You know that kaleidoscope poster at your local coffee shop that describes every flavor from “pomegranate” to “phenolic”? It’s a gorgeous - and in experienced hands, a very useful - tool. But it can also intimidate coffee drinkers contemplating an experiment with home roasting.
At Slack Bag, we not only provide you with the finest green coffee in the world, we also demystify the art of roasting coffee at home. We aim to convert the merely curious into novices, and to shepherd experienced home roasters on their quest for the perfect cup.
The Four Stages of the Home Coffee Roasting Journey
Future blog posts will expand on each of these stages in turn, but we’ll start with an overview. We think of home roasting in four stages:
- Your Very First Time Roasting Coffee
- Buying a Dedicated Coffee Roaster
- Mastering the Fundamentals of Roasting
- Fine-tuning Roasting for Single Origins, Blends, Decaf and Espresso
From Merely Curious to Roasting Your First Batch
Even if you’re not intimidated by complicated posters, scales that weigh to a tenth of a gram and other coffee accoutrements, you may simply be overwhelmed with questions and options.
Do I need a fancy machine? (Nope. You can start with a cast iron skillet.) How long does it take? (As little as 10 minutes.) Will I set off the smoke alarm? (Alas, probably.) Which green coffee should I start with? (Check out our starter bean recs.) And most importantly, will it be as good as the cup I had this morning that finally convinced me to look for online bean sellers? (It certainly can be, and we’ll help you minimize the trial and error, but don’t be surprised if your first roast isn’t your favorite).
Buying a Dedicated Home Roaster
Whether you start with a skillet, a pan in the oven or a popcorn popper, if you really enjoy roasting, you’ll probably decide that it’s worth buying a dedicated machine at some point. There are many roasters out there, but we will focus on two: The Behmor 1600 drum roaster and the Fresh Roast air roaster.
Why these two? They are both reasonably priced and relatively easy to use (plus, the Behmor lets you roast up to 1 lb, so if you drink lots of coffee and only have time to roast one batch a week, the Behmor is the way to go). That said, neither is perfect...a story for another blog post.
Mastering the Fundamentals of Roasting
Coaxing the absolute best out of each bean is tricky, and it may take a bit of practice to get consistent, top-flight results. But by mastering some fundamental principles, you can produce reliable, really darn good results after just a few roasts. We’ll start with 3 senses: sight, sound and smell.
Sight: How dark should I roast my first batch of green coffee? As the beans roast, they’ll turn from green, to yellow, to tan, to milk chocolate, to dark chocolate, and eventually, charcoal. We recommend aiming for milk chocolate to dark chocolate on your first roast. You can taste the results and adjust the next roast based on your personal taste.
Sound: What sounds do coffee beans make during roasting? If you’re this far into the website, there’s a chance that you’ve heard about 1st and 2nd crack. (And if you haven’t, the short answer is the cracks are the sound of water vapor bursting out of the bean.) At a minimum, on your first roast, let the 1st crack finish before switching from roasting to cooling. And at a maximum, stop the roast at the start of the second crack.
Smell: What does great home roasted coffee smell like? This is the most intuitive input. In short, it’s done roasting when it smells like tasty coffee. It won’t smell like anything at the beginning of the roast, and if it smells burnt or smoky, it’s probably overdone.
This should get you off to a good start. Once you’ve got the hang of these basics, check out our in-depth guide.