Home Roasting

For the past six months or so I’ve been roasting my own coffee in earnest, using green coffee beans that I buy from sweetmarias.com and a popcorn popper that I bought from eBay for $15. There are small, personal machines on the market for genuine home coffee roasting, but they’re mostly in the triple-digit range, and I wasn’t sure if I would take a shine to this thing when I started it, so I went the cheap route to minimize my potential losses. My friend Steve, who lives around the corner, got me started with this business. He started with a popcorn popper, too, but since has rigged up a little rotisserie thing on his gas grill so he can roast five pounds at a time. The guy is an animal!

Coffee Roaster ala Popcorn Popper Coffee Roasting Coffee in Hands

As it turns out, I’m actually saving bundles of money. When I buy the green beans in 20 lb. increments, I can get some of the best-tasting espresso I’ve ever had for just $4 per pound. Compare that to the typical $10 to $12 cost for a premium espresso roast, and it’s not too hard to see the advantage. Compare it to the $45 or so I’d have to spend to buy the equivalent number of lattes from a coffeehouse, and I’d be crazy not to roast my own.

Admittedly, roasting coffee does take time, and with the small West Bend Poppery II as my roaster, I have to process five or six batches for a week’s worth of lattes. With each batch taking between 10 and 14 minutes, we’re looking at a total of at least one hour of roasting per week.

But it’s not as bad as it sounds. I haul everything out to the garage in a basket and get to work right away, just by dumping a couple scoops of coffee in the popper and plugging it in. I pull down the chair that’s hanging on the garage wall and sit and read while the Poppery II does its magic.

Of course, when the smoke starts billowing out of the garage and the smell turns mildly sweet and I’m all hunched over, sniffing and stirring and shaking things, the scene must look, if not illicit, at least grotesque. I’m surprised none of the neighbors have called the police yet.

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6 Responses to Home Roasting

  1. Dad says:

    I just got off the phone with the police and the Grand Rapids Press = should make for an exciting scene and story. But more seriously, what are you going to do for coffee-roasting when the temperature drops into the single digits, or below? Back to ten bucks a pound, right? Oh well, winter’s over before we know it.

  2. Michelle says:

    Just another reason to smile when I think of you. :-)

  3. Steve says:

    Here’s the secret for working around the the “ambient temperature bug”. You need to double-insulate your popper inside 2 cardboard boxes. The smaller of the two should be about 6-8 inches taller than the popper, and the larger box about the same degree larger than the smaller. Put the small box inside the large box, then put the popper inside the small box. Close all the flaps and you are good to go. (Did that make sense?) The double insulation will ensure that once the air inside inner box is warmed, it will recirculate around the popper, not the colder air you are enduring. I roasted like this down to -10F without any problem…except that my frozen fingers couldn’t turn the pages of my book, and that my beer was turning to slush.
    Much better with my new rig though – it raises the temp in the garage by at least 10 degrees by the second 5lb batch!

  4. Karl says:

    Thanks for the tip, Steve! You’re a good friend. So far I’ve been using a single box to cover the popper, and it seems to be working fine for now. I’ll move to the double-box procedure when the temp gets really low.

  5. dean says:

    Why don’t you put a heater in the garage? There are great garage heaters out there, you can use gas, propane or electric. That way your fingers won’t freeze or your beer won’t turn to slush. Or better yet insulate the garage walls and ceiling and get an insulated garage door. That will help keep the heat in when roasting beans.

  6. Karl says:

    I like the heater idea, Dean. My birthday is coming up. Hint, hint, hint. :)

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