Earlier this year, I discovered at-home coffee roasting and nothing was ever the same again. It sounds like the ultimate in D.I.Y. geekery, but in fact it’s ridiculously easy — and ridiculously fun. I’ve yet to graduate to one of the countertop roasters you can buy. But who needs those when the old makeshift methods are so readily available. In fact, I thought it might be time for a showdown. It’s stovetop skillet versus oven roasting, folks.
First, the coffee. Did you know you can get a free sample of raw beans from The Coffee Project? It’s only a handful, so you’ll need to buy more, but it allows you to experiment with a very small batch of different beans. Sweet Maria’s is another go-to for ordering green beans online. Both purveyors sell Hawaiian beans, which means you can make an entirely American cup of joe. Think of it as coffee for locavores.
Second, the roast. You’ll want to use a coffee you know and love as a guide. For this showdown, I used Brooklyn Roasting Company’s Ethiopian, a medium roast.
Before you start, regardless of the method you plan on using, here’s a hint: crack a window. Turn on your oven fan. Yes, there will be smoke. You’ve been warned.
From the pan
I love making stovetop popcorn in a beat-up old saucepan for two reasons: I love popcorn and I get a workout. Stovetop coffee roasting is a similar process. Use a large skillet with a top. Heat up your pan over a medium flame and add about six ounces of beans. Cover the pan and, like you’re making Jiffy Pop, start shaking. In about five minutes or so, you’ll hear what home roasters call the “first crack.” After this, the beans start to take on color quickly so you’ll want to peak inside the pan every minute or so to keep track of how dark the roast is getting. Don’t wait until the beans reach their desired color; remove them from heat before that point. They’ll keep darkening after the actual roasting has stopped. Remember: coffee-roasting times are measured down to the second.
Once my beans are done, I pour them into a colander and shake them around to blow away the bits of chaff coming off them. I then store them for a day to let the CO2 vent off. Being lazy with the pan means that some of the beans are more roasted than others. Shaking them around well produces a more even roast. But then, uneven roasting produces nuances in flavor, so it’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Into the oven
For this method, I used a stainless steel vegetable steamer – you know, the one with the leaves that fold down. It’s perforated so it allows for a more even roast all around. My oven gets hella hot, but it’s not necessary. It is gas, though, which I believe beats electric hands down no matter what you’re cooking. That’s me.
Heat up your oven to 500 degrees F, or as high as it will go. Place beans in the steamer or perforated pan and place them on a cookie sheet on the middle rack of the oven. Be ready to open the oven door every minute or two to agitate the pan, moving the beans around for a more even roast. In about five minutes, you’ll hear the first crack. After this, check the beans every minute or so for color.
Again, remove the beans before they reach the desired color and place them in a colander where you can easily blow off the chaff. Wait a day to use them if you can.
You can’t do much better than fresh roasted, fresh ground beans. Even if the roast isn’t as perfect as your local craft roaster’s, the aromas and flavors of beans you roast yourself are just more satisfying (provided you don’t totally fuck it up).
I found that pan-roasted beans were more intensely flavored, perhaps because a few beans got extra charred or maybe the method simply “sears” in the flavor better than oven roasting. My oven-roasted beans came out more evenly roasted, with a hint more smoke in the flavor. I imagine this has to do with how the moisture in the beans turns to steam inside the oven and the general lack of ventilation with New York City apartment ovens.
So, the old-fashioned pan roasting method won this round. But who knows what tomorrow’s batch will bring…