09 April 2020

Let's roast coffee!

Green beans are shipped in sealed plastic bags
I've been roasting coffee at home for at least 15 years, probably longer. I can't exactly remember when I began to do so, but I think it was my friend Mark (the same guy who sold me my Rock Lobster) who first clued me in to how to do it, way back in the early 2000s, before our daughter was born, when Lisa and I were still living simple in the barrio on the other side of town.

Here's the lowdown on home-roasting coffee: It's really fun, and it's also a very satisfying thing to do, in that putting-your-hands-to-really-good-work sort of way, same as fiddling with your bikes in the garage, or pulling dandelions out of your lawn, or spending a few hours flipping through crates of old vinyl in your favorite used record store. I dig things like that, especially when I've been able to take the time to perfect my process for doing so over the course of time for many years.  Home coffee roasting is also a little bit cheaper than buying your coffee already-roasted from the coffeebar down the street, so that's another advantage for sure.  But the very best reason of all for roasting your own coffee at home is how it tastes.  There's really no comparison.  None. 

We store green beans in our pantry in muslin bags
I've always ordered my green coffee beans from Sweet Maria's, for several reasons. First, because they're the place that Mark first recommended to me, way back when, probably because at the time they were the only game in town.  Second, I always buy from them because they've never ever disappointed me, they ship fast, always ship fresh, they're priced competitively and fairly, and they're obsessive about testing, evaluating, and reviewing each and every product they sell.  Third, I always buy my green beans from Sweet Maria's, because Thompson, the guy who runs the place, buys most of his coffees directly from farmers and co-ops and he travels all over the world to sample and purchase the most interesting and tasty beans that are available each season.

Until recently, I've always used Freshroast roasters to prepare my coffee.  I've probably owned four or five of them over the years.  They're great little roasting machines, effective, simple, and reliable, at least to a point.  I tend to burn out the heating elements in them after a few years of regular weekly use.  Admittedly, it's a lot of use for a simple roaster that, truth be told, is basically just a cleverly modded hot-air popcorn popper. And I don't bear any kind of a grudge against Freshroast for the fact that their roasters eventually always wear out after a few years.  Like I said, they get seriously used around here, a couple batches at least, every week of the year, always outside on the back deck, in warm dry weather, in cold humid weather.  It's a work-out for sure.

We were going through a bit of an economic rough patch when my last roaster died about a year ago, so I couldn't afford to immediately replace it.  Nevertheless, we needed our morning coffee, and I still had several pounds of green coffee beans on hand. So I began to look around at low-tech, affordable options for preparing roasted coffee at home.  Not surprisingly, Thompson at Sweet Maria's had demo'd the best solution in one of his many Youtube videos: roasting coffee in a cast iron skillet.  We don't have a gas stove in our house, so I decided to try Thompson's method on our propane BBQ's sideburner.  I assumed this would be a short term solution, just until I had the money to buy a new Freshroast machine.  But, now that I've survived a entire winter of roasting outside, I've become quite fond of this method's hand's-on, fully-analog technique and so, for the time being anyway, I'm sticking with it.

Below are a few short videos that show the process I go through to roast coffee on the BBQ in our backyard.  Here, at 7000' elevation, it takes me about 15 minutes to take a skillet full of beans from green to full-city, just past second-crack, which is commonly where I find I like to take the Ethiopian beans that I typically buy from Sweet Maria's.  I usually set the burner on high and wisk the beans pretty fervently the entire time they're over the fire to prevent scorching.  Since there's almost always a breeze blowing here in Flagstaff, the chaff after first crack kinda takes care of removing itself from the pan, and the remainder of the chaff blows away when I spread the roasted beans out on cookie sheets to cool.  As a general rule, I try to allow our roasted coffee to degas in the hopper for the better part of a full day before we grind and brew it, but sometimes, if I've forgotten to roast and the hopper's empty, we've been known to go right from roasting to brewing while the beans are still warm.  Definitely not ideal, but still way better than the old stale bagged bean from the coffeebar down the street.


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May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. -- Ed Abbey