How and Why to Roast Your Own Coffee Beans

If you appreciate the difference between Ethiopia, Sumatra, and Brazil, or if Juan Valdez has ever appeared to you in a dream, then you just might be a coffee lover. When you want good coffee, you have two options: shell out or do it yourself. If you are lucky enough to find a source for your green beans, I highly encourage you to do so. Green beans stay fresh longer than roasted beans, which can start tasting stale after about two weeks. Roasting your own coffee is a great way to ensure you always have the freshest-tasting coffee around.

From Tree to Bean

So how does coffee go from a tree in a faraway land to black beans? The coffee beans we know and love are the roasted seeds of the coffee cherry, which grows on a coffee tree. Like a double-pitted cherry, each coffee cherry has two seeds, surrounded by the fruit of the berry and skin. Farmers harvest the cherries when they’re bright red and ripe. Once harvested from the tree, the seeds are extracted from the cherries, either by drying the cherries in the sun or with a machine. After they are dry, the hulls are removed and the green beans are picked through for quality. Better beans are bigger and heavier. At this point, the beans are ready for roasting.

The Colors and Smells of Coffee Beans

Coffee beans contain lipids, both in an outer layer protecting the bean and inside the bean. When the temperature of the bean rises, the lipids inside are drawn out. As they begin to burn, the color of the bean darkens in color. Meanwhile, the smell changes. Green coffee beans have an earthy smell, not one that you would associate with coffee. As the lipids are extracted, the smell morphs, eventually turning into the familiar smell of coffee. But not just any coffee. The smell of home-roasted beans is the stuff of fantasy.

How to Roast Your Own Coffee Beans

Roasting your own coffee beans is easy. It doesn’t require any special equipment, although there are plenty of coffee roasting items to purchase should you be so inclined. When I roast my own beans, all I use is a single small pot.

The process couldn’t be any simpler: put your beans in the pot and turn the heat up to medium-high. It’s important to keep a close watch over your beans so they don’t burn or roast unevenly. Keep them covered and give the pot a shake every few seconds to ensure that each bean gets roasted evenly. After several minutes, you’ll hear a faint cracking sound. The perfect roast is not far ahead. Again, you’ll hear a cracking noise. This time, it will be louder. Take a peek at your beans, and you’ll see a darker color, with a layer of chaff coming off. When you get to the color you want, remove your beans from the heat. I like to spread mine out on a cookie sheet so they can cool and I can pick out the chaff.

Where to Get Green Coffee Beans

There are plenty of resources online for green coffee beans. If you’re lucky, you might be able to buy some off a local coffee roaster. Personally, I make regular trips to a fantastic café in a coffee-producing region of the world. The owner of the café works closely with coffee farmers and sells me green beans for a reasonable price. The last time I checked with US Customs, you can bring as much coffee as you want into the country, as long as its for personal use. If you can score a deal like that with someone in your favorite coffee-producing region, then go for it. The world is a wonderful place when you are connected with the things you love by people, not corporations.

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