Finding Comfort in Coffee-Home Roasting Green Beans

It was a hard month for our family. Hurricane Sandy taught us that no matter how much preparation is done, our lives are interdependent on the grid. We just can not survive without our infrastructure without making significant changes. Last week we were rear ended by a young driver who just did not see that we had stopped. Was she texting? In hind sight there was nothing we could have done to avoid the collision. It was out of our hands and the calculated risk that we all take when we drive is that we depend on the assumption that the drivers who surround us on the road are careful, skilled and aware of their surroundings.

As a control freak that is learning to let go, I can only cry at the randomness of catastrophe and try to stick to things that can get me closer to some sense of control over the end product and my surrounding. Since I am not crafter, cook or house cleaner (this week), I tried to roast my own coffee. Although I know that I will never actually grow my own coffee, it does give me pleasure to think that I can take back control over the roasting process that a few shop keepers and large companies now hold over us. Roasting coffee was historically in the hands of a few until the commercialization of the process in the early 20th century. Commercially roasted and ground coffee was considered to be a modern time saver and until the Folgerization of America, many families roasted their own brew.

Home coffee roasting is considered to be a kind of “oddball” hobby and if you look at the number of You Tube videos of people roasting coffee in their back yard air popcorn poppers, you will see what I mean. Through the internet I learned that roasting green coffee can be done inexpensively in a Whirley -Pop stove- top popcorn popper. I do not use a thermometer (although it is recommended). The beans can be ordered over the internet easily.  I chose Sumatra for my experiment.

whirly popper

Whirley- Pop

Green Coffee

Green Sumatra Coffee Beans

Coffee beans need to be roasted at temperatures ranging between 350 and 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Gas burners should be turned lower than  electric burners and every source warns that when the beans roast, they release lots of moisture so open all of your windows. The smell of roasting beans is bread-y and grain-y at the start  and then becomes more recognizable as coffee as the beans become darker brown in color. I actually waited for my first batch to turn -what I thought was a coffee color-  a very dark brown and may have been scorched them. I subsequently read that one ideal color is the “brown of a monk’s robe”.

steaming beans

Scorched steaming beans

I have since learned to run with my pot of hot beans to the back door to let it steam away outside. I can only hope that my neighbors are very jealous. The beans must constantly be agitated. The agitation of the beans helps to even out the heat and remove the chaff that is still sticking on the beans. This is best facilitated by shaking the colander around.

Chaf from coffee beans


Home roasting may not be everyone’s cup of tea but I find that for me it is a very relaxing process that appeals to my sensual nature. I think that it may even be a slight aphrodisiac because I was propositioned by a workman while roasting coffee. It may be that I reminded him of his mother with my efforts in the kitchen. My house certainly has a better smell to obfuscate the fact that my efforts are not spent mopping and dusting.

The one major drawback to all of this, is that every batch tastes different. There are too many variants with roasting by smell and eye. So in my efforts to gain control over my universe, I have actually relinquished it ( unless I get a much more expensive automated home roaster). I am learning to take pleasure in the random nature of life.