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Save Money and Have Fun Roasting Your Own Coffee

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A few years ago I got serious about making my own espresso. For one thing, I was getting annoyed about spending $2 for a cup of espresso, and for another, I didn’t like having to drive or walk to the local coffee shop a couple of times a day for my caffeine fix. So I bought an espresso maker, took a lesson from the National Barista Champion (Kyle Glanville of intelligentsia coffee), and started pulling my own shots at home. It was a lot of fun, and it saved time and money.


Recently, I took my do-it-yourself coffee making to the next level: I am now roasting my own coffee. It’s not as hard as you might think. You don’t need a large, noisy, smoke-belching contraption in your kitchen or garage. All you need to roast small batches of coffee are some green coffee beans (I get mine from a company in Oakland California called Sweet Maria’s, but many other online outlets sell green beans, too) and an ordinary air popcorn popper (I use the West Bend 82416 Air Crazy popper, about $25).

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There are at least three reasons why I roast my own coffee. First, green coffee beans are less expensive than roasted beans. The average price for a pound of green beans runs between $6 and $8 in small quantities, and if you buy 20 pounds at a time, you can get it for as little as $5 pound. Roasted coffee, on the other hand, costs about $11 or $12 a pound.


Second, green coffee beans can be kept for up to a year before they start to lose their flavor. That means you can buy a 20 pound bag and keep it in an airtight plastic tub, and roast a little at a time. Roasted coffee beans start to lose their flavor after just a few days, making it uneconomical to purchase in small quantities, and a bad idea flavor-wise to purchase in large quantities.


3rd, it’s fun to roast your own coffee. I take my popcorn popper into the backyard, pour in about half a cup of coffee beans, and after about 10 minutes, I have a small batch of roasted beans. Once you get the hang of it, it’s not hard. After pouring beans into the popper, it takes about 3 minutes before you hear the “first crack.” At this point, you have a very light roast coffee, and you could stop roasting. But I like a darker roast, so I let it go until I hear the second crack, which is less pronounced than the first crack. This is the signal to pour the roasted beans from the corn popper into a steel colander and stir them quickly so that the heat is drawn off the beans, stopping the internal roasting process.


It’s important to wait 24 hours before you grind the beans and make coffee with them, because it takes a while for the chemical transformations in the freshly roasted beans to settle down. (I’ve tasted coffee made from beans that had been roasted immediately before preparing the coffee, and it had a fishy taste. That goes away if you wait a day or so).

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I have not yet taken the final step in my DIY coffee adventure: growing my own coffee trees and harvesting the beans, but my daughter gave me some viable coffee tree seeds that she purchased when she was in Costa Rica last month. I’m already scoping my property for good place to start a backyard coffee plantation.

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Images courtesy of Mark Frauenfelder

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  • http://urbanobscure.com Dan McKechnie

    Hi Mark! This looks like a ton of fun and I’d like to try it. Whenever the local roastarie/coffee shop is roasting, though, the whole block smells of burnt coffee. I live in northern Alberta and roasting outdoors year-round isn’t really practical; how strongly do freshly-roasted beans smell? Is it the kind of thing I could reasonably do indoors without making my roommates crazy?

    • Mark Frauenfelder

      I don’t roast mine too dark, so there isn’t much of a smokey smell. I really like to taste the coffee!

  • Doug

    Hi Mark. Thanks for the very approachable article. I hope more people take this up.

    I started roasting using an air popper four years ago and the noisy contraption has evolved since. Two ordinary steel cans fit perfectly to form a chimney that prevents the errant bean from jumping out the top. Eventually I figured out that my popper was roasting too hot (in 4 minutes), so I wired a used 1500 w. auditorium lights dimmer into the heating circuit. Got it for $5 at the local recycler, but I think you can find a new one for cheap at the hardware store, disguised as a motor speed control. The circuit was tricky, since a piece of the heating coil is wired in series with the fan. Now the heat is adjustable and the beans can be cooled by turning off the main hearing coil while the fan runs.

    The local roasters here (Boulder CO) are happy to sell green beans and chat tirelessly about their qualities.

    You can’t beat it. $5 and a couple hours tinkering for fresh roasted coffee, happy friends, self-sufficiency, and an enjoyable new skill.

    • Mark Frauenfelder

      Hey Doug, that’s a cool idea (the dimmer). Want to write a how-to for MAKE? Email me at mark@boingboing.net. (Boulder is my home town, which roaster do you go to?)

  • S

    “I was getting annoyed about spending $2 for a cup of espresso”

    Yeah, paying a fair price for something *is* really annoying. Fuck those farmers and roasters and cafe owners. I want high quality coffee and I want it cheap. No contradiction there at all.

    • Mark Frauenfelder

      Thanks for your comment, S!

      $2 is a fair price, but I drink 3 double shots a day and it does add up. I usually go to coffee houses on the weekends.

      • Chris

        I suppose you can’t put a price on “fun” but I don’t think you are saving anything.
        It is fun to try doing this, but I don’t think it is a replacement.

        A better suggestion to people would be to buy commercially roasted coffee and brew it at home. A good savings and quality is maintained.

        But, if they must roast at home I think you left some things out.

        I’ve done this and found the yield to be very small as you mention (not enough in one batch to pull for espresso) and the taste is “uneven” at best.

        Some more points to consider

        1. You are paying twice as much (at least) for the green compared to what a commercial roaster pays.

        2. Your roast profile makes no sense compared to what is ideal. You are sacrificing quality in a big way. No comparison to small batch commercial roasting here.

        3. You allow no cost for your time (fair enough if fun is its own reward every time), but all told, you probably spend an hour start to finish when you decide to do this. Add your state’s minimum wage to the cost of the green.

        At this point you have likely paid $6-8/lbs (excluding shipping) for the green and $0-$8 for labor per hour. I’m excluding capital and depreciation cost on the popcorn popper and the cost of electricity.

        Your cost per pound is $6-$16.

        But wait, you only roast about 4oz per roast so you need 4 roasts to get a pound roughly. Labor costs just jumped because you have to wait for the popper to cool down between roasts or the profile goes totally off track and you ruin some roasts. Oops, I forgot about failed roasts which just added to your costs again.

        That bag of professionally roasted coffee or just paying $2 at the cafe isn’t looking so expensive now.

        • Matt

          1. The price paid by roasters for green coffee is entirely irrelevant. Mark can’t get those prices, and those prices aren’t passed on to Mark without a hefty margin. All that matters is whether Mark can get green coffee cheaper than roasted coffee, and he can.

          2. ‘Sacrificing quality’ is pretty subjective. If Mark likes it, isn’t that good enough? If he _was_ worried about quality, wouldn’t it be better to think about ways to improve this process, rather than just saying ‘stuff it, I’ll buy it from somebody else’? Where’s the fun in that?

          3. I was going to say that time is irrelevant, but it isn’t – it’s just relevant in completely the opposite way to your suggestion that it should incur a cost. Making your own stuff has an intrinsic pay off, a reward; ditto for eating or drinking something you made yourself. If it came down to spending a leisurely hour here and there roasting coffee in my own home, or getting in the car, driving to a roaster, waiting in line, buying beans, driving home and then drinking the same stuff as everybody else, guess which I’d rather do?

          Thanks for the article Mark – I know what I’m doing this weekend!

          • S

            I agree that roasting coffee at home can be fun and rewarding, and therefore worth doing, but Mark more or less implies that the end result is comparable to a professional product, which is simply untrue. I know because I’ve roasted coffee in air poppers. And I know from experience that if Mark is reaching first crack in 3 minutes, his coffee tastes relatively bad. That’s not just my opinion, that’s the way the chemistry of roasting works.

            Sweet Maria’s offers roasted coffee in addition to green, so if Mark wanted to, he could compare one of his air popper roasts with a roast of the same bean by Sweet Maria’s. I guarantee the quality will not be comparable, not even close.

            That said, as other posters have mentioned, you CAN get good results with dedicated home roasting machines or modified gas grills, but as these will cost you at least $100, there goes your money savings and half the point of this article.

          • Chris

            My overall point is that there aren’t “massive hidden monetary savings” to be had by doing it yourself – you necessarily incur the same costs, you just account for them differently. If you consider “fun” a form of payment then you can come out ahead.

            I have *no* problem with an article saying do this “for fun”. What I had a problem with is “do this to save a bunch of money and get the same product as if you paid for the commercial version of it”. You won’t. You will learn a lot about coffee and that is another good reason to do it.

      • Mark E Frauenfelder

        In defense of my namesake. S … The farmer is not being screwed, his hard work is paid for by the pound. Your comment is useless unless you apply the same view towards chefs and restaurants. I like to cook my own food and blend my own juice, and not once have I felt bad when I’ve purchased a new pan and skillet, in fact, it has been a popular pastime for centuries. Onto more important things, Mark, is a new up-dated version of Rule The Web on the cards? That book has transformed my life ten-fold. Thanks, your Namesake.

        • S

          My original comment was in reply to Mark’s statement that he “was getting annoyed about spending $2 for a cup of espresso.” I took exception to his use of the word “annoyed,” because it suggests that $2 is too much to spend on an espresso, which, if you know the costs involved, is actually a fair price.

          In a more general sense, I’m tired — even annoyed — by people assuming coffee ought to be cheap, when there’s no economic reason for it to be so, aside from the fact that importing counties have historically colluded to keep coffee prices artificially low. To put it another way, many people give lip service to concepts such as “Fair Trade”, but when it comes down to actually spending more money out of their own pocket, coffee is suddenly too expensive. Where do they think the extra money for the farmers is supposed to come from?

          So by all means roast your own beans, even grow your own coffee tree in a greenhouse, but don’t balk at what are in truth reasonable prices in the marketplace.

        • Chris

          I think S’s point isn’t the validity of doing it yourself, it is the implication that you are being screwed by those producing the retail version because there are huge margins in the coffee business that they are sticking you with. A little research will show margins are terrible on a cafe.

          The implication seems to continue to the devaluing of the labor and experience of those producing it – “There is no real skill or hard work that goes into this, anyone with a little free time and some spare kitchen appliances can do as well.”

          There is a big difference saying “This is fun and I want to do it too!” and saying “Those chefs are screwing me and charging too much. I can do this myself and I will never have to do business with them again. Good riddance!”

  • http://www.Credit.com Gerri Detweiler

    OK Mark I needed this nudge. I bought a specially fitted popcorn maker on ebay a while back (not sure why now, since yours looks like a regular popcorn popper) intending to roast my own beans, and it’s languishing in the cupboard. I am going to get some beans and give this a try.

  • Andrew

    I am a homeroaster as well. It is pretty easy to modify an old bread machine picked up from goodwill/salvation army/etc for $10 to run the motor constantly when plugged in. Add a cheap hot air gun ($20 new at your local big-box store). A touch more work in the initial setup, but I can now roast 1 lb per batch very easily. Best site I have found for the DIYer is http://www.homeroasters.org/php/forum/index.php

  • HikingStick

    Would one of those old-fashioned stove-top popcorn poppers work for roasting, too? They look like pots (3-4qt) that have a lid and are fitted with a handle for turning a bar that circles the bottom (to keep kernels from burning in place). Would such a device work?

    • Andrew

      Yes, it does work. But VERY easy to burn, have a very uneven roast. It is fine if all you are going to do is roast once or twice a year. If you are planning on roasting your own, spend the $5-25 to get a hot air style popcorn popper. Its best to get one with vents on the side of the “chimney” instead of in the bottom. That way the air will “swirl” the beans around, especially later in the roast.

      Keep stirring the beans until the air can move them around by itself.

  • Bob

    Home roasting is a great way to get high quality coffee without paying $11+ per pound. It’s good to note that 20# of green coffee != 20# of roasted coffee, it loses water weight in the process by about 15%. Starting with a cheap popper or a heatgun is a good way to get started and find out if you like the process but my coffee got significantly better with a forced air roaster like the i-Roast2 from Hearthware. It’s about $180 but allows a lot more flexibility in the roast. Roasting will smoke up a house (not terribly but noticably) but if you can do it in the garage or under a vent that directs the smoke out of the house, you’re fine. I’ll also add that brewing it properly is also important. A cheap drip pot will still make cheap drip pot coffee. I’ll recommend a Yama brand vacuum pot to make a toe curlingly good brew (YouTube it to see it in action)

    • Paul

      Came here to say this! I began roasting my own after I gave up trying to find coffee where I live, that didn’t taste like mildew – I do live in the boonies. Shut up!: I can get lobster fresh and cheap here.

      Yes, a hot-air popper might be OK to try out roasting, but for predictable, consistent (read: correctable, adjustable) roasting, you need a dedicated machine with precise time and temp controls.

      I have a Gene Cafe CBR101 Roaster. I previously owned a different, cheaper roaster that fell apart after a few years’ use. So far, this one’s lasted about six years and it’s doing very well. The only problem I had was the loss of the rubber bumper on the chaff wiper (you hear it clunk in the video below). I simply put a gob of food-safe silicon sealant as a replacement part – it works better than the original.

      This roaster is able to roast coffee outside in February. (‘Cept when there’s a nor’easter blowing.) I usually have to add only about two minutes of roasting time when it’s -15degC outside. It’s a very consistent and predictable roast. I got mine at greenbeanery.ca.

      Bonus: It’s quiet!

      Check out Coffee Snobs’ review of this roaster. You can skip the most of the review and just go to the last page and read the “TOP TEN DISLIKES”. (Since the review came out, the CBR is now available in red. Some make that the “TOP NINE DISLIKES”.

      By my estimate, I paid for this roaster in about 2 1/2 years. In case Mark didn’t make it clear enough: green beans are much cheaper than roasted beans. So in the end, it’s cheaper to roast your own. And they keep much, much longer. I order 10Kgs two or three times a year from justuscoffee.com in Grand Pré, NS.

      A 900g (2 lbs) bag of shade-grown, organic green coffee cost me $13 plus about $0.65 per bag shipping. That 900g becomes 720-750g after roasting. The electricity to roast the slightly more than three batches per bag is about thirty cents. Total cost: $13.30 / 750g of roasted coffee, or about $17.30 / kilo. I realize that out there in California where you DON’T have socialized medicine (so how’s that working out for you?) and companies can work with smaller margins, that price might seem expensives, but for comparison: Van Houtte, a nationally-know brand in Canada, lists roasted beans for $33.40 / kilo on their website.

      That ‘expensive’ $500-600 roaster pays for itself in a few years. And, in case Mark didn’t make it clear, that freshly roasted coffee is astoundingly much, much better than just about anything you can get in a store.

  • http://www.stonemans.info Stoneman

    OK so I have done this before so I’ll share my experiences with using an air popper to roast coffee.

    * The temperature control is very inconsistent. Often I would get roasts that were either under-roasted or over-roasted. As you know, roasting coffee requires fairly precise control of the temperature, otherwise you’ll get garbage coffee

    * Using an air popper, you can only load so much coffee. Too much and you get over and under-roasted coffee. The batch size is just too small. You have to do about 5-6 roasts per half pound.

    * A better choice is to convert your BBQ (gas) to a coffee roaster. I was going to do this but my gas grill decided to self destruct.

  • GP

    Re using a popper in cold weather: you can get faster results by enclosing the popper in a cardboard box to recirculate the heat. The heating element in these simple appliances just increases the air temp as the air is blown by. Input cold air == cooler air inside the popper, and more time and power used to roast.

    Of course you will have to watch it closely if you a cardboard box. You might get more consistent roasting results by monitoring input air temp and setting up a time vs. temp chart.

  • http://www.coffeeratings.com/ greg

    Expense is probably the worst reason to do your own home roasting. I wrote a blog post on this a couple years ago:
    Home roasting made a lot more sense a decade ago, but it’s become less and less relevant today. Not that it isn’t relevant — just that there are fewer good reasons to do so than a decade ago.

    Back to the cost savings… The time it makes sense is when you have a lot of free time on your hands, you don’t have employment, etc. For all the railing against retail coffee prices, people just don’t think… the #1 cost in a retail espresso, etc., is labor. Those are labor costs you have to pick up yourself.

    You might think that making your own coffee in the morning is a trivial, labor-free exercise… plus the occasional roasting of batches every few days. But it adds up. There’s a reason no one would clean our toilets for the price of cleaning supplies plus a nice percentage margin on top of that: it’s the labor. And time is money.

  • hal meeks

    Hi There,

    Many years ago I roasted at home before there were good places to get fresh roasted coffee. The hot air popcorn popper is the “go to” solution for many – and Melitta actually made a retail roaster that used the same principle. But I ended up using a different method that is just as frugal.

    The way I ended up roasting coffee is based on a very old way of doing it – typically by people who don’t have electricity – just putting the beans in a pan and roasting over a heat source.

    I used an Sunbeam Electric skillet with a lid to do this that I bought from a yard sale for cheap ($5.00). It had a lid with a couple of vent holes that could be opened and closed. The big benefit is that it is temperature controlled, so you could experiment with different temperatures (from memory I think starting around 350 degrees – but higher depending on the beans). This allowed me to tweak things much more than I could with the hot air popcorn popper – and often gave me (IMHO) better results.

    In brief – heat the skillet up until it reaches temperature, throw in some beans (not enough to completely cover the bottom. This again from memory – so maybe start with 3/4 of a cup and adjust.

    At this point, put the lid on the skillet, and begin shaking the pan around – up and down, side to side – think jiffy pop popcorn. The idea is to evenly heat and not scorch the beans.

    The rest of the directions are pretty similar to the hot air popcorn popper – wait for the second crackle – and then really, really pay attention – 30 seconds or so can be difference between a city and french roast. This comes from experience.

    Afterwards, pour the beans into a mesh colander to get rid of the chaff, and to help them cool off. If you wait until the beans are cooled, you can go ahead and make coffee – but if you wait a day they will be even better.

    It goes without saying that this should either be done in a very well ventilated kitchen, but it’s better to do this outdoors, like on a porch etc.

    I like the more “hands on” approach of using a skillet because it let me experiment with really interesting beans like Indian Malabar – sooper smooth and low acid – by using different temperature settings and duration. I found that with a little practice that the coffee I was producing was better than what I was getting with the hot air method.

    At the end of the day though – the hot air method is no-muss no-fuss – it is really a matter of how much you want to invest in this.

    BTW this same method I’ve outlined will work with an oven or stovetop as well. Understand that whatever you use to roast coffee will be stained, and may no longer be useable for cooking without a seriously good scrubbing.

  • Denise @ gypsyworldspicecafe.com

    I love this post! Great instructions with step by step pics… Definitely going to try this! Thanks!

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