The Home Barista (The Experiment, 2015) by Simone Egger and Ruby Ashby Orr teaches readers the ins and outs of brewing their favorite cup of coffee right at home. Egger and Ashby Orr walk readers through eight different methods of brewing after roasting your own beans. In this excerpt, they layout out multiple methods of roasting your coffee beans ta home.
There are plenty of good home roasters around, but you don’t want to invest in a top-of-the-line roaster only to find out that you find roasting dull and frustrating. Luckily, hobby roasters have established all sorts of creative ways to roast their coffee without resorting to bulky or pricey roasting machines. You might want to try these methods out first to see if roasting does it for you.
Manual roasting can take anywhere between ten and twenty minutes, and tends to result in a more full-bodied flavor, though you’re more likely to be left with an uneven roast, where some beans are darker than others.
If anyone ever turns their nose up at your home-roasted beans, then Jabez Burns is just the name you need to shut down those naysayers.
Burns was a roasting pioneer whose improved industrial coffee roaster, invented in New York in 1864, changed the face of commercial coffee production. And even he wasn’t averse to a bit of DIY roasting, declaring that some of the best coffee he ever tasted had been roasted in a hand-cranked popcorn maker. Well, if it’s good enough for our friend Burns, it’s good enough for anyone.
This is perhaps the most accessible of all roasting methods: all you need is a flat, perforated pan—the kind you might use to bake pizza or bread—and a conventional oven with reasonably reliable temperatures. If you don’t have a perforated pan you can always just punch some small holes in a regular baking tray. It’s then just a matter of spreading the beans evenly on the tray and popping them in the oven to go through their six roasting stages.
Equipment: A conventional oven, a perforated pan, two colanders and a pair of oven mitts.
Pros: You might already have the equipment ready to go, you (hopefully) already know how to use an oven, and you have some control over the temperature.
Cons: Ovens can be a bit unreliable, and you will almost definitely end up with an uneven roast (which you may or may not enjoy, depending on your tastes).
Flavor: This is a fairly unpredictable process, so it’s probably not the go-to for high-end specialty beans that need a lot of tenderness. It’s a good method for simple, dark roasts, suited to plunger or espresso coffee.
This is old-school roasting. The beans are put into a light skillet, which is covered with a lid or some aluminum foil. Then the work starts: you have to shake the pan constantly without taking it off the heat, tossing the beans and listening out for the first and second cracks. Another option is to use a wok (or even a heavy cast-iron pot) and stir the beans constantly with a wooden spoon.
You should use an oven thermometer to keep track of the temperature. These methods are harder than the oven method, but if you can master them you’ll most likely get better results. It’s also a good skill to have in case you’re ever stranded in the forest with just a fire, a skillet and some green coffee beans (with your only alternative an ancient can of instant).
Equipment: A skillet (or a wok or a cast-iron pot), a wooden spoon (if that’s how you’ll do it), a thermometer, a stovetop and a solid pair of biceps.
Pros: The equipment is easy to find, you can watch your beans change color and you’ll look rugged and impressive.
Cons: It’s extremely easy to scorch the beans, so you may need a lot of practice before you start getting really good results.
Flavor: Most people struggle to get good specialty coffee roasts out of this method, so until you’ve got the technique down, don’t expect anything too nuanced. Better suited to darker roasts than lighter single origins.
Stovetop Coffee Roaster or Popcorn Maker
You can get your hands on either of these for as little as $30 or less, and it makes for a much more even roast than the oven or skillet method. Just throw in the beans, put it on the stove and turn the handle as the beans roast. This is much like the wok or skillet method, except that the crank makes for an easier and more thorough stirring of the beans. If you use a thermometer to keep an eye on the heat (just drill a small hole in the top where you can place the thermometer) then you should be able to get a good result. These pots often have flip-up lids so you can peek in and judge the color of your beans. Plus, if you don’t like it as a coffee roaster, it still makes darn good popcorn.
Equipment: A stovetop popcorn maker, a thermometer and a stovetop.
Pros: It’s cute and fun, not too expensive, and still a bit of ye olde style roasting that produces an even roast without too much fuss.
Cons: Putting anything on a flame makes it hard to control the temperature, even with a thermometer, so it’s still not the most exact method.
Flavor: Once you’ve done this a few times you should be able to get a nice, even roast on your beans. It’s still not easy to get a lighter roast, but you can develop some of the more subtle flavors.
Hot-Air Popcorn Maker
The old popcorn maker strikes again, this time in electric form: it’s basically an imitation air roaster. It takes the same amount of coffee beans as it would popcorn kernels, so you’re looking at very small
batches. You should only use models where the hot air goes into the chamber through diagonal slots in the chamber wall. If the hot air comes from the bottom of the chamber then it’s a no-go. As with the stovetop
version, if you’re a bit handy you can install a thermometer in your popcorn maker by drilling a hole in the top. The hot air even gets rid of a lot of the chaff, which should come floating out of the chute—though you will still need a colander for cooling.
Equipment: A hot-air popcorn maker, a thermometer and a colander.
Pros: There are lots of these around and you can get a better result more easily than what’s possible with the more manual methods.
Cons: You’re using the appliance for something it wasn’t designed for, so you may have to be extra careful with it. It can also only roast small amounts of beans at a time.
Flavor: While you can get a pleasant flavor, darker roasts may cause the machine to overheat, shortening its lifespan. Considering this, you may be better off sticking to light or medium roasts.
Also known as the “dog bowl” method, this involves aiming a heat gun at a metal bowl of coffee beans while stirring them with a wooden or metal spoon. A heat gun is essentially a hard-core hairdryer (but don’t use it on your hair, trust us), and is available for less than $100 at a hardware store. This process imitates a drum roast, and the heat of the gun can be adjusted at any time, giving you more control over the temperature. If you want to take this method a step further, you can actually use an old bread maker instead of a metal bowl, which spins the beans around for you: there are lots of online guides on how to do this, but be aware that this kind of repurposing can be a hazardous game, so always put safety first.
Equipment: A heat gun, a metal bowl such as a mixing bowl or a dog bowl (or a bread maker), a spoon and a colander.
Pros: Possibly one of the easiest ways to personalize your roast without a dedicated roasting machine, and this method uses affordable, everyday equipment.
Cons: The process can be quite messy so it’s best done outside. It may also be difficult to replicate a roast, which means the flavor is still a little unpredictable.
Flavor: Very flexible—just about any roast profile is achievable with this method thanks to the temperature control of the heat gun.
More from: The Home Barista• Knowing Your Coffee Ethics
• From the Coffea Tree to the Bean
Excerpt from The Home Barista: How to Bring Out the Best in Every Coffee Bean, copyright © Simone Egger and Ruby Ashby Orr, 2015. Reprinted by permission of the publisher, The Experiment. Available wherever books are sold. theexperimentpublishing.com.