In our home we start the morning with our signature drink, The Maple Cappuccino. It’s a regular cappuccino with dash of real Grade B maple syrup added to the bottom of the cup. As our home’s designated barista I make two to four of these a day. When we have house guests this number can easily go into double digits. (It’s not just caps in the morning; it can be caps in the afternoon, and even late day espressos and after dinner espressos).

All of the coffee beans for these drinks are roasted in house. I started roasting my own coffee about six years ago, at the recommendation of one of my Denver-area carpentry clients, and I have not looked back since. I figured it was a natural progression from the home brewing I have been doing for over 20 years. Not only does it provide the freshest "best" cup around … it’s a great cost saver too.

Roaster basics

Many folks start their home coffee roasting experience using a repurposed hot air popcorn popper. These can often be found lurking in the back cupboard of your kitchen or at a thrift store or garage sale for just a few bucks. When it comes to "dedicated" home roasters the two most common versions are either hot air or drum styles. These are simply smaller versions of the large commercial operations. It is also possible to roast in a more old school style using a skillet or wok, or in an oven. (A few months ago I tried the skillet method while waiting for my replacement roaster to arrive. My original Fresh Roast 8 died after five-plus years of near daily use). As an entry point into the home roasting market I would highly recommend my recent replacement roaster, the Fresh Roast SR300. It’s an easy-to-use and value-priced unit that produces some great results.

Bean basics

The roaster (or more primitive skillet) is only half the equation. Obviously you are going to need a supply of green beans. Green coffee beans can be found in some cities at specialty coffee shops or, like my primary supplier, online. I have found a handful of online retailers that not only offer some great selections, but the prices are also very reasonable. One of my favorite online retailers is Sweet Maria’s, which carries one of my favorite beans, the Guatemala Acatenango-Finca La Soledad. (Yes, it’s a mouthful to say … but it's darn good in the cup). Included in its online description are comments that would make sommeliers jealous. But then again I’m a sucker for these mountain-grown Central American coffees.

"The dry fragrance has a vibrant fruit/nut flavor, a chocolate-dipped raisin and hazelnut scent. At darker levels, chocolate bittersweet notes dominate. The aroma from the wet grounds intensifies in honey sweetness, adding scent in the lighter roasts and some 'brown bread on the hearth' smells at Full City roast."

Pricing on green beans depends on many factors, but one thing that steers me toward this product and Sweet Maria’s in general is the fair pricing that can occur from a small buyer working directly with the growers. I can purchase fine organic coffees that cost about one half the price of the pre-roasted (i.e.: stale) coffees in my local supermarket, and I know the grower is getting their fair share as well.

The roasting process

Air roasters make up a large percentage of the home roasting market and are pretty foolproof. My Fresh Roast SR300 will roast about 3/4 of a cup of green beans in under 10 minutes. We normally roast every other day (my old roaster was smaller and we roasted daily). Ideal times to use the beans after roasting is 12 to 24 hours. This allows the beans' roasting carbon dioxide to be released, which makes for a smoother cup. The roast goes south after about a week. Fresh is best. As a bonus, green coffee beans can be stored for months without losing quality, so bulk purchases are ideal.

My SR300 is a step above my older model in that it has a digital timer as opposed to a basic turn knob timer. With this digital timer I can repeat roasting times more accurately and make minor adjustments based on the level of roast or the variety of bean. Ages ago, I used to think that the darker the roast the better the cup. This is pretty much the opposite of what really happens. (In many cases dark roasts mask the subtle flavor of the bean and are used to hide defects in the coffee.) One of the joys of home roasting is the simple ability to vary the roast to see how it affects a cup's flavor profile. The roast progresses through a hierarchy based on bean temperature and to a lesser condition, color.

1. (383 °F) Cinnamon Roast: This is about as light as it goes, and happens before the first crack.

2. (401 °F) New England Roast: Next in line, slightly darker and is in the first crack stage.

3. (410 °F) American Roast: This is a medium brown and occurs as the first crack completes.

4. (428 °F) City Roast: A common roast level that still allows the varietal nature to shine.

5. (437 °F) Full City Roast: Medium dark brown, bittersweet comes into play. Begins second crack.

6. (446 °F) Vienna Roast: Oils began to form on bean, middle of second crack.

7. (464 °F) French Roast: Burnt tones emerge, shiny with oil, popular with espresso blends.

8. (473 °F) Italian Roast: Burnt tones higher, thin body, acidity nearly gone.

9. (482 °F) Spanish Roast: Burnt charcoal and tar flavors dominant.

I like to mix it up, typically roasting in the City Roast to French Roast range; sometimes I will even blend a few roasts together to add another layer of flavor profiles.  My roaster is available at about $120 to $150 depending on where you purchase. Some may think this is high…but some home drum roasters can cost four to five times this. The ROI (return on investment) for an SR300 is fast…for us, with two regular household drinkers, that cost is covered in about four months' worth of "coffee bean" savings.

Oh … the smell of roasting coffee mixed with a hint of smoke from the wood stove is pretty nice too.

Kevin Stevens originally wrote this for Networx.com. It is reprinted with permission.