you really should roast your own coffee

It’s not hard. And you get used to the flavor of fresh coffee. Green beans are half the price of roasted beans, even when you buy them one pound at a time. I don’t do that, though. Why, when green coffee doesn’t go bad? It will last on the shelf for years, though it will lose some zing. Buying once a year, when the harvest comes in, suits me. I roast once or twice a week, because after a week, even whole roasted beans, stored well, no longer really seem worth drinking. The only downside, as I see it, is that if you prefer a darker roast, it can smoke up your kitchen a little. But probably, roasting your own, you will lose interest in a dark roast. It cooks the nuances out of beans, makes them all taste the same. I still roast dark time to time but only in fair weather.

How do I do it? I’ve tried a number of techniques, and found that the best one (shy of investing in appliances) is also the easiest: 

Bring oven to ~500 degrees.
Spread green coffee-beans one deep on something like a cookie sheet. (I generally use a bread pan.)
Bake for 10-15 minutes, until it is about the color you want.
Cover, let cool, blow off the chaff.

This method yields beans good enough that I am never excited to find myself in a city with a famous roaster, though I love a good coffee. I rarely travel without some green beans now. It is bad to be stuck without fresh beans.

Some roasters will sell you green beans, also some homebrew supply shops and fancy groceries. I mail-order mine from sweetmarias.com, also a good source for more information.

Here is Facts for Farmers (1863) on roasting coffee:

“It should be roasted very evenly, of a light brown color, and used very soon afterward, as it loses value every day after it is roasted, and after it is ground it will become almost worthless by a few days’ exposure to the air. . . . Roasting coffee in a room will always disinfect it of bad effluvia*. . . . In roasting coffee, first dry it gently in an open pan until it changes color, and then cover the pan and scorch it rapidly without charring a grain.”

*This is true. My house is constructed such as that skunks like to live under it, and inevitably several times a year there will be a spray that will render it unlivable for days. At such times, I always roast a big batch of coffee, and it always helps.

And Pellegrino Artusi (1891):

“It’s best to increase the heat gradually and therefore use wood rather than coal as a heat source, since it’s easier to regulate. When the beans begin to sizzle and smoke, shake the toaster continuously. Remove it from the heat when the beans have turned chestnut brown, and before they emit their oil. . . . Toast the beans a little at a time, and keep them in a tightly closed metal container, grinding them as necessary, because they lose their aroma easily.”

And The Original Picayune Creole Cook Book (Ninth edition, reprinted from the fifth edition of 1928):

“One of the first essentials is to ‘Parch the Coffee Grains Just Before Making the Coffee,’ because coffee that has been long parched and left standing loses its flavor and strength. The coffee grains should ‘Be Roasted to a Rich Brown,’ and never allowed to scorch or burn, otherwise the flavor of the coffee is at once affected or destroyed. . . . after the coffee has been roasted and allowed to cool in a covered dish, so that none of the flavor will escape, the coffee is ground[.]”


5 Comments on “you really should roast your own coffee”

  1. Renee says:

    I was in a plant propagation course last year with a professor who roasts his own coffee. His method was interesting–
    He uses a ‘pizazz’ pizza cooker, spreads the beans out on it, and cooks them until they’re sizzling and have a nice brown color. The pizazz pizza cooker cooks them evenly, and makes small batches that don’t get stale and are easy enough to make.
    We tried it out in class and they were delicious. He usually roasts them out in his garage, however, because it can get kind of smoky.

    I don’t know if the pizza cooker uses up more energy than an oven, I haven’t looked into that because I haven’t roasted my own coffee someday. But now that i know green coffee beans keep for a long time, I’m willing to try it!

    Thanks, interesting site.

  2. Will Huenink says:

    You’re welcome. Thank you!

    There are a thousand ways to roast coffee. It really isn’t that demanding, though some people apparently do become really obsessed with it, and doing it perfectly. One popular method is to modify an air-pop popcorn maker, and roast them with that. Another method, one which appeals to me very much, is using a heat-gun. Put yer beans in a bowl out in the driveway, and it blows away the smoke and chaff as you roast. I’ve seen pictures of people roasting coffee by stirring in a wok, and I used to shake it in a covered cast-iron pan, but that was work, and I quit when I started playing with oven methods.

    Certainly there are niceties to technique, and everyone’s oven is going to be a little different. But it’s not too demanding, as I said. Just fiddle around with it, making small batches til you get the hang of it, and you’ll do fine.

  3. […] home-roast (how easy it is) March 25, 2010 by fairybekk All it took was one read of this blog post, and I was desperate to try […]

  4. Rebecca says:

    Yours is one of my favourite blogs ever. I got the west bend poppery II (the one that Sweet Maria’s recommends) on ebay for very cheap and have been roasting my own coffee ever since, and have never looked back. I’m still working on the perfect light roast because they all taste a little too acidic for me still, but the darker roasts are just delicioso, and make my house smell lovely to boot! Thank you!!!

  5. Will Huenink says:

    Hi Rebecca! Glad you like it, and you’re welcome!


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