Roasting coffee

Last year a coworker was planning to buy a bag of high-quality raw coffee beans from the San Cristobal Coffee Company. Although he drinks impressive quantities of coffee, he didn’t want all 95+ pounds. He offered to let some of us get in on the deal. I ended up with ten pounds’ worth of raw peaberry beans.

(Raw coffee beans look a lot like pistachios)

Score! Acceptance into the Pacific Northwe’t Coffee Cabal would finally be attained!

Like a moth is drawn to a bright light, so was I initially interested in the Binford Roasterator 2000 that would digitally roast individual beans to the brewing nirvana. Its price and apparent requirement of a nuclear-based power source, zoning permit, and college-level training were non-starters. Plus, my Kitchen Aid mixer would get jealous.

The Facebook/Twitter-enabled model costs extra.

Plan B was a modified air pop popcorn maker. This was appealing on so many levels, especially the “taking stuff apart” and “disabling safety mechanisms” prerequisite. It’s cheap, too… if you can find one. Neither Target nor Goodwill had one.

Plan C, which is what I will show today, uses inexpensive “best of breed” technologies: a wooden spoon, my ailing gas grill and a cheap, Ramen-encrusted pot that has somehow stuck with me in the 25 years since entering college.

The choice of pan is significant. Coffee stains will not come out! Seriously. Do not plan to reuse the pan for anything except roasting coffee.

Absolutely imperative – do this outside and wear clothing that you’re going to immediately toss into the washer. Before you shower. Coffee roasting produces fumes that make you question whether you’re doing it correctly.

Take the grating out of the grill and cook just above the burner set to high. When I cook 3 to 4 cups, it will take ten minutes for the mixture to warm up. During this time, stir constantly. Soon, you’ll hear the beans crackling.
As you keep stirring, the crackling will slow down as the chaff has worked its way off the beans.

Blue Smoke of Death (BSoD). Avoid breathing.

As you continue cooking, and stirr constantly, the journey to roasting takes an ugly turn. The beans will emit a nasty bluish smoke. As the smoke rate crests, crackling will restart. Cook the beans another few minutes, or until they have a moderate level of brownish-blackness.

Pour them into a heat-proof container and let it air-cool outdoors for several hours. WHen they’re at room temperature, put in a loosely covered container for a day before sealing up. (The extra time lets the BSoD leave. There will likely be a bunch of chaff in the bottom. If it bothers you, pour the beans in and out of a colander and shake it out.

Grind. Brew. Enjoy.

Random coffee trivia:

  • There are about 3,500 coffee beans in a pound of coffee.
  • A shot of espresso takes seven grams of coffee, or approximately 50 beans.
  • A pound of roasted, ground coffee will make 3.2 gallons of brew.
  • The lethal dose of caffeine is estimated between 13 and 19 grams, or roughly 140 cups of coffee in a ten hour time period. If you didn’t wet your pants first.
  • If you suffer from chronic acid reflux, you should stop drinking coffee. The Black Starbucks Limousine may make random, nocturnal visits to your home.

All Your Brews Are Belong To Us

7 thoughts on “Roasting coffee”

  1. When I worked at a certain coffee giant in Seattle (many moons ago-the siren still had fins, but had already lost her breasts), it would have been sacrilege to mention “popcorn” and “coffee” in the same sentence. They actually banned popcorn from the headquarters, so as not to interfere with the smell of coffee roasting in the adjacent plant.

  2. If you want good coffee, visit either the Greenlake or University district of Zoka (my cycling team’s sponsor). Zoka is one of the 10 BEST coffee shops in the United States (based on article in USA Today several weeks ago). You can find out more at

  3. I live vicariously through your adventures with things that require either coveralls or immediate showering upon completion of the task. And I’m also very, very thankful that I’m nearly completely decaffinated. 😉 So, uh, have to had the pleasure of drinking any of the coffee from your home roasted beans?

  4. Scout up a hot-air popcorn popper at a garage sale or eBay. They’re cheap and they really do the job well, albeit 3/4 cup at a time. It’s self-stirring as the beans roll around in the airstream, and the chaff gets blown away too.

  5. you say that “The extra time lets the BSoD leave.” what’s the BSoD?

    Is this a reference to Blue Screen of Death, or is it some freaky roasting by-product that I don’t know about.

    Also, when you said that roasting produces noxious gas, do you just dislike the smell or is there literally a noxious chemical component?
    thanks for clearing this up.
    I’m planning on doing my first roast this afternoon in an i-ROAST 2


  6. Nicole – The “S” in BSoD is smoke, a nasty byproduct of the roasting process. I don’t know if it’s noxious, but it is a very unpleasant, lingering stench detracting from the roasted coffee goodness underneath.

    Good luck on your roast!


  7. I picked some coffee at a former plantation on O’ahu (it is a really old and remote former plantation, so please don’t go raiding any coffee plantations you can see from the road…there are pretty strict laws about pilfering ag products in Hawaii). After processing the cherries and drying the beans, I removed the parchment before roasting. I roasted them in a pan in the oven shaking the pan frequently (as you would for roasting nuts). It was deliciously mocha-y…but that could just be the beans themselves. Anyway, it worked pretty well. The house smelled like burnt toast for a couple of hours, but it went away and there was no BSoD. The BSoD may be the result of burning the parchment. The book “Growing Fruits in Hawai’i” by Kathy Oshiro outlines this technique in her chapter on growing coffee. Of course, without the BSoD the story is rather dull. Never mind the coffe is good.

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