I have just discovered the delights of roasting your own coffee. It is amazingly simple.

In less than ten minutes you can roast enough coffee to last two or three days.

The whole procedure only takes 15 minutes from beginning to end.

If you roast your own coffee you will always have the freshest coffee it is possible to drink. You can keep a supply of some of the world's finest coffees as green beans and roast whichever variety you fancy, whenever you want.

What do I need?

The easiest way to roast coffee at home is to use a hot air pop corn popper. These are two a penny in the United States where it seems everyone makes their own pop corn. But you can get them in Europe, too.

I found mine in an electrical store in Heraklion, Crete, and if they've got one there, then it must be easy to find them anywhere in Europe. Mine cost 17.60 or $28. It is made by the German firm Severin.

What is a pop corn popper?

It is a little smaller than an upright electric kettle and inside it has a small chamber. Hot air is blown into the chamber through air vents. This heats the pop corn which rises on the air and falls out into a bowl. Coffee is heavier than pop corn so it stays in the chamber and roasts. (Pictured here is the German Severin model).

It is very important that you buy a hot air popper with air vents in the side of the chamber and not the bottom of the chamber because the chaff (see below) may fall through the bottom into the machine and catch fire.

What else do I need?

What do I do?

It's very simple.

1) Weigh your green coffee beans -- the Severin seems to take a maximum of 85 grams. Any more than that and the coffee beans start jumping out of the machine.

2) Place the machine near an open window to avoid getting too much smoke in your room. If possible, place your popper so that it is facing the kitchen sink. If this is not possible place a bowl with a little water in it in front of the popper. This is because the thin skin on some of the beans has not been completely removed and the hot air blows it out of the machine. If you place a bowl with a little water in front of the machine all this chaff will end up there.

3) Put the coffee beans in the chamber and turn on the machine. For about three minutes the beans are blown round the chamber by the hot air. They start to go brown and you will smell a pleasant roasting smell. During this time the beans lose some of their moisture and become lighter. Any time after three minutes the beans begin to pop. This is called the first crack. The beans also begin to increase in size and jump around inside the chamber.

4) After the first crack finishes you can stop the roast at any time, depending on how dark you want the roast to be. If you want a darker roast, leave the beans in for longer. There should be a pause in the popping of about a minute before the second crack begins. This sounds slightly different from the first crack -- more like electric sparks.

5) Once the second crack starts the roast begins to darken quite quickly and the individual flavour of the coffee starts to decrease. All coffees have their own individual flavour and if you want to taste that flavour at its fullest you should end the roast at the beginning of the second crack. The longer you leave the coffee beans in the popper, the darker they will get, and oil will start to appear on the surface. You should be able to get a dark roast in about eight minutes.

7) When you get the roast to the colour you want it, you have to cool the roast down as quickly as possible because the beans are very hot and they continue to roast even after the machine is turned off. Turn off the popper and, using the oven glove, remove the plastic lid from the popper and quickly pour the beans into a pan. Start pouring them from one pan to the other and back again. If you are roasting near an outside door go outside. This will reduce the amount of smoke in the room and help the cooling process. Do not pour your beans from the popper into anything plastic. The coffee beans are extremely hot when they come out of the popper.

8) When the beans are cool they should be stored in an airtight jar. Freshly roasted beans give off carbon dioxide and this protects the beans from the air which slowly destroys their freshness and taste. But be careful not to let too much carbon dioxide pressure build up in the container. I use Grolsch beer bottles which have a ceramic top that clips tightly onto the beer bottle. Not only are they cheap but you get a pint of beer included in the price!

How soon can I drink the coffee?

You will probably want to drink a cup of your first roast straight away. Views differ on how long coffee should be left after roasting. Some say a minimum of four hours, others say that freshly roasted coffee tastes best within the first 24 hours, others say it tastes better after the first 24 hours. You'll have to experiment and see what you like best.

A word of warning

1) Hot air poppers were never intended for roasting coffee. Although this is not dangerous you should never leave your roast alone once you turn on the machine. Stay with the roast until the end of the session and the machine has been turned off. Your hot air popper has a thermostat and a safety cut out so the risk of a fire is pretty low. Nevertheless, be ready to pull out the plug if something does go wrong.

2) The chamber gets very hot and you will be using it for longer than the recommended time. As a result, the plastic lid will begin to buckle and frost. This is normal for poppers being used as coffee roasters and is no cause for alarm. Remember to use the oven glove to remove the lid, though, because it does get very hot.

What next?

If you have an espresso machine, like I do, you may want to immediately try blending coffees to create that elusive killer espresso blend. Be warned. It's harder than it seems. Make sure you also roast some single country coffees so that you get to know how they taste. Most likely you don't have an espresso machine. In that case you should go straight ahead and roast coffees from different countries and see which ones you like most. Take advantage of Sweet Maria's offer of a sampler pack of different coffees (see below). Later you can try blending two or three of the varieties to see what interesting flavours you can create.

New coffee roasting machines are coming onto the market all the time, and you can find out details from the Sweet Maria's web site. Two of the most popular are made by Hearthware -- the Gourmet and the Precision. Unfortunately for those of us in Europe, all of them are made for the American market and won't be suitable for use in Europe unless a 220/240 volt version is produced or you purchase a transformer. However, many home roasters insist that they still get better results with a cheap hot air popper and are content to wait until a cheaper home roaster which includes greater control over temperature and roast times is marketed.

Where can I get green beans from?

Probably the cheapest source of green beans is in your own country, rather than by mail order from abroad. Try and find out if there is a coffee roaster near you who would be willing to sell you green beans. Look for specialty coffee roasters. These people roast small quantities of top quality beans from all over the world and may be quite sympathetic to what you are doing.

If you have no luck with a local supplier, you can order green beans over the Internet from the following sources.

Great Britain: Roast and Post offers 21 varieties of green beans which they sell by mail order.

USA: Not surprisingly the best place for mail order green coffee is the United States. If you get your beans delivered by surface mail it should take 4-6 weeks to Europe and costs half the price of having them airmailed. Once you've got your first batch, you need never run out provided you remember to place each new order in good time.

Sweet Maria's. This is by far the best site for people interested in home roasting. Completely dedicated to home roasting, Tom supplies a superb range of over 40 varieties of green beans representing the finest coffees available from all around the world. The web site also contains really informative notes on each variety. Tom samples every single coffee he sells to make sure it is the best. Also available from the site are green coffee sampler packs, coffee roasting equipment and coffee making equipment and more. There is also information on how to roast coffee at home using various methods. This site is worth visiting regardless of whether you intend to buy green beans from them. Sweet Maria's dispatches to all parts of the world.

Many sites give advice on how to make the best cup of coffee, buying coffee grinders and espresso/cappuccino machines. One of the best is:

Coffee -- Resources for Espresso not only has interesting information for espresso lovers but contains lots of other interesting information for all coffee lovers.

And don't forget you can search Yahoo for other coffee sites.

Further reading

There is only one book on the subject of home coffee roasting. It is called Home Coffee Roasting, Romance and Revival by Kenneth Davids. You can get it mail order from Sweet Maria's, Amazon Books, and Amazon Books UK.

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