On honeymoon in the UK, one of the things that struck me was just how good the coffee was at the bed & breakfasts we stayed at. It wasn't bitter like the coffee in the US. It was smooth and nutty with hints of caramel. I was suddenly extremely disappointed in my coffee options at home, so I started researching how I could get that flavor on my own. I haven't reached the exact flavor, but I come pretty close: I buy beans green at specialty stores — allowed in our rules — and roast my own coffee.
Coffee roasters aren't cheap and reviews suggest they're often short lived. Then I learned it's possible to roast coffee in an air popcorn popper. We have an old popper that's seen better days; it's probably 20 years old and the bright yellow plastic has now turned brown from heavy use roasting beans.
Roasting coffee only takes a few supplies:
- Green coffee beans
- Air popcorn popper
- Metal colander — preferably one with a wire bottom, though I get by fine with mine
- Pot holders
- A box fan — set on its back to blow air up. I put mine on a metal patio table with a perforated top.
Roasting the beans:
- Add one cup of green beans to your popper. The beans should just reach the top of the rotating "drum" inside.
- Turn on popper. Never ever leave the popper unattended. It gets very hot and can catch fire very easily.
- Listen for the beans to begin making sound. This is called the "first crack."
- You will notice that the popping sound slows and stops for a little bit; "second crack" is when the beans pop again. You will notice that this popping has a slightly different sound than the first crack. This is when you need to really pay attention.
- At this point it's called a "city roast." I prefer to roast 30 seconds into the second crack. You can roast it all the way to an Espresso roast, but it will change the flavor. Lighter roasts are less bitter.
- It takes us about eight minutes to roast the coffee from start to finish, but it will probably vary depending on your popper. As you keep roasting, the beans become shiny — the pops you've been hearing are caused be fissures releasing oil from the bean.
- Unplug the popper. With the pot holders, carefully but quickly pour the beans into the colander. Be careful! The beans are around 450 degrees F.
- Put the colander on the fan and swirl your beans. You want to cool them off as quickly as possible to prevent continued roasting.
- The beans should have expanded by about 50%. Put them in an unsealed jar and let them sit overnight to rest and release built up gases.
- Brew away!
When you roast, remember these suggestions:
- Only grind your beans right before you use them. You spent all this time roasting them and you don't want to waste it by grinding them ahead of time.
- When buying an air popper to roast beans, make sure you buy one which rotates when heating. You want the beans constantly moving.
- New poppers seem to burn out after six months of regular use, so I buy them at thrift stores. They are a dime a dozen. You can also use a stovetop popper.
- You can buy beans online or from some homebrew shops. I recommend getting a sampler pack for your first time. There are a mindboggling variety of beans out there — so start simple. There's nothing worse than buying a five pound bag of beans, only to learn you hate that breed.
- Roast coffee outside. Roasting can be incredibly smoky and poppers often blow the bean chaff all over the place.
- If it's too cold outside or you don't have a good roasting spot, at least roast under a stovetop hood — and use your colander to catch the chaff.
And that's all it takes to become a home roaster.