Home Roasting: Why Bother?

by Ed Powers, edpowers@ix.netcom.com

You don't know what you're missing when you dismiss home roasting out of hand. I will contend it saves me TIME and MONEY as side benefits to the main benefits of improved and dependable freshness and flavor. It's fun and, most importantly for me, a big learning experience. This comes from the guy who once went on the internet and challenged all the home roasters to convince him that it wasn't a big waste of time. Needless to say, I was roundly flamed.

Okay, here's my time- and money-saving case.

First, green (unroasted) beans are cheaper. Anywhere from 10%-30% cheaper. In fairness, that doesn't translate totally since the beans lose about 15%-20% of their weight during roasting from a loss of moisture. But you're still ahead on a price per pound basis.

AND, there's no waste because you only roast what you can use. I roast once or twice a week. For me to have coffee as fresh and delicious as I do now, I'd have to make more trips to my roaster or buy more than I can use in a week. A waste of time and money. Now as a home roaster I go to my roaster less often to buy beans than to chew the fat with the owner. And he likes the chance to talk to someone who appreciates the depth of his expertise.

AND, green beans store well. They keep for a year or more before trained experts can detect any difference in flavor at all, and the difference is a mellowing of the acidity and an increase in body. Good news for many, since there are several coffees that are aged on purpose before they're roasted.

AND, I can keep more varieties of beans on hand and move from coffee to coffee more frequently than I would if I bought pre-roasted. Low boredom factor because I can change bean and roast style literally every day if I want. I get the comfort and convenience of being at home with the choices of being at a cafe!

AND, I could have roasted two or three batches of beans in the time it's taken me to write this note. It really only takes about 5-8 minutes to roast enough coffee for a couple of full pots of drip coffee (I drink half that much, so I can get a week's coffee roasted in far less time than it takes to run to the roaster).

I spent $11 at Meijer's for an appropriate hot air popcorn popper to do my roasting -- that's cheap! You can use an electric oven to roast, but I never have and I have the impression that it takes more time, it's more difficult to get consistent results, and it's kind of smelly/messy compared to the popper. You can learn enough to get started on all types of home roasting with Kenneth Davids' book titled Home Coffee Roasting: Romance and Revival, published by St. Martin's Press, New York.

But all of this is the tangible, objective reasoning to roast at home. I think the stuff that makes it truly worthwhile are the intangibles, some can be described, some can't. It's a rich multi-sensory experience. You get a sense of the art of roasting and an appreciation of a very complex beverage. You learn a heck of a lot about different coffees. It's an pastime that impresses even cafe baristas when you go to buy beans, which can be a nice head- swelling experience.

I hope you give it a try, even if it's just for the economics. Because if you do, you'll keep roasting for the intangibles.