Coffee: Roasting your own
The best coffee is FRESH.
Freshly roasted coffee from a local roaster may be a little bit more expensive than supermarket bought coffee, but it is worth it.
Freshly roasted coffee is generally at its best until about 3 weeks of age.
Green coffee beans can be found at up to a quarter of the price of freshly roasted ones.
A cheap and easy first step into home roasting is using a popcorn machine; the air roasting type.
These can be quite cheap to buy new and occasionally you can find them even cheaper second hand.
You need to make sure the fan holes in the roasting chamber are on the side, so that the hot air spins the beans around the chamber. This type of popper would seem to be the most common type, however you need to make sure the popper is not the other type with the holes in the bottom of the roasting chamber. If you look down into the machine and see holes at the bottom it is the wrong type. The holes you are looking for will be around the sides of the chamber and look like little angled vents.
Once you have found yourself a popper you’ll need to find some green beans.
If your local roaster won’t sell you some (don’t blame them, they’re in the business of roasting beans for profit), you may be able to find an online seller; the internet is a wonderful thing. Even with postage costs, green beans will still work out cheaper than buying commercially roasted ones.
Most poppers should be able to roast 100 grams (3.5 ounces). When you get used to your popper you can experiment with how much or how little it will roast. More beans will roast quicker, less beans will roast slower. 5 to 6 minutes from beginning to end is average for popcorn machine roasts.
You need to make one modification to make sure your beans don’t jump out as they expand in size and lose weight as they roast. Remove any lid/butter dispenser from the popper and find a tin can the same diameter as the popper’s hole and fit it into the top of the popper. You may have to snip the sides of the can to make it easier to fit if it is not the perfect size.
Roasting is best done outside as the beans will lose a thin skin, called chaff, in the process. This can be messy and a breeze or fan will help disperse it. Also, as ambient temperature can affect roast length times, I find it best to try roast when the temperature is 20C / 68F or less; evenings or early mornings are usually best.
Add your beans to the popper and switch it on.
If the beans don’t start spinning around the roasting chamber straight away, stir them with a long wooden chopstick or similar item until they start spinning by themselves.
If it takes a long time for them to start spinning, make the next batch a little smaller.
Now you need to listen for the cracks. First crack is fairly easy to hear. It will be a popping sound like in “snap, crackle, pop”. This will likely happen around the three minute mark. When all the beans have stopped popping, there may be some silence for a few minutes (except for the sound of the popcorn machine and your fan). The second crack is more of a crackle or crinkle. It will be faint; you need to listen closely for it. Around the same time as second crack there will be a lot more smoke. Be prepared to turn off your popper and cool your beans when second crack has been happening for about 10 to 20 seconds on your first effort or if the beans look like they are dark enough compared to what you’ve previously bought or if there’s plenty of smoke.
To cool them you should empty the beans into a large metal strainer or bowl and pour them back and forth to a second bowl, preferably in front of your fan if you are using one. If not, don’t worry, they will cool as they fall through the air between bowls.
Hopefully they’ll cool to room temperature within a few minutes. When they are cool you should out them in an airtight bag for a few days before grinding some and trying them. If you can get your hands on some bags with one way valves, they are best because they will allow the beans to de-gas and keep the oxygen out.
If you can’t get the one way valve bags, use a normal resealable plastic bag and prick a couple of small holes in it to allow the gas to escape. The escaping carbon dioxide will push itself out and keep any oxygen from getting in. Keep your coffee in a cool dark place, not the refrigerator.
Your freshly home roasted coffee should be ready to sample in two days, as I said above, but will probably continue to improve in flavour until it’s about 10 to 14 days old. After that it may start to lose flavour but, depending on the bean type may still be acceptable until three weeks of age.
Give it a go. It’s fun and in the long run you’ll save money and should never run out of fresh coffee ever again.