- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 23, 2008


Given the American love affair with coffee, it’s surprising more people don’t roast their own beans at home.

Not only does home roasting ensure the freshest, most splendid cup of coffee, it’s also a money saver and takes just minutes to prepare enough beans for several pots.

“Almost everyone knows how exquisite fresh bread is,” says Kenneth Davids, author of “Home Coffee Roasting.” “But the flavor and fragrance of coffee one day out of the roaster is a virtually forgotten pleasure.”

Here’s what you need to know to roast at home:


All coffee starts as green (unroasted) beans, which are the seeds of the coffee fruit. Taking those seeds from the plant to the coffeepot involves roasting them for several minutes between 400 degrees and 500 degrees.

During the first few minutes of roasting, green beans begin to turn yellow and develop a vaguely grassy or grainy smell as their water content causes them to steam from within.

As the internal temperature of the beans rises, the coffee gives off a fragrant smoke and begins to make a crackling noise as the sugars caramelize and the essential oils are released.

The beans puff up to almost double their size, and the roast becomes darker until a second, more volatile phase of crackling begins. At this point, the beans are done, or can be roasted further for a “dark roast” variety.


Green (unroasted) coffee beans are widely available, although you may not find them at the grocer.

Most coffee shops and roasting companies, such as Green Mountain Coffee and numerous other online retailers, will sell green coffee beans, often for several dollars less per pound than roasted.

Businesses such as Sweet Maria’s, for example, offer dozens of varieties of green coffee beans, including decaf, at prices 20 to 50 percent lower than the same coffees would cost roasted.

Green coffee beans resemble gray peanuts and lack the distinctive color and aroma of roasted coffee.

According to Maria Troy, who about 10 years ago started Sweet Maria’s with her husband, Thompson Owen, green coffee beans will keep for up to 2 years if properly stored.

Keep green beans in paper or cloth bags (which allow them to breathe) in an area with no more than moderate heat and humidity. In short, if you’re comfortable, your beans are comfortable, says Mrs. Troy.

Once roasted, beans (whether roasted at home or by a company) reach their peak in about 24 hours, then begin to lose flavor. For the best taste, coffee beans should be ground and brewed within 2 weeks of roasting.


As with any hobby, it’s easy to spend plenty of money on coffee-roasting equipment, but it’s hardly necessary.

Home roasting machines start at about $75 and go as high as $900. These machines usually involve some style of hot-air chamber that circulates and roasts the beans while removing the chaff (the papery outer skin of the bean).

There also are plenty of low-tech home roasting methods that are less expensive. These may produce less consistent results, but are an affordable way to test whether home roast is for you.

Internet sites such as CoffeeGeek.com and Homeroaster.com offer detailed instructions for home roasting, which can be done with cast-iron skillets, in the oven, with stovetop corn poppers, or a hot-air corn popper.

There also are plenty of sites for building a roaster, such as converting a gas barbecue grill into a drum roaster.

The hot-air corn popper is probably the best bet for an affordable, easy, low-tech home option with good results.

It is important to use a machine with good side and bottom airflow. A machine that blows air only from the botproperly agitate the beans, which could catch fire.

Hot-air corn poppers can roast enough coffee for about 2 pots of coffee in about 5 minutes.


Once you’ve decided that home roasting is the way to go, you’ll probably want to invest in a real roaster, which takes much of the guesswork and mess out of roasting.

There are two main types of home roasting machines (widely available online or at kitchen supply stores).

Fluid-bed coffee roasters use a strong current of hot air to roast the beans and move them around for even results. These roasters have a small glass chamber that holds the beans over a heating element with a fan.

Fluid-bed roasters produce a bright-tasting roast in anywhere between 5 and 15 minutes, plus an added cooling period of several minutes.

Two popular fluid-bed roasters are the Fresh Roast Plus ($75), made by FreshBeans Inc., which is relatively quiet and simple to use, and Hearthware’s i-Roast 2 ($179), which has more sophisticated electronics for controlling the roasting process.

Both have effective chaff collecting systems but do produce quite a bit of smoke as the beans darken.

The Fresh Roast Plus can produce enough coffee to brew about 16 cups, while the larger (and noisier) i-Roast 2 produces about twice that amount.

The second type of machine is the drum roaster, which uses a mechanical rotating cylinder to move the coffee beans either next to a heating element or through a stream of hot air.

These machines tend to be larger and more expensive, but can roast as much as a pound of coffee at a time. These also offer more sophisticated controls. These can roast a batch in about 10 to 20 minutes plus cooling.

Genesis’ Gene Cafe Drum Roaster ($495) and the HotTop Drum Roaster ($730), made by HotTop USA, can roast about half a pound of coffee, have sophisticated controls, and effectively deal with chaff.

The less pricey Behmor 1600 Drum Roaster ($299) is about the size of a large toaster oven, is quiet, can roast up to a pound of coffee, and has an after-burner system that suppresses most of the smoke.

Mr. Davids, the author, says the drum roasters tend to produce coffee with more depth and body because of longer roasting times, but he recommends starting with a less expensive fluid-bed model that can produce bright, complex flavors.


There are some downsides to home roasting. The process can be smoky and should only be done in a well-ventilated kitchen or outdoors when weather permits. A strong stove hood vent will help.

The other inconvenience is that when beans roast, they release chaff, which tends to blow around, especially in low-tech roasting methods such as hot-air corn poppers. Be careful to clean the chaff away from heating elements to prevent fire.

Hot-air corn poppers also have a tendency to spit coffee beans out. Be careful; these are very hot.


Ready to give home roasting a chance? This technique uses a hot-air corn popper to roast about ½ cup of green coffee beans in about 5 minutes. Hot-air corn poppers can be bought for about $25.

It is important to use a machine with good side and bottom airflow. A machine that blows air only from the bottom won’t properly agitate the beans, which could catch fire.

Be sure to work in a well-ventilated area. If possible, do it outside or near a stove with a running hood vent.

For more help roasting coffee beans with hot-air corn poppers,

visit CoffeeGeek.com and CoffeeReview.com, which even include tips on tweaking the popper for better performance.

Roasted coffee

From start to finish: 10 to 15 minutes; makes about ½ cup roasted coffee beans.

Hot-air corn popper

Large stainless steel bowl

Large metal colander

Wooden spoon

About ½ cup green (unroasted) coffee beans

Set up the corn popper according to manufacturer directions. Fill the hopper to the fill line with green coffee beans. Place the top on the corn popper and place the bowl in front of the chute.

The bowl will catch the chaff, which will blow out of the chute as the beans roast. Occasionally, coffee beans also may blow out of the machine and into the bowl. Do not touch them; they will be very hot.

Turn on the machine and begin roasting. Depending on the depth of your machine’s hopper, you may find it necessary to carefully tip it backward just a bit to prevent beans from spilling out as they circulate in the hot air.

After about 3 minutes, you will start to hear crackling from the beans, and they will begin to brown. Watch the beans closely at this point, as they will darken quickly. Fast crackling means the beans are roasting too quickly.

Roast the beans until they are just slightly less dark than your desired color; they will continue roasting even once the heat is turned off. Transfer the beans to the colander.

Stir the beans vigorously with the wooden spoon to help speed the cooling process.

Once the beans are cool to the touch, they can be stored in an airtight container. The coffee will be at its peak about 12 hours after roasting but will still taste good if used immediately.

The beans will stay fresh for up to 2 weeks. Grind them only when you’re ready to brew the coffee.

Mocha shortbread wedges

This easy, espresso-spiked shortbread comes together quickly and goes well with coffee. Be sure to cut the shortbread while still warm and be careful not to overbake.

The recipe is from “Martha Stewart’s Cookies” (Clarkson Potter). From start to finish: 35 minutes.

½ cup plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder

Pinch of salt

2 teaspoons instant espresso powder

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

½ cup powdered sugar, plus more for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8-inch round cake or springform pan with parchment paper.

In small bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder and salt. Stir in the espresso powder. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the butter on medium until pale and creamy. Add the powdered sugar and beat well. Add the flour mixture, then beat on low speed until well-combined.

Pat the dough evenly into the prepared pan. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until puffed at the edges and dark all over the top. Remove from oven and let sit 5 minutes.

Cut into 8 wedges. Let cool completely on a rack. Sprinkle with powdered sugar just before serving.

Cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature up to 1 week.

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