Which tastes (and smells) better: store-bought cookies, or freshly baked cookies hot from the oven? No contest, right? Well, the same tenet holds true for store bought coffee beans vs. fresh, home roasted coffee beans. Home roasting is surprisingly simple, and more importantly,
Coffee made from freshly roasted beans (brewed within 1-3 days of roasting) will always provide vastly superior flavor to store-bought coffee.
But which home coffee roasting method is right for you?
We've tested and evaluated each of the 6 most common methods for home roasting to help you
determine which technique is the best for you and your lifestyle.
The Evaluation Criteria
- Cost: Compares the relative costs of any required equipment and supplies
- Roasting Effort: Is the method "set-it and forget it," or does it require constant stirring/tending?
- Cooling Effort: Measures the difficulty of quickly cooling the beans AND the management/removal of chaff (the paperlike material that comes off of the beans during the roasting process)
- Bean Visibility: Gauges how well can you see the beans during roasting to determine when they are ready; this is critical as roasting times often vary by mere seconds
- Difficulty Level: Assesses the amount of skill needed to produce a proper roast
- Roast Quality: Evaluates the overall quality and consistency of the finished roast
For the roasting options below, each of the evaluation criteria were scored using our "Smiley-Bean" Scoring System:
"Manual" Coffee Roasting Options
Manual roasting can normally be accomplished with implements readily found in most home kitchens, making these the simplest and most accessible options for most people who are testing the waters of home roasting.
The unfortunate paradox of manual roasting, however, is that while they are the most simple options to try, they are also more tedious and difficult to get just right. Having said that, freshly roasted coffee will still taste significantly better than store bought unless you burn it black or fail to fully roast the beans. Roasting coffee is just another form of cooking, and anyone with experience in the kitchen can make good beans with a little practice.
Option #1: Oven Baking
Technique: Set the oven to 500 degrees, roast the beans on a baking sheet (preferably one with small holes to increase ventilation). Open the oven and stir the beans every 1-2 minutes to promote even roasting. Transfer to a metal colander after roasting; shake to remove chaff and cool beans.
Assessment: We like this option for home roasting mainly because it does a relatively good job of containing any smoke released during the roasting process. However, limited access to the beans during roasting makes it more difficult to get an even roast, and the process of stirring the beans can be rather tedious compared to Skillet Roasting. Overall:
Option #2: Skillet Roasting
Technique: Heat a skillet (cast iron preferred, but not required) over medium heat, stirring constantly with a metal whisk until roasted to desired level. Transfer to metal colander after roasting; shake to remove chaff and cool beans.
Assessment: For overall ease and quality control Skillet Roasting is an excellent option for coffee-lovers thinking about experimenting with home roasting. As an added benefit, skillet roasting can also be conducted on a gas grill, eliminating any potential smoke issues. The key downsides to using a skillet are the need to constantly stir and the potential burning of chaff in the pan during roasting. Overall:
Option #3: Hand-Crank Popcorn Popper
Technique: Place the beans in the popper over medium heat (grill or range), cranking constantly until roasted to desired level. Transfer to metal colander after roasting; shake to remove chaff and cool beans.
Assessment: Functionally, roasting with hand-crank poppers is identical to skillet roasting, while exchanging slightly better smoke-control for reduced bean visibility during roasting. If you don't already own a crank popper we strongly recommend either using a skillet or purchasing a simple electric air popper (Below) for about the same cost. Overall:
"Powered" Coffee Roasting Options
Powered options typically provide the most consistent roast with minimal effort and difficulty, but can also be quite large and expensive. For our analysis we've broken the Powered group into three primary categories based primarily on cost.
Option #4: Air Popcorn Popper
Technique: Heat the popper and place a vessel (metal can, colander, etc) under the "popcorn" discharge chute to catch the chaff released during roasting. Fill with beans and roast to desired level. Stirring is not needed, as the hot air flow keeps the beans in constant motion. Transfer beans to a metal colander after roasting and shake to cool beans.
WATCH OUR VIDEO TUTORIAL:
Assessment: Models like this Preso air popper (available for around only $20) are our top recommendation for anyone considering starting to home roast. In fact, many home roasters never move beyond this point and choose to focus on experimenting with different beans and roast levels vs. investing in better equipment. The air-powered motion gives the beans an even roast while also removing most (or all) of the chaff produced during roasting.
Option #5: Countertop Coffee Roaster
Technique: Operate per the provided instructions (very similar to Air-Popcorn Popper)
Assessment: Much more costly at around $200, these machines are a must-have for aficionados who want to take their coffee roasting to the next level. While functionally similar to Air Poppers, the Countertop Roasters offer built-in chaff collectors and multiple settings for the mixing speed and air temperature. These features combine to provide significantly more control and flexibility when working with different types of beans, or for simply trying to perfect your roast. Overall:
Option #6: Standalone Coffee Roaster
Technique: Operate per the provided instructions
Assessment: These devices are small versions of professional/industrial grade roasters and carry the associated high prices (typically over $1000). Standalones offer the maximum level of control and the greatest ease of use, with large capacity drums for bulk roasting and automatic pouring into built-in cooling trays. While available to anyone with the required budget and operational space, at five times the cost of a Countertop roaster and only a very slight increase in roast quality (if any), these roasters are probably best left to people roasting coffee as a side business Overall:
While there are many differences between the different home roasting methods, whichever path you take is certain to provide outstanding flavors that store-bought beans simply can't provide.
For beginners, a simple $20 air popcorn popper is most likely the best overall option, but when you are ready to step-up to specialised roasters a countertop machine like the Nesco CR-1010-PRR will provide AMAZING results with minimal effort.
We hope this helps you on your path to the true coffee bliss of home roasting! Don't hesitate to reach out if you have any additional questions by using our Contact page.