Once you have the opportunity to roast your own coffee, you may never buy from the grocery stores again! Roasted coffee will always be at its most optimal taste the sooner you consume it after roasting. For this reason, you should definitely consider the thought of roasting coffee at home. The potency and taste are unlike anything that you can buy in the stores. Imagine the pride that you will feel just sipping away on a cup of custom-made liquid gold that you’ve prepared yourself, from start to finish!
First Off, What Is Coffee?
Most of us have not seen coffee in its original form, before the roasting process. We’re so used to going to the store and picking up either instant coffee crystals, ground coffee beans, or coffee beans that have already been roasted.
Your favorite beverage actually comes from a tree; although some argue that it is a bush. The scientific name for the tree is, Coffea. The coffee tree grows fruits that are sometimes referred to as cherries due to their aesthetic appearance. The round fruit grows in bunches and generally take approximately 7 to 9 months to mature.
Inside of the cherry are two flat seeds, which are the coffee beans. So figuratively speaking, coffee beans are actually the seeds or pit of the fruit.
Climate For Growing Coffee Beans
The ideal climate for successful coffee growing are tropical environments that have nutrient rich soil, along with minimal pests and diseases. Excessive heat can cause the fruits to ripen too fast. It can also attract unwanted pests.
Continents Within The Coffee Belt
The average temperature in which coffee growing has been stated to be the most successful, are temperatures ranging between 64° F and 70° F. Any temperature above 73° F, runs the risk of ruining the coffee crops.
The prime geographic locations that guarantee optimum quality and best results for coffee growing are collectively referred to as, The Coffee Belt. The Coffee Belt is a set of locations, spread across 5 continents, that form a band from East to West, stretching across the middle of the Earths equator. The locations are also known for their tropical weather. The countries within these continents actually provide the majority, at least 70% of the coffee that we drink one a daily basis. Here’s an example of where the original Coffee Belt plantations were located, that was comprised in the 19th century. Each continent, and the countries within them include:
- South America: Bolivia, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, and Columbia.
- Central America: Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, and Panama.
- Africa and Arabia: Burundi, Con, Ethiopia, Kenta, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe.
- Asia: India, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Myanmar, and Vietnam.
- Islands and Others: Australia, Dominican Republic, Hawaii, Jamaica, Puerto Rico.
Today, there have been many more countries added to the original Coffee Belt. Each area has its own specialty whether it’s a certain type of bean or flavor. It should also be noted that coffee is highly regulated under strict quality and improvement requirements, to ensure that coffee is not only available to those around the world, but also available at a fair price and of optimal quality.
The process from planting a coffee tree until it is ready to be harvested is approximately 3 to 4 years. For that reason, coffee crops are planted on a rotational basis. This ensures that there will be a continuous flow of coffee beans being harvested, in order to keep up with supply and demand.
There are two types of harvesting methods. The first method is called selective harvesting. Selective harvesting is when you only pick the ripe cherries off of the tree. You can tell that they’re ripe by squeezing them, if they’re slightly soft and are bright red in appearance, then they are ready. You’d leave the remaining cherries attached to finish their ripening process.
Harvest by stripping is for more large-scale, commercial crops. Stripping actually creates a great deal of waste as it does not pick and choose which cherries to harvest. Machines are used to remove all of the cherries, even those that are far from ready.
The benefits outweigh the profits lost due to waste. For example, for coffee growers who have several acres, the cost to hire laborers to go through the entire crop and handpick the ripe cherries would be a tremendous investment that may not provide a return. So, having to discard the cherries that are not yet ripe, is still more financially beneficial than the alternative option of hiring people to pick by hand.
Processing The Cherries
Now that you’ve harvested the cherries, it’s time to remove the coffee beans and prepare them for roasting. You should do this right away because they will spoil if you pick them and set them aside with the intention of getting to them later. There are 2 main methods that you can use outside of factory processing in order to complete the task.
Pulp the Berries: To pulp the berries, you will need to slightly squeeze them until the beans pop out. Try to avoid using a tool such as a knife, as you don’t want to take the chance of piercing the bean. The beans may have somewhat of a slippery or slime-like consistency to them, which is totally normal.
Discard Fruit and Begin Fermenting Process: Discard the fruit and place the beans in a basin of water for a few days. This fermenting process will help to separate the slime from the bean. After a day or two, take a clean hand and gather any debris and skin that may be floating around on top and discard. Then use your hands mix the beans around in the water. If the beans feel a bit rough, then they are ready. This step will also help to separate the tan parchment-like layer from the bean. Drain the water and rinse once more with clean water.
Prepping The Beans For Roasting
Dry the Beans Out: This step is so important, especially if you do not plan to roast the beans right away. Leaving any trace of moisture will invite mold, in which the beans would most certainly have to be totally discarded.
Spread the beans onto a large flat surface such as a cookie sheet, or any large flat, clean surface. Be sure to have a large enough surface so that the beans are not crowded amongst each other, as this will compromise the drying process. Depending on the climate and access to direct sunlight, the drying process can take anywhere from a few, to several days.
It’s important to keep the beans protected throughout the entire process, especially throughout the drying period. You want to pick a spot that is not accessible to any sort of pests such as rodents, birds, bugs, squirrels, etc.
How Not To Store Coffee Beans
Absolutely, do not store your coffee beans in the refrigerator or freezer. Either option is likely to attract moisture and we know by now that moisture is one of your worst enemies when it comes to coffee beans. Also, if kept in the refrigerator, coffee beans can start to take up the smell and flavors of the items around them.
Proper Way To Store Coffee Beans
Coffee beans in itself, prior to roasting, are rather not enjoyable. In its raw stage, the taste is bitter and extremely acidic. They are green in color, often smell like grass, are soft, and sometimes squishy. However, if you’re looking to store them for any length of time prior to roasting, this is the stage that you want to keep them in; after they have been properly dried of course.
Airtight Container: An airtight container not only protects the coffee beans from moisture, it also inhibits any impurities from entering into the container.
Darkness: Coffee prefers darkness, so light exposure of any kind can be detrimental to its longevity and potency.
Store Away from Heat Sources: Heat really plays a major role in destroying the coffee beans. When exposed to heat the beans lose a great deal of flavor, it also compromises the freshness, and turns the coffee beans stale.
Heat Sources are not just found by way of a warm room. Avoid keeping the container sitting in or near a window, where the sun can beat down on it. Also avoid spaces such as cabinets directly above the stove, shelving near any heat registers, or even appliances that often emit waves of heat while in operation.
Choosing The Method Of Roasting Coffee
There are several different methods that you can use to roast your coffee beans. There are specific roasting appliances made for just that reason. Some of them come equipped with things such as smoke reduction, timers, temperature control, airflow regulation, and chaff collection.
However, you can also utilize items that are already present in your home. These D.I.Y options are more accessible as well as more affordable. Coffee beans can be roasted using a skillet, stovetop popcorn popper, a cookie sheet in your oven, and even an electric popcorn popper.
Stovetop Popcorn Popper
Set your stovetop temperature on a low heat and place your beans the popcorn popper and continuously turn the hand crank, as it will provide the best results for even roasting and also prevent burning. Roast until you reach the desired doneness. Do keep a thermometer in reach to ensure that the temperature remains around 350°F but does not drop below 300°F. Transfer to colander when done to shake off the excess skin before cooling.
Turn your burner to medium. Preheat your skillet to around 500°F. Place your beans in an even layer and continuously stir with a whisk or a wooden spoon until desired doneness. Transfer to colander for a good shake to remove excess skin and then start the cooling process.
Ideally your oven should be between 470°F and 500°F. For the oven method, be sure to have a clear visual such as the oven window, in order to monitor the process. Spread your coffee beans onto the cookie sheet or baking pan and place in the oven. Give them an occasional stir with a wooden spoon for even roasting. When you remove them from the oven, again, shake off the excess skin and transfer to a separate, cool cookie sheet for drying.
Roasting Coffee At Home – The Levels
Now we come to the exciting part, actually roasting the coffee. The roasting itself is what gives it the rich, robust flavorings and strength.
A coffee bean that hasn’t been through the roasting process is sometimes compared to dry beans that you can keep in the pantry for extended periods of time until you are ready to cook them. Storing them for long periods does not affect the strength or flavor. However, the longer that you store coffee beans that have already been roasted, the less potent they will become overtime resulting in a steadily diminishing flavor.
Before roasting your first batch of coffee, make list of what your goals are. Most people are familiar with the terms light, medium and dark roast. But there are so many more roasting stages that offer a variety of flavors and strengths depending on your personal preference. When you purchase coffee at the grocery store or coffee shop, do you usually prefer a dark roast, light roast, or somewhere in the middle? Also, do you want a highly caffeinated beverage or something without a lot of caffeine? Remember, the darker the bean, the more robust the flavor. The lighter the bean, the more caffeinated it is.
While making your choice on which stage you’d like to roast your coffee, keep a few key points in mind to help you through the steps.
The internal temperature needs to be between 356 and 401°F. A light roast is obtained somewhere around the time of the first crack. At this point the coffee is more light bodied without the robust flavor that kicks in a bit later in the roasting process. The different coffee options in this stage are called, light city, half city and cinnamon roast.
The internal temperature for this stage should be between 410 and 428°F. This level appears around the middle to end of the first series of crack and lasts between the first and second crack. Overall, the medium roast is the most popular among the majority, as some people prefer coffee that isn’t too light in flavor but still find the robust coffee a tad overpowering.
The internal temperature in the dark roast stage should hover around 464°F but is not to exceed 482°F as it can quickly become a fire hazard, besides being an inedible batch. Dark roast is good for those that prefer a very strong, robust, potent cup of joe.
We will highlight a few comparisons between the different stages, so that you familiarize yourself with the process before you get started. This will give you a better idea of what you want your end goal to be.
Step By Step – How To Roast Coffee Beans
During the first few minutes of roasting, the beans are still a greenish color. Then as the process goes on, they start to transform into a yellowish color and give off a grassy smell. It is normal to for the beans to give off steam at this point in the process, as their internal water content begins to dissipate.
You will soon hear what is referred to as the first crack, which happens as the roasting begins to occur. The steam will become fragrant and sugars begin to caramelize. The last bit of bound up water will escape in this process. The structure of the coffee bean breaks down and emit oils.
First Roasted Stage
Anytime after the first crack, the roasting is considered done, so any further roasting from this point on will be dependent upon your personal preference. You can stop the roasting process whenever you reach your desired doneness. This stage is what is referred to as City Roast.
The caramelization process continues. The oil migrates to the surface and the bean will increase in size as the roasting progresses. This stage is referred to a City+ roast. When you are just at the point before the second cracking occurs, that stage is called a Full City roast.
At this point, the second crack will occur any minute now. It’s often louder than the first. This stage is known as the Vienna Roast. Popping will continue to occur during the second crack. If you choose to roast all the way through the second crack, small pieces of the bean may break off and shoot away. If this happens, do not be concerned as it is normal during this stage.
As the roasting beans become more dark, the smoke may give off a pungent smell as the sugars burn completely. The structure of the bean breaks down more and more as the time progresses. This stage is referred to as a French Roast. Keep in mind that although the color is dark and rich at this stage, the caffeine content is not as high as the other stages. Monitor this stage very carefully and do not leave the beans unattended, because this is the point right before burning and all of your hard work would have been in vain.
Storage After Roasting Coffee
Now that you have successfully roasted your first batch of coffee, it is time to cool off and store your beans. Be sure to cool them off completely. Darker roasts may require several hours of cooling off so that the gasses may dissipate before storing them. It’s best to cool them off on a flat surface such as a cookie sheet. Spread them out so that there’s even air flow between them. Occasionally rotate the beans during the cooling off process, just to help them along.
Also, be sure to remove any outer skin fragments that the beans shed during the roasting process by giving them a good shake in a colander, before storing them. Store your coffee beans in an airtight container. Glass is usually the best choice, and mason jars work wonders as they have an airtight seal.
In order to help preserve its potency, and freshness; I recommend that you do not grind more than a week’s worth batch at a time.
VOILA! GRAB A CUP AND ENJOY
Now that you have all of the steps, play around with different stages of roasting. It might even be a good idea to try each stage from light to dark, just to see what you prefer the most. I guarantee that once you start roasting your own coffee, you will never return to store bought pre-roasted coffee again!