Before the advent of pre-roasted, pre-ground coffee in the grocery stores, people bought green coffee beans and roasted their own coffee at home. Unfortunately, we gave up flavor and freshness for convenience.
When I found real fresh-roasted coffee in a local coffee shop that roasted their own, I was hesitant to buy it. It had been roasted that very morning. But, could it compare to the stuff I was used to?
Sure, it could. Like you can compare a Ferrari to a Chevrolet! That first bag I bought was 1/2 pound of Costa Rican Terrazu from the La Minita Estate. Little did I know that this was a fantastic coffee from a fantastic estate, it was also a great year for it.
That one experience got me hooked!
I had already been reading about home coffee roasting and found a recommended source for a hot-air roaster and coffee beans. After brewing my first pot of the fresh-roasted coffee, I got on the Internet and ordered my roaster and some green coffee beans!
So, what kind of home coffee roasting optios do we have?
Great information on roasting can be found at Sweet Maria's ( http://www.sweetmarias.com )
I began roasting coffee in August, 2001. This was an accident. I broke a part on my espresso machine and started looking for new espresso machines on the Internet. I found the newsgroup alt.coffee and all the folks who roasted their own beans. I thought this was silly and an over-the-top coffee hobby, but I kept reading about it.
While this might be mentioned occasionally as cost-savings, the real reasons are freshness and variety. In reality, home coffee roasting is not a cost-savings opportunity, as you will pay more for good-tasting beans than you will for the junk you can buy at the grocery store.
In part, this difference is freshness. But, a major difference is that there are two plant varieties whose beans are sold as "coffee beans" — the Coffea Arabica plants and the Coffea Canepora (also called "Robusta") plants. Robusta beans are extremely cheap, sometimes as low as $0.70 per pound in container-load quantities (40,000 pounds). Arabica beans will be several times that price.
Many alt.coffee articles talked about Internet retailer Sweet Maria's as a source for premium green beans and coffee roasting equipment. A quick look at SM's green bean list puts it all in perspective.
While most "specialty coffee" bean retailers offer multiple varieties, they are frequently given names such as "Costa Rican" or "Costa Rican Terrazu" (Terrazu is a bean-growing region of Costa Rica). Perhaps they have a 2-4 line description of the beans (e.g., recommended roast, taste). Sweet Maria's offers beans from specific crops of specific estates -- e.g., Costa Rican, Terrazu region, La Minita Estate, 2002 crop. Sweet Maria's provides detailed a evaluation and write-up on each bean.
Obviously, I'm a satisfied Sweet Maria's customer. They've been almost my sole source for beans since I began roasting.
I got started with a Home Innovations Precision (HIP) air roaster, which is no longer in production. This roaster was made by Hearthware, and is an improved model of the Hearthware Precision, which is also no longer in production. Hearthware current model is the i-Roast.
For Christmas, 2002, I received a Zach & Dani"s Coffee Roaster . This roaster is unusual. It takes about 1/3 more green beans than the HIP. The mechanism is completely different. While the HIP is a hot-air roaster, the Z&D is heats by conduction, more like a drum roaster. The unit has a glass roasting chamber with an internal auger, which turns rapidly to agitate the beans. Heat is provided at the base of the roasting chamber.
The left side of the unit pulls air from the top of the roasting chamber, and runs it through a catalytic converter. The purpose of the converter is to eliminate smoke. The roasting smell is also less than that of the HIP. Roasted coffee smells great, when fresh. The smell of roasting, though, is somewhat acrid and not highly desirable. I roasted in the kitchen, under the range"s vent hood. The wife was a lot happier with the smell, even with the range's vent hood on Medium instead of the usual High setting.
My first roast was Panama Finca la Berlina '02. For comparison with the HIP, I used the HIP's 1/3 cup measure to see how much I would be roasting. I filled to the "normal" fill line, not the "dark roast" fill line. The instructions indicated that settings of 20-22 minutes should give a light roast. I set the roaster to 21 minutes, pushed the button and watched. Some people have recommended preheating the unit, which I did not do. Preheating should result in more consistent roasts if you do several in a row. This was the first try, so I thought I would follow the manufacturer's recommendations.
The heat up process was pretty slow. The first noticeable color change was a slight yellowing of the beans after about 4:00 minutes (17 on the Z&D's LCD screen). The HIP does this at about 1:40. The auger-agitator spins rapidly, and provides rotational as well as vertical bottom-to-top movement of the beans. Color gradually deepened to a medium brown ("City Roast"). At 5, the roaster kicked into cool down. I decided they were not roasted as much as I preferred, so I wanted to kick the heat back on a little longer. In reality, I learned what the roaster instructions meant about adding minutes to the roast -- you can add minutes from before the roaster switches to cool down. When the roaster kicks into the cool down, you can not restart the heat. Well, we'll see how they turn out.
After 5 minutes of cooling, the roaster stopped. The instructions suggest waiting 10 minutes before touching the unit. I didn't. By handling carefully (the parts are still hot), I poured the beans into a half-pint mason jar. The jar grew hot. Uh, oh! The cool down doesn't cool to anywhere near room temperature. I dumped the beans into a large aluminum pan and used that to suck the heat out of the beans. I put them back in the bottle to rest for the night.
Copyright © 2003-2006 Terry A. Stockdale