Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Home Roasting Your Own Coffee

I'm far from an expert on the subject and am still learning, but I thought I'd pass along some of what I've learned since a couple of folks have expressed interest after my last post. Seems like a lot of runners, especially ultra folks, really love coffee, so I can justify putting it up on my running blog. :-)

Why Home Roast?
1) It's the best coffee you'll ever have since it's freshly roasted, and you're in more control of the flavor based on your preferences.
2) It's cheaper. Much cheaper. A one pound bag of pre-roasted gourmet coffee will typically cost $12-$15, but one pound of green beans of the same variety will be less than half of that. Even with shipping costs, it's still much less expensive.
3) It's fun and easy. If you can microwave popcorn without burning it, you can roast beans. Like microwaving popcorn, you have to listen (more on that later).

What I use:
My roaster is a French Roast Plus 8. I bought it from Sweet Maria's, as I do with my green coffee beans (which means they aren't roasted). I don't have any financial interest with Sweet Maria's. They're just a great company with a wide selection, great prices, and fast shipping. I highly recommend them.

Back to the roaster. It's a very basic model and cost me $84 and included a 4 lb. variety pack of different green coffee beans (1/2 pound packs) from Sweet Maria's. The variety pack was great, as it contained beans from different regions and I was able to better discern what I was looking for in a coffee bean (while all were great, I learned I generally liked the African beans best due to their fruity tones).

How to roast:
Simple. I just put in three scoops (it came with a scoop) into the roaster, turn the dial and let it go. What you are listening for is the cracks. It's hard to go by just looking at the beans, since color changes gradually and therefore it's hard to tell just how dark or light it is and how far you have to go. So, sound is by far the best way to gauge how much the beans are done, and you do this by listening to the cracks. There are two cracks, first crack and second crack:

First crack - these are louder, deeper pops. Like popcorn, there'll be a few at first, then more and more, then it'll wane down to none. Usually takes about four or five minutes. Temperature of your house can have a pretty big affect on the time.

Second crack - these are quieter and higher pitched, and sound more like the wood in a campfire crackling. Beginning of this phase usually takes 7-10 minutes.

After the first crack is done, you have a light roast that is ready to go. The longer you let it go, the darker the roast. You can take it to second crack, and into that phase is when the beans really begin to get dark. Take it much past second crack though, and you basically have charcoal.

If you're not sure how light or dark to go, I'd just follow the recommendations that come with whatever variety of coffee you're roasting. You'll get the hang of controlling the roast color (by sound) pretty quickly. It's not hard.

What I recommend doing is going ahead and charring a batch of beans, so you can hear what first and second cracks sound like and see and smell the process. Seriously, go ahead and torch the suckers to charcoal oblivion, and throw them out afterwards. It's a small sacrifice to make based on what you'll learn from it. Before I did that, I kept thinking I was going into second crack when I wasn't. Because of the decision to let it keep going as an experiment, I was able to unmistakably hear that second crack and knew for sure. Just one of those things that's best experienced.

After the beans are done roasting, I quickly put them in a mesh strainer and move them around to cool them off. After doing this for a few minutes, I put them in an airtight jar. Very important to let them sit at least 12 hours before grinding and brewing.

My grinder is a piece of crap, but I make due with it. Conical burr grinders are best though, and I plan to get one sometime soon. I brew my coffee in a French Press. If you plan on home roasting and own an auto-drip, I'd recommend trashing it. You just won't get the full flavor.

More info on home roasting is on the Sweet Maria's website, including how to home roast with a popcorn popper or even a skillet, but I don't have any experience with those methods.

Hope that gives a basic overview. If something isn't clear, let me know. I'll be happy to answer any questions I can, but I'm still a student to it all (but am having fun learning and am enjoying some killer coffee in the process!).


Love2Run said...

Ha! I love the gory detail. You are a true coffee connoisseur. No Dunkin Donuts crap for you, eh?

Ultrathoner said...

When I am not running, I homebrew beer and wine.

But my wife loves coffee.

So I got her a Hot Top Coffee Roaster http://www.hottopusa.com/
Despite my experience making beer and wine, roasting green coffee beans is very different.

Thus, I leave the coffee rosting and brewing to my wife and I stick to the beer and wine (but we both enjoy each other's creations).

Thanks for sharing your experience.

Jamie said...

I've read those Hot Top's are great roasters! Nice. Homebrew is great stuff, I used to do that with some pretty good success.