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A Guide to Do-It-Yourself Coffee Roasting

This hobby can save money, and it tastes great


spinner image Roasted coffee beans in a glass jar and a coffee grinder
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Lisa Torres loves her coffee. Nine years ago, she was more than willing to spend $5 or more for a cup of steaming joe, typically twice a day. At least until her husband, Norman, pointed out that her coffee was costing them “a fortune” and offered a better-tasting alternative: home roasting.​

​For the same five bucks, using an aluminum stewpot over a gas grill, Norman, 56, could roast a pound of beans – enough for several pots of coffee. Clearly, the savings were real. But how about the taste?​ ​

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“It was better than what I was buying,” says Lisa Torres, 60, and “we could make our coffee exactly how we wanted it.” ​

​For the Torreses, the quest for that perfect cup became a family business. The San Antonio couple now micro-roast beans to sell at farmers markets and coffee shows. ​ ​

Choose roasting equipment

Home coffee roasting has increased in popularity, particularly gaining momentum during the height of the pandemic, according to manufacturers and retailers of home roasters. ​Companies Fresh Roast and Behmor noted a 25 percent growth in sales during the pandemic despite supply-chain issues.

​“We sold (roasters) as fast as we could get them,” says Barry Levine, a 35-year veteran of the industry and co-founder of Roastmasters.com. ​

​The hobby appeals to older adults: A survey from a decade ago by Home Roasting Supplies found that customers ages 55 to 65 were the largest age group using the company's Fresh Roast machine at least once a week, according to company founder Tim Skaling. He hopes to repeat the survey soon.

For those who want to give it a try, the first step to home roasting is choosing your method. Some people go basic, using kitchen pots, skillets or popcorn poppers. Home roasting machines make the process easier by providing more control over the heat, bean movement and timing. They range from $40 to more than $1,000.​ ​

“Choose equipment that allows you to see, hear and smell the beans,” says Catherine Mansell, director of products and programs for Coffee Bean Corral, a website for all things coffee. For example, a roaster that blows hot air upward through a glass cylinder allows you to see all-important changes in color, which is a key indicator of a light, medium or dark roast.​ ​

Select your coffee beans​ ​

To shop for raw beans, search online for “green coffee beans,” and a world of coffee growers is a click away. But be ready for a lot of information. The promised nuances of each bean and the influence of growing conditions can be overwhelming. Descriptions of brightness, complexity, and balance are akin to the world of wine. ​ ​

“There is a lot you can learn, but that is part of what makes coffee roasting a great hobby,” Torres says. Besides, at $7 or so for a pound for fresh beans, it doesn’t cost much to experiment. Central and South American beans tend to be among the easiest and most forgiving to roast, though you’re also likely to enjoy coffee from Indonesia, Yemen or Kenya, or elsewhere around the world. ​

The coffee roasting process​ ​

Now comes the actual roasting. Select a site with good ventilation. Coffee roasting produces smoke that can be strong and pungent. It’s best to roast under a range hood or use a fan and open windows. Outdoors is an option, though ambient temperature can affect roast times.​ ​

As beans heat, complex physical and chemical reactions transform small gray-green beans into dark, aromatic roasted beans. ​ ​

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It takes just 10-15 minutes to roast a half pound of beans. The process begins with initial warming and drying, then beans expand and turn a golden-wheat color, followed by increased darkening. The “first crack” is a key moment when moisture escapes the bean. This is a good time to turn down the heat or remove the now-brown beans from the heat and cool for a tasty light roast. Additional time leads to medium, medium-dark and dark roasts.​ ​

“When we started, we definitely put the cart in front of the horse, but we kept experimenting and learning,” Torres recalls. “Experimenting makes it fun. You are the one in charge.”​ ​

Let the coffee beans rest​ ​

After the beans are roasted, a little patience goes a long way. Roasted beans should be left to rest in the dark for three or four days. After that, grind as much as you need for each brew. Mansell suggests following the “Rule of 15” to ensure great fresh coffee:​ ​

  • Green beans remain fresh for 15 months after they are dried;​
  • Roasted beans are at their peak freshness for 15 days after they are roasted; and​
  • Beans should be ground 15 minutes before they are brewed.​ ​

Mansell is often asked whether it’s OK to freeze coffee before use. The answer is yes, if done properly. Whole-bean or ground coffee should be vacuum-sealed to keep out moisture, which can rob coffee of its flavor. And always allow frozen coffee to fully thaw until it becomes room temperature before opening the sealed container, about 24 hours in most cases.​ ​

Mansell says the end result is worth it. “Coffee beans bought in a store are usually past their peak freshness. And when you buy coffee from a coffee shop, you get it the way they want to make it,” she says. “Trying and roasting beans from around the world lead you to your perfect cup of coffee.”​​

Video: Here’s Why You Should Make Cold Brew Coffee (And How)

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