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Just how good is home roasting?

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  • Just how good is home roasting?

    As somebody who is just beginning to explore home roasting I wonder how, when done well, it compares to a well roasted commercial product? Over the years Ive read a bit about and talked to commercial roasters and have often found theyre as passionate about the product they produce as any good Barista is about theirs. In addition theyre using enormously expensive and sophisticated equipment to achieve that end result.

    Now of course some of the expense/sophistication comes as a result of size. You dont exactly wheel your 60kg roaster outside to spray chaff and smoke all over the neighbourhood! However is it possible, using equipment readily available to the home enthusiast, to produce an end product consistently better than the commercially roasted equivalent? In other words Im ruling out somebody running a sample roaster at home, rather using something like a Hottop or "corretto"?

    While Im sure roasting at home is interesting, and most certainly educational (not to mention cheaper), to me its all about whats in the cup. So while I may mess about with a popper just for fun, there may be no point in getting too carried away with it if it will never truly replicate the results of a professional.

    So what do you think? Be honest now  

  • #2
    Re: Just how good is home roasting?

    There was quite a lengthy discussion on this subject not too long ago.
    One of the points made by those who commercially roast or have in the past is that the commercial roasters offer more and varied control than the vast majority of home roasting devices.

    Jason from Pioneer, for example, has briefly touched upon changing airflows of some roasts at different times to produce dramatically different results. This sort of thing isnt usually going to come into play for the home roaster.

    So, it certainly appears to be the case that a commercial roaster is going to be capable of getting more out of certain beans or blends.

    Having said that, I still say that my home roasted stuff will stack up very favourably against a majority of commercial stuff.

    You might never be able to replicate a specific commercial roast, but you can still produce some top notch roasts at home.

    I use the BBQ drum method and have done so for the last 4 years. I often give a 250g bag of my beans to someone to try out. The responses are always very good.

    So honestly, I think it is worth it, but taste is a very subjective thing.



    • #3
      Re: Just how good is home roasting?


      There was a roast-off some time ago between a commercial roaster and a number of home roasters (details were posted here at the time) but....

      To give my personal opinion...

      There are two things (related to only the roasting) which determine flavour in the cup...

      The quality and controllability of the roaster
      The expertise and knowledge of the operator of the roaster.

      Now knowledge and skill can be developed by reading about the process (lots of good info here and elsewhere on the internet) and by practice, practice and more practice!

      There is no doubt large commercial machines have more control over the heating profile, airflow etc than many home roasters..... and correct use of these controls will produce a different flavour profile. You will notice I didnt say "better" but "different"..... Now, depending on your palate, this difference could make the resultant espresso taste better.....

      Home roaster generally also roast single origins where most commercial roasters do blends. Blending can and generally does improve the flavour profile...... however home roasters can do this as well - but to do this (as a commercial roaster does) requires even more knowledge.

      Id suggest the home roasts I do produce an excellent espresso...... is it exactly the same as a commercial roaster could produce? Nope...... but, in some cases I prefer the taste of mine. I can experiment.... there being many factors I can change until I get what I like...... but you must document what you have done so you can repeat the roast again..... exactly how you did it last time.

      Is home roasting worthwhile (nor just in a monetary sense)?  - absolutely!!!!
      Can an identical roast be produced to a commercial roaster? - generally not
      Does the difference detract from whats in the cup? - after learning the techniques IMHO nope!

      But to get a good home roast you need something which will give you control over the roast.... very hard with a popper but both a Corretto and Hottop give you close to the control of a commercial roaster....

      But dont think for a minute there is a "set and forget" solution to home roasting.... there isnt! To get good profile control is a very manual process..... just like commercial roasters you control the roast and the resulting quality of the product is heavily dependent on the amount of effort you expend in the process.

      The results are great, yes there are cost savings..... but the biggest buzz to me (and I suspect most other home roasters) is the satisfaction of roasting your own beans - always having freshly roasted beans available.... and of whatever single origin or blend you choose!!!!

      It is well worth the effort.


      • #4
        Re: Just how good is home roasting?

        Hi there
        I totally agree with fatboy and JavaB.
        Addiditonally for me its about the convenience with home roasting, i always have fresh beens of what ever SO bean i feel like and a couple of blends as well.
        The cost effective component is just a bonus, given i go through about 500gm of green per week, it soon adds up over a year if i compared pricing against a retail fresh roasted coffee outlet.



        • #5
          Re: Just how good is home roasting?

          I am totally hooked on home roasting. Ive got my Corretto refined now so that I have good control over my roasts. I record each roast now using Peters Excel spreadsheet which is on my laptop next to roaster. Ive been setting up a profile file for each bean so that when I want to do a roast I can select the origin profile I require and replicate that profile. Family and friends rave about the freshness, aroma and taste of my home roasts. My green bean cupboard has gone from a stash of 5kg to 30kg now consisting of 11 beans types, if it drops below 30kg I start getting anxious for the next beanbay!!! I have learnt so much about coffee through home roasting, about origins, how they are grown, processed and marketed.


          • #6
            Re: Just how good is home roasting?

            I am unable to believe the commercial roasters can get the product to the consumer at the peak of freshness. My home roasting over the last 2 years, from convection oven in the kitchen to hot air popper to I roast to coretto proved one thing. No matter how I roast at home, it is better than store bought. period. Good luck, keep experimenting. Not every roast was drinkable but every roast taught me something, even if it was just to payt attention. John


            • #7
              Re: Just how good is home roasting?

              Originally posted by brokenarrowjbe link=1230245340/0#5 date=1230253421
              I am unable to believe the commercial roasters can get the product to the consumer at the peak of freshness.
              Well John, let me enlighten you. In my case, nothing goes out to a customer that was roasted more than a week ago, and quite often, its roasted the night before being shipped to a customer. I believe this to be true of many speciality roasters, particularly those that are fellow Sponsors on this website.

              Home roasting is great. There is a great deal of satisfaction in doing it yourself and agree that its often better than what you can buy at the shops. Just dont confuse speciality roasters with Gloria Jeans.


              • #8
                Re: Just how good is home roasting?

                Fatty and others, thanks for that, and yes sorry Im sure this has been discussed many times before but until recently I had no reason to lurk here and I didnt see anything obvious in the search.

                I have to disagree about the freshness however. Many decent roasters I know roast, bag, send. Its fresh! Mind you NOT all do of course, but I have one I trust. Also Im not entirely sure about the convenience. I have ordered my (roasted) beans through the internet for some years now and they always arrive at my door within a few days of ordering, pretty much the same time I would need to let a batch I roasted myself sit and mellow out. Maybe marginally more convenient but not really a biggie to me.

                I most certainly dont expect my little popper to replicate some massive Probat or anything, it was more a case of, beans go in green, beans come out brown. Wow, look at that, who would have thought!  ;D Even a complete numskull like myself had a bad feeling it was all over a bit too quickly, and of course I subsequently learnt thats precisely what poppers do. But I didnt really want to start getting involved with yet another learning process that was always going to produce something "second best". Its very clear to me already that Mr Popper is going to get the boot, and Barry Bread maker will get a guernsey. Not a massive capital expense, but a learning curve just the same.

                Replicating an existing commercial roast is something Im very unlikely to want to do. I agree everyones taste buds are different and what one person may find superb, another may find very ordinary. I think using it as a tool to learn more about regional variations is a massive attraction for myself and this reason alone would be good enough to pursue the exercise.



                • #9
                  Re: Just how good is home roasting?

                  I do it cos I love it
                  I also like the challenge of home roster design

                  Home roasters roast to a profile suited to them as a household or family group including close friends.
                  It is most gratifying to get compliments on a daily basis on the flavour of the coffee
                  I add this "some roasts may be hideous to some? " depending to what ethnic background you grew up in.

                  Commercial roasters generally roast to a broad flavour profile with some speciality lines also on offer. May I say most do an excellent job
                  The machines they use allow them a level of operator control to do that

                  So the question is "How good is home roasting"

                  Satisfying the needs of the person doing the roasting is all that matters
                  And if home roasting coffee beans is not your cup of tea
                  There are many options available to you through the commercial & boutique roasters

                  End result is a happy coffee drinker



                  • #10
                    Re: Just how good is home roasting?

                    This topic comes up again and again, as it should -- its a good one.

                    One thing that I think we need to recognise is that in Australia you are a commercial, professional or specialty roaster if you say you are and sell your coffee ... those seem to be the only requirements. This means that commercial products run the gamut from stuff roasted for massive espresso chains and supermarkets, to microlots roasted for domestic consumption, to whatever some guy cooks up in his garage and sticks a price tag on. Pete, you were spot on to specify that you want to compare home roast to a well roasted commercial product!

                    I would say that experience has a huge part to play in any roasters success ... be they a home roaster or a commercial roaster. Experienced roasters can not only taste what is going on with their coffees - thats the easy part - but can also pinpoint what is causing that taste. I know a few commercial roasters who are truly incredible in this regard; whilst I was scratching my head at the cupping table, they would pinpoint faults on samples down to things as specific as samples needing to be rested in a different part of the factory, one bean out of the eight in the blend needing to rest in the pallet racks for another few months, parts of the roaster needing to be serviced, roast profiles needing to be changed and, of course, green coffee needing to be returned to the supplier. Developing these sorts of skills takes a combination of time and money. I have to say that I get the impression that there are certainly a number of commercial roasters that start up their own roastery without much experience and then try to invest the minimum possible in improving their product.

                    As a consumer, it is almost impossible to sort the sheep out from the goats. With the meteoric rise of the coffee internet, both consumers and roasters are bombarded with a whole bunch of jargon. Roasters of all skill levels deploy jargon in much the same way; over the past few years, I get the impression that coffee and blend descriptions have become increasingly longer and more complex. Its like some sort of arms race - as if roasters presume that consumers cant actually discriminate based on taste and will go for the coffee with the more absurd description. For example, if you havent drunk much coffee, I bet that youre just as likely to buy Ethiopian Aricha as Ethiopian Djimma ... theyre just words and theyre probably both accompanied by some flowery description of what the coffee will taste like. It would be very easy to try crappy coffee from such a roaster and be disappointed. I dream of the ACCC assembling a team of cuppers to crack down on misleading and deceptive coffee descriptions, but its not going to happen.

                    Finding really good commercial coffee certainly takes some work and its worthwhile doing it whether you home roast or not. Commercial coffee will always be your benchmark for home roast. If you want to say that your home roast is better than commercial coffee, compare it with some stuff from your local supermarket, then put your fingers in your ears whenever anyone talks about anything better. I can think of one or two commercial roasters who take that approach and from whom I do not buy coffee. If you want to improve your home roast, buy as much different commercial coffee as you can, at least when you are starting up, and build up your palate. If you walk into any decent commercial roastery, somewhere or other they will have a room full of samples of their competitors products.

                    Personally, I have tried a whole bunch of roasting gadgets and most of the coffee that I consume is from commercial roasters. This is just as much a reflection of my consumption patterns as it is a reflection of my roasting skills: I like to try a lot of different stuff and I find it more economical to do this through a number of commercial roasters who do the hard work of cupping samples and working out roast profiles for me. The commercial roasters that I buy from are always willing to give me the skinny on what stuff from which broker is cupping up best at the time and what I should be trying.

                    So I suppose that after all of that, I still havent really answered the question. I would say that it is probably very difficult for a home roaster to consistently produce a better product than a good commercial roaster does. Commercial roasters enjoy advantages in sourcing their green, turning it over whilst it is fresh and tweaking their roasting profiles and storing methods to their satisfaction. To come close, I think that you probably need at least a few years of home roasting experience. Thats not to say that home roast cant produce a decent cup of coffee, though.




                    • #11
                      Re: Just how good is home roasting?

                      Yes Im not out to achieve intrinsic satisfaction in saying "I roast it myself" if its basically crap. I was just talking to the owner of a coffee outlet and he mentioned he was about to start roasting, I had to resist the temptation to say "groan, big deal, you too". The point is its getting pretty crowded out there in the commercial world and it seems every man and his dog is a "coffee roaster" these days. Lets face it, for a small scale operation the start-up costs are minimal (in business terms) so if you have a cafe or two, go through a bit of bean, jump off the contract and DIY, makes good business sense. IF it were so easy!

                      Having said all that, there are a lot of good commercial roasters out there and the "fly by night" operators will come and go, but those who provide a quality product at a reasonable price will still be around going strong. Despite what some retailers seem to believe, the buying public are not complete morons and word soon spreads. Incidentally Im not always convinced that poor blends that are available out there are the result of incompetence. Push some cheap robusta in there and it becomes easier to use, next week, well that worked Ill put a bit more in there, next week more still ... in the end it tastes like shite, but wouldnt you know, the profits go up least for a while!

                      Buying a blend and whats in it? At least roasting at home you should have some idea. Maybe a bit like buying "King Island Beef", judging by the amount of that stuff thats out on the shelves that must be the biggest island in the world!!


                      • #12
                        Re: Just how good is home roasting?

                        Originally posted by cuppacoffee link=1230245340/0#6 date=1230257008
                        In my case, nothing goes out to a customer that was roasted more than a week ago, and quite often, its roasted the night before being shipped to a customer.  I believe this to be true of many speciality roasters, particularly those that are fellow Sponsors on this website.
                        I dont believe this is always the case though. I recently bought some roasted beans from a very highly regarded site sponsor that has recently opened in my city, and the beans I got from there were already 10 days old when I got them. They had obviously also been stored in open bins for that time, so they had very little crema left in them when put through my machine. And the beans they had in one of the other bins was even older than this! I must admit that I had higher expectations of a place with their high reputation.


                        • #13
                          Re: Just how good is home roasting?

                          I believe that both JavaB and Luca have made some excellent points in their posts and together have probably covered 99% of what it means to give home-roasting a go.

                          Yes, there is a lot of science behind the basics of what is going on when roasting coffee but the quality of the output relies very much on the knowledge and expertise of the roaster, be they commercial or a home-roaster. I dont think there are any short-cuts that newbies can use to enable them to reliably produce excellent quality outcomes either. It takes a good understanding of the technical processes involved, time, experimentation, good record keeping, a hell of a lot of cupping coupled with a distinct effort to educate ones palate and loads of other factors.

                          Is it worth it? To me... Hell yes! I imagine it must parallel the satisfaction of one who is passionate about food and has taken the time and trouble to learn how to get the best out of all the wonderful produce that abounds within our country. Someone who excels at this and does it for a living may be allowed to call oneself a Chef whereas someone who does it just at home for the family, friends and relos is more generally known as a great cook. I guess Im hoping to become, if not great, then a decent cook. Still have a long way to go I reckon but every now and again, the coffee I roast here at home really blows my socks off (and that of my family, friends and relos) and that really makes all the effort (and failures) worthwhile.

                          Time for a brew...



                          • #14
                            Re: Just how good is home roasting?

                            On the site its very clear that people can become very enthused about the process of roasting, and I can start to understand why. However different people gain different satisfaction from different things. I may, for example, get a huge amount of satisfaction from restoring a machine, somebody else just couldnt be bothered.

                            The reason I started the thread was not to feed of others enthusiasm, it was to determine if this was appropriate for ME (and maybe others like me. OMG poor people  ). To paraphrase Lucas signature, its whats in MY cup that counts. I do a huge number of things myself, in all manner of areas, from home renovation, car servicing, electronics, mechanical engineering, furniture making, and so it goes on. Sure I get satisfaction from doing the work, but the main reason I do it is because I know the chances are Ill do the job better, albeit MUCH slower, than if I was to get a so called "professional" in to do it. Each area involves a whole set of skills I have to learn and problems I will never have seen before. But at the end of the often laborious process I sometimes need several goes at to get right, Im left with a result that suits ME; its whats in MY cup. So it is with any new area, I try to take a step back and ask, given realistic time/expense constraints is it possible I will be able to reach a point where I am reasonably consistently doing this job better than a professional (who may be bound by constraints that dont apply to my situation). Unless thats the case Im simply not interested in going down the path. It reminds me somewhat of these "home shows" featuring a segment where you make lamp shades out of potato skins or something equally hideous. At the end Im left wondering why you would possibly bother spending a good afternoon wasting your time and money on something that looks like crap. Just go out and buy a lamp shade! But to others the satisfaction is completely different.

                            So the message Im getting is that roasting at home isnt just producing potato skin lamp shades just to say "I made it myself". Thanks for the thoughts


                            • #15
                              Re: Just how good is home roasting?

                              One thing I get from it, as others have said above, is the satisfaction I get from the praise of family and friends.

                              I also like introducing people to good coffee;
                              teaching them that theres better coffee out there than in most cafes.