“God, you add fifteen steps to everything,” one of my roommates commented when I told them I had bought green coffee beans with the hopes of roasting, grinding and brewing them from scratch.
The appeal of DIY-everything lies mostly in a basic curiosity about how things are put together. Like a mechanic toying under the hood of a car or a techie tinkering with the chips of a motherboard, fiddling around with pectin, macerated vanilla beans and now, inedible coffee beans, indulges a fascination with how much effort can go into a single product.
With the direct/fair trade debate still perking up ears everywhere, the ethical benefits of roasting your own coffee beans are obvious. Sweet Maria’s (where these are from) is one of many green bean purveyors that purchases small batches of beans directly from farmers across the world. Each coffee has a backstory that details everything from the region to the process and the farmers behind the bean. Read more about this particular batch, Ethiopia Harar Longberry, here.
Harar is a dry-processed coffee, the simple, rustic method where the ripe red coffee cherry is picked from the tree and laid in the sun to dry. It turns raisin-brown, then dries so the hard shell of fruit skin, mucilage and parchment shell can be torn from the green seed in one step. The result is wild cup flavors, fruited, chocolate, spice, and thick body. But since it is such a crude process, there is little mechanized intervention in terms of quality control: no machine screening, density sorting, electronic color sorting. Everything is done with the eye and the hand, as coffee is winnowed in baskets, under-ripes, broken beans, black beans, fermented beans, all removed visually in countless hours of work. It’s even hulled out of its husk by hand, pounded in a wooden mortar rather than by machine. It’s a human-sorting system that makes up in character what it lacks in perfection.
Each coffee is also rated and cupped and the notes are meticulous almost to the point of being ridiculous. One of the coffees I received had notes of “chocolate dipped banana.” I have high hopes for a nose that can do so much detecting. (Unfortunately, or fortunately enough, my nose smelled only “really fresh coffee.”)
Home roasting is actually incredibly easy. There are a few methods for doing so, most of which take between 15-30 minutes. I settled on using a mini wok, a wooden spoon and the lid off of a large pot. (This was nothing if not a guerrilla venture into home roasting.) Alternating between constant stirring (lid off) and constant shaking (lid on), I watched the beans gradually burn into an even, deep chestnut and even further into a chocolate brown. The biggest challenge, at least for me, was making sure all beans roasted at the same pace. Through constant stirring this wasn’t too much of a problem, but upon finishing I weeded out a few golden beans that hadn’t quite gotten enough “me” time with the hot side of the wok.
After roasting to the desired color (I’m a French roast girl at heart–the darker the better!) I sifted the beans through a strainer to remove extra pieces of shell and, once cooled, processed them through a grinder. I immediately pressed my first cup of fresh coffee–how can you not?–but apparently the coffee beans are at their peak about 24 hours after roasting. Noted. I suppose that means I’ll just have to make some more?
In regards to pricing, green beans are far less expensive than your average roasted beans–and rightly so, as your foregoing the major machinery typically used to roast. But it’s worth noting that unless you’re buying a significant quantity of beans (a few pounds or so) shipping will usurp any monetary benefit to home roasting. Not that it isn’t worth it, but don’t expect to make any money.
Sweet Maria’s has a briefing on roasting that details out the instructions much better than my heat-and-stir basics. It’s worth reading, even if you’re only mildly interested. The process is so complex, and I feel a bit more knowledgeable not only about where my coffee is coming from, but about the detailed methods used to create anything from a Full City roast to an overall stronger cup of coffee. Just taking my coffee obsession to a whole new level.