Roast Your Own

In the recent years of American coffee enlightenment, the flavor advantages of freshly roasted, freshly ground, and freshly brewed ‘Joe’ have become common household knowledge. Not only have we come to learn the difference between Arabica (the superior bean, even advertised to be sold at McDonald’s) and Robusta (the inferior) coffee beans, we are learning to appreciate the fruit behind the bean; the climate, soil and shade etc. its grown in, likened to grapes used for wine. Let’s be honest, whether you like them or not, Starbuck’s can be credited for opening the gates for many of the micro roasters we love today. And opening the eyes of many coffee drinkers, who didn’t grow up in cities like Seattle, that now know the difference between a crappy and a good cup of coffee. Because of local roasters and the variety available in most town grocery stores, we now refer to the names of coffee by the regions of origin, i.e. Kenya, Brazil, Hawaii (Kona), Jamaica (Blue Mountain), Guatemala, Columbia, etc. rather than Folger’s or Maxwell House. More importantly, the coffee craze has brought awareness to fair trade practices world-wide where farmers, harvesters and the like can receive more fair earnings for a hard day’s work (we still have a way to go).

What you may (or may not) know is that about half a century ago major coffee manufacturers added things from saw dust to brick dust to bulk up the quantity of product in their cans. True story, but that’s not what I was going to say. I was going to inform you that coffee in it’s green bean (un-roasted) form lasts a lot longer than when it’s brown and roasted, years even. Most retailer’s have gone the extra mile to equip their pre-packaged coffee bags with systems that let out the gases of roasted coffee beans without letting in oxygen, that will start to deteriorate the quality of the bean. Once you open it of course it’s only a matter of days, about 7-14, until your coffee will turn into dirt. Well not really, I’m exaggerating, but it might taste like it. You can freeze it, but I’ve actually heard experts say that if you plan on using it regularly that’s not the way to go either.

So what is a coffee lover to do? Roast your own.

Keep your green coffee beans in a clean dry container at room temp, (or a chic burlap sac) and roast in batches. People around the world do this many different ways. Some cook their beans on a stove top in a pan, others have made their own drums and rotating devices similar to a spit on a grill. You can bake them in the oven. One day I will own a professional grade roaster. In the meantime I use an air-popper, the kind used for popping corn. The air gets heated quickly and stays at a certain temperature (unlike doing it over an open flame). It is built to keep the kernels (or beans) in a constant state of motion for even heat distribution, much like a rotating drum. Depending on your roast, if you did find a bean that was really dark or extra light, you can remove it from your batch. I mean I’m not selling it commercially, it’s for my own personal use. And it’s as freshly ‘“roasted” as you can get! (Although I usually wait about 24 hours before I actually grind and brew it.)

Obviously there is an art to coffee roasting. Experts can go on for hours about the sound, smell and look of perfectly roasting the bean, depending on the type of bean, etc.; but I’m referring to home roasting. I don’t have a thermocouple or heat probe measuring the internal temperature of a coffee bean. I don’t roast low then turn up the heat, blah, blah, blah. But I do enjoy my coffee and especially doing things myself. The system is based on listening for 2 different “cracking” sounds. The “crackings” have to do with letting out moisture and gases. Also beans expand in size when roasted so keep in mind what looks like a normal brewing amount of green beans will be more when roasted.

It’s relatively easy. It’s about listening for the two cracks, and you will know if you are listening. Times aren’t exact, so I can’t tell you precisely when it will happen, but let’s say on average you will hear the first crack somewhere between 4-7 minutes, the second crack about a minute later. If you like a light roast remove the beans from heat shortly after the second crack (some people even do it before the second crack, but not the majority). If you like a medium roast, wait maybe another 30 seconds to a minute, and for a dark or espresso type roast maybe another minute yet (don’t burn ’em). The longer you let them “roast” the darker and shinier the beans will appear. It all happens rather fast after the second crack. And for a beginner I recommend getting the beans out sooner than later. It is also recommended that you do this in a well vented area, I place my popper on the stove top and keep the vent on. Some people I know like to do the whole process outside.

What is important to know is two things, one the beans have chaff, a paper-ish flake it gives off. (Which to be responsible, I should warn you is flammable, but I’ve never had a problem) Using my air popper I let the air blow into a kitchen strainer. Then I quickly dump it into the garbage and pour my beans into the same strainer and shake them fervently, while blowing on them. Because the second thing you need to know is that the beans will continue to cook, so you want them to cool quickly. Some people also use a fan, but I don’t want to clean chaff that’s blown all over the kitchen. I could see this if you are outside I guess.

It may sound like a lot, but it’s really not. Making biscuits could sound hard until you do it. Just remember this is for fun! Experiment with different beans and blends! Most people start keeping a chart of blends and roasting times, then you can remember what you enjoy the most. My favorite part is serving my husband and guests my own brew!

…Now if I only lived at a certain elevation on a location within a particular distance from the equator, I could actually grow my own!


  1. I am a coffee snob, for sure. Rhonda gave me a blind coffee test. The two choices were Folgers and (I believe) a Kona coffee. To my surprise, I picked the Folgers. Now after reading your article, maybe the issue was that the Kona coffee was just old… Really interesting article… Good Job! O

  2. I work with Owen and just found your blog as we were talking about coffee. Great article! I have been roasting coffee for a few years, started with an air popper and have “graduated” to a Behmoor 1600. You should check it out. Also, Sweet Maria’s is a great source for green beans.

    There’s always so much to learn about this hobby. Good luck and happy roasting!

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