5 Reasons I Roast My Own Coffee With a Popcorn Popper
In only one year I have traversed several steps in the coffee process. It’s been a growing process and one in which I find myself most recently in the newest stage… a few weeks ago, I switched over from purchasing roasted beans to roasting my own. While generally when I say this I get lots of impressed looks (either that or the wierded-out looks: "hurry children, get away from the presence of the crazed coffee-madman"), it is time to break the secrecy I was sworn to (in the hooded third-wave coffee secret society meetings) and admit that roasting your own coffee is actually a great option for basically every coffee lover out there. Can I say up front, I am new to this, and this post is not predominately to those already roasting or further along in the coffee process. This post is geared toward the average coffee person on the street who drinks anything from Folgers to Starbucks… depending more upon what’s available than what is good. This post is meant to open eyes to the fact that good coffee is available without mortgaging one’s house or sacrificing family time to another addictive hobby. So for the person wanting to get a better cup of coffee, but not really knowing how to get it or where to start, then may I suggest that you begin at the roasting level. Here are the 5 reasons I now roast my own coffee with a popcorn popper and why you should roast your own coffee as well:
1) Roasting your own coffee is easy.
Why is everyone all impressed when people say they roast their own coffee? Because they assume that there is some crazy, time-consumingly difficult process involving bunsen burners, closed doors, safety goggles, and the possibility of death. Hate to ruin the secret but it's actually really easy. Seriously. It involves a very small learning curve (spend some time reading different ideas of how to do it from this Coffeegeek article and this Sweet Marias article/video), and then involves turning a popcorn popper on and stirring it. That's pretty much it.
2) Roasting your own coffee is quick.
Once the basics are figured out, it takes me under 10 minutes from the time I say "I think I'm going to roast" to the moment when I pour the finished beans out of the popper. The actual roasting process averages about 3 1/2 - 4 1/2 minutes depending upon the bean/amount/other variables. Of course, you do want to give yourself 2-3 days to let the beans sit so as to get the most flavor from them, however if you keep on top of it and always make sure you are roasting a couple days ahead of when you need to make a cup, you will have an endless supply of beans.
3) Roasting your own coffee is cheap.
Here's what finally sold me on trying it. Depending upon where I get my beans, I pay about $5-8 per lb of green beans. High quality. The kind that has been chosen specifically because of its better taste and processing, not just any stuff thrown into a blend from somewhere. The kind that I was paying $16 for when it was roasted. Don't get me wrong, for the quality of beans I was getting, $16 was a great price. But now I can have it for half the price and can control the variables to get the exact roast I prefer. Don't know where to buy green beans from? It's actually easier than you think to find suppliers:
(a) Find a local coffee shop that roasts their own (more abundant then you would think) and ask if they would sell green beans to you. The two local (Louisville, KY) places I get my green beans from are LaGrange Coffee Roasters and Sunergos Coffee. Both have a selection of high quality beans for great prices.
(b) Buy from Sweet Marias. SM is an online company that sells green coffee beans. You will spend about 6-7 bucks on a pound of coffee. There is a minimum order, but honestly, buy 3 lbs of different beans to sample ($20), pay for the shipping ($7) and you have 3 lbs of unbelievable coffee to sample over a period of time for under $10 a lb!
As far as popcorn poppers go, you can get an expensive one for $20. Otherwise, keep an eye out at garage sales or thrift stores and get started on this new hobby for $5. Not a big initial investment (though make sure to get a popper with the air vents in the side and not the one screened-hole at the bottom - read the Coffeegeek link I included above for why this is important).
4) Roasting your own coffee is fresh.
The other key factor that got me into roasting is the shelf life of roasted coffee. If you are the kind who keeps your coffee in a can under the counter or in the freezer, you are going to hate me for saying this but, honestly, coffee maintains its complex flavors and taste for about 3-4 weeks (that’s even stretching it some). Once you pass the one month mark, you just can't really taste flavors anymore and all you taste is the roasted "flavor" most people think is what coffee tastes like. Hate to say it, but that's because the Folgers and Sbux out there on the shelf is old by the time you even buy it and take it home. Don't believe me if you don't want, but if you have good coffee roasted a week prior, you will begin to understand that this is not an exaggeration. It's not a subjective "taste" difference. You may like your coffee roasted darker than someone else, and that's fine. That's subjective, but "old" and “stale” are not subjective. Think of it like chocolate chip cookies. The difference between a fresh chocolate chip cookie 15 minutes out of the oven still warm and gooey and the same cookie 3 weeks later- crunchy and flavorless, is vast. They are both cookies, but the freshness makes all the difference in the world.
While roasted coffee has a generous shelf life of 4 weeks, green coffee has a shelf life of over 1 year. Buy a few pounds of green coffee and then only roast the amount you will use for the next week/week and a half. This means you are only roasting 3-4 times a month, but your beans are always as fresh as possible. Do this for 3 months and it will be relatively difficult to go back to the canned coffee :) As you try other kinds or get more deals on green coffee, just keep adding to your collection and know that it won't go bad. This was a major selling point for me because I don't actually drink that much coffee (maybe a half cup a day)… I just really like enjoying my great cup of coffee. I found that I was purchasing a pound of roasted coffee but then wouldn't finish it in the allotted time. By the time I got to the end of it, it was already getting old and had lost flavor. Roasting my own beans solved that issue. Now I only roast up what I will drink and always have great, fresh coffee.
5) Roasting your own coffee is rewarding.
One of the best things about roasting your own is when you buy good grean beans, roast them well, wait 3 days, brew them up well (another topic for another time, please don't spend time to roast your own and then ruin the brew by making it incorrectly) and then serve it to guests visiting your house. It is extremely rewarding and just plain fun to watch the looks on peoples' faces when they taste it. It is like an art form. When you put time and creativity into something with variables and get a good result you are gaining the fruit of your labor. Also, coffee that you have roasted on your own makes a great gift for people. It is cheap and most people like coffee. Give them a coffee that tastes great and that they know you roasted and the result will be a pleased individual who appreciates the time, effort, and result that was put into the gift you gave them.
So, there are my thoughts on why it is actually cost-effective, productive, rewarding, and quality enhancing to roast your own beans. Go ahead, step out on a limb and give it a try. If you like coffee, I assure you that it will be well worth your efforts.