How to Roast Your Own Coffee
Every couple of days my neighbors see me out on my porch, often pyjama-clad, feeding my addiction. A small machine makes popping noises and billows out a cloud of smoke with a heady aroma. But, no, it’s not illegal. I’m roasting green beans to make the ultimate cup of coffee.
I got into roasting a couple of years back when I heard most of the beans on grocery store shelves are stale. Coffee has a short shelf life, less than five days. I learned this from Derek Zavislake at The Merchants of Green Coffee in Toronto, the company he co-owns with his brother Brad. I visit The Merchants regularly to pick up my green beans and recently took a roasting refresher course. Zavislake says that no amount of fancy packaging can preserve coffee. He explains that it is the oils in the roast that go rancid within a few days and give coffee a bitter taste. The only way to ensure it’s fresh is to roast it yourself frequently.
Many a haughty barista will tell you this is a job better left to the experts. Zavislake disagrees. “There’s no great science behind roasting. It’s a very simple process of raising the internal temperature of the bean past 400º F.” And that’s easy to do at home. You don’t need special equipment. Zavislake says, “The oven is a fantastic roaster.”
The most important thing is to start with a quality bean. The farmers are the experts. And fair trade and organic 'add a huge amount to coffee because they tell you one of the most important things about quality: where the coffee is from,' he also says.
But once you’re hooked, you’ll want to invest in a small electric home roaster, which operates 'very similar to a hot-air popcorn popper,' Zavislake demonstrates as he turns on the roaster and flicks the switch on the kettle, showing customers that it doesn’t take much longer to roast beans than it does to boil water. He then pours green beans into the small glass chamber until they are just slightly moving in the circulating hot air. Roasting this way, he says, is 'all about sight, smell and sound.'
It doesn’t take much longer to roast beans
than it does to boil water
As the moisture leaves the bean, it turns a yellowish brown and makes a popping sound. “This,” Zavislake continues, “is the first crack. The physical expansion of the bean.” You then have to watch and listen closely for the second crack, which is a faster, more crackling pop. And this is when that great coffee aroma comes out. “This is when the sugars begin to caramelize and it’s entering a medium roast.”
If you want a dark roast, roast a little longer and you will see the oils being forced out of the bean. “That’s why dark roasts are shiny,” he explains. The beans then go through a short cool-down phase and then you’re ready to grind them and make the perfect cup of coffee. One roasting makes enough for six to eight cups of coffee; most people only need to roast every couple of days.
It does take a few roasts to perfect the process though. “We encourage [customers] not to worry about under-roasting or over-roasting,” says Zavislake. Such experimentation will lead your own perfect roast.
For more information on home roasting, go to www.merchantsofgreencoffee.com.
©2008 SayItCornell.com / SayItCanada.ca. All rights reserved.
Laura Buckley is a chef and recipe consultant. She trained at the Stratford Chefs School and has worked in the kitchens of some of the top restaurants in Toronto. She also ran a catering company, called Eats of Eden, cooking for rock stars to royalty. She develops and tests recipes for cookbooks and magazines, teaches cooking classes, and is co-editor of All Stirred Up (Random House, 2003) and recipe developer for The G.I. Diet Cookbook (Random House, 2006). Laura is on the board of directors of the Women’s Culinary Network and a member of Les Dames d’Escoffier and Slow Food. She lives in Markham, Ontario with her husband and adolescent twins.