And then there’s the price: Fair-trade organic green coffee beans purchased in bulk are often cheaper than a similar quality and quantity bought preroasted. Plus, green coffee beans have an almost infinite lifespan. You can buy coffee once a year and save yourself the hassle of worrying about running out. Maybe best of all, roasting coffee at home is a fun new skill to add to your repertoire. Let’s get started!
WHAT YOU'LL NEED
» green coffee beans (more info below on amounts and where to find them)
» metal colander
» wooden spoon
» popcorn popper (with small vents around the bottom—not mesh)
» large glass bowl
» large skillet (not nonstick)
I buy my beans online. Many online sources cater to the home roaster and sell in smaller quantities, anywhere from 1 to 20 pounds. Most sites offer a discount on larger quantities, so once you find a bean you love, you might want to buy in bulk. You can browse sites by region/country of origin, and some sites even offer sampler packs so you can try several different beans. Some sites I recommend that offer organic and fair-trade green beans include Roastmasters, Dean's Beans, Coffee Bean Corral, and Sweet Maria's (on this last site, look for the "Farm Gate" label indicating fair-trade options).
2. ROAST YOUR BEANS. Some people buy a fancy home roaster. Since I roast my own beans for self-reliance and for saving money, I avoid extra single-use gadgets that crowd my kitchen. If you don't use a roaster, there are two practical ways to proceed at home, and neither requires special equipment: roasting coffee in the popcorn popper and roasting coffee in a skillet. That said, not just any popcorn popper will do. You need one that has small vents along the bottom of the popper rather than a mesh bottom. Mesh bottoms are a fire hazard since coffee beans shed a chaff that can ignite.
The popcorn popper provides the most even roast and is the neater of the two methods, so it’s probably best for perfectionist types. On the other hand, the skillet method is more hands-on, and therefore, more fun—at least for me. You can also roast more in each batch by using a large skillet and save yourself some time.
One warning: Roasting coffee stinks. Your beloved brew-to-be doesn't smell like a warm, lovely cuppa during the roasting process. There's a bit of smoke and some fumes, so turn on the exhaust fan or open a few windows.
METHOD 1: POPCORN POPPER
Add ¼ to ½ cup green coffee beans to your popper, following your machine’s recommended amount for making popcorn, and put the plastic hood on top. Place your metal bowl under the hood opening, as you would when popping popcorn. As the beans roast, the papery chaff will blow out of the opening into the bowl and can be dumped in the compost bin.
Turn on your popper and listen. You will hear the beans swirling around, eventually followed by a chorus of tiny pops. This is the first crack. Within 30 to 60 seconds after the cracking ends, your coffee is at what is called a “city roast.” This is a very light roast but has the highest caffeine content of any roast, since caffeine degrades at higher temperatures.
As the coffee continues to roast, you’ll move through city++ to full city—a still light, still flavorful roast with moderate to high caffeine levels. Right after the beans have reached full city roast, you’ll hear a second cracking. In the middle of the second crack, the coffee turns darker, with a richer flavor. This is Vienna roast, a good espresso roast.
About 30 seconds after the cracking has stopped, the beans reach French roast. At this point, the beans will be oily. Remove them immediately. If the beans continue to roast, they will burn and you'll be left with charcoal and a smoky kitchen. (From here, skip down to "Finishing," below.)
METHOD 2: SKILLET
Bring your skillet to medium heat. Pour in enough beans to form a single layer in the pan, approximately 1 to 1 ½ cups, and start stirring. Stir constantly to keep the beans from burning. The roasting indicators here are the same as in the popcorn popper. After the first crack, turn down the heat slightly, as your beans will get dark fast. Remove the skillet from heat when the beans are slightly lighter in color than your desired roast. Even once the skillet is off the stove, the beans continue to cook for a bit, due to residual heat.
FINISHING YOUR BEANS
Pour your roasted beans into a colander and swirl them around or stir with a wooden spoon. This will help to cool them quickly and keep them from continuing to darken.
After roasting, the beans should rest for 24 hours before grinding and brewing. This rest period seals in a better flavor. In a rush? At the very least, let them rest for 8 hours.
Storing your roasted beans in an air-tight glass jar out of direct sunlight will keep them fresh for 5 to 7 days. For the freshest cup, wait to grind them until right before you brew your coffee. Enjoy!