I recently received an email from someone looking to get into home roasting. He saw my YouTube channel and thought I might be willing to teach him how to roast on a Hottop home coffee roaster.
It's important to note from the start that I don't roast coffee at home (though I do have an old sample roaster I could use if I wanted to). I roast coffee at a specialty coffee roasting company. That means that I have certain advantages compared with most home roasters. I'm using machines that are easier and more reliably controllable with better instrumentation. Some methods that are very easy for me such as pulling samples for evaluation throughout a roast are simply not practical for most home roasters. I'm also buying more coffee. I can roast a few small batches of coffee to really figure out what I want to do with a coffee. That lets me sell a better product and the cost of doing that divided by the hundreds or thousands of pounds of that coffee that I'm going to sell works out to hardly anything. With the small quantities most home roasters seem to buy, by the time you figured out the coffee with my methods, you're out of coffee. I know there are home roasters who are using small scale commercial equipment and buying enough coffee at once that they could use my methods directly, but that is a very small minority of people who take up the hobby.
None of that should be taken to discourage anybody from roasting their own coffee. Roasting coffee can be a lot of fun, you can take your interest to whatever depth you want and while the results might not match the results of the best local roasting companies, there are a lot of places where there just aren't great choices available. A Hottop and some coffee from Sweet Maria's or similar can absolutely beat supermarket coffee on quality and you can always beat everybody on freshness by roasting your own. Rather, I think most home roasters would be better served not by trying to figure out the best way to roast the coffee they have, but finding something that works reliably enough for their own taste preferences with the equipment that they're using.
This is my home roasting quick start guide.
For your first coffee order, pick out a few different coffees.
- Get some of the cheapest arabica coffee you can find.
- Get something from the Americas. Lately I've been seeing some really nice things from Mexico and El Salvador.
- Get something from East Africa. Lots of great Ethiopian coffees are fairly readily available right now.
- Get something from the Pacific. Maybe something from Java or East Timor.
Before roasting, read the instructions for your roaster. The Hottop manual is actually really good. Pay particular attention to the start up procedure, the shut down procedure, what to expect during the roast, how the manual controls work (go back and look at the automatic controls later; if you want to learn how to roast you'll want to be the one making the decisions as you go at least at the start), and all the stuff related to operating the machine safely. Coffee roasters and the coffee inside them get very hot and can become dangerous if you don't pay attention. There's no shame in not burning your house down.
When you're ready to start roasting, start with the cheap stuff and just play with it and keep good notes of what you're doing and what you're observing. Pay particular attention to physical changes in the coffee. Look at how the color changes, listen for the sounds the coffee makes, see how the surface texture of the coffee changes. Remember that you're using the cheapest coffee you could find and you don't know what you're doing yet so don't be disappointed if you don't like the results, but do taste the coffee the following day and keep notes on what you're tasting.
Once you're comfortable on the machine, try roasting your other coffees. For the African coffee, try roasting that on the light to medium side. You want to make sure that the coffee has expanded to full size, but end the batch a bit before or just at the start of the second set of popping noises (you should have observed this when roasting the cheap stuff). Roast the American coffee a little bit darker than that (ending at the start of 2nd crack or a few seconds past that), and roast the Pacific coffee a little bit darker still. Taste the coffees the next day.
Did you really like the African coffee? Try more of those the next time you buy coffee, maybe coffees from Kenya, Burundi, and Tanzania. Did you really like the American coffee? Maybe next you'd like to try coffees from Honduras, Guatemala, and Costa Rica. Did you really like the Pacific coffee? Consider trying coffees from Papua New Guinea, Sumatra, and Bali. If you like it all, browse your supplier's offering list and see what seems interesting to you.
Don't be afraid to experiment with different roasts. If you have enough coffee to roast several batches, try getting to the same end point faster or slower. Try taking the coffee lighter or darker. Try lots of different coffees. Keep good notes of what you roasted, how you roasted it, and how it tasted. Before you know it you'll have a pretty good idea of what works for you.
If you fall in love with roasting, chances are good that there are enough other people in your area who are similarly dissatisfied with their existing coffee choices to support a small roasting business. If you decide to step into the world of professional roasting, I can be hired as a consultant to provide advice and more in depth training in person.