A Beginner's Guide to Roasting Your Own Coffee

Roasting your own coffee at home is an adventurous way to enhance your everyday coffee ritual. The ultimate DIY experience! But it can quickly get complicated, and there are tons of different factors that play a role in getting it right. There are full on coffee roasting schools now; it's being elevated to rocket science levels out there. You can get technical, but it's also still really fun at the basic level. We're going to give you some of those basics here, and we welcome questions and advice (just shoot us an email).

There are many different ways to roast your own coffee at home: hot air poppers, woks on the stove top, in the oven, and many home roaster machines now on the market. Some methods are more difficult than others. What each of these methods has in common is:

  • keeping the roasting beans in motion and
  • bringing the coffee through the four stages of the roasting process.

The flavor of your coffee will ultimately depend on the beans you select and the approach you take to roasting them.

THE STAGES OF ROASTING

 Remember, this is just a primer to home roasting! We'll explain more later, and there are tons of nuances, but here is the basic outline of the four main stages of roasting coffee.
 
1. DRYING
 
During this first stage, the majority of the bean's moisture is being driven off. At the end of this stage, the bean's sugars begin to cook and undergo changes. When the beans have dried, they become yellow in color and emit a grassy, earthy smell.
 
2. CARAMELIZATION & ACID DEVELOPMENT
 
In this stage, the beans continue from their yellow color to a brown. They emit a bready smell if you've done it right. At the end of this stage many reactions begin, and the beans start giving off steam and CO2.
 
3. FIRST CRACK
 
This stage is marked by the beginning of “first crack” (an audible popping) and is where you will balance your roast. If you roast too long, you may over caramelize and get bitter flavors. If you roast too fast, you may have a cup of unpalatable acid.In this stage, the beans continue from their yellow color to a brown. 
 
Coffee may be cooled and brewed after the first crack (called a City roast), or you can keep roasting as the beans take on a velvet and then a dark color.  Then comes the "second crack" which indicates the beginning of the darkest stages of roasting.  Once you're in the second crack stage, it is time to start cooling the beans (unless you want to start a fire!)
4. COOLING
 
This is the simplest part of the roast, but can be the most challenging with limited equipment at home. The idea is to cool the roast to ambient temperatures in as close to four minutes as possible.  

 

EQUIPMENT

Of all the different home roasters out there, they are all broken up into two categories: air roaster and drum roaster. Home drum roasters usually retail starting around $500 and are tons of fun! Air roasters are a much more economical choice. They are still fun, of course...and actually a bit easier to use.
 
The most primitive and least expensive way to roast is on the stovetop. You can use a pan and a wooden spoon, or a wok. BUT, and this is where you've really got to pay attention, you must always keep the beans moving! We offer the Whirley-Pop stovetop popcorn popper as a great starter device, that easily allows you to keep the beans churning. One drawback to the stovetop method is that it makes the essential cooling process quite a chore.  
 
(See also our Notes on Whirley-Popping)
 
Our favorite little roaster here at Dean’s Beans is the FreshRoast SR-500 air roaster, and the good news is the 500 has nothing to do with the price tag. The FreshRoast can roast a ¼ lb of your favorite beans any way you want them. One of the best things about this roaster is that it lets you adjust your roast on the fly, just like our big ones here at the beanery. That way, once you have a handle on things, you can start to tweak your roasts just the way you want them.
 
 
Disclaimer! We pack up the green beans we get directly from the farmers. Before they go into our roaster, we look through them to sort out rocks, sticks and little toy cars.  We do our best to sort through the green beans, too, but it's something we do by hand and we are not perfect! Double check your beans before you roast them (and grind them!).