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Coffee-Home Roasting

Coffee FAQ

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

Home Roasting Coffee

For all you coffee gourmet fiends–here’s something new to try! Roast your own coffee from green beans. We not only grind our own coffee and own an espresso machine, we roast green coffee beans to perfect brown little gems every week.

First, I must confess, I much prefer tea or hot chocolate to coffee. I use the espresso machine to steam milk for my frothy hot chocolate, but coffee-roasting, a little known hobby, produces some very high quality coffee drinks.

Roasting coffee is not at all difficult, although it does involve planning; green beans must be roasted at least one night before use because the fresh roasted coffee must “rest” for several hours. Rest is my word; coffee books refer to this as “degassing,” a rather less appetizing term.

When coffee is first roasted it smells more like roasted pecans than coffee. We usually roast enough beans for a week and then grind the roasted beans each day as needed. For die-hard coffee lovers that want the freshest coffee possible, roasting at home is the only way to go. The green beans last a long time without any change in flavor or quality so you can order more coffee at one time than you can when obtaining already roasted beans.

Expense
What about the expense? Getting started wasn’t terribly expensive, although a lot depends on which grinder and espresso or coffee maker you buy. There are various web sites out there that do a good job of selling these things. As for the roaster, we bought both the roaster and continue to buy green beans from Sweetmarias.com. Check out the web site; the guy that sells the beans is an entertaining writer, and he provides detailed information about coffee and all the various beans that he sells. He also offers the roaster and beans, a necessity of the hobby, for a very reasonable price. Another excellent site is: coffeekid.com.

Note: Green beans are cheaper than already roasted beans. Coffee roasting opens a whole new world of exploration; learning where coffee is grown, which regions supply the best coffees for your particular pallet and the hobby makes for great conversations. Of course if you have guests often, you could get stuck making an awful lot of coffee!

For more answers to equipment/roasting questions:

Coffee Taste and Equipment

Recipe for Roasting your own Espresso

Posted: July 22, 2006
Filed in Coffee-Home Roasting

Stovetop Coffee Roasting

BMB (www.BearMountainBull.com) is visiting the blog today to post about his latest coffee roasting methods:

After 9-10 years of roasting via the hot air method, with both the Hearthware Precision (no longer in production) and the Fresh Roast Plus-8, I decided to take a stab at an even cruder roast-it-yourself method: roasting on the stovetop with a hand-cranked popcorn popper.

Why would I bother? Two reasons. First, when I was ‘between’ roasters, and my Precision roasters started to give me problems, I wanted a reliable backup in case of a breakdown of my primary roaster. I eventually decided on the Fresh Roast as an inexpensive, no-brainer, backup (now primary!) roaster. But…eventually it too might wear out, so I kept studying the options. The second issue I wanted to solve was that I’ve always wanted a way to roast bigger batches. With both the Precision and the Fresh Roast, it takes around 3 batches to roast a half-pound of beans. For my everyday espresso needs, those three batches last a little over a week, and then it’s back to the roaster for another three. I thought it would be really nice to be able to roast at least a half-pound in one shot, either for my own use or when roasting up coffee as a gift.

Stovetop PopperSo, one day not too long ago I was roaming around Sweet Maria’s site for god-knows-what (coffee probably), and stumbled onto the ‘Stovetop Popper method’ page. The light went on – “that’s it!!” It’s cheap, it’s reliable (all you need is the popper and a stove), and it roasts a half-pound at a time. Score!

The next question to be answered was: which popper to get? Of course, there wasn’t much doubt that I would go with one of Sweet Maria’s recommendations, and the slightly heftier stainless steel model from Back to Basics sounded like a good idea. So I did a little poking around on the web, checking prices on the B-to-B Stainless Steel popper. After much searching, the best deal (though minus the sampler coffee pack offered by Sweet Maria’s) was at WalMart.com. They’ve got the popper for the cheapest price that I could find, AND they’ll ship it to a store near you for free. Done.

Back to Sweet Maria’s for the stovetop popper method ‘tip sheet’. Might as well get advice from those that have done this before.

The ‘tips’ had some good ideas, one of which I was going to do anyway, and that was the ‘dry run’ – put the green beans in the popper, without heat, and see how the paddle pushed them around. So I measured out some beans. Three ounces of beans turned out to be just less than a quarter-cup, so I tossed in about three times that amount. The tips sheet recommended between 6-9 ounces, and that put me right up at the top of that range.

Pushing the beans around with the crank/paddle, I saw that some beans might get pushed up against the edge of the bottom of the pan, and that the paddle tended to keep some of the same beans bunched up against it as it turned. To counteract those tendencies, I decided to stop the paddle, maybe even reversing it slightly, and shake the pan to mix things back up.

With the range hood exhaust fan (which vents to the outside – important!) on ‘High’, I preheated the pan as directed. That only took a few minutes on my gas stove, with the burner at a medium-low setting. In order to check the ‘air’ temperature inside the pan, I dangled a candy thermometer inside. Once the air temp reached around 400° F, I tossed the beans in, closed the lid and started cranking, stopping to shake things around now and then.

The smell of roasting coffee beans was evident shortly thereafter, and just as the ‘tips’ said, first crack started around 6 or 7 minutes in. I reduced the heat slightly, then kept roasting until I heard the snaps of second crack for a while – I was roasting up my espresso blend, which I usually roast a minute or two into second.

One problem that I noticed – I like to judge the degree of roast by the color of the beans, but down inside the pan, the color and/or oils on the beans were pretty hard to see. A small drawback–I’ll have to judge more by sound.

Once I decided the beans were done enough, it was time to dump them into the metal colander for cooling (we’ve got a nice hefty metal colander – perfect for the job). But be careful, because the beans are hot, and the colander will get hot too. You might want to have something under the colander. Not only will it get rather warm, but remember there is no chaff collection mechanism in the ‘popper’ method, so all of the chaff is still in the ‘roaster’ and will pour out into the colander with the beans. Some will slip through the holes. If you’ve roasted coffee before, you know how that chaff can fly around.

I took the colander outside (with oven mitts), and tossed the beans around to cool them, blowing chaff away in the process. I think a better idea would be to have a fan ready and waiting. Let the fan blow over and through the colander as you toss the beans around, and it will help to cool the beans and blow away the chaff.

Once the beans were cooled, they looked and smelled great. My first ‘stovetop roasting’ effort was a success.

Next time, I think I’ll have that fan ready to help cool the beans, and I might set up another fan in the kitchen window to help with the ‘exhaust’ effort – the kitchen smelled like coffee for an entire day afterward. But that didn’t bother me much…

So if you want a roasting method that should prove to be quite reliable over the years, and also produces a bigger batch, consider giving the ‘stovetop popper’ a shot. It’s cheap, it’s kinda fun, and it works!

Oh wait, there’s one last problem: I’m not sure that you’ll want to use that popper for popcorn after roasting coffee in it.

Posted: February 1, 2008
Filed in Coffee-Home Roasting