So You Want to Roast Coffee? : Part 3

Home Roasting

After my last installment, you probably wonder at the title of the series. You might be ready to turn it right back at me; “So, you want to roast coffee?” Thankfully, my answer to that question was, and is… yes! My desire to roast coffee at home prompted me to press on through the failure I experienced with my two hot air popcorn poppers (see Part 2). That persistence led me to a success that I have been enjoying ever since.

roast coffee

Roast Coffee Whirleypop

At some point along the way, I got tired of roasting bad coffee in my hot air popper and decided to take a next step. So I purchased a WhirleyPop stovetop manual crank popcorn popper. Again, this is not a how-to series on roasting, so I would encourage you to do some research on how to roast in the stovetop popper. My purpose here is to share the ups and downs of my experience. Fortunately, most of the downs were behind me when I gave up the electric hot air popper.

The WhirleyPop stovetop popper will run you between $25 and $30; comparable to the electric hot air popper. While the stovetop popper may seem like a step backwards technologically, I found it to be leaps forward in my ability to roast coffee as I experienced good results right from my first attempt.

As I was learning from others’ experience on the internet, one thing that made sense was to drill a small hole in the lid of the whirley-pop popper through which to insert a thermometer to watch the temperature. So, I did drill the hole and started the hunt for the thermometer. We live in a small town (population 6,000), so our kitchen supply chain is limited. I was having trouble finding a thermometer locally that would register the 400+ degrees that I was looking for. But, I didn’t let that stop me from getting started roasting without the thermometer.

I started out all scientific-like, buying a coffee roasting app for my iPad, timing my coffee roast(s), notating beginning and end of first crack and second crack (when applicable), along with country of origin and other miscellaneous notes about the process. While some may be really into this sort of thing, it got burdensome to me and now I find that I roast by listening, rather than any other method. I don’t even open the lid to look at the color of the beans as I don’t want to allow heat to escape, and I never did buy a thermometer. I now roast solely by sound. Here’s my method (not a “how-to,” but rather just my way), but your results and methods may vary:

1.       Turn on the stove – We have an electric stove. I use the burner that is closest to the diameter of the popper pan. I turn the burner exactly half-way on, giving me a medium heat that works quite well. You may have to experiment with your own heating device as I’m sure every range may have its own unique temperature.

2.       Get your other supplies ready – I use two colanders for cooling the beans. So, I get them out and set them on the counter beside the stove for a quick and easy grab. I also put a large towel on an open space on the counter and lay a wooden spoon close by (more on this later). Also, turn on your exhaust fan over your stove to its highest setting. This will help to remove the smoke and some of the smell of roasting.

3.       Put the pan on – I usually set the popper pan on the burner to allow it to heat up before I…

4.       Put in the green beans – I usually take my 20 oz. Starbucks tall mug and fill it to about ½” from the top, then dump them into the pan and close the lid.

5.       Crank, crank, crank – I never stop cranking the whole time I’m roasting. I keep an eye on the digital clock on the stove and, every two minutes, I pick the pan up and give it a shake, just to give the beans a change of position inside the pan. Be sure to hold down the loose side of the lid when you shake it to keep the lid from flapping up and down (letting out heat).

6.       Listen closely – Like I said, I have gotten very fond of roasting solely by listening. Usually at somewhere around 12 minutes (give-or-take a few, depending on the type of bean), I start to hear first crack (I’ll let you research first and second crack on your own). I keep cranking and listening. I tend to like a darker roast, so I go all the way through first crack and into the early stages of second crack.

7.       The fast transition – At the moment that I feel I want to get the beans off the heat and starting to cool, I do several things very quickly: a) turn off the stove, b) grab the colanders and popper pan and head outside, c) once outside, dump the beans into one of the colanders as quickly as possible to start the cooling process, d) hold the empty colander with one hand and raise the one with the beans as high as you can over the empty one and start to slowly pour the beans from one to the other. This will increase the cooling and the movement of the outside air will blow the chaff off. I then keep pouring them back and forth from one colander to the other until such time that the chaff is mostly gone.

8.       Continuing the cool – Once I’m satisfied that my roasted beans are fairly clean, I bring them back inside and place them, in the colander, on top of the towel I had spread on the counter. I then keep stirring the beans with the wooden spoon to continue cooling them. The towel is underneath because there will still be some chaff come out of the holes in the bottom of the colander.

9.       Storage – Once the beans have cooled pretty well, I put them in a jar and set a lid loosely on top. I cock the lid off to the side enough that air can easily escape. That’s because gasses come off the beans for quite a while. I don’t tighten the lid onto the jar for at least 4 hours.

So, there you have it; not a how-to, but a how-I-do-it. I don’t suggest this as the right way to roast because I’m sure my way would cause some people fits at how unscientific I have become. To me, it’s more of an art than a science.

I would love to continue my series and tell you about the home roasting machines that are on the market. However, this is the extent of my roasting experience to date. Maybe someday I will own a machine, but given the fact that I’m happy with the results I’m getting now, spending a few hundred dollars for a machine to roast is not that appealing. Did I mention my birthday is coming in March?

If you’re a machine roaster, I welcome you to pick up with Part 4. I would especially be interested in hearing your thoughts on the various types of machines and the results that can be achieved.

Happy roasting everyone! Thanks for hanging with me.

photo credit: Josh Koonce



Randy is a pastor and hospice chaplain with a bachelor's degree in Transformational Christian Ministry. He enjoys motorcycling, music, photography, social networking, technology, and... oh yeah... COFFEE!!! His coffee drink of choice is a caramel latte, which he has been actively trying to perfect at home since the early 2000's. He has been roasting since mid-2011. His interest in coffee continues as he is always seeking to further his knowledge and ability of our craft.

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