Roasting your own coffee is a fairly simple process that requires a minimum of finesse. Even better, time investment is only slightly more than making a batch of popcorn. Whether you’re looking to roast for your own daily consumption or to add flavor to a home-brewed stout or porter, here’s a primer on how to get started with a minimum of equipment.
There are several approaches to equipment, from a simple to complex, and from garage sale to barista level budget. Here are some of your options, starting with the simplest:
Iron skillet and wooden spoon
According to various sources, a simple skillet over a flame was how coffee was once roasted and is still roasted traditionally in Ethiopia and elsewhere. When the beans heat, they tend to pop, so some kind of lid would be in order.
Manual popcorn popper and candy thermometer
Many 19th-century kitchens had a revolving iron drum that was held over the flame, rotisserie-style to more easily toast the beans without burning. The Whirley Pop works on a similar principle, rotating the beans with a metal arm at the bottom of the pot.
This method is simple, inexpensive, and allows roasting of half a pound or more at each sitting, though you’ll need a gas stove for maximum effect. This is the approach I’ve chosen to start.
Electric air popper (1980s-style)
Most vintage air poppers have over-engineered heating units that are up to the task of roasting green coffee, though the paper-like husk may pose a fire risk if it isn’t vented up and out of the beans by the popper. Many newer models have a thermostat to shut off the roaster should it get too hot which must be disabled to get the proper results. This is a fire hazard, though I haven’t verified it myself.
Various companies sell purpose-made home roasting devices that function by heating the beans inside a rotating metal or glass drum. These devices, which run from $150 to $1000 or more must be rested between batches and handle a maximum of half a pound of green coffee.
Since I was looking for a minimal initial investment, I didn’t choose this approach.
Commercial sample roasters cost several thousand dollars and are the way the pros develop their recipes with small batches of green coffee beans.