I know one thing about coffee and that is that I like to drink it.I could easily use the word addiction, and when you prefer fine coffee that can be expensive. When I heard it is possible to roast your own beans with, of all things, a hot air popcorn machine, I decided to give it a try. I’ve ground my own beans seeking freshness but never roasted them. It turned out to be a great way to learn about one of my favorite beverages and resulted in an excellent cup of coffee.
Coffee beans are the seeds inside the fruit of the coffee tree, actually more like a bush. Roasting transforms their starches to sugars and their color from green to brown. The degree of roast is how long the coffee is exposed to consistent heat. The longer the exposure, the darker the bean.
Obtaining green beans
For green beans I contacted Landgrove Coffee of Troy, which supplies coffee to the Lewiston Tribune and Moscow-Pullman Daily News. Owner Hannah Binninger said they don’t get many requests for green beans, but “there’s a few diehards who actually stick with it.” She recommended the website www.sweetmarias.com as a guide for roasting. The site also sells a variety of fancy beans in small quantities. On average, green beans are about half the price of roasted beans, although it depends on the coffee, she noted. She sent me a bag of Sumatra.
Finding a hot air popcorn machine
You can buy small coffee roasters but a hot air popcorn machine can work just as well because it provides even heat at high temperatures. Air circulates the beans so they don’t scorch. When I didn’t find a hot air popper at local second-hand stores, I put a request on Facebook that was quickly answered. I made sure she didn’t want the machine returned because roasting coffee in it would probably alter the taste of popcorn, and who knew how this experiment would end.
Roasting the beans
I set the machine up on an outdoor porch. Good ventilation is required because beans get smoky. Also green beans release papery skins called chaff that flies everywhere. With that combination comes the potential for fire if you are not vigilant.
Sweet Maria’s said to use the same amount of beans as the machine calls for popcorn. I didn’t have directions so guessed half a cup. I placed a metal bowl under the chamber opening and plugged it in.
I checked the beans through the opening at the top of the machine (in many machines this is where the butter cup would be). The green beans released a grassy smell. With light brown came a toasty smell. I listened carefully for what is called the “first crack.” Like popcorn the beans will pop. The first series of pops is the first crack. After that, the beans are palatable and it is considered a light roast. A faint coffee smell wafted out.
For a darker roast you wait for the second crack, which has a somewhat shallower sound. At this point the level of roasting goes from a City Roast to French Roast and the flavor of the roast begins to eclipse the bean’s “origin character,” its distinct land-given flavors. One is advised to pull the beans from the machine before you think they are done because they continue to cook in their collective heat.
Time varies by machine. I waited a bit after first crack to unplug the machine and dump the hot beans into the bowl. The cold outdoor air slowed their roasting. Total time was about 12 minutes, longer than Sweet Marias said it would take. I attributed that to my machine being older.
I decided to try it again, immediately, which was a mistake. Within a few minutes a piece of the machine melted off because it had run for so long. I should have let it cool before starting again, a tip I vaguely recalled as I held the broken part.
Using fresh-roasted beans
Freshly roasted beans should be stored in an airtight glass jar, but you should wait 12 hours to put the lid on because the beans need to release carbon dioxide. Coffee attains its peak four to 24 hours after roasting, but you can brew a cup right away. If stored as recommended it is considered fresh for about a week. My half cup of beans yielded about a cup of roasted beans. I ground and brewed them in a French press into one of the most flavorful and zesty cups of coffee I’ve ever had.