A few years ago I got serious about making my own espresso. For one thing, I was getting annoyed about spending $2 for a cup of espresso, and for another, I didn’t like having to drive or walk to the local coffee shop a couple of times a day for my caffeine fix. So I bought an espresso maker, took a lesson from the National Barista Champion (Kyle Glanville of intelligentsia coffee), and started pulling my own shots at home. It was a lot of fun, and it saved time and money.
Recently, I took my do-it-yourself coffee making to the next level: I am now roasting my own coffee. It’s not as hard as you might think. You don’t need a large, noisy, smoke-belching contraption in your kitchen or garage. All you need to roast small batches of coffee are some green coffee beans (I get mine from a company in Oakland California called Sweet Maria’s, but many other online outlets sell green beans, too) and an ordinary air popcorn popper (I use the West Bend 82416 Air Crazy popper, about $25).
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There are at least three reasons why I roast my own coffee. First, green coffee beans are less expensive than roasted beans. The average price for a pound of green beans runs between $6 and $8 in small quantities, and if you buy 20 pounds at a time, you can get it for as little as $5 pound. Roasted coffee, on the other hand, costs about $11 or $12 a pound.
Second, green coffee beans can be kept for up to a year before they start to lose their flavor. That means you can buy a 20 pound bag and keep it in an airtight plastic tub, and roast a little at a time. Roasted coffee beans start to lose their flavor after just a few days, making it uneconomical to purchase in small quantities, and a bad idea flavor-wise to purchase in large quantities.
3rd, it’s fun to roast your own coffee. I take my popcorn popper into the backyard, pour in about half a cup of coffee beans, and after about 10 minutes, I have a small batch of roasted beans. Once you get the hang of it, it’s not hard. After pouring beans into the popper, it takes about 3 minutes before you hear the “first crack.” At this point, you have a very light roast coffee, and you could stop roasting. But I like a darker roast, so I let it go until I hear the second crack, which is less pronounced than the first crack. This is the signal to pour the roasted beans from the corn popper into a steel colander and stir them quickly so that the heat is drawn off the beans, stopping the internal roasting process.
It’s important to wait 24 hours before you grind the beans and make coffee with them, because it takes a while for the chemical transformations in the freshly roasted beans to settle down. (I’ve tasted coffee made from beans that had been roasted immediately before preparing the coffee, and it had a fishy taste. That goes away if you wait a day or so).
I have not yet taken the final step in my DIY coffee adventure: growing my own coffee trees and harvesting the beans, but my daughter gave me some viable coffee tree seeds that she purchased when she was in Costa Rica last month. I’m already scoping my property for good place to start a backyard coffee plantation.
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Images courtesy of Mark Frauenfelder