DIY: coffee roasting - easier than you think

Trip Start Jan 30, 2007
Trip End Dec 31, 2011

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Flag of United States  , Washington
Sunday, October 19, 2008

Coffee has got to be one of the most value-added products. The raw beans - in most cases, grown in plantations and harvested by peasants who are paid a pittance - are transformed into a high-value product through a long supply chain. The growers, the processors, the shippers, the suppliers, the roasters and then the cafe owners all clip the ticket and take their cut.

You can buy raw green beans off the internet for around $5US a pound. Or roasted coffee for twice or three times that. So why is it that if you get 75 tablespoons of ground coffee from one pound, that the price of coffee is $2 or $3 a cup? Estimates range from 30-odd to 140 or more cups of coffee from one pound (depending on the strength and the kind of coffee you brew). So the price of a cup of coffee brewed at home is around 10c-25cents, depending on how exotic the beans.

At my place, friends visiting are surprised when they see a bag of green beans sitting on the bench. 'What's that?' they ask.
'Coffee beans' I tell them.

Open the bag and sniff the small green hard beans and you smell an earthy scent. 'It doesn't smell like coffee' people say. Too right.

To turn the green bean into something drinkable, you have to roast it.

Now you would think that roasting is rocket science, right? Truth is, it is real easy. Afterall, in places where coffee originates from, they don't have complex roasting machines and stuff do they? Nope, just a pan and a fire will do.

Today I set about roasting some local beans. Partly because I wanted to try home roasting. Partly because my only supply of coffee in the house was green. And mainly because where I usually roast my beans closed.

You can roast in the oven, or use a converted popcorn machine, or buy an expensive roaster like i-roast or GeneRoast for a hundred or more dollars, but I used the equipment I had at home:

a pan;
a convection heater;
a spoon;
a teatowel;
a colander.

All you do is heat up the pan to around 500 F. That's hot. The highest setting on my stove.

Keep the door open or an extractor fan on.

Then throw in half a cup or more of green beans, which you've just washed.

Then shake and stir, keeping the beans moving.

After a few minutes the colour of the beans changes from green to yellow. Steam is released from the beans. The smell is grainy. Already papery chaff is coming off in small flakes.

Then you start to hear cracking sounds - called first crack - a little like popcorn going off. Still shaking and stirring to prevent the beans from resting for a moment, you then need to check the colour of those beans, as they darken to tan and then brown. By this stage, instead of steam, smoke will be appearing. But you will also smell that aroma of fresh coffee.

Just before the colour you desire is there - you may need a headlamp to keep up with this - take off the heat, dump into a colander, and spray with a little water. Fast cooling is essential.

Go outside and transfer the beans from one colander to another, allowing the breeze to carry the chaff away.

There you have it. You can pull out of roasting just after 1st crack when the beans are cinamon-colour, or continue to 2nd crack (though they continue to roast a little after being removed from the heat). Darker roasts tend to be oilier. To taste more of the coffee, stop before 2nd crack. To taste more of the roast, wait til 2nd crack. To taste black, burnt tar, continue after 2nd crack (French roast or beyond).

Now, you are probably thinking, once you've roasted your coffee, you should drink it straight away, right? Wrong.

No way, you are saying. Imagine the scene, you got to a cafe where they roast the beans and you say I want the freshest roasted beans you've got. And they say we roasted yesterday. You say that's not good enough. I want fresh today. Not stale beans.

Well, the thing is, you should wait until roasting and cooling, to let more carbon dioxide escape. Ideally 12-24 hours to let it de-gas. Then you can try.

And how long does freshly roasted coffee last? Not long in my house. Experts reckon you should consume within a week. And not store in the fridge. You've got to keep away from air, moisture, heat and light. An airtight container, kept in the dark, is the best way.

For the best flavour, grind the beans just before using them.
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