I love coffee, so I decided to roast my own coffee beans. I often find myself frustrated at the coffee I find and make in Seattle. While working in downtown Seattle, I’ve tried most coffee places with in 8 square blocks of 1015 3rd Avenue and I’ve identified two places that I’m convinced have some of the best coffee: Joelle’s Espresso and Ancient Grounds. These two places have held up with reliability and flavor. But, I haven’t been able to get a good cup of coffee at home… in a long time!
Three or four weeks ago a video popped up on my YouTube recommended feed: What you didn’t know about coffee: Asher Yaron at TEDxUbud
(I recommend taking the time to watch this one)
After watching this video, I was inspired. I decided to roast my own coffee beans. I wasn’t ready to try it yet, because I didn’t know where to begin. What would I roast with? How would I get started?
Well, last week, we had our “rest week” at work. It’s a week during our software development sprints that we take off every quarter to train, fix, and hone our skills. It’s also a time to rest, recollect, and refine. This time is nice for me, because I get to catch up on my tasks, think, and plan… and of course, I also get to Google all the random things that grab my attention (e.g. “Nasa EM drive”, “NFL 2014 Season complete stats”, “how do I make my lawn look awesome”, etc). So, I Googled: “how to roast your own coffee”.
I found an article titled How to Roast Your Own Coffee from www.nstructables.com. From there, I was off to roast my own coffee beans. In this article, I learned how to roast my own coffee beans using my popcorn air popper. Well, step 1 was getting the roaster (my air popper which we already had), and step 2 was getting the beans. I didn’t want to go all in yet and order pounds of coffee from www.SweetMarias.com. I try to be a reasonable and frugal serial hobbyist, so I did what every reasonable American would do: check to see if I could get it on Amazon Prime. Low and behold, there were plenty of options, and I settled with this: Nicaragua Arabica Unroasted Green Coffee Beans (1 LB).
While waiting for my beans to be delivered, my chemistry background kicked into gear. I decided I needed to know at what temperature the first crack and second crack occurs. Thank you Wikipedia: Coffee Roasting. I decided to strive for a roast between these 2 points:
225 °C (437 °F) Full City Roast
Medium dark brown with occasional oil sheen, roast character is prominent. At the beginning of second crack.
230 °C (446 °F) Vienna Roast
Moderate dark brown with light surface oil, more bittersweet, caramel flavor, acidity muted. In the middle of second crack. Any origin characteristics have become eclipsed by roast at this level.
As soon as the beans arrived, I opened them while walking back from the mailbox. Immediately, I put 1 in my mouth and tried to eat it. I would have had a better experience eating a pebble. Being dried and packaged, the green beans were not at all edible. Even more interesting, they tasted and smelled like green bell peppers – Fascinating!
I learned that there would be smoke during this process, so I setup shop outside.
- Popcorn Air Popper
- Tray for fully roasted coffee beans
- Measuring Cup
- Lid (unnecessary)
- Remote digital Thermometer
- Dried Coffee Beans
- Stirring Implement
- Pen and paper (also unnecessary)
I was ambitious and thought that I could use my remote thermometer to take measurements as I roasted. My remote thermometer is designed for smoking meat on my grill, so I thought it would work well for this concept too. My inner chemistry nerd was hopeful to generate a heating curve for coffee beans as I roasted them. Alack and alas, this failed miserably. The air popper heated up too quickly, and I was struggling to even keep track of the temperature without the beans burning. So, we’ll pretend I got it right by looking at this pretty image I found with Google, and then try it again next week.
Setting up was probably the hardest part. Once I put in 2/3 cups of beans and turned on the air popper, it was smooth sailing. However, I did learn from the first batch that I needed to stir the beans frequently. Otherwise, a lot of beans would get cooked (nearly burned) on the bottom too rapidly while others chilled at the top. Below are some pictures of the process happening (I recommend clicking on the slider below to get a close-up of the roasting).
Hearing the beans crack the first and second time was very cool. I was sure to get a video recording of it. In the video, you can see how frequently I had to stir the beans, but towards the end, you can hear the cracks between stirs.
During the second batch, I pulled beans out at different phases of the process to show how the color changes. Since it was approaching dusk and I was still outside, I took a picture with and without flash.
Within 30 seconds of the 2nd crack, I poured the beans out onto a cookie sheet and put them in the freezer to cool.
The final product smelled and tasted amazing. After taking the beans out of the freezer, Sam and I both ate one whole. The flavor was pure and satisfying. We both agreed that these are the types of beans that would taste amazing coated in chocolate. But, it wasn’t until the next day that I got to grind and brew it.
Before grinding, I noted the first batch ended up darker than I was striving for, but it ended up having a richer flavor when brewed. You can see the difference below where the 1st batch is on the left and the 2nd on the right.
Once the beans cooled, I stored them in mason jars with lids loosely attached to help protect the flavor. Coffee is notorious for absorbing flavors it is exposed to. We’ve ruined several bags of coffee by leaving our plastic measuring scoop in them in the past (the coffee ends up tasting like plastic, bleh!).
When I woke up the day after roasting, I pretty much ran from bed to the grinder and coffee maker; I was very excited to try my new brew. Opening the jars of coffee smelled better than fresh baked chocolate chip cookies, which was eclipsed by the fantastic smell of actually grinding the beans. Grinding the beans made our entire downstairs smell fresh and delicious – and it smelled so pure and good. It’s hard to describe what good vs. great vs. amazing smells like when comparing the smell of coffee, but if it were a 10 point slider scale, this smell was easily a 9.5 in terms of how awesome it was.
Brewing my first cup yielded a very light roast, so the next day I put more grounds in and got a more balanced cup of coffee. I believe it is easily in the top 5 for best cups of coffee I’ve ever had. And the best part – I drank nearly 3 cups, and I didn’t feel jittery or over-caffeinated. It was supportive and calming, which is exactly what I expect out of good coffee.
After all was said and done, I ground up all the coffee and stored it back in the mason jars. I’m excited to have some fresh coffee ready to jump start my mornings this week. I’ll definitely be doing this more in the weeks to come.
A final note, one thing I didn’t expect was the mess that the roasting process would be the mess left behind. The chaffs from the coffee beans spread everywhere around my workspace. I was hoping to catch most of it with the downspout of the popper pouring into the blue container, but it was too light and fluffy.