If the first time I roasted with propane and a pot while sitting on a milk crate on my deck had turned out like the second time, there may not have been a second time.
From my reading, I’ve identified two basic schools of thought on roasting coffee beans. One says roast at a high temperature for a relatively short period of time. The other utilizes lower temperatures and a longer duration. I’d never given much thought to where my allegiance might have been, but I’ve now learned which I must do, to get results using a primitive method (slow and low).
Home coffee roasters are so simple to use: you simply toss in some beans and press a button. They have a cooling cycle that automatically kicks in, and in 20 or 30 minutes–presto–excellent beans. Having dealt with two roasters dying on me, I’ve not had to put much effort or thought into getting a good roast.
On my second attempt at roasting outside in a pot, I thought, well, my second roaster was putting out beans in around 10 minutes, and allowed me to see that the temperature was somewhere over 400F with the setting I was using. Those beans were coming out gorgeous. Maybe I’ll crank up the heat and cut my time down.
As mistakes will sometimes reveal, I hadn’t thought about every nuance to the process. In this case: cooling. I fired that beast up, and sure enough, they roasted faster. I reached over to kill the gas, and the beans, already smoking more than usual, burst into flames. Hmmm. Well, this wasn’t your everyday birthday cake, and a quick attempt at blowing it out confirmed this fact. I hustled into the house to grab the lid. Coolly, I smothered the fire. I checked the beans as the last wafts of smoke floated away with the breeze. I won’t call them ashes, but they were clearly past their prime.
I’ve read that if one can crush a bean with a thumb and forefinger, then it’s in the useless category. Well, you know how easily you can crush saltine crackers in your hand?… I’m not exactly cheap, but neither am I wasteful. We brewed them up the next day to foul results. The day after that, we blended them with some better beans. The day after that, I tossed them into the trash can.
A little experimentation since that fiasco has honed a technique that I find works well.
1. I don’t crank up the heat quite so high, as I know that I won’t be able to cool the beans in an efficient way. And as before, I stir the beans constantly.
2. I stop the roasting a little before the the color I want, since they will continue to develop after I off the heat. When to stop is a matter of personal preference. I like them quite dark, but not ashy, I’ve decided.
3. I keep a water bath close by, to score some faster cooling points. Kill the gas and place the pot in the water. The smoking ceases nearly immediately, and I continue to stir the beans for a few minutes to aerate and cool. This cuts down on how much after-roasting roasting takes place.
Keeping these tidbits in mind have given good results consistently. There’s basically no investment if you already own a turkey fryer or the like. (I wouldn’t do this indoors.) Your beans are less expensive, even with shipping included. And the coffee in the cup is of the scrumptious variety.