At first, after reading up on various coffee roasting methods, I decided on the popular Whirly-Pop popcorn maker for my roaster. But due to the high temperatures of this process, the plastic window on it melted into the pot and wouldn't come off no matter how much we tried to get it off (must have been a glass compound). This happened the day I got my first pack of beans. We were all impatient to roast, so we ended up using only a regular cooking pot and wooden spoon. Didn't think it would turn out as well, but the results were phenomenal. (And did the people who came up with coffee have drum roasters and popcorn poppers? No.) Why buy anything extra if you can do it with common household items? We've stuck with this method ever since, and it works every time.
It's worth your time to read up on the roasting process (what's happening with he beans, etc.) before you begin. Sweetmarias.com has a lot about this, and it's all over the internet. But everyone has different ideas. The article about regular pot roasting we read that first time was informative (angelfire.com/pro2/panroastingcoffee/howtopanroastcoffee2.html/), but I definitely don't agree with a lot of it.
Step 1: Supplies (Shown in Pictures)
Essentially, you only need a thermometer, a pot, a spoon, and some coffee. But this list covers all the bases. You can always alter it to suit your preferences. I learned a lot of it from experience.
- POT. It seems like (uncoated) cast iron is the preferred material for coffee roasting, but I use a stainless steel pasta pot, and it works just fine. Never use enamel, because it's not meant to be heated without anything in it (which you will do in this project), and the coating can crack. Enamel is glass, and who wants that in their coffee? We used an enamel pot the first time (so we didn't do everything right), and had to throw out the pot because of this. (The Whirly-Pop, on the other hand, is awaiting transformation into a banjo pot.)
You also want a reasonably high-walled pot so the chaff (flakes) from the coffee don't fly out as you're roasting and ignite on the stove. This has never happened to me (fingers crossed), but don't take chances.
- SPOON. I use a wooden spoon. You'll want one that's tall enough so it's ergonomically acceptable with your tall pot (in other words, so you're not bending your hand the wrong way trying to get over the high wall and getting cramps). I think I put the wrong spoon in the picture (it's too short), but you get the idea.
-GLASS JAR. Pour your roasted coffee into this.
- PAINTER'S TAPE. Use this to label your jar.
-FUNNEL. Depending on the size of your jar, you may need this so your beans don't spill all over the place while you're trying to pour them into your jar.
-PAPER TOWEL. To clean the leftover chaff out of the pot after each use.
- STRAINER. Pour your coffee into the strainer right after roasting so you can shake the chaff and some of the heat out. I have one that stretches over the sink, which is helpful from a stability and runaway chaff standpoint.
-COOKIE SHEET. preferably one with high edges. This is for cooling off the beans more.
-HOOD FAN. A very good one. This process generates a lot of smoke. You could do this on a grill burner, but I found, even running full tilt on our awesome Weber Genesis, it took around a half hour for one batch, which is preposterous. At that point, you're cooking the beans. Nevertheless, it did taste good.
-COOKING THERMOMETER. It should be able to sit at the bottom of your pot.
-COFFEE. I usually get mine from sweetmarias.com, but there are plenty of other good options, like coffeeproject.com. Unroasted coffee is usually a greenish color.
A NOTE OF WARNING: The spoon gets blackened after a few batches, and you're supposed to 'season' the pot (not wash out the coffee oils) for future batches. You could clean out the pot by simmering baking soda and water in it if you had to, but it's best to dedicate a specific spoon and pot to coffee roasting.
Once you've gotten everything assembled, you're ready to roast.
Step 2: The Actual Process
Put your pot on the stove burner on medium high heat. Put the thermometer at the pot's bottom. Make sure your strainer is arranged the way you want it. When the pot reaches 200 degrees Fahrenheit, take the thermometer out with the mitts and add the coffee. Small batches are best. 1/4 to 1/2 of a size pound is good. I usually eyeball it (about a third to a half of a one-pound weight bag), but you can measure it if you're that meticulous (or just less of a slob than I. Most people measure it by weight, just by the way.) Turn on your fan if you haven't already.You'll probably have to turn it up higher later on, because the smoke gets crazy toward the end. NOTE: Make sure not to turn the heat on too low, or else you'll end up 'cooking' the beans, which takes their flavor away. Turning it on too high isn't great, either (it's easier to burn the outside of the beans), it's usually better better than too low.
Now you have to stir it constantly to roast it evenly. Make sure you stir ALL OF IT. Don't let the stuff in the middle pile up. Keep it moving.
We also have to address roast levels, cracks, etc. Roast level is self explanatory, and cracks are the noises the beans make while roasting that sounds like popcorn popping. How far you let this all go determines the darkness of your roast. I'm not going into detail about these here, but this article (legacy.sweetmarias.com/library/content/using-sight-determine-degree-roast) explains it well (I don't work for Sweet Maria's, honestly! They just kind of rule the market.) The bag of coffee you buy should say what roast levels that particular bean should go to. But it's all your preference (the beauty of home roasting). I personally have a hard time telling the difference between 1st and 2nd crack and when they start/stop (maybe due to the noise of the spoon scraping the bottom), so I just use my eyes.
Once you're done with all that, dump the coffee into the strainer. Take it outside and shake it around so most of the chaff and steam comes out. Dump it all out on the cookie sheet, spreading evenly. When it's room temperature, dump it in the glass jar using the funnel (you don't want hot coffee sealed in a jar because the steam can harm it). Using painter's tape, label the jar with the name of the coffee and date you roasted it. Usually you'll want to let the coffee rest at least 24 hours, but sometimes it requires more or less. The coffee bag may state this.
Once it's done resting, brew it up and enjoy! This would also make a fun thing to serve at a party. Or make a great homemade gift that people would actually like.
May you never darken the door of Starbucks again!
The Phantom Chemist
Runner Up in the