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Roasting my own coffee

Posted by Devra First  June 17, 2008 06:22 PM

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After writing this story about people roasting their own coffee at home, I thought I'd share my own home-roasting method.


This low-tech beauty is what turns my green beans brown and jump starts my day. It's a decades-old (in case you couldn't tell from the groovy orange lid) Poppery II popcorn popper I scored on eBay. Air poppers like the Poppery with side vents (important because alternate venting can lead to fires) have become popular items for eBay sellers, who pick them up for a buck or two at yard sales and flea markets. I just throw some beans in, plug it in, and wait. It only roasts a half a cup or so at a time, but that suits me -- I'd rather roast in smaller batches for freshness, and it doesn't take long.

I discovered home roasting a few years ago. I'd gone to look at an apartment, and afterward my potential landlord and I talked over a cup of coffee he'd made. When I took my first sip, I looked at him and said, "What did you do to this coffee?" It was incredible. Soon we were in the basement of the house, checking out the crazy coffee-roasting contraption he'd rigged.

I didn't do much rigging with my "roaster," but I did drill a hole in the lid and add a thermometer. When I first starting roasting in it -- I get my greens from Sweet Maria's -- I had trouble figuring out how long was long enough, and how long was too long. When the beans would start smoking, certain I was about to burn down my building, I'd stop the roast too soon. Or was it too late? Who knew. The thermometer solved my problem: Now I can easily tell when my beans have reached city roast, full city roast, and so on.

Roasting produces a strong aroma, so I stick the popper out on the fire escape and close the window gently on the cord. It keeps my neighbors from hating me and also makes cleanup easier: The chaff from the beans blows out into the world rather than all over my apartment.

In researching the story, I talked to Benjamin Chen, one of the folks behind Barismo. This coffee (and a little tea) website is run by people who've been involved with Simon's Coffee Shop in Cambridge and Peet's. Chen had a ton of interesting things to say, none of which made it into my story, unfortunately. That's in part because, after doing lots of home roasting himself, he came to the conclusion that it has too many limitations. He feels that truly attaining the best roast calls for professional equipment and expertise. Lucky for him, and us, fellow Barismo-ite Jaime van Schyndel plans to open a roastery/retail shop off Mass. Ave. in Arlington. When we spoke, Chen said it was in the final stages of approval, so hopefully soon there will be another local source for great beans. Other than your own antique popcorn popper, of course.

About Dishing

What's cooking in the world of food.


Sheryl Julian, the Globe's Food Editor, writes regularly for the Food section.

Devra First is the Globe's food reporter and restaurant critic. Her reviews appear weekly in the Food section.

Ellen Bhang reviews Cheap Eats restaurants for the Globe and writes about wine.

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