Home Roasting?!?!

Good gosh! With all the things that can go wrong just pouring hot water through ground coffee, why would anyone in their right mind attempt to roast coffee beans at home? Doesn't it take years of training and experience to know exactly what kind of bean takes what length of roast at what temperature? Who has the thousands of dollars to invest in a personal roaster? And for Pete's sake, where would you get the raw beans?

Surprise! While UCC and Starbucks have nothing to fear from the home roaster, more and more people are roasting their own beans in the privacy of their own homes. And they are doing it without a lot of expensive equipment or accumulated knowledge or technology leading to the 21st century and peace and prosperity for all. (Sorry, accidentally hit one of my translation function keys. Won't happen again. Promise.)

Why are they doing it? For the novelty, of course. Certainly, no one can expect to produce superior quality roasts in their own home without a lot of trial and error.

Perhaps some see home roasting as a way to ensure ultimate freshness. Others may be looking for a bit more control over their home brew, or a way to educate their palate, learning from bean to brew what it takes to make a perfect cup of coffee.

Home roasting equipment can be quite inexpensive and uncomplicated, or insanely expensive and mind-boggling complex. As always in this column, we'll stick to the inexpensive anduncomplicated end of the scale-methods that can be had for a minimum investment, and used at home with a minimum of fuss and bother.

Palani Plantation Quickrost
This is probably the simplest, safest, and least expensive method of all, and hey, it works! The Palani Plantation Quickrost is a pie pan-like aluminum tray with pentangonal holes punched in a precise pattern in the bottom. Spread your green beans in the pan and place the pan in a pre-heated oven (abou;t 425°F). Let them roast for 10-15 minutes, then pull out the pan, and let the beans cool. Presto!, the freshest coffee in the world!

The pan itself is cheap at $3.00, or you can order it in a set with green Kona beans for $13.95 or Mexican Pluma Oaxaco beans for $5.50. Tel: (415) 327-5774 or (808) 329-3053.

Popcorn Air Popper
Believe it or not, if you have a popcorn air popper, you have a coffee roaster. Apparently, the temperature needed to pop popcorn is quite close to the temperature needed to roast coffee: 425-470°F (__-__°C). And air poppers are cheap! A good one can be had for as little as $18.00.

Simply warm the unit up, toss in the beans and watch them float around. Use a thermometer capable of registering at least 470°F to gauge doneness. A light roast is done at about 440°F, a medium roast at about 460°F and a dark roast at 470°F and up. You can also judge by color-light for light roast, dark for dark roast-but be aware that roasted beans will change color after cooling and may look lighter or darker than than they looked in the popper.

But before you start tossing green beans into your popcorn popper, be aware that the process is inherently dangerous, since popcorn takes only a few minutes to pop while coffee beans can take up to 15 mintues to roast. That is sure to stress your popper's safety mechanisms close to, if not well beyond, the breaking point. If you try this, you are on your own. At the very least do it outside, wear protective clothing and have a fire extinguisher and lawyer handy.

Drum Roaster
This is a small unit which you may see in antique stores or coffee museums. They consist of a small drum-either metal or glass-with a crank at one end. A heat source-usually a candle-is placed under the drum, and the drum is turned.

I haven't seen one of these offered for sale at any of the coffee shops I patronize, but you may find one in your neighborhood.

So now you have a roaster. Where do you find raw coffee beans? At your local roaster. Be aware, however, that you will probably pay standard retail. No discount for doing it yourself.

You may be able to go directly to a green bean dealer. They generally deal in large lots, though, so if you don't need a 100-kilo bag of green beans, you may have to look elsewhere. If you do find someone that deals in smaller lots-say a pound or two-let me know. I'll write them up in a future colum. Happy roasting!