Coffee lovers, it seems, are enjoying the latest thing: Roasting coffee at home.
"In the old'n days" roasting coffee at home was very common place and generally took place inside the old cast iron ovens or over an open fire in a iron roasting chamber you had to turn by hand. These days, thanks to the boom in specialty coffee, more manufacturers are offering a new generation of home roasters -- machines that cost roughly $100 to $300 and take 20 minutes or less to roast up enough beans for two or three pots of coffee.....and then some....
The experts will tell you that beans taste best when they're freshly roasted, and lose flavor quickly after a couple of days. Yet unroasted "green" beans will keep for a year or two -- and cost half as much as pre-roasted.
Roasting coffee at home can be as simple, or complex, as you want to make it. Are you a home roasting cowboy, an artist, or do you see yourself being more scientific? Maybe you are somewhere in the middle so you get to wear chaps, spurs, and a geeky pocket protector!
What benefits do you wish to acheive by home roasting? Save money by roasting your own, really cool hobby, want to become a micro-roaster, enjoy drinking super fresh coffee, all of the above...etc. etc.
We recommend inexperienced roasters to start out with some of the more simple home roasters like the FreshRoast, Caffe' Rosto, or Zach and Dani's. More experienced roasters usually select a roaster with more bells & whistles or a larger roasting capacity. These fancier roasters cost a bit more and tout some built-in electronics for time, tempature, and roast styles.
That said here are a couple of key questions you should
Remember this folks -- Timing is Everything! The larger the capacity of the roaster, the longer the roast time -- the longer the roast time, the less acidity (brightness) in your cup and the more body you have, so there is a trade-off. Consider an economics scale with acidity on the left side and body on the right. Longer roast times move you further to the right along that scale.
As green beans heat, they make a popping noise like popcorn -- called the "first crack." After a brief pause comes the "second crack," more like a sizzle. Lighter roasts are done just after the first, while darker ones finish during or after the second. Roast too fast and the beans will burn before their flavors develop fully. Go too slow, and they "bake" and taste one-dimensional.
Roasters with a glass chamber like the FreshRoast or Zach and Dani's let you see the beans as they circulate and roast. Other roasters like the Caffe' Rosto and Hearthware hold the beans in a glass carafe so they are also easy to see, but circulate the beans quite quickly. Most are fairly quiet and you can listen to the beans as they crack. The Caffe' Rosto sounds a bit like a vacuum cleaner so it is difficult to hear the beans, but the trade here is that the time vs. body/acidity is right on the dime so to speak. The Alpenröst does not give you the ability to see as it has a black housing cover, so you must either listen carefully or just trust the on-board circuitry to run its "fully-automatic" cycle.
And then there's the smell. Beans smoke as they roast, which means most machines need to be used near an open window or under a stovetop vent. The exception: the Zach & Dani's roaster, which has an internal catalytic converter to eliminate smoke. A great idea and works well, but still smokes a bit on darker roasts.
What say ye? Ultimately the decision of which roaster to buy will be up to you and your tastebuds. For us, we love them all and appreciate the manufacturers that are bringing these joyful machines to the marketplace! With ALL these units the end result is a great cup -- leagues beyond one made from the average supermarket bean -- and we think it is all well worth the trouble. We hope you learn to feel the same way!
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