Beginning Home Coffee Roasting05 Jan 2018
About a year ago now, I began an adventure into the world of home coffee roasting in the hope of, maybe one day, backing out of tech, and into coffee. While that is a story for another time, here is some of the hard-won knowledge from my first year, in the hopes that it will help someone else.
I’ve broken this post into a few sections, in the order I wish I’d taken.
- Training materials
Before you grab a roaster, spend some time reading about how it all works. Watch a bunch of videos on how other folks are doing it, the different machines, etc. To that end, here are a few hopping off points:
Before going much further, grab a copy of this, and read it over: Coffee Roaster’s Companion - Scott Rao
Most anything by Scott Rao is great. The book mentioned here, however is specific to roasting. It breaks down the styles of different machines, the roasting process, and the chemical changes that happen inside the beans as roasting happens. Along the way, Scott provides a world of guidance that will both help you get started, and fine tune you process.
Sweet Maria’s (the place I source beans from) is a sort of full-service home roasting shop. To that end, they have their own YouTube channel which has some decent guides: https://www.youtube.com/user/sweetmarias
Additionally, and on the ‘how to roast the things’ end, Mill City Roasters has a masters class they published via youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCfpTQQtvqLhHG_GWhk3Xp4A/playlists
In Person materials
This will largely depend on your area & willingness to spend, but there are a number of coffee roaster training classes available. The ones I found near us, were few, far between, and more expensive than I was ready for at the time.
Roasting coffee can be done with most anything where you can apply heat and some movement to the beans while they, well, roast. This means you can get there with anything from a frying pan and wooden spoon, to something commercial grade. At the home roaster / small scale batch roaster end, you have three basic types:
The most common here is an air popcorn popper. If you go this route, be sure to choose one with high wattage, strong plastic, and an easy to bypass thermal cutoff. Coffee beans roast at a much higher temp than popcorn does, so the higher wattage will help get you there faster, and the plastic / cutoff help ensure the machine can withstand the roasting process more than once*.
_ I didn’t learn this lesson the first time, or, the second or third. While it can be done, most machines from big box stores just won’t stand up to the punishment._
Also in the air range, you have things like the SSR-700 which, while having a small capacity, allows for manual and computer control. It also has a decently sized community of home roasters that share roast profiles for various beans. Overall, this makes the on-ramp from “I want to roast” to “my first good cup” much quicker.
After air roasters, the next step up is some flavor of electric roaster. Electric roasters are generally of the ‘drum’ type, with an honorable mention of the Bonaverde which is a pan style thing that takes you from green beans to a pot of coffee. In this realm, the Behmor 1600+ is my roaster of choice, and the one I use currently.
It has the largest capacity for home / hobby coffee roaster allowing you to roast up to a pound at a time. Additionally, it has a number of baked in roast profiles, and the ability to operate as a full manual controlled roaster. While I wish it had better / more instrumentation, I’ve learned to live without, working by smell, sight, smell, and such.
Electric roasters, however, have a few eccentricities:
They all require ‘clean’ and consistent power. Home power outlets may vary from one to the next on the actual voltage coming out of the outlet, further said voltage may vary as other things on the same circuit add or remove load. All of this will have a direct impact on the ability of the roaster to heat the beans. To this end, I’ve added a sine wave generating UPS.
In the electric realm, I’m watching the Aillio R1, which like the SR-700 offers complete computer control, like the Behmor offers a huge capacity, and like higher end gas machines, lets you roast back to back with less overhead / cooldown time.
There are a number of gas roasters aimed at the home market, however, as they usually require a gas source of some sort (stove at the small end, propane tank or natural gas line at the mid/high end) and some way to vent the smoke and other fumes.
Given the requirements for running a gas machine, I did not research these as deeply for a starter machine. However, the greater capacities and control offered by a gas powered roaster will have me looking at them if/when I expand.
It used to be sourcing beans was much harder. There was only one shop in my town that would sell them, and you basically got whatever selection they had. Then Sweet Maria’s came around and changed the game for home roasters. There are now a double-handful of dedicated shops like Sweet Maria’s, and well, even Amazon will ship you some via Prime.
My recommendation here, is to grab a green bean sampler, one that’s larger than you think you’ll need, and use it to learn your chosen roaster, and to get a really good feel for a particular bean/varietal/region.