirl them around or stir with a wooden spoon. This will help to cool them quickly and keep them from continuing to darken.
After roasting, the beans should rest for 24 hours before grinding and brewing. This rest period seals in a better flavor. In a rush? At the very least, let them rest for 8 hours.
Storing your roasted beans in an air-tight glass jar out of direct sunlight will keep them fresh for 5 to 7 days. For the freshest cup, wait to grind them until right before you brew your coffee. Enjoy!
Got another method of home roasting? Or a question for Cynthia? Post it below and keep the conversation rolling. You might also be interested in Cynthia’s Dandelion Coffee 101, Sabrina’s Homemade Coffee Liqueur 101 (think Kahlúa), Penny’s Mead 101, Magpie Ima’s Elderberry Syrup Flu Fighter 101, and Black Cat Cottage’s Homemade Extracts 101. For a brew not for you but for your garden, give the Compost Tea 101 a try. Cynthia has also written 101s about smart uses for bacon grease, apples, and stale bread; check them out! You can always find more things to cook, preserve, make, craft, plant, grow, and roast in the HOMEGROWN 101 library.
Thank you. This is great. We have been talking about learning to roast our own beans and had no idea it could be this simple. I look forward to another do-it-yourself adventure!
Great post! I just purchased a bag of green coffee beans and likely going to be using th skillet method to roast my beans.
Frank let us know how it goes—and maybe how dark you roast them, too.
I roasted some beans over the stove top and enjoyed it very much. A bit labor intensive, as my son was running around while I was patiently trying to prevent the beans from burning. I went of more of a peak roast, but will likely go a little more darker because my wife is not too much of a fan of peak roast.
Frank: Cool. Thanks for the update. Since Cynthia doesn't mention it in her 101, can you explain what a peak roast is for folks (like me!) who aren't well versed in the ways of roasting?