From the Blog

Roasting Our Own Coffee Beans

We like coffee. We drink a lot. Or rather, I drink a cup or two a day, but when I make my coffee, I put as much coffee into one cup as many people put into an entire pot. I like coffee that puts hair on your chest. Big, fat gnarly hair. Undoubtedly sometime in the future, I’ll have so much fur on my chest that I could join the circus.

So we buy a pound of coffee a week, sometimes at $20 a pound or more. Isn’t that ridiculous? We spend a lot of money on coffee. And I don’t even feel guilty about it. Coffee is just non negotiable. I need a regular dose of coffee in order to form cohesive sentences and be a complete human being. And it makes me happy.

We have been fascinated by the idea of roasting our own coffee, and we were delighted to see Mr Green Beans, a DIY coffee roasting store open, on N Mississippi. This was just the kind of store I thought about building myself. A coffee gadget store. It’s perfect for Portland.

A few weeks ago, we took a coffee roasting class. Owner Trevin Miller described four different methods for roasting coffee, starting with a frying pan, then using a Whirley Pop popcorn popper, to an old school hot air popcorn popper, to a dedicated coffee roaster available in their store. The heating processes are different, but the elements are the same. You need heat, you need movement. There will be “cracking” and smoke. And when you take the beans off the heat, you have to cool them down quickly.

The frying pan method seemed like the most accessible way for us to start roasting beans. We set up our camp stove on our apartment balcony.

Here we have a half cup of green beans that came with our coffee roasting class. This was actually our second attempt at roasting in the pan. The first time we tried was at night and the photos were not as good. It was also hard to see the color of the beans so we wanted to try again.

We turned the burner on high and got the pan nice and hot.

Into the pan. The beans really are sort of green. They smell like grass. They are small, hard and waxy.

Below, after about two minutes, beans start to expand and turn yellow. The outer “skin” of the beans begins to shed from the expanding beans. This is the chaff.

You have to stir constantly. Movement is important. Just like popcorn.

The burning chaff creates a lot of smoke. Some of it floats away, but a lot of it goes up in smoke. This is why we have to do this outdoors.

Lots of stirring. This is probably after four or five minutes. At this point, we are starting to hear our first “cracks” from the beans and they are turning a mottled brown. The frying pan method is probably the least consistent for an even roast. And you have to stir, stir, stir.

Even on our balcony, we were concerned about the smoke. There was a lot. Thankfully, it was a chilly day and no one was likely to have their windows open.

Lots of first cracks, and we see some oil sheen on the beans. This is probably six to seven to minutes. Roasting is quick. This is all smoke, kids, not steam. We have a fan in our kitchen, but it blows right back in our faces. So it would be hard to do this indoors.

Eight to nine minutes, and we are hearing the second, smaller cracks at this point. More like a crackle. Lookit them beans! Starting to look like coffee!

When to stop roasting is totally a matter of preference. The longer you go, the more of the char you will taste, and the nuance of the beans are covered by the roast. But I like a sweet, darker roast myself.

The beans need to cool off quickly to stop the cooking. We’ve turned them into a metal bowl that we chilled in the freezer. We also shook them in a wire colander, which also helped strip some of the chaff still left on the beans.

You can see the beans aren’t all the same color. This is how it works in the frying pan. It’s rustic.

We let the beans cool off completely, then you leave them in the open air to off-gas for a while. They don’t smell like coffee at this point. They still just smell like char and smoke. After and hour or two, we sealed them up in an air tight container and let them rest for 12 hours.

12 hours! That’s a long time! Coffee roasting is hard!

We ground them up with the only grinder we have, a shitty blade grinder that I got before I knew anything about coffee. I can never get a consistent grind from it. When we use this grinder I get pulverized coffee powder, and then huge coffee gravel. It’s kind of bull crap.

Notice, the ever-hip Enchanted Forest coffee mug below. It makes your coffee taste Enchanted.

On the first try, the coffee was, well, a little bland. I can attribute much of it to the grinder. A shitty grinder can make any coffee taste weak. But for our very first outing, it wasn’t too bad. It tasted like coffee.

But we can see why some coffees are $20 a pound, and why roasting is considered an art form. Even when you know what you are doing, you have different varietals, and different roasts, and endless different measures for taste, and it’s ultimately all subjective. In our own household, we have two coffee drinkers and five different opinions on what makes a good cup of coffee.

We certainly have more roasting to do, and we may ultimately buy a dedicated coffee roasting gizmo. Coffee is just the kind of thing that would allow us to indulge our highly developed obsessive tendencies. Not that we have those.

Comments

  1. In case you’re wondering, the Enchanted Forest cup is mine.

  2. My brother is getting really into roasting his own beans & he goes to Mr. Green Beans, too. He’s writing about it at: http://reedvilleroasters.wordpress.com/ if you’re interested. Happy roasting! — Joel from Make Me Some Pie.

  3. Yes, Dave is the only one allowed to drink the “enchanted” coffee.

    That’s pretty awesome, Joel. I will definitely follow along. I like what he’s doing. Have you tried any of his coffee? I love it when other people make us look less obsessed.

  4. We too, roasted our own beans (before kids). We used a popcorn popper and it was fabulous, until it melted. Dem beans are HOT!

    So fun. I predict a real roaster in your future…

    I guess we stopped because they were so hot we didn’t feel comfortable with toddlers around…that’s why I say before kids. You wouldn’t have to stop roasting when/if you guys have kids. It was just us, that and the melted popper…just sayin’.

    ;)

  5. that is so neato!! like making wine or beer. who knew?

  6. I am so glad I found your blog! I live in Everett, Wa., and believe it or not I cannot find anyplace around Seattle that sells greens! It’s worth the 4 hour drive (one way) to know that there is a place like this! Thank you.

  7. My brother in Portland buys his beans and uses an air popper to roast them. He gave them out for Christmas – I don’t drink coffee (please don’t make me turn in my “I am from Portland” card!!) so I didn’t get to try it but he is pretty jazzed. I am not sure where he gets his beans but I do know that he was thrilled with the savings of raw vs roasted beans.

    Ok so I checked out his yelp and yes, Mr. Greenbeans is a place he goes and he mentioned some coffee cart called….dogfeathers? out in that area too. He is a junkie :)

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