I'm a big fan of making things yourself. As a result I have a number of hobbies & pastimes, from building my own blog software and gypsy-jazz guitar picks to roasting my own coffee. The latter is probably among my favorites, possibly because it makes my apartment permanently smell like a coffee shop, but also because it's something I get to enjoy on a daily basis. People are always curious when I tell them I roast my own coffee so I thought I'd write a little bit about the benefits and the process of roasting your own beans at home.
First, a personal rant on coffee:
Coffee is among the more convoluted beverages out there. Every time I roast and drink my own blends, I ponder what the trial and error process must have been like for the first coffee drinkers. We start with this plant that yields cherries, but instead of just eating the fruit and being done with it, we take the seeds, roast them over a fire until they're just right, grind them up, pour boiling water over them and pour the concoction through a filter so we're only drinking the silty remnants of this curious process... Is there anything comparable? Do we do anything like this with other fruit seeds? I'll admit alcohol has a comparably strange process, but you have the possibility of accidentally making alcohol through neglect if nothing else. Whose idea was it and how many attempts were there before someone got the first cup of Joe right?
Why should you roast your own coffee?
Because everyone likes lists, a list:
- You get better quality coffee that doesn't cost appreciably more. If anything it's actually a little bit cheaper depending on where and in what quantities you purchase your beans. Though I suppose this depends on what you're used to paying for coffee. I typically get my beans somewhere between $5-7 a pound, but it tastes just as good as the good stuff people buy down the street for $10-15+.
- It will make your kitchen/house/apartment smell like a coffee shop.
- You'll recognize the subtleties in various roasts and be able to instantly recognize batches that have been burnt. You'll learn the difference between a good French roast and drinking charcoal.
- They make great gifts! You can buy some gold foil pouches or print your own custom labels/stickers to stick to the coffee bags to make them look nice.
- Because it's fun! It extends the morning ritual.
Buying green coffee beans
There are lots of places to buy green coffee beans online:
- Mr. Green Beans - If you live here in Portland, hop on over to Mississippi Ave and pick up some green beans here.
- Sweet Maria's - I've ordered my beans from these guys for most of the past few years. Based out of Oakland. They know their stuff.
- Amazon - Anything you can imagine is on Amazon, green coffee beans included. This is a good place to find deals and discover dealers & brands you may not have heard of.
Buying a roaster:
I have a beaten and battered Fresh Roast air roaster that I know is going to die on my someday soon, but I can't bare to part with it before that day comes. It's like an old friend. I know it's weird habits and idiosyncrasies; I know the first batch will be uneven and strange and the subsequent batches will need to be watched like a hawk so they don't burn, but they'll be worth it.
Roasters come in a wide range of prices and qualities. I recommend exploring the Mr. Green Beans, Sweet Maria's and purusing Amazon again, but there are a few different types you should be aware of:
These basically work like fancy popcorn poppers. In fact, you can even use an old popcorn popper if you have one lying around - a nice way to break into coffee roasting cheaply. My roaster is an air roaster and is the most common-type you'll find at the entry level. You can find good ones for less than $200, and sometimes much less.
These are a bit pricier and for the more seasoned and serious coffee roaster, but they offer more versatility and generally better quality. The big advantages you'll see here are additional controls (In the digital models), with the ability to fluctuate the temperature up and down over time, and the quantities of beans you'll be able to roast in a single batch. With drum roasters you can roast a pound or more at time. I typically roast single servings of coffee which are only a few ounces.
This is fun because all you need are your beans, a pot and a heat source! You could cook your coffee beans on your next camping trip using something like this. You'll also get a bit of a workout keeping the beans churning to ensure they roast evenly.
Where can I learn more about roasting coffee?
Sweet Maria's is a veritable library of coffee information. Not only can you purchase beans through them, but they have excellent reviews of the roasters they sell, in-depth descriptions of the crops they have in stock and a very helpful guide about the roasting process for home roasters. They also have a YouTube channel.