Home coffee roasting is as fun and easy (or as exacting and technical), as you want to make it. You can roast in your oven, use a skillet, re-purpose a popcorn popper or buy a fancy coffee roasting appliance. Whatever method you use, you will be on your way to drinking much better coffee.
The basic process is simple: use heat to turn green unroasted coffee into brown roasted coffee. Roasting times vary, depending on the method and batch size but you can expect the process to last about 10 minutes for smaller batches and about 16 minutes for larger batches.
Using Sight to determine degree of roast
There are many ways to roast coffee. The method you choose should be influenced by how much roasted coffee you need and how much money you want to spend. Whether you choose a D.I.Y. approach or a small appliance matters depends mostly on how you like to approach things, and if you want more or less automation.
The D.I.Y. approach is a great way to get started, especially if you can re-purpose an electric hot air Popcorn Popper that you have in a cupboard, or can find second-hand. You can even find them cheaply in a hardware store, Target or Wal-Mart usually. You can also use a skillet, a stovetop popper, or a cookie sheet in the oven. These latter methods roast less evenly and require some technique to get good results, that is why we recommend the air popper method.
Hot Air Popcorn Popper Instructions (Recommended)
Oven Roasting Instructions
Home Coffee Roasting Appliances
An appliance gives you a built-in timer, a way to collect chaff, and (depending on the model) some control over the temperature and air flow. Some models have smoke suppression. Air roasters take less than 10 minutes, roast very evenly without scorching, and are better for small amounts of coffee. The advantages of drum roasting are a larger batch size and an even roast, but these machines require more attention and generate more smoke.
See our Home Roasting FAQ for more help finding the right roaster for you.
We suggest the 4 lb. or 8lb. Sampler as a starting place. We select coffees that help you learn the major differences in flavor between regions and provide a relatively even roast. From there, browse our region information and coffee offerings to narrow down which coffees you'd like to try next. If you need more help, our Green Coffee FAQ will help take the mystery out of selecting.
Understanding the different stages of the roast will help you control the flavor of your cup and appreciate how different roasts result in different cup flavors.
- Yellowing: For the first few minutes the bean remains greenish, then turn lighter yellowish and emit a grassy smell.
Steam: The beans start to steam as their internal water content dissipates.
- First Crack: The steam becomes fragrant. Soon you will hear the first crack, an audible cracking sound as the real roasting starts to occur: sugars begin to caramelize, bound-up water escapes, the structure of the bean breaks down and oils migrate from their little pockets outward.
- First Roasted Stage: After the first crack, the roast can be considered complete any time according to your taste. The cracking is an audible cue, and, along with sight and smell, tells you what stage the roast is at. This is what is called a City roast.
- Caramelization: Caramelization continues, oils migrate, and the bean expands in size as the roast becomes dark. As the roast progresses, this is a City + roast. Most of our roast recommendations stop at this point. When you are on the verge of second crack, that is a Full City roast.
- Second Crack: At this point a second crack can be heard, often more volatile than the first. The roast character starts to eclipse the origin character of the beans at this point and is also known as a Vienna roast. A few pops into second crack is a Full City + roast. Roasting all the way through second crack may result in small pieces of bean being blown away like shrapnel!
- Darkening Roast: As the roast becomes very dark, the smoke is more pungent as sugars burn completely, and the bean structure breaks down more and more. As the end of second crack approaches, you will achieve a French roast.
- Ack!! Too Late!: Eventually, the sugars burn completely, and the roast will only result in a thin-bodied cup of "charcoal water."
Check out our "Use All Five Senses to Determine Roast Level" page