I just learned that an article I wrote on Roasting Your Own Coffee won a gold award at the Minnesota Magazine and Publishing Association Excellence Awards ceremony in the category of How-To. It ran in Duluth-Superior Magazine last fall. It turns out the article never made it to their website but I dug it out of my archives to share.
In terms of buying green beans Northwest Coffee Mills out of Washburn is no longer an option since the passing of Harry Demorest. (But for those who love his coffee, the Bulk Food Store in Mason has taken over the business). Alakef is still an option. Or, my new personal favorite spot is Happy Mug Coffee. Great product and the owner is willing to go above and beyond in providing some at-home roasting tips!
For those who take the leap to roasting their own coffee, Happy Roasting!
Holiday Gift Guide-
Home Roast Coffee: A unique and fun holiday gift for coffee addicts
Some of our fondest memories revolve around the sites, smells and flavors of palette pleasing delights. From the cool sensation of ice-cream on a hot summer day, juicy burgers fresh of the grill, the sweet surprise of sugar snap peas straight from the garden, or a freshly picked berry from the heart of the North Woods, these simple palette pleasers improve our everyday life. But, for the millions of coffee addicts in the US, nothing compares to a fresh cup of coffee consumed daily.
This year, why not share in this intimate experience with your closest friends, by carefully hand roasting raw coffee beans as the perfect holiday gift? The process itself is simple, start-up costs are at a minimum, and the outcomes are endless.
Similar to the grapes used in wine, coffee beans vary from region to region with certain areas being known for specific types of beans. Even this can vary, though, based on the conditions of any particular growing season.
Separate from the region, Arabica and Robusta are the two general species of coffee beans made available. Arabica, which contains less caffeine, tends to have a wider variety of flavors. Robusta, on the other hand, has more caffeine but tends to be lower grade than Arabica. For the purpose of at-home roasting, we recommend focusing on Arabica beans.
To roast at-home, the first thing you need to do is purchase raw coffee beans. Alakef in Duluth or Northwest Coffee Mills out of Washburn, Wis. sell raw or green coffee beans online. In terms of selection, reading the brief summaries of the beans will give you a general sense of flavor. Sumatra, Ethiopia, Kenya, Guatemala and Costa Rica are great regions to start experimenting with and will provide a wide range of outcomes when roasting. Assuming you start with a moderate flavored bean, the largest variable will be how dark you roast your beans.
Once you have the beans in hand, it is time to start roasting. There are several ways to roast at-home but our experience is it tends to be smoky (especially if you burn the beans) so be prepared to have your smoke detectors go off. And, as beans roast they shed what is often referred to as chaff, which can get extremely messy. While this is the downside of at-home roasting, the fresh flavor of a home-brewed coffee far outweighs the cons.
There are many variations in how to roast beans but what you watch for is the same. The beans, which are green in color, immediately begin to lose their moisture during the roasting process. Shortly after placing the beans on heat, you’ll begin to hear a cracking sound, often referred to as pyrolisis. This first crack occurs just below 400 degrees. At this point, you’ll have created what is often referred to as a Cinnamon or New England coffee. As the bean heats, it’ll get darker. At 400 degrees, it’ll be light. As it approaches 415 degrees it’ll become light-medium, then medium and medium high. By the time the bean reaches 435 degrees, you’ll start to hear a second crack. During the second crack, the beans will go from being dry and brown to having an oily surface. Soon after, you’ll have an espresso bean. And, for those who like extremely black coffee, you can roast up to 475 degrees which is a dark French or Spanish coffee.
To start out, a medium roast tends to be the most forgiving because if under roasted you will have a nice light coffee versus the risk of being too underdone and if over roasted, you’ll have a full roast rather than an extremely burned, smoky mess. Once the beans have reached the desired outcome, immediately remove them from the heat source and begin cooling them with a fan. At this point, especially if you are roasting your beans extremely dark, cooling the beans quickly is key because as long as they are hot they will continue to roast each other. To expedite the cooling process, wear heat resistant gloves and continuously rotate the beans. This will also help remove the chaff.
In terms of how you heat the beans, there are numerous at home contraptions that’ll work. Perhaps the easiest is using a popcorn roaster. Poppers with side vents work the best because the airflow more evenly heats the coffee. To roast the coffee, limit yourself to 85 grams of coffee per roast and recognize that this may eventually burn your roaster out. Once the popper is on, slowly stir the beans until they start to pop. After their first crack, monitor them until they reach the degree of darkness you want. At this time, pour them directly into a bowl and begin the cooling process.
Another option is on the stove top in a large fry pan with a crank lid that allows you to stir the beans while having them covered. Line the fry pan with a single layer of beans and place on direct heat. In this case, gas stove tops work best. Roasting this way can take up to twenty minutes and requires continuous rotation of the beans to ensure even roasting. While tiring on the arm, it is the most intimate and easiest way to make sure you don’t burn your beans.
Our personal favorite, though, is roasting on a grill outside using a steel drum with holes attached to a rotisserie. Similar to stovetop roasting, this can take up to 20 minutes but you can do larger quantities and the mess is outside.
These methods tend to be smoky and take a while to perfect but are a hands-on, inexpensive approach to crafting the perfect holiday gift for your coffee loving friends and family. Expect to pay about half the price for green coffee beans as normal beans but recognize you lose some weight in the roasting process.
If at-home contraptions aren’t your style, a second option is making an investment of several hundred dollars for an at-home coffee roasting machine which simplifies the process and guarantee you more consistent results.
Once roasted, the beans will need to rest at least overnight prior to grinding. To preserve flavor, grind the beans at the last minute possible. Or, better yet, present them as whole beans with a burr grinder (the best way to grind coffee) as the perfect holiday gift. Roasting beans can be a rewarding and flavorful gift for friends and family, along with something you can give yourself year-round. Once you’ve perfected the craft, it can save you money as well while providing fresh brewed coffee at home.
Beth Probst is a coffee addict and freelance writer in Iron River, Wisconsin who began roasting her own coffee beans after discovering the closest coffee shop open by 7 am is more than 30 miles from her home.