A few weeks ago, I created a new hobby for myself, one that obsessed me before I even really began it.

Roasting my own coffee beans.

For the last few years I’ve known that my trying coffee roasting was inevitable. I tend to go all-in on my passions, absorbing all the knowledge about a subject I can, and looking at it from multiple angles. Not sure how this could have played out had I been born decades earlier, but over the last couple months, I’ve scoured pages of Google results for roasting instructions, watched countless YouTube videos of roasting techniques, and even tracked down (what its author claims is) the only book dedicated to the practice of home coffee roasting.

Finally, I was ready.

And eventually, I convinced Jeralynn to be ready too, since there were some issues to iron out first, namely cost and filling the kitchen with smoke. Indeed, there are some costs in getting green beans shipped to my door since WalMart only sells products that more than .001% of the population wants; the supply-and-demand of the free market  does few favors to connoisseurs. The problem is that buying in bulk is the only way to justify shipping prices. Beyond that, I argued to her, it can actually be cheaper than buying already-roasted/ground coffee beans. As for the smokey kitchen…. pretty proud of that solution. See Appendix #1.

The first step was receiving my sample from The Coffee Project (email them your address, and they’ll get you a free sample of your own). Here’s what they graciously sent me (click for bigger picture):


The second step was deciding how to actually roast the beans. Here’s where my research almost became too much… so many options, even if some were easy to rule out. A legitimate, professional coffee roaster can cost anywhere from around $100 to thousands of dollars. It can also be done with things you have around your house already. Cheap methods include using certain old models of air poppers, oven roasting, and stovetop roasting. I opted for the stovetop method, and so I pulled out an old saucepan (literally, from our Goodwill box) for my first attempt, not knowing how the pan might fare if I didn’t know what I was doing (which I didn’t).

Ok, enough thinking and wondering, I finally decided. Time to try it.

I set the stove to Medium-High heat and began to let the saucepan get hot. While it got hot, I made sure I had everything I needed close at hand, since things start moving pretty fast once they get going.

I started by dumping the small amount of beans into the hot pan.

At first, not much happened. I had no real doubts that this would work, but after all the hype and preparation, and then to look down at these weird little beans just sitting there — no smell, no sound, no anything — had me already questioning my hobby in its infancy. But then, after stirring them around for a minute, a smell did emerge. It was not exactly a coffee smell, though. Just as the pamphlet included with my sample had said, the smell was of hot, wet grass. Best part of waking up…

It was very important to constantly keep the beans moving to avoid scorching the beans. I quickly abandoned my wooden spoon, and then a silicone spatula, before settling on the perfect instrument for the task: a metal whisk. Within just a couple minutes, the beans began changing color. A good sign! If not a sign of success, at least a sign of non-complete failure! The hot air emanating from the pan also started smelling more . . . roasted, I suppose. Warm, smokey, a little bitter. But still no smell of coffee.

And then, really quickly — remember, I said things happen really fast once they start — the beans went from looking like defective peanuts (note to self: could probably roast my own raw peanuts….) to looking like actual COFFEE. From start to finish, the whole thing was done in under 6 minutes. As the picture shows, though, some beans looked more like coffee than others. Not sure why, but I really struggled getting an even roast. Regardless, I knew (loose use of that term here; I have no idea) it was time to stop, before I burned the beans and effectively ruined my first attempt.

Into the colander they went to cool off. (While convincing Jeralynn to let me do this in our kitchen, I don’t think I mentioned to her the amount of chaff generated by roasting. Little tiny, papery bits of the bean that become detached and fly around during the roasting process. Yeah, I’m actually pretty confident I did not mention this to her when I was making my case.) I fetched the vacuum and its various attachments,

When the beans were finally cool to the touch, I poured them into a container for use the next day. It’s recommended they get 12-24 hours to “de-gas,” literally to give off CO2, before they are ground and brewed.

Fortunately, I was patient enough to wait until the next morning. I removed the container’s loose lid and . . . the smell of COFFEE filled the air. Yes, I know, like it’s supposed to. But these beans in front of me started off as puny green beans, beans  that I myself warmed to a wet grassy smell, beans that I personally took to the precipice of burning, beans that I saw from beginning to end turn into coffee. The fact that this small amount of beans not only looked like, but now smelled like coffee was anything but insignificant.

Finally, the drinking.

No doubt, this was one of the most flavorful, nuanced cups of coffee I had ever had. And yet, it wasn’t the coffee I’m used to drinking — very dark and deep. Instead, it was light, a little bright, with multiple hints of different flavors coming through.

This led me to a wholly satisfying final verdict.

I would not stop occasionally brewing dark-roasted store-bought coffee, as it fulfilled a very essential part of my coffee passion, but at the same time, I could interact with the process of coffee preparation on a much more hands-on level, which happened to produce a different, but similarly delicious cup of coffee. And thus, my new hobby is no threat to taking over my coffee passion, instead rounding it out into a diverse and increasingly fun part of my daily routine.

Appendix #1 “And how to deal with the smoke?”

Well, the first time I didn’t, and the apartment smelled pretty bad throughout. For my handful of future roastings, though, I came up with a pretty effective technique. I use two fans to create a virtual vacuum in the room: a small but powerful floor fan placed on the counter blows the smokey air over to the window, where a standing fan is at full blast blowing the air directly outside. It’s loud, and gets chilly between the fans, but it works. Pretty proud of the resourcefulness. 🙂