As a foodie technique, roasting coffee is becoming one of the greats… you can’t go wrong with something so homemade, economy conscious, and delicious. It does, however, tend to have a polarizing effect on your cred, so be warned: some people will think it’s awesome and ask how to do it, and some people will think it’s intimidating or pretentious. “Seems like a lot of work,” they think, eyeing you suspiciously. “What are you trying to prove?” Similarly to brewing your own beer, roasting coffee can seriously out you for the food nerd that you are.
Here’s the good news, though. If you’re looking this up already, you probably are more excited about some ridiculously classy and flavorful coffee than you are worried about your social image. And you can rest easy, because this is not only a rewarding hobby, but a relatively simple and straightforward one.
Let’s talk about roasters. Pretty much anything that can produce consistent, dry heat and even exposure will get the job done. So technically, this means even your oven can work as a coffee roaster. I wouldn’t recommend it, but if just need to overcome inertia and try it out, go throw your beans on a cookie sheet in an oven and shuffle them every so often (ovens are pretty spotty when it comes to internal heat). Next level up from there is a pan on your stovetop and a whole lot of stirring to get an even roast. I tried that once, but after two nights of insomnia and a lingering burnt smell in my apartment, I realized that indoor coffee fumes may not be the best approach.
The best home roasting machines are those that agitate and circulate the beans as they heat. The current favorite of many people (including me) is those little electric air-popper popcorn makers. They’re pretty cheap, easy to use, and hot enough to give a great roast. They’re sold new, or you can find them on eBay or even in thrift stores if you’re diligent and patient (I’ve found four or five in my travels). The key is to find one with a chamber where the air and heat come from vents in the side, rather than through a mesh screen on the bottom like some of the cheaper models. This helps keep the beans from getting trapped and burning; the side vents create a vortex that spirals the beans around to ensure an even roast. This may go without saying, but roasting coffee in a popcorn popper will void your warranty and stuff.
From there, if you’re interested in something a little less do-it-yourself, you can buy home roasters made for the task that can handle a little more volume and precision. I personally have been okay with the air popper method so far, because I like the results and don’t mind making small batches. But if you’d like to go farther (further?) in your hobby, take a look at some of the options online. Most of the cheaper ones are a similar function to the air-poppers, so cost-wise you may not be getting much more for your money.If you’re looking into the heavier models it might be good to get a sense of how often you need to roast; no sense in getting something clunky and expensive, no matter how well it works, if you’re only roasting a few batches for yourself every once in awhile.
That’s my take on the basics for your home coffee-roasting experience. For in-depth instructions on how to roast, check out my how to roast post. How about you? Any roasters or methods you’ve used that you’d recommend? Anyway, good luck and let me know how it goes!