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Roasting Coffee Beans


This is something I have been interested in for many years and just got started in short time ago. WOW! What a difference! I love a good cup of coffee and for some reason even though coffee prices have steadily increased over the years the quality of the coffee has declined significantly.


Years ago we didn’t have much choice. There were maybe a dozen brands of coffee on the super market shelves full of 1 and 3 pound cans of ground coffee products. Many of these brands seem to have disappeared over the years.


There was one store the A&P (The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company Inc. ) that seemed to be ahead of their time. They were the third largest seller of coffee in the US for many years. They had four varieties of their own brand of coffee beans a light roasted Breakfast (which they stopped selling in 1919), 8 O’clock (in a red bag), Red Circle (in a yellow bag) and Bokar (in a black bag). You would select a bag of beans and they would grind right there in the store. One of the pleasantries of going to the store – the smell of fresh ground coffee.


I remember as a kid my Dad always got a big bag of their 8 O’clock coffee beans, handed them to the clerk and she would open the bag, pour it into the big grinders hoper, turn the huge dial to select percolator grind, put the bag under the spout and the huge machine would come to life grinding and shaking until mysteriously the ground coffee would shoot out the bottom into the bag. What a glorious smell! Nothing like the smell of fresh ground coffee – except perhaps roasting the coffee beans! The A&P filed for chapter 11 for financial and operational restructuring, 12-10-2010.


These day there are literally thousands of ways to get a cup of coffee – some good some not so good. The store shelves are lined with bags of Gourmet coffees at premium prices trying to lure you into their snares. Coffee shops are lined along the streets selling there coffees and their wares with menus that would put a NYC restaurant to shame. Gone are the days of walking up to the counter and simply asking for a coffee, black, or regular.


I used to love coffee from Duncan Donuts. They have either changed their coffee or I just got spoiled. A few years ago when they first rolled into town I had 4 family members working at Starbucks. They didn’t drink coffee so I got 4 free pounds beans a week from their long list of coffees. Sumatra was my favorite, but I really dislike the flowery Kenya.  I like strong full flavored coffees. This again peaked my interest in roasting my own coffee beans.


Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: went online a searched for suppliers of green coffee beans. I found many suppliers and spoke with many on the phone but one vendor stood out in my mind and was very helpful when I placed my first order. If you’re just getting started or even an experienced roaster I highly recommend you contact Burman Coffee Traders in Madison Wisconsin. Very friendly people, very knowledgeable and a pleasure to deal with – they also have some great prices on green coffee beans and a nice T-shirt too!

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Another coffee vendor that came highly recommended by a few DSP forum member is Sweet Maria’s in Oakland California. I don’t have any personal experience with them yet but they do have a pretty nice library of information on roasting coffee. They are a bit higher priced than Burman’s but come highly recommended and have put a lot of time in their website info.



Coffee Bean Basics


It may surprise you to learn that coffee is actually a fruit. It grows on a tree much like a cherry or apple tree. It is carefully cultivated and nurtured until after about 3 to 5 years when it finally blooms and produces a tiny red cherry. Inside of the cherry there are normally two seeds, these are what we know as coffee beans. The reason I said normally two seeds is that there are occasionally abnormalities just like everything else in life where only one seed is formed. That malformed bean is known as a peaberry. Some people consider these beans to be highly prized and others consider them garbage. I guess it’s an individual thing. We shall see …


Here is a picture of what a coffee cherry looks like. Only the very center of the cherry is used to make coffee – the bean.

As the cherry is roasted the skin, pulp, parchment and silver skin shrink and dehydrate this is known as the chaff. The action of the cherry bouncing around eventually loosens and dislodges the chaff leaving only the bean behind. The bean will then continue to roast hopefully until just the right level of roasting is achieved.

Different beans have different levels of roasting to achieve the perfect roasted flavor profile. These different levels are known as Roasts.  The beans will be roasted from between 370°F to 450°F degrees for up to 20 minutes. During this time they will actually lose 18 to 23% of their weight, but swell and increase in size by as much as 35 to 60%. The color of the bean will go from a light straw green color to medium brown. Some coffees may even become a dark brown, depending upon the degree of roasting you choose.


*Chaff is just a thin layer of skin that surrounds the bean and doesn’t add anything to the coffee so it gets removed.


Chaff kind of looks like those little skins that come in a can of Spanish peanuts and can make a mess as it blows around easily and no matter how careful you are – it gets everywhere!



Different beans have different levels of roasting to achieve the perfect roasted flavor profile. These different levels are known as Roasts.  The beans will be roasted from between 370°F to 450°F degrees for up to 20 minutes. During this time they will actually lose 18 to 23% of their weight, but swell and increase in size by as much as 35 to 60%. The color of the bean will go from a light straw green color to medium brown. Some coffees may even become a dark brown, depending upon the degree of roasting you choose.




Storing Coffee Beans

Green beans will last for around two years without any appreciable loss of flavor. Green coffee beans should be stored in some sort of container that will allow them to breathe, but not impart another flavor to the beans.  Burlap or paper bags are recommended. Avoid plastic containers as they will hold in humidity allowing the beans to develop molds and they will impart a plastic smell to the beans. Storing them at room temperature is fine a cool place out of direct light around 70°F with a relative humidity of 50% is ideal.

Roasted coffee beans store best in a sealed canister at room temperature. You should never roast more than you can drink in 4 to 7 days!


Ground coffee beans only grind what you're planning to brew right away.


Stages of Bean Roasting

At approximately 398 to 402°F the moisture in the beans will begin to release and the beans will begin pop and crack open. Once the bean splits open you will begin to smell the rich aroma of the coffee. Up until that point it smells more like wet grass.  This is called the first crack. It sounds very similar to popcorn popping and is much more pronounced than the second crack which is more subtle and should take place at approximately 453 to 455°F. Once the second crack is heard you should really consider stopping the process because at this point you are looking at very darkly roasted beans.


The degree of roast will go from City Roast at about 435°F, to Full City Roast at 445°F, to Vienna French Roast or Continental Roast at 465°F, to a Full French Roast at 474°F, to burnt at 486°F.


Common Roasts and Characteristic:

Bean Color

Name of Roast



Final Bean









Raw bean

Raw 12% moisture






Smooth green bean

Light Brown to Cinnamon Roast

Beginning to expand

1sr crack begins

380- 402oF





Dry bean surface, very light roast Rarely used, more tea like. Can taste can be grainy and sour.

Medium light Brown American Roast

1st Crack

402- 415oF





Dry bean surface, commonly used in the eastern US

Full Medium Brown City Roast

1st Crack is finished

415- 435oF





Dry bean surface, commonly used roast in the western US

Medium-dark brown Full City Roast Viennese or Light French Roast

2nd Crack


435- 445oF


Very full



Slightly oily bean surface, a little bittersweet, most common roast in Pacific northwest

Dark brown French Roast or Espresso

2nd Crack finished






Shiny bean surface, popular for espresso, burned undertones, acidity diminished, commonly used roast in France and Italy

Very dark to black Dark French, Spanish or Italian Roast

Very burned charred


460- 480oF

very low




Very shiny bean surface, burned, bitter flavors are predominant This is not very popular in the US.



Descriptions Used For Coffee



This is the tangy flavor similar to lemon, orange or grapefruit. Known as the ‘high notes’ in coffee, this can be both a positive or a negative. Does the tanginess enhance the overall flavor or detract from it? Does it lend a sweetness to the flavor or is it sour? Acidity in coffee might be described by terms like bright, clear, snappy, dry, clean, winey, etc.  Coffee with little or no acidity taste flat, while too much can taste sour.


Coffee should smell like coffee. Is it a slight smell or does it smell strong? Does it smell nutty, earthy, floral, fruity, rotten, smoky, or leathery? Aroma is greatest in the middle roasts and is harsh or has burnt smells in darker roasts.


Coffee may have several different strong attributes present but no single attribute that drowns out the others – this would be a balanced or mellow coffee. If it lacks any strong attributes might be considered dull.

Bean Descriptors

Musty, Dirty, Rioy, Rough. A bunch of bad words. The first two terms relate to poor storage conditions, improper aging, or unpleasant earthiness. "Rioy" is an industry term for harshness, (pronounced ree-o-ee after Rio De Janiero), like poor quality low-grown Brazilian arabicas.


Coffee should not be bitter. Bitterness is one of the four taste sensations, sharp, unpleasant, like the taste of quinine.


Body is how the coffee feels in your mouth; like comparing cream to skim milk. It is perceived as a heaviness to the coffee.


Complexity is the combined presence of attributes in a coffee. Acidity, body, earthiness, sweetness, etc., combine to make a coffee complex. It could be different types blended to create the overall complexity.


This is how long the aftertaste lasts. Is it short and weak, or long and strong? Does it leave you ‘wanting’ for another taste right away or are you still tasting the coffee several moments after the swallow. Is it smooth or harsh? A long, smooth finish should be a few seconds and leaves you anxious for the next sip.




Here you measure how all of the above harmonize with each other to create balance. Wild, Earthy, Natural or Spicy may relate to the processing method used, when the fruit of the coffee cherry is allowed to dry on the beans before removal. Earthiness can also be detected, I presume, based on the soils the coffee grows in (there are earthy Indonesian coffees that are wet processed). Earthiness can quickly become dirtiness. Dirty coffee is unpleasant. The winey flavors of some wild coffees is called sour when it becomes unpleasant. 



Plant Species



Arabica: This is one of the two main species of coffee known for better flavor against its sister Robusta. It has less caffeine, and depending on the variety within the species, the bean can be very versatile in roasting profiles. ALL Hilo Coffee Mill coffees are Arabica.


Robusta: The other of the two main species, has primarily been known for its inexpensive cost. Because it is known to be higher in caffeine and inferior in the major flavor characteristics, it is often used for blending, or filler to reduce the cost of a quality coffee (Arabica). Hilo Coffee Mill does NOT sell Robusta.

Roast Descriptors

Sweet -  caramelized flavors in balance with other characteristics of a coffee.


Baked or Bready - Under-roasted coffees, coffees roasted with too little heat  leaving the inside under roasted and the outside scorched or simply scorched beans .


Bittersweet - The bitter-sweetness developed as the roast gets darker until all acidity is gone but the caramel taste of burnt sugars form like dark chocolate. Think Starbucks!


Burnt: No description necessary!



Coffee Bean Descriptions By Origin



Delicate and well balanced; soft acidity; mellow sweetness; full body; bright; fruity; flowery aroma; delicate, wine-like feel in the mouth.


Brazilian coffees have nutty, dark/bittersweet cocoa characteristics and good body. Being lower-grown coffees, the beans aren't as dense and tend to roast up a bit faster.


Colombian coffees are generally medium-bodied, sparking and rich, with a winey characteristic and good complexity.

Costa Rica

A smooth, rich, subtly fruited and well-balanced. slightly nutty, and  fruity.


Ethiopian and Yemeni coffees are arguably the most complex in the world. Harars are dry-processed coffees that are intensely fruited, intoxicatingly aromatic and have a great complexity of flavors.


The Antiguas include the subtle, complex, chocolaty and fruity to nutty , floral and bright.


Hawaiian  coffees are known for being soft, smooth, rich and complex, yet subtle; in a word "fragile". Careful though, it's very easy to over-roast these coffees and roast out the subtlties and complexities, especially the larger Typica varietals, i.e. Konas & Jamaican Blue Mountain.


In general, these coffees are very well-balanced, with delicate fruity or red wine brightness and subtle notes of nuts, chocolate and spice. Brightness is key to a great Hawaiian/Caribbean. Brightness in a coffee is what is responsible for, or what "carries" the flavors. As these coffees are delicate and subtle, if there isn't enough brightness, they can taste "flat".


Lighter roasts tend to preserve the the brightness, hence the varietal subtleties well. As previously stated, it's very easy to over-roast Hawaiian/Caribbean coffees, destroying the subtle flavors that make them so wonderful.

India Malabar

Aged India coffee exposed to monsoon conditions, with a golden color and a unique mellow flavor.

India Mysore

The India coffee district of Mysore coffee tends to be sweet, spicy, and super rich with a light body and full aroma; Arabica


The best Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee is characterized by a nutty aroma, bright acidity and a unique beef-bouillon like flavor.

Jamaican High Mountain is a term that applies to coffees of lesser quality that are grown at a lower altitude than Jamaican Blue Mountain.


Kenyan coffees have long been known for their intense (albeit fairly thin-bodied), bright, complex, fruity/red wine character. This fruity character can show up in a wide range of flavors from citrus to apricot to berry, depending on the particular lot. If you're a fan of bright, bold, in-your-face coffees, then Kenyans can be right up your alley.


Typically, Mexican coffees are soft and smooth, yet bright, with a light to medium body. The vast majority of good, specialty-grade Mexican coffees comes from the Oaxaca and Chiapas regions in the very southern end of the country, although we will occasionally run into good coffees from Coatepec in central Mexico as well. Chiapas borders Guatemala on the south, with Oaxaca bordering Chiapas on the north.

New Guinea

Unmistakable cup; great body; herbal acidity; wonderful light finish; Arabica


Nicaraguan coffees are typically Central American, smooth, and well-rounded, with nice brightness; medium-bodied with a trademark floral quality.


Panamanian coffees can range from subtly fruity to sparkling and winey. They are complex and smooth, well-rounded, rich and satisfying.


Sulawesi coffees, though very similar in characteristics to Sumatrans, are a bit lighter, mellower and more balanced.


Heavy, almost syrupy body, pronounced earthiness, trademark "funk"* (not as a defect though, as a good thing!), and despite the brighter, winey character of many Lintong coffees, low acidity. Many people who shy away from coffee because of the acidity can actually drink Sumatran coffees without the unpleasant "acid stomach".


They are intensely fruited, with flavors running from banana to berry. Yemens can also exhibit a musky earthiness that adds a nice balance to the cup. Should be given extended rest after roasting.


Coffee Roasters

It seems there are a multitude of gadgets used for roasting coffee beans. From what I have read this could be anything from a cast iron skillet to a popcorn popper. They also have dedicated coffee roasters for home use that are not too terribly pricey. I even saw one guy that adapted a rotisserie for a charcoal grill into a coffee bean roaster.


It seems that one of the most popular methods for DIYers to roast green coffee beans is to use a whirly bird type or hot air popcorn popper. That’s right - an everyday popcorn popper. The only requirement is that they must be the side-vented models .These things can be bought for less than $50 new or picked up at Good Will or yard sales for around $5 so this doesn’t have to be a costly venture. I am not recommending any brand or models but they might look like this.


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        Whirly-bird stove top                          Whirly-bird  fireplace                   Common Hot Air Popper

You could also use a dedicated cast iron skillet and constantly stir the beans and monitor temperatures with a candy thermometer but getting a consistent or even roast would be difficult. It is claimed that this method will produce a roast with more body and deep notes but will lose some of the bright notes. Once the proper color has been achieved just pout the beans into a large metal colander and toss in the air to cool and remove chaff.


It is important to use a dedicated skillet as the coffee will absorb the flavors from the pan. Hmmmm bacon flavored coffee … That may be another article for later.


Another method you could use is gas or convection oven roasting. This method requires your oven go to at least 550°F and you have a pan baking sheet with holes spaced ½ inch apart. You must put one layer of beans on the pan at a time and a raised lip so the don’t fall out. This will do large batches of beans but is very difficult to get even roasting. Once the proper color has been achieved just pout the beans into a large metal colander and toss in the air to cool and remove chaff.


Coffee roasting does produces some smoke and fumes and should be done in a well-ventilated area. Many home roasters do this outside but I find my roaster works well on top of the stove with the vent on high.  The smell although rather pleasant at first tends to change to more of an unpleasant burnt smell after the first day. So if you can’t open a window to exchange the air you might want to rethink where you are going to roast your coffees.


The two most popular methods for home roasting coffee beans are the Fluid Air Bed roaster and the drum roaster. It is a common belief that fluid bed roasters produce more “acidity” in the coffee beans, and drum roasting tends to produce more "body".


The biggest drawbacks in home roasters is the capacity of the roaster,  the ability to cool the beans quickly and stop the cooking process and the price tag.  Much like meat the beans will continue to roast due to residual heat stored in the beans after the roaster had been turned off, so I believe one important feature it is to have method of quickly cooling the beans built into the machine.


Fluid Air Bed Coffee Roasting

The Hot Air Popcorn Style Coffee Roaster

The advantage of this unit is that it keeps the beans moving so they don’t burn and it gives you a fairly even roast. While the beans are jumping around in the popper it knocks off the chaff and sends it flying out the front of the popper.


The plastic cover needs to be replaced with a tin can or something as it will melt but it seems to work rather well although limited to roasting one rather small batch of coffee and must be cooled down before using again.


I have also heard of people using modified bread makers to stir the beans and heat guns to roast them but I haven’t bothered to research this one.


There are also dedicated commercially built, fluid air bed roasters available that are basically redesigned popcorn poppers. These roasters have built-in controls for time, temperature, blower speed and a cool down mode to stop the cooking process of the beans. Many parts are built of steel not plastic so they should last much longer and due to these changes they will allow you to roast one batch right after the other unlike the home modified versions.


Here are a few examples of the fluid bed roasters available today to the home roaster:


Description: Description: Description: Description: The SR500 model                           Description: Description: Description: Description: Nesco Coffee Roaster                           Description: Description: Description: Description: I-Roast - a new home coffee roaster from Hearthware

       FreshRoast SR 500 - $160                           Nesco Pro   $135                      Hearthware I Roast - $180



Adjustable temperature

Adjustable fan speed

Smoke Reduction

Built in Memory


FreshRoast SR 300

4 oz.






FreshRoast SR 500

4 oz.






Nesco Pro

4 to 5 oz.






I Roast

5.3 oz.











Drum Roasters

Drum roaster tend to roast coffee beans at a slower rate but they have a larger capacity and larger price tag. While fluid air bed roasters are limited to 4 or 5 oz. batches drum roasters can roast up to 16 oz. at a time. Your choice may be simply based on the amount of coffee you drink, and the price you are willing to pay. Time may also be a consideration. You can conceivably roast two batches of coffee in a fluid bed roaster in the same amount of time it will take one batch to roast in the drum roaster. So if your plan is to roast more than one type of bean you could save time by buying a fluid bed roaster. If you predominately drink only one type of coffee you might just want to roast a larger batch in the drum roaster.





Adjustable temperature

Adjustable fan speed

Built in Memory



Gene Café

12 oz.






Behmor 1600

16 oz.






Hot Top Basic

9 oz.






Hot Top Programmable

5.3 oz.







Roasting Your First Green Coffee Beans

When roasting coffee beans there are a few thing you need to carefully watch and they will be pretty much in this order:


1)     Bean Color – as the bean are roasted they will gradually change color from green, to yellow, to tan to brow to black. Some color changes will occur faster than others.


Here is an example using some Costa Rican Honey Palmares beans an excellent coffee!


                           Green                            Yellow                           Tan                             Brown

2)     Temperature - If you are using a process which does control temperature automatically you will need to monitor temperature based on the style chart at the end of this section.

3)     Aroma - the beans will start out smelling much like wet grass and as they get closer to the target temperature your will smell the aroma of a good fresh roasted coffee.

4)     Sound - the beans will crack as they release moisture. The first crack is fair loud and similar to popcorn popping.  The second crack is least distinct but more rapid sounding more like bacon frying. The first and second crack will determine what levels different varieties are roasted too.

5)     Time – as you use your roaster make a note of the time it takes to get to the first crack, and different color levels and the second crack if needed. When roasting the same variety of coffee you will be able to duplicate or make subtle adjustments until you roast your perfect cup.

Once the beans have been roasted they need to be cooled as rapidly as possible to stop the roasting process. A metal colander works well for this if you don’t have a cool down mode on your roaster or a chaff collector,  just toss the beans up in the air and at the same time blow off the chaff or use a small fan or even a light wind. The beans are light so be careful.

Once the beans are roasted you could grind up the beans and brew a pot but it is best to allow the built up carbon dioxide to be released from the beans. This is known as degaussing the beans. Some people recommend a few hours while other suggest a few days. I generally wait overnight although I have brew a pot or two with new beans to see what they taste like right out of the roaster.


Roasting Green Beans Using the Fresh Roast SR 500

Roasting coffee is a simple process. Using the Fresh Roast fluid air bed coffee roaster makes it even easier.


Simply add 4 scoops of beans, turn on the timer, turn the heat up to full, fan up to full and let it go.




As the beans cook and become lighter you can turn down the fan if you wish. This could conceivably prevent the beans from smashing themselves apart. AT some point you may also like to turn down the temperature. Different beans will require slightly different roasts. Often the vendor will have suggestions for where to start.


As I said this is pretty simple but the smell and taste are amazing! I should have done this years ago!





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