Roasted, nicely roasted

I’ve jumped into a new hobby, home coffee roasting. In the past year, I’ve come to accept the fact that I’m a coffee snob. Christine and I pretty much only buy Ritual coffee because it seems to be the freshest and most flavorful in the area. That led me to start reading more about coffee, and learning more about how crucial freshness is to experiencing the full flavor of coffee. To get the freshest roast, you have to roast at home. Some of my coworkers also roast their own and when they told me how easy and fun it is I decided I had to try it.

Home roasting can get pretty technical and expensive. A top-of-the-line home roaster can set you back as much as $300. I chose instead to go with the cheapest method. I snagged an old popcorn popper at a thrift store for $5. The hot air that circulates in the chamber of the popper can supposedly do a fairly decent job of roasting a small batches of green beans. There are lots of resources on the Web for finding green beans, but I think Sweet Maria’s is the best and with a warehouse in Oakland the beans came to the house via mail pretty quick.

My first batch of green beans. These particular beans came from Sumatra.

To make my corn popper a roaster, I added a thermometer to the top. To achieve a good roast you need to be able to gauge the temperature of the beans as well as watch and hear them. As the beans roast they turn from green to brown and black depending on the roast and will “crack” as they reach certain temperature points. The cracking sound is pretty cool as well as the smell of the beans as they roast and the voluminous smoke.

My cheap and improvised "popper" roaster. The bowl is there to collect chaff, a wispy, papery substance that floats off the beans as they roast.

To start my roasting adventure, I weighed out about 4 ounces of green beans, dropped them in the popper and flipped the switch. I soon began to think that I had overloaded my roasting chamber. When roasting with hot air, or using a convection method, the beans need to move about the chamber to ensure a proper roast. With too many beans in the chamber, the bottom lawyers were getting scorched but other beans were only receiving a slight dose of heat. The end result of my first experiment proved my assumption correct. Instead of an even roasting and coloring, my beans turned out to be a mix of shades from light milk chocolate to charcoal.

My first batch. Although some beans reached the optimal roast, others were just burnt black.

The cool thing about roasting such small batches, and about roasting in general, is that it’s a quick process. My first batch only took about 10 minutes and when I determined it was a failure, I just weighed out about half the original amount and switched the roaster back on. The second time, I saw the beans were swirling and dancing around in the chamber and starting to form an even roast. The recommendation from Sweet Maria’s for this particular batch of green, Sumatran beans was a medium to slightly darker roast.

My second attempt at roasting yielded a much more uniform and attractive result that gave off pleasant and fresh aromas.

After roasting, beans need to rest for at least four hours or a night. The next day, I rushed to grind up some of the beans, load up the coffee machine and settled in for something I hoped would be amazing. Many of the books I read described home roasting as a transformative experience in which you taste truly fresh coffee for the first time and realize you haven’t really been drinking coffee at all.

My first home roasted coffee, tasted, well like a cup of coffee.

To be honest it also tasted a little “green.” It was not bad, but it was not the transcendent coffee experience I had expected. I have about 2 1/2 pounds of green coffee, including two other types of beans, to tinker with and I hope I can dial in the roast a little better. For example, I think I could have roasted the beans for a little longer to bring out more flavors and reduce that green taste. Home roasting, may not yet be as satisfying for me as homebrewing, but it’s always fun to try something new.

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