Is fresh-roasted really better than buying roasted coffee beans at Starbucks?
YES. If you want to try fresh-roasted, try buying coffee from a “roasted and sent same day” shop on the internet. www.Sweetmarias.com is one place to check, but there are many others that sell it very fresh and the cost is competitive with Starbucks.
What makes the most difference in the taste: a good grinder, a special coffee pot or fresh roasting?
All those things make a difference, but in general, the coffee pot makes the least amount of difference (assuming a decent-working and clean coffee pot). In general if you are experimenting and don’t want to spend a lot of money, keep the equipment you have and order some fresh-roasted, shipped same day coffee off the internet and try it. Depending on where you live, there may be roasters in your area that sell it also.
Second point: You should be ordering whole beans and grinding right before you use them. Burr grinders work far better than blade grinders. They start around 40 dollars and go up from there. We have two grinders, one for espresso and one for regular coffee. For drip coffee, you don’t have to spend a lot of money, but do go with a burr grinder if you can afford it. Blade grinders chop very unevenly. Whatever grinder: grind the coffee right before you use it.
We use a run-of-the-mill coffee pot, nothing spectacular. I’m sure there are people out there that swear by a special pot, but it’s my opinion that the coffee makes more difference than the pot. There are many kinds of ways to brew coffee, but for drip coffee, unless you want to fool around with techniques such as French press or vacuum brewers, most coffee pots will do just fine. Changing from one coffee-pot brand to another or changing filter types doesn’t seem to alter taste as much as a decent grinder and starting with good coffee.
As for the roasting part, we roast at home each week so that we can enjoy the freshest brew. Once roasted the oils begin to sweat out of the bean and over a very short period of time, the flavor begins to change. Green beans are much more stable. They don’t leak oils or degrade (well, okay, if you leave them around for a year or two, the flavor will probably change!)
Think of any dried bean such as pinto beans—they have a very long shelf-life. You don’t have to get a roaster to get fresh-roasted beans; it was just easier and fun for us. Note: The roaster that we bought is no longer available–it’s being redesigned and might be out next year. Keep an eye on www.SweetMarias.com as I imagine they will carry it. It cost about $120 at the time and came with a selection of beans. In the meantime, you might try a hot air popcorn popper as an entry-level machine.
Does it help to refrigerate or freeze coffee?
Some say yes, some say no…I think it may depend on whether you are in a humid environment or not. If you live in say, Houston, putting coffee in the refrigerator or freezer probably helps. We do refrigerate our beans after roasting and use roasted beans within a week to week and a half.
What kind of espresso machine do you recommend?
If you’re starting out, go with a pump machine rather than a steam machine. Prices range from 100 to waaay up there. We started with a simple pump machine and then spent more after we got used to the idea—and found out that we did indeed use the thing.
How much coffee do you roast at one time?
With the roaster we have, you put about 1/2 cup in, set the roast you want (dark, light, medium etc) and let the thing go. You can get fancy and stop at the first crack, second crack or whatever (the beans make a popping noise as they cook and reach certain temperatures). I think with the popcorn popper you have to time it yourself, but I’m not sure. I don’t know how much coffee the popper coffee roasts at one time, but probably about ½ cup.
How much time does it take to roast coffee?
Each batch takes about 10 to 15 minutes to roast. In this household a couple of batches is about a week’s worth of coffee or espresso. Remember though, you must roast it the night before you want to drink it–it has to sit for a few hours before you grind it because the flavor has to settle.
Here’s a good book on the subject: Home Coffee Roasting