In a previous post, I sang the praises of using a Whirley Pop popcorn popper as an inexpensive way to give home coffee roasting a try. There’s a really good video from Roastycoffee.com linked in my website. Definitely take a look at that and search out some other Youtube videos before you get started. I’m merely writing this post to give you the general idea. I’ve tried to simplify the process as much as possible as home coffee roasting can quickly get very involved and detailed.
Gather all your gear before you get started. You want everything within arm’s reach before you get to turning the handle on the Whirley Pop. Popper, thermometer, colander/cookie sheet, a couple of oven mitts, and some good tunes are all essential. I like to set the popper lower to the ground and sit in a chair while turning the handle. You can also grab a flashlight to try and peer through the steam and smoke to monitor the bean color, though I have better luck listening and smelling for the progressive stages of coffee roasting.
Before you turn on your heat source, familiarize yourself with the Whirley Pop operation. It’s a good idea to throw a cup of green coffee beans in the popper and watch what happens when you turn the crank. Oftentimes you’ll need to adjust the “arms” of the popper by bending them down so they make better contact with the beans. You want to keep the beans moving so they don’t scorch.
Now, get the popper on your heat source and get it heating up. I like to get the popper up to about 400 F before I put the beans in. Once the popper is up to temperature, pour in 1 cup of beans. I find that 1 cup of green coffee beans is a good place to start. You’ll want to experiment and probably get yourself a digital scale at some point if you keep going with home roasting. 1 cup yields a bit under ½ lbs of roasted beans and if you burn a batch it’s not too much wasted. Once the beans are in the heat, close the lid and start crankin’ the handle. A nice, steady turn is all that’s required. I like to reverse every once in a while as well as give it a couple of speed cranks from time to time.
Resist the urge to open the lid constantly. Instead, every few minutes open it up to take the temperature. The temperature will go down right after you put the beans in but will slowly rise. At around 385 F, the magic starts to happen…
The stages of roasting can be broken down into roughly 4 increments but a lot happens to the bean’s flavor as it transitions through these stages. The stages are:
Yellowing: As the beans heat up, their color shifts from pale green to light yellow. The beans are undrinkable during this stage and they give off a hot, grassy odor. Inside the bean, water begins to dissipate and the beans begin to steam.
First Crack: After watching the beans change colors and begin to steam, your nose joins the party as the steam emits a unique, pleasing odor. Next, you’ll begin to hear when the first bean expands and lets out an audible crack. Other beans follow suit and this is commonly called “first crack.” Beans roasted to this threshold retain their distinct origin taste. For example, Sumatran has an “earthy” taste while Central American coffees are a little more familiar with their medium body tastes. That’s with my unsophisticated tastebuds, anyway.
Second Crack: After first crack, the beans go silent as they continue to heat. When the heat reaches around 430-440 F the second crack can be heard. With “second crack” the crack is more of a snap and the snap is very similar to Rice Krispies in milk. The flavor changes throughout the roasting process and you’ll need to play around with different levels of roast. For most beans, I prefer to end the roast somewhere into the second crack—trying to let my ears and my nose tell me when to pull the beans off the heat. Darkening Roast: As the beans become darker, they start to shine because oils in the beans have migrated to the beans’ surface. This is where you start moving toward French Roast territory. It can be a fine line between this stage and the stage commonly referred to as “burned!”
When you determine the beans have reached the desired roast, pull the popper off the heat and pour the beans into the colander. Lightly tossing the beans in the colander helps cool the beans and gets rid of the chaff. Word to the wise: you should roast in the garage or outside. Your family, roommate, significant other will enjoy the coffee you’ve roasted much more if they don’t have to deal with the smell and mess!
After the beans have cooled a bit, put them in an airtight container but leave the top loose overnight to let the beans off-gas. You can also buy handy coffee bags with a degassing valve built in. These make nice gifts for friends and family!
Be patient and prepared to have a few dud batches. Experiment and take notes right from the beginning. I promise if you stick with it you’ll become proficient in no time and will amaze and impress the coffee drinkers in your life!
Check out my Recommended Products for links to products on Amazon. I’ve worked to sort through the products and provide folks a helpful way to get started enjoying home coffee roasting!
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