I never thought I would be writing about this. I want to share how anyone can roast their own coffee at home. 10 years ago, you never would have found me holding a coffee mug unless it had hot chocolate in it. It just goes to show how our tastes can change over the years. You might be the same way? For years, you have been buying coffee in a can and then you found yourself going to a place like Starbucks to get a “better cup”? Now, your still looking for something more. I have good news, there is a whole new world of coffee out there and today you are going to get a small peek into what it is like to roast your own coffee. Below, you will find all of the basic info needed to get you started. I even posted a video of me roasting at home with a hot air popper.
First and foremost you need COFFEE. UN-roasted, green beans are generally not sold at your local grocery store. Coffee shops usually don’t offer them either. The best place to get unroasted green coffee beans is on the internet. There are several good sources including sweetmarias.com, coffeeproject.com, and the coffeebeancorral.com. I have no affiliation to these organizations and have only purchased from sweetmarias.com so do some research and decide where is best for you. Starting out, don’t buy a large quantity of beans. I usually buy a few pounds at a time. How do you know what type to purchase? Generally speaking, these sites offer details about the bean, tasting notes, the region and farm it is grown on and even the recommended roasting level for the optimum tasting experience.
There are many ways to roast coffee including the oven, stove top, hot air popcorn maker, outdoor grill and a small, specially designed coffee roasting machine. The Toastmaster 6203 Popcorn Popper is a great example of a Popper you can use to roast coffee and it is under 30 dollars. Like most hot air poppers, it is designed for smaller roast quantities so you will only be roasting a few ounces of coffee at a time. Once you begin to user the popper you will start to get a feel for how to regulate the heat. Basically, the coffee is roasted using hot air that blows out of vents at the bottom of the chamber. If you put too much coffee in the chamber you will not allow the hot air to circulate and your roast will not be even. A Picture of the bottom of the chamber will give you an idea of what I am talking about. The easiest way to determine how much coffee to roast is to fill the chamber to the top edge of the air vents seen at the bottom of the popper.
Roasting The Coffee
You will need the roaster, green beans, a tray that has vents like a pizza screen or even a wire strainer and a bowl with water in it. Remove the top plastic shroud of the popper and pour in your beans. Remember, don’t go past the vents. Place the shroud back on and set the bowl with water where the popcorn would normally pour out. The water will catch the chaff (skin) that will blow out of the popper while you roast. I roast outside so I don’t have to worry about smell or mess but the bowl and water trick will really help.
Turn on the popper and let it start it’s job. Within the first minute you will see chaff begin to blow out into the bowl. After a few minutes peak into the top of the popper and you will notice that the beans have already began to brown. You should start to see some of the beans kind of push upward from the center and flow outward like a fountain. This is a good sign that you didn’t put too many beans in the popper. As the beans roast they loose their moisture and become lighter.
Before we talk about the specific roasting levels you should know the basics. We will be using sight and sound to get us started. After about 3 minutes of roasting you will begin to hear distinct cracks (snaps) and eventually it will be very apparent that your coffee has reached “First Crack”. When all the coffee has passed first crack, you are technically at a point where some you could pull the coffee and end the roasting process. Depending on the coffee and your preferences, you will elect to continue roasting. If you continue to roast, “Second Crack” will take place. Similar to first crack, second crack is another milestone signal of a coffee roasting stage. It is very common to see smoke after you reach second crack.
Now comes the fun part. Somewhere within this process you will use your senses to determine what the best roasting level is for you. Sweet Maria’s does an excellent job of educating their customers on their help page. They have posted a chart that defines the roasting level like City, Full City, Vienna Roast, etc.. and they describe sight, sound, taste, smell and touch characteristics of coffee at the various levels. Rather than me simply copying their chart, I would appreciate it if you visited their site and read it. You can see that chart here.
Once you have reached your desired roasting level, quickly turn off the power of the popper, remove the plastic shroud and pour the beans onto the cooling tray. Make it quick because as long as the beans are still inside the popper, they are still roasting, even with the power off. After you have dumped the beans on the tray, spread them out and blow on them. Some people have a small fan set up to do this but I usually fan them with my hand for a minute as I shake the screen around spreading the coffee out. The goal is to dissipate the heat as quickly as possible, stopping the roasting process.
You will quickly discover if you did a good job or not. The color and smell will be a signal if you were on track. Experiment with the popper and the various levels. Depending on your coffee, roasting times will vary so it is important that you monitor your roast constantly. You should also be aware (disclaimer) that the popper is not designed for coffee or anything else other than popcorn. It will get very hot and there is always a potential for an electrical fire or even burning yourself so be sure to take every possible safety precaution. Having said that, I have been using my popper for over a year without incident. Please be careful.
I have made a video that shows the complete process (less the bowl and water because I roasted outside) and you will hear and see first crack and second crack. I pulled the coffee at the very beginning of first crack (Full City+). Interestingly, after I drank the coffee and looked again at the tasting notes of my coffee I wished I had roasted it to Full City which would be a little lighter than what I roasted. Many roasters keep a log of their roasts. They document the bean type, roasting times and the results. They also include the tasting notes & experience. Here is a log to view. Between the tasting chart at sweet maria’s, the video below and most important, the roasting notes and scores of your green coffee, you will be quickly on your way to becoming a roast master.