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May 13, 2008

Now that the weather has begun to warm up, we’re back to roasting our own coffee (we usually stop during winter, because it’s too cold to open windows or roast in the garage).

Roasting your own coffee is easy, cost-effective, and well worth the effort.

You know how wine experts will talk about how a certain wine has elements of crazy things like leather, wood, smoke, etc, but all you taste is wine? Well, coffee is like that, too. Its terroir (that’s what the experts, be they experts of coffee, wine, chocolate, or so forth call it) makes the same bean taste different from grower to grower, from country to country, from continent to continent.

As far as wine is concerned, I think you have to drink a lot of wine over a lot of time, being really mindful of what you’re drinking, before you can taste the different elements, much less identify them. With coffee, on the other hand, you taste it right away. One tastes like chocolate, another tastes smoky, etc.

Unfortunately, there are a couple of factors that effect the taste of coffee. One is the degree of roasting a bean gets. Like anything else, the more you cook it, the more danger there is of overcooking it. French Roast, Italian Roast, Double-Dark Roast – overcooked, one and all.

The other is time. Like anything else, the longer it sits around after being cooked, the longer the tastes have to subside.

Coffee is at its best 1-7 days after it’s roasted. Unfortunately almost all commercially produced coffee is roasted at a few centrally-located factories, then packed and shipped to a grocery store or coffee shop, where it sits on the shelf for who knows how long before you buy it. There are small, local roasters around (just google coffee roasters and your state, and you’ll find some), but they generally don’t get a lot of press, and they aren’t on every corner like you know who – or you know who.

A few years ago I came across a magazine article about roasting coffee at home. The Enabler got me a coffee roaster for Christmas. We were blown away at the taste of the coffee right from the first batch, and since then we’ve gotten a bunch of our friends into the home-roasting thing, too. We use a small countertop coffee roaster, but other people use popcorn poppers or just regular skillets.

Smarter people than I have written long and detailed tutorials on the process, so I won’t go into it here.

What I will do, though, is show you the before and after of it all.

Here are the green beans before they’re roasted.

Our machine roasts a half-cup of beans at a time, enough for three medium-sized pots of coffee, or two and a half big pots.

Here’s our (ahem) sophisticated ventilation system.

It does produce a good bit of smoke, and some chaff; that’s why we prefer to do it in the garage.

After nine minutes of a two-stage roasting cycle, and four minutes of cooling, the batch is done. And the beans looks like this:

Here’s a nice shot of the beans, before and after:

I was stunned about a year ago to learn that some grocery stores are starting to carry unroasted beans, and will even roast to order. That’s pretty cool, actually, and a pretty recent development. But we find online vendors have more of a selection and are way cheaper. How cheap? We routinely get beans for about $6 a pound.

As you can see above, the beans expand when they’re heated, so a pound goes a long way. We get four or five batches out of a pound of unroasted beans. At even two pots of coffee per batch, that’s 8 or 10 pots of coffee for $6. That’s between $0.60-$0.75 a pot, or literally pennies a cup.

But although the cost savings is a consideration, the really compelling reason to roast your own coffee is the taste. The difference is indescribable.

So if all that makes me a coffee geek, so be it.

One Comment leave one →
  1. May 13, 2008 2:50 pm

    I really enjoyed this post. I am currently living in Morocco, where I have been drinking Nescafé for ages (not bad), but you’ve reminded me of all the wonderful coffees they sell in American grocery stores.

    Your article really taught me a lot, and I appreciated the pictures of the beans both before and after roasting. I’m also glad you mentioned that coffee can be roasted in a skillet, as more high-tech methods would never be available here. Your post has encouraged me to try this, if I find some coffee beans.

    You might be interested in a post I wrote on “Luxurious North African Coffee on a Sunday Morning,” which includes both pictures and how to make them:

    Best regards,
    Madame Monet
    Writing, Painting, Music, and Wine

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