View Full Version : Home roasting coffee

01-22-2015, 01:35 PM
Just wanted to share some experience here, and hopefully let people know that the barrier to entry is a lot lower than you think it is.

First of all, almost everyone in the world is drinking stale coffee. Fresh roasted (~1-7 days after roast) single-origin beans are absolutely LOADED with light, aromatic, lingering deliciousness. After 7-8 days, all the wonderfully subtlety vanishes and it's just coffee - flat, and heavy. Commercial roasters (Starbucks et al) actually stale their beans in warehouses to make sure that you never accidentally get a fresh roasted bag one time, then a stale one the next. Your local roastery probably does a great job with their beans, but I've never seen one that sells less than 12oz bags. For me, with one cup a day (hand ground, Aeropressed), that means 5-6 fresh cups and ~20 stale ones that I'd rather just throw out. Not ideal.

I've seen some guys here talk about home roasting with appliances like the Behmor 1600 at $370. Works great, but expensive to get started with, and even that investment probably only runs 5-6 years before failing. But here's what I use:
$25 hot air popcorn popper, 1200W, rotary-circulating hot air. Lasts for 2-3 years of weekly use probably. 2oz of green beans go in (outside or in the garage for the smoke), put down a bowl to catch the chaff, 3-4 minutes later roasted beans come out. Spread out to cool, rub off the last bits of chaff, put aside to rest 4-12 hours. I do two batches to last me a week (one medium roast, one dark. More precisely one City+, one Full City+). The next day, the sweet smoky fragrance coming off the beans is absolutely intoxicating.

Buy green beans from your local roaster. Or I like the mail-order sample packs from Sweet Maria's - 8lbs for $40. A pound of green beans comes out to about 12oz roasted.

This certainly isn't the only way to do it - sear in a cast iron skillet, a cookie sheet in the oven, various more expensive appliances. If your coffee needs are higher volume than mine, this might be too fussy in the end. Many people think of the popper as as a starter kit. I did initially, but I have no reason at all to spend more on this hobby. When this one burns out I'll get another just like it. But it's the perfect way to find out what you've been missing.

Tons more info all over:
Thousands of youtube videos like https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DR6V_mHXHnE

01-22-2015, 01:41 PM
I sense LawDog and Strengverboten responding with something good here.

Those two (and some of the rest of you) convinced me just to convert to whole bean, grind it as needed at home, and French Press. That alone makes all other coffee taste like burnt water (I rarely can enjoy coffee when out and about some place now, it's that much better at home).

Mr. Anthony
01-22-2015, 01:47 PM
I keep thinking I'm going to start roasting at home, and I've read up on this and similar products and understand that it's not pricey to get started. I think my only hangup is the smoke--how much does it put out? If you were roasting, say, on the balcony of a condo, is it doable?

01-22-2015, 02:18 PM
Might depend on the beans, some smoke more than others. But I do it in a closed garage and the smoke smell lingers (pleasantly - can be very nice) for a day, but never becomes obscuring at any point. On an open balcony - no problem at all.

There can be an outdoor temperature problem. Simple poppers like mine breathe in outdoor air and add as much heat as they can. In my 50-60F garage, roast takes a couple (3-4) minutes. I roasted a batch recently at my sister's house, outdoors, with ~30F air, and it took like 12 minutes.

Also long extension cords may drop the voltage enough to matter - plug straight into a wall outlet if you can. In fact if your roast is progressing too fast (can be hard to stop at the exact point you want, initially) people throw in a 50-100ft extension just to slow it a bit.

Mr. Anthony
01-22-2015, 02:22 PM
Ah, that's the big X factor, then. I'd roast outside, and Colorado has bipolar weather. This week we have single digit days adjacent to 60+ degree days. I wonder how steep the learning curve is for figuring out how to do this in variable temperature conditions...

Captain Ron
01-22-2015, 02:44 PM
I used a hacked popcorn popper for a couple years. Took control of the heat coils, monitored temp. I use a gene cafe from Sweet Maria's now, it roasts about half a pound per batch. If you are roasting in two minutes the coffee is either underroasted or hasn't had time to develop flavor. Ideal is 7-15 or so minutes depending on method. I'm hammering this out on my phone so I won't be too verbose, but you can roast anywhere with ventilation. I roast in my utility room which has an exhaust fan. Roasting half a pound you can't roast in an unventilated space unless you want to fill it with smoke.

As for the original post, coffee can last two weeks or so with proper storage. My beans don't even peak until four days or so after roast, I tend to leave them unsealed overnight the first night to let the bulk of the CO2 to offgas from the beans. I usually have ten pounds or so of green beans on hand and they store a year easily in the ziplocs they come in. Most of the time I only have them a few months anyway.

Living in Austin, I have several quality roasters to choose from if I run out of beans. There is a roaster east of downtown that has absolutely fantastic coffee, some of the best commercially sold stuff I've ever had. I take my roasting seriously but they are my first choice when I buy roasted. They sell directly to the public but most of their business is with coffee shops.

I could go on... Did I mention I love coffee?

Edit: Just re-read my post, maybe I've had enough for coffee for the day. :bigeyes1:

01-22-2015, 02:44 PM
And this really doesn't have to turn into a brewing thread instead of roasting, but:

There are three key factors in your brew. Grind size, immersion time, and water temperature. Drip pots control only for grind size. Pour-over controls temp and grind. French press controls time and temp - unless you're OK with sludgy coffee from fine grind. Otherwise you have to use coarse grind with French press, and therefore you need long immersion times to get any flavor, and along with that you extract lots of tannins and caffeine. For me French is a intense but bitter brew, and too caffienated for my taste.

For dead simple, I like this:
$10 nylon mesh washable pour-over filter. No brew time control, but it's close enough. Makes a simple, watery, very light and aromatic traditional coffee. Great to take traveling or backpacking.

But my mainstay is this:
Porlex hand grinder fits inside the aeropress. Stainless washable filter, for fewer consumables to track and store. Thermometer for water temp (usually use temp-controlled water pot at home). Freedom to use any grind size, temp, and time you prefer. It's a thick, intense cup with espresso-like crema but very low bitterness with my recipe (60sec immersion), and taste that lingers for hours on the tongue.

01-22-2015, 02:50 PM
Ah, that's the big X factor, then. I'd roast outside, and Colorado has bipolar weather. This week we have single digit days adjacent to 60+ degree days. I wonder how steep the learning curve is for figuring out how to do this in variable temperature conditions...You won't be able to set up a permanent outdoor roaster, but that's true just about anywhere. You could roast on a balcony, but you'll need to store the roaster indoors and only carry it out just before you roast. The ideal location would be a heated garage, right next to a small window. I'm in Alaska, and I make it work. I roast in the garage. During the roast stage, there is virtually zero smoke. The smoke emerges during the cooling stage and only lasts for a couple of minutes. So I open the garage door for those few minutes. (I roast with a Behmor 1600. Other roasters will behave differently.)

It is too smoky to just do it in the kitchen (at least for me), but it's not an insane amount of smoke. Given my own climatic concerns, I have contemplated installing a supercharged vent fan in the garage, just for roasting. That way, I wouldn't release the garage's heat when I open the door. But I have to remind myself that I don't live in Fairbanks. It really isn't that cold.

The popcorn poppers work. But a purpose-made roaster will do a better job of collecting chaff, and will have a built-in cooling feature for the end of the roast.

You definitely get spoiled. I'm traveling right now and can't find a decent cup of coffee anywhere in town. I want my home roasted goodness.

Captain Ron
01-22-2015, 02:52 PM
Yep, and a burr grinder required for French Press or espresso, and several other methods. I would say it is required regardless, but I may have a problem, so...

I travel with my own beans, a French Press, and a backpackers burr grinder. I bought a hot pot on a two week trip once, and filtered water of course.

01-22-2015, 02:54 PM
I never said 2 minutes... 3-4min, certainly not under-roasted, and to my taste buds I find commercial fresh roasted beans very bland in comparison to mine. Maybe they'd be even better with a 7-15min roast but at some point one is happy enough to stop experimenting... Maybe I should try the extension cord trick to slow it down

01-22-2015, 08:20 PM
My wife is a coffee head, don't even talk to her until she's had her first cup, and I like a really good cup of coffee in the morning too. For Christmas this year, I got her 20 lbs. of green coffee beans so she can roast her own. Can't wait until she actually does it and I get to experience the awesome present I got her.

Community Coffee roasts their coffee near the bridge over the Mississippi River at Baton Rouge. That was the only time I was in heaven in a traffic jam.

Captain Ron
01-22-2015, 09:41 PM
I never said 2 minutes... 3-4min, certainly not under-roasted, and to my taste buds I find commercial fresh roasted beans very bland in comparison to mine. Maybe they'd be even better with a 7-15min roast but at some point one is happy enough to stop experimenting... Maybe I should try the extension cord trick to slow it down
My fault, I misread your post, and your beans are almost certainly much better than commercially available beans. You underestimate my tolerance level for experimenting though! :nerd:

I took my popcorn popper/roaster apart, removed the thermostat(too low for coffee use) and installed a switch to control the heat coils. My IR thermometer gave me bean temperature. A rheostat would have been better but a switch was cheaper. On until first crack, off and on to keep temp around 400 for a few minutes, then on until the first bean to hit second crack. After many roasts I could usually judge the color to stop the roast right before second crack. It cooled quickly so it was easy to hit full city+ without overshooting. I got tired of having to roast constantly with the small batches so I got the Gene Cafe. You'll see much more full-bodied flavor if you do longer roasts. Most African coffees will do much, much better with longer roasts. I shot for around seven minutes or so with my popcorn roasters, the air bed roasters don't need as much time as the drum roasters.

The Behmor LawDog mentioned is better in a lot of ways; programmability and low smoke being huge bonuses, but you can't watch the beans. I love the Gene Cafe but I wonder if manual control is worth the trouble. I work in the automation world and I picked a manual roaster...

01-22-2015, 10:04 PM
The Behmor LawDog mentioned is better in a lot of ways; programmability and low smoke being huge bonuses, but you can't watch the beans.True. I've used other roasters, where I could see the beans. I never was able to predict the roast by color anyway. Sound is what does it for me. So not seeing the beans isn't a negative for me.

I'm going to have to get one of those Porlex grinders. I had a Turkish mill grinder a few years ago, but got rid of it. It was as heavy as a brick, took up too much room in a pack, and seemed to take ten minutes to grind enough coffee for a 16 oz. mug. (It was a decent workout, though.) I have almost gotten the Hario a few times, but always stopped short. I like the all-aluminum exterior (no glass) and packability.

A burr grinder with adjustable ground size is a very worthwhile addition to the kitchen. You can get a Mr. Coffee (http://smile.amazon.com/Mr-Coffee-BVMC-BMH23-Automatic-Grinder/dp/B004T6EJS0/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1421988917&sr=8-3&keywords=burr+grinder) for under forty bucks. It's also easy to spend a few hundred, but the beans don't taste any better. Any burr grinder is a huge improvement over a blade grinder. Blades will scorch the beans and give you inconsistent ground size. Coffee flavor begins to break down immediately upon grinding. You really shouldn't grind your beans more than a couple of hours before brewing.

The brew method is the one variable that most people experiment with. Press pots give you very full flavor and retain all of the beans' oils. A Chemex will give you a faithful flavor and extract the oils. The question is: Do you like the taste of coffee better with or without the oils? For camping and traveling, I just use a pour-over with a couple of paper filters. I find the clean-up of a press pot to be not worth it in the woods (or even a hotel room). I haven't used the aero press yet. I'll have to give that a try some time.

Mr. Anthony
01-22-2015, 10:12 PM
I got an Aeropress as a present from a friend. I've been using it for about a week. I'm still tweaking some of my methods with it, but I'm really liking it so far. Great flavor, and smoother than the coffee from the French press. Very easy once you do it a couple of times. The only downside so far is that I hand grind my beans, and after adjusting the grinder to a finer setting it takes me a little longer to grind.

Excellent coffee, though. Already would recommend it, after this short time.

Captain Ron
01-22-2015, 10:18 PM
I found the "GSI Outdoors Java Mill" at a local outdoors/hiking type store, it grinds very consistently and is light. Haven't backpacked with it yet but it has traveled with me a few times and performed flawlessly, at one point making 2-3 French Press pots at a time. I wouldn't put it in the same category as a Porlex grinder but it works well.

01-23-2015, 08:49 AM
I also have been roasting Sweet Maria's coffee for 3 years. I use a whirly pop stove top popcorn popper. I can roast 1 lb at time and it takes about 13 to 16 minutes. I stop just into second crack. I buy 20 lbs of green coffee at a time as shipping cost is the same for 1 lb or 20. Price goes up after 20. Big difference with fresh roasted coffee. Smoke is no problem on stove top with exhaust fan running.

01-23-2015, 06:43 PM
Been really interested in the idea of roasting my own coffee, but haven't looked into it enough. This thread makes the cost of entry low enough that I might just. That said, I live a 10 minute walk from one of the nicest micro-lot roasters I've ever found... Convenience kills!

LawDog nailed the methodology.

I'm a big pour-over snob. I have a Chemex, a Beehouse pour-over that uses the ubiquitous Melitta filters, and a Hario H60 that a friend got me this Christmas. And a french press. Gah, too much coffee gear.

Chemex makes coffee for 2-4 people, and gives a very clean cup with tons of flavor, but doesn't really do well when you want to make just one cup. The Beehouse & Hario do it for an individual cup. A Chemex requires specific filters, and I haven't really spent any time trying to find a workaround. Doing a fancy folding trick with Melitta filters hasn't ever really paid off. Further, the Chemex is a pain in the butt to clean, as getting down into the decanter is tough. The Hario uses it's own filters, which are super thin and produce an awesome cup of coffee... but it is another filter to buy and stock. The Beehouse has been my go-to of late, as it can crank out a mug of coffee for me me me without any drama. Having access to good market support is a huge boon, as you can get filters for it just about anywhere, and cheap. Sounds familiar, right?

I keep a French Press around as an artifact from bygone era. I look at it and say, 'someday, you will use it again...' and I never use it. Maybe if I had some over roasted coffee that I needed to get rid of?