I started roasting for the economy of it. I mean, who can resist Cup of Excellence-level coffees at five or ten bucks a pound?
Okay, I'm also a control freak.
My coffee must be roasted my way.
Of course, the most important thing to be gained from homeroasted coffee is not economy, or even control. It's flavour. Fortunately, economy need not be dropped as a consideration: you can go for cheap on both the roaster and the beans, and still have excellent coffee: green coffee, even the stuff in the top 5% of all coffee produced — which is what most homeroasters — get is not an expensive product.
An example I like to use is kopi luwak. No, you don't want it. You really don't. Honest. Don't even click on the hardlink.
But if you did, you could procure it from a co-op for about sixty-five bucks a pound. Depending on water loss in your roast, that leaves you with around thirteen ounces of coffee, which would make (accounting for waste) about twenty doppios.
That doesn't sound cheap yet, does it?
It will when I tell you that for $3.25 for coffee and a quarter's-worth of milk, you can make a double cappuccino that beats even the nice local coffee joint, to say nothing of Charbucks. So, $3.50 for a cappa? With one of the more expensive green coffees available, no less.
Okay, first you'll need a popcorn popper. This is your roaster. Spend a lot of money. Buy one for five bucks at a thrift store. I don't care. I've not yet heard of anyone finding a popper that couldn't be used entirely unmodified. Modifications will come later: if you want to make a Frankenpopper, just Google it. You'll find them.
The only overarching concern is that you will need a chimney of some sort so the beans don't go flying out the top as they get lighter. Some people use soup cans, some use dryer ducting, some use glass lamp chimneys.
Other than that, you really just dump some greens in a popper and stir the beans while they roast.
Second, you need green coffee. The vendor I recommend is Sweet Maria's. You'll pay less for better coffee and better service there than anyplace with slightly-lower prices and bottom-of-the-cargo-container beans. I rarely purchase coffee anywhere else, and highly recommend them. Besides, they're a great source for information on all things coffee.
Third, you need a way to cool the beans quickly. People come up with all kinds of expedients, including spraying with water, freezing, refrigerating, winnowing, ignoring, and so on — all of which techniques are to be avoided as either too slow (winnowing, ignoring) or too apt to damage the coffee with moisture (spraying, freezing, refrigerating). Your best bet is forced-air cooling.
Get a fan. Any fan you can aim upwards will do: a small air-circulator is what I use, but a box fan on a couple stacks of books is just as serviceable. On top of that fan put a screen or a colander or something. Dump the beans in and turn the fan on. Simple. Fast. Your beans will be cool to the touch in thirty seconds to a minute.
Roasting seems more complicated than it is; and indeed, you can take it to any level of complexity you want. I used to "roast by the numbers", with a high-range analog thermometer poked into the heart of the storm, a stopwatch to mark time, and a notepad to record the time-and-temperature "roast profile" of every roast I did.
All you need to know about roasting is that coffee cracks audibly twice as it expands. First crack marks the beginning of "roasted coffee". Second crack marks the beginning of "Starbucks coffee". If you like very light roasts, take the beans off sometime during the first period of "popping sounds". Medium roasts are about halfway between first and second crack (Yes, I did just say, "Get off the bus the stop before me." You'll get to know your beans and your roaster, and it'll click.). Dark roasts are anything once second crack has started.
- A cheap popcorn popper
- A hurricane-lamp chimney that fits the "roast chamber"
- A long chopstick used for cooking in a wok — for stirring
- A Vornado air-circulating fan
- A steamer tray from an old stockpot
- An oven mitt
- Canning jars
- Plug in fan.
- Put colander on fan.
- Dump coffee in roaster.
- Plug in roaster.
- Stir, wearing an oven mitt, until the coffee is light enough to move by itself.
- Wait until the coffee is to the desired roast level.
- Unplug roaster.
- Dump coffee in colander.
- Turn on fan.
- When coffee is cool (about a minute), dump into canning jar.
It's much simpler than, say, making pancakes.
- $10-$20 for the roaster, depending on what you get and where.
- $5-6/lb for coffee, plus shipping
$25-$40 should get you started. That money, if spent on roasted coffee of the quality you'll be getting by roasting your own, would get you two to three pounds. Saving money already!
A note about roast level
Charbucks, Seattle's Best, Peet's, and other so-called "specialty" coffee vendors have sold us on "dark roast is where coffee is at its best". This is similar to a low-grade steak restaurant that dared tout "extra-well done": if a steak is burnt, who's to tell how good a steak it really was? A filet mignon wouldn't taste much different from chuck-roast with that treatment.
Officially, a City roast (halfway between first and second cracks) is the ideal brewed-coffee roast. For espresso, anything from City through Full City (the raw beginnings of second crack) or even Full City + is acceptable. Play around, though. For espresso, give the mediums to medium-darks a try. For brewed coffee, give the lights to mediums a chance. You may be surprised at the flavours lurking in truly good coffee that you'd otherwise burn off in the quest for "dark roast".
The only coffees I take more than a few seconds into second crack are Indonesians, and I rarely allow anything to get into what's termed "rolling second".