Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Visual Guide to Home Coffee Roasting

It's been about six months since I started roasting coffee at home, and in that time I've had just about every disaster you can have with such a simple task, barring an actual fire. Broken glass, charred beans, and very loud smoke alarms have given way to a ten minute routine that is not only super fun and simple but also produces consistently amazing results. If you like coffee and have $40 in your pocket, you too can save 60% on your coffee expenses (no really -- I did the math, and it's closer to 62%) and trade up for daily fresh-roasted coffee. Obviously this is an idea whose time as come. You'll need the following:

  1. A popcorn popper. I suggest the Poplite. It's got the right type of mesh at the bottom of the roasting chamber AND is the perfect canvas for the stickers you've amassed over the years.

  2. Wooden spoon with long handle. This one has been in commission for a couple of weeks. Clearly a consumable item, but one that can be replaced for under $2 at your local restaurant supply store.

  3. Metal strainer or colander. Anything will work here.

  4. Green coffee beans. Your every home coffee roasting need can be met by Tom and co. at Sweet Maria's.

  5. Oil lamp chimney. The perfect multipurpose solution to some of the basic difficulties of roasting coffee in a popcorn popper: with the combination of a chimney and a wooden spoon, you have a 3-in-1 stirrer (to make sure the beans don't burn early in the roast), container (to prevent the beans from flying out), and window (to monitor the degree of the roast).
First things first -- the little 1/2 cup scoop that comes with the popper is exactly the right measurement for one batch of coffee. Be careful not to overload the popper or you'll trigger a low-flow sensor and cause the popper to shut down for about 10 minutes. If this happens in the middle of a roast, you get to throw away a batch of incompletely roasted coffee. Also, you may think that those people on who warned you about "smoke" were doing it wrong, but make no mistake -- roasting coffee produces a huge amount of smoke and chaff, so don't try this indoors. Finally, toss out the plastic lid that comes with the popcorn popper. The popper will quickly be rendered useless for anything other than its new calling. Here's how to proceed:

Step 1: Load up the popper with a scoop of green coffee beans.
Step 2: Guide the wooden spoon through the glass chimney. In most cases, you'll see that the neck catches the wooden spoon, giving you a simple hands-free way to drop on and pull off the chimney. Place the chimney on top of the popper.
Step 3: Turn on the popper, drop the head of the spoon to the bottom of the bed of coffee, and roll the handle of the spoon between your hands (a la those wooden helicopter toys for kids). It's important to evenly distribute the heat early on in order to avoid any charred beans.
Step 4: After about three minutes, the beans will be done. Apparently the time it takes to complete a roast varies based on humidity, ambient temperature, etc., so all you can really go on is how the beans look. They'll go through a couple of audible cracks, corresponding to loss of moisture and fracturing of the seed's matrix, and you can target just about any degree of roast. I've learned a lot by reading this great visual guide to the stages of roasting, and when you order beans from Sweet Maria's, they always come with recommended roast levels for whatever you've bought.
Step 5: As soon as the beans look good, kill the power, carefully pull off the chimney and set it aside, grab the popper by the bright yellow handle, and dump out the roasted coffee into your colander. Toss the coffee to quickly quench the roast while wandering around your backyard. This step always makes me feel like one of those incense guys at a Catholic mass.
Step 6: Once the coffee has slightly cooled, transfer to a vented tin container or a bag with a gas valve. After the beans are roasted, they give off a bunch of carbon dioxide, so storing the beans in a valved container allows the carbon dioxide to push out all the oxygen, essentially vacuum sealing the coffee overnight. The aroma of a just-opened bag of fresh-roasted coffee is amazing.
Step 7: The coffee will be ready to enjoy after at least 8 hours, but in some cases a day or two is necessary to really develop the flavors. Adding name tags to your bags of coffee is optional but recommended.


Joseph H. said...

I've heard of doing this before, but I've never seen such a clear and complete explication. Thank you.

Darcy said...

Just stumbled on this, and I'd like to point out that I never actually got that bag with my name on it! :) But I got to see you, so fair trade!