Driven by a growing culinary appreciation for coffee and all that it entails, home coffee roasting has soared in popularity in recent years. According to roasting equipment retailers Sweet Maria’s, sales of their Fresh Roast home roasters were up by 83% in 2020 compared to 2019.
As well as broadening your knowledge of coffee, home roasting offers the chance to experiment with different roast profiles and produce the perfect coffee for you. For those who have aspirations to open commercial roasteries of their own, it can be a great introduction to the process of coffee roasting.
However, while home roasting can be extremely rewarding, it comes with its own set of unique challenges. From choosing the right equipment to storing green coffee beans properly, there are a number of different factors to consider before getting started.
To find out more about roasting coffee at home, I spoke with Head Roaster at First Crack Coffee Roastery, Mark Low.
Why Do People Roast Coffee At Home?
In recent years, home roasting has become a popular pursuit for thousands of people worldwide. During the pandemic in particular, home roasting experienced somewhat of a “boom”. Last year, sales of home roasting equipment leapt, while companies such as UK-based Rave Coffee added to their range of green bean offerings.
Those who roast their own coffee at home often find it to be a deeply rewarding experience. In addition to producing roasted coffee exactly how you want it, the whole process of sourcing green beans and experimenting with different roast profiles can help further an appreciation of the work involved in producing a cup of coffee.
“Roasting beans at home will improve your understanding of everything that goes into making great coffee,” Mark tells me. “When someone else is doing the job for you, yes, it can taste good – but the deeper sense of satisfaction you get when you do something yourself is missing.”
This is what’s known as the “Ikea effect”, a phenomenon in which people tend to place higher value on products they are directly involved in creating. While home roasters don’t tend to have any say in the growing of coffee, roasting puts them in control of an important part of the supply chain. Specifically, they have the opportunity to unlock the potential of green beans, rather than letting someone else do it for them.
Mark explains that coffee roasting is challenging in that a slight change in any of the roasting variables, such as charge temperature, heat application or the cooling process, can produce entirely different outcomes. However, the payoff is immense, particularly when the roasted coffee is shared with friends and family.
It can also provide a good jumping-off point for those looking to become full-time roasters in the future. Many describe coffee roasting as an “art”, which – like any art – takes time and practice to master. Home roasting is a relatively inexpensive way of testing the water, honing your craft, and practically applying new-found knowledge.
How To Start Home Coffee Roasting
To start roasting coffee at home, you just need three things: equipment, green beans, and basic roasting knowledge.
If you are looking to start home roasting as economically as possible, one of the most accessible ways is by using basic kitchen appliances, such as ovens, frying pans, or popcorn makers.
However, for those who want to have more control over the process, Mark recommends investing in a purpose-built home roaster. Not only will it be easier to dial-in your desired roast profile, it will also be easier to clean away any byproducts, such as oils and chaff.
In The Art and Craft of Coffee, coffee expert Kevin Sinnott provides a comprehensive review on stovetop roasters, drum roasters, and fluid-air roasters. He says that finding the right roaster ultimately comes down to personal preference, from batch size to roast profile.
For many, choosing the green beans for roasting is the most exciting part of the whole process. It’s an opportunity to try new coffees and broaden your knowledge beyond the regular offerings of grocery stores and commercial roasteries.
“The easiest way to source green beans is to drop by your local roastery and ask whether they’ll sell you a small sample,” Mark says. “Otherwise, websites like Cropster have a large database of coffee farmers from all around the world, where you can simply browse and order from.”
If you don’t live near a local roastery, you can search for one in a nearby city and contact them. Alternatively, coffee subscription services like Union and Rave Coffee offer their own line of green beans with detailed information attached to each bag.
The moment green beans are exposed to heat, a series of chemical reactions start to take place. According to Sweet Maria’s, the bean will remain greenish for the first few minutes before turning to a light shade of yellow, and emitting a grassy aroma. The beans will start releasing steam as its internal water content evaporates. This is known as the “drying stage”.
Shortly after, the beans will darken to shades of brownish yellow and emit pleasant bready aromas. One of the most important chemical processes that contributes to colour and aroma changes is the chemical interaction between amino acids and reducing sugars, known as the maillard reaction.
As the beans continue to absorb heat energy, internal pressure builds up until the beans burst open, creating crackling or popping sounds. This is known as “first crack.”
“We usually aim for 8-12 minutes to hit first crack,” Mark explains. “The first crack stage is crucial – with the wrong flame or air flow, you will risk burning off the beans and their flavours.”
Mark explains that depending on the roast profile you’re aiming for, you can choose to end the roast following first crack (usually 1 – 1.5 minutes) or continue roasting until second crack. In his book on home coffee roasting, Kenneth Davis suggests that light to medium roast is achieved between first and second crack, while ending the roast after second crack results in darker roast like “full city” or “Viennese.”
When you end the roast, another key step is the cool down process. “Without cooling the beans as quickly as possible, they will continue to roast and this creates a more developed outcome than intended,” Mark adds.
Once the beans are properly cooled, store them in airtight packaging or containers to prevent the loss of flavours and aroma.
Top Tips To Improve Your Home Roasting
With very low barriers to entry, home roasting can be picked up by almost anyone with the determination to roast their own coffee. But before starting, there are a few pieces of advice worth noting.
Keeping a roasting journal
Data is incredibly useful in coffee roasting. Not only does it help to make sense of what went right or wrong with a roast, it indicates where adjustments should be made to achieve the desired roast profile.
In his book, Davis advises noting down the following data where possible (Some variables can be omitted if your roasting method does not permit the collection of such data.):
– Identity of coffee
– Approximate age of coffee
– Roast method
– Roast date
– Weight or volume of beans roasted
– Roast chamber temperature
– Elapsed time to first crack
– Final bean temperature
– Elapsed time of roast
– Quench method
Cup more coffee
Mark suggests home roasters cup every single batch of coffee because it allows them to identify potential mistakes and recognise areas for improvement. For him, cupping also helps develop sensory skills.
“Without sensory skills, you won’t be able to identify specific flavour notes,” he says. “Train and expand your palate by doing a lot of cupping and eating fruits to understand the different tastes at play.”
Share your creation
One of the most important things to do when home roasting is to share your coffee with friends and family. By allowing other people to try your beans, you will be able to gain a new perspective on taste and allow yourself to further progress as a roaster.
“As a roaster, if I roast and cup my own coffee, I may develop flavours that I like but I could also get stuck on that particular flavour without knowing that other people might taste something else,” Mark says.
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes
Coffee roasting is a continuous learning process – no matter how much you know, there’s always room for improvement. Like any craft, making mistakes is part of the process.
“There are guidelines and rules to guide you, but the only way you will truly learn is by making mistakes,” Mark says.
It’s advisable to start with cheaper beans if you’ve just begun your coffee roasting journey, as batches will inevitably go to waste when you’re learning the ropes.
At MTPak Coffee, we offer a range of coffee packaging with low minimum order quantities (MOQs), the perfect option for home coffee roasters.
Choose between flat bottom pouches, stand-up pouches or side gusset pouches in MOQs as little as 500 units. Simple, affordable, and low-risk, our stock bags will preserve the freshness of your coffee beans and make sure they’re at their best when consumed.