Roasting My Own Coffee

by Dan Walsh

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Down the rabbit hole.

Everyone who knows me knows that I love good coffee. This wasn’t on purpose. I didn’t set out to become a coffee snob. It just sort of happened. My mind naturally wanders towards optimizing processes, so when I started brewing my own coffee I discovered fertile ground for experimentation. Now that I’m here on the other side I can’t go back. I’d rather have no coffee than bad coffee.

Brewing coffee at home to get it just right is one thing. But of course, I had to take it a step further. I started roasting too. My first attempt was a few weeks ago, and I’m hooked. There are so many variables to tweak and get right! So much learning and experimentation! Despite my joy at finding a new craft to bend my mind around, I can’t help but feel like I’m tumbling down a rabbit hole on this one. It might be awhile before Alice wakes up. :)

I will document my process in future posts, but for now I want to introduce the topic, show a few pics, and toss out some general thoughts. Roasting my own beans was easier, faster, cheaper, and more fun than I thought it would be.

The Roaster

I thought it would take a few hundred dollars to get up and running. Dedicated roasting machines start at about $200 for the crappy models. Decent machines are in the $500 range. This was a lot of money to drop on an untested hobby. Luckily the internets, especially the /Coffee and /Roasting subreddits recommended I just dive in and get my hands dirty with a Whirly Pop popcorn maker, which are only $20.

The Beans

I ordered green coffee beans from Sweet Maria’s for about $7 a pound. There are a lot of options, but I already know I prefer wet processed beans from South and Central America, so that made things easier. Sweet Maria’s is conveniently located in Oakland, so shipping was nice and fast.

Time and Effort

Here’s the loose process: preheat the whirly pop to 400 degrees, pour in 1/2 lb of beans, stir for ~10 minutes, dump out the beans on a pan to cool. Done.

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Half pound of green coffee beans.

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The same beans after roasting. They expanded! (uneven roast)

The devil is in the details of course, and this is where the art (and optimization) kicks in. Some beans do better at different temperatures for different amounts of time, etc. It takes a nuanced understanding of the bean and the roasting process to bring out the best flavors. I don’t have that understanding… yet!

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Comparing roast color of my beans to Four Barrel

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The color is a little more brown than I’d like. But good for my first attempt.

I was ready for my first attempt to be a disaster, but the beans were surprisingly drinkable. Maybe even better than a typical cup at Starbucks. I’ve made four, 1/2 lb batches so far. None of them beat the beans I buy from Four Barrel, but each roast has been better than the last. I’m confident I’ll get there soon.