The Hobby of Home Coffee Roasting, A Few Tips From A Recovering Home Roaster

If you’re reading this blog, you’re either a home coffee roaster or you’re thinking about getting into it.  Odds are most of the customers here at Sagebrush Unroasted are home coffee roasters.  Recently I was thinking about this hobby and how I got into it and I decided to write a blog to talk about my experience with home roasting.  I want to encourage anyone considering it to give it a try.  Home roasting has a low cost of entry ($25 Whirlypop and a couple of pounds of coffee).  Hopefully, by reading this you’ll get a few tips for getting started or approaching what you’re already doing better.

I love this hobby and find myself trying to sell everyone on it.  I don’t think of home roasting as a club or anything, I just love chasing a perfect cup of coffee and having a part in bringing that cup to my morning routine.  Coffee is a strange beverage.  A ton of people drink it, and most coffee drinkers do so in the morning as they start their day.  I think there is something very therapeutic in the morning coffee routine.  There are a bunch of people out there that take a lot of pride in their morning brewing methods.  Running Sagebrush Coffee, I hear people all of the time with amazing technique and I love this.  People love finding the coffee roaster that procures their favorite coffee and roasts it just the way they like it.  I was this guy.  Before online fresh coffee was really a thing (delivery times didn’t use to be what they are today), I would drive 15 miles out of the way to get the beans I liked best.  As I went down this path, I actually found my desire to explore coffees being limited and frankly my coffee habit was getting rather expensive.  I had friends that roasted at home, but I felt very intimidated by the process.  One friend invited me over to his house to show me how he did it and I was blown away by the simplicity of entering the hobby of coffee roasting.  About a week later I bought a Whirlypop popcorn popper and a few pounds of green coffee beans and my life has never been the same.

As I started to think about roasting on my own, I thought I was the type of roaster that would do this to get good coffee for less money than I was spending.  My wife compares fresh roasted coffee to fresh baked cookies.  Anyone can bake a batch of cookies at home and it is always better than 95% of the store-bought cookies.  But some people make the BEST cookies.  So, you can enter the hobby of home roasting and just try to make fresh cookies.  Or you can enter it and try to be the best.  I entered the hobby looking for fresh and then one day I had a cup of coffee that blew my mind.  I had no idea what I’d done but I knew that I NEEDED to recreate that cup of coffee.  I changed my entire approach.  I started logging each variable of each roast.  I used to run a metrics team at Intel and our mantra what, “you cannot improve what you don’t measure.”  I measured everything I could.  I would then change a variable here and there to get to a point where I would know how to modulate the flavor profile of each coffee.  I started to taste a coffee and know just from a brief sample, what needed changing to bring out better flavors from that bean.  I graduated from a Whirlypop and started on a Hottop and my world got bigger.  About a year later Sagebrush Coffee was born.  Coffee roasting isn’t picky.  You can enter the hobby and be happy for a long time roasting fresh coffee.  Or you can enter a path that has no return and end up like me. 

So, as you consider home roasting or are continuing down that path, I have a few words of advice for you.  1)  Your palette is king.  Don’t try to do things “correctly”, make coffee that you love.  You aren’t selling it or trying to impress anyone except yourself, so impress yourself.  2)  Measure and log.  There are so many variables when it comes to coffee.  Just in the bean alone you have country, process, varietal, farm, region within the country, just to name a few.  Then you have the heat applied at different times in the roast, final roast level, time to first crack, volume roasted, etc.  There are variables that you cannot measure or change like water content of the bean, time since harvest, current ambient temperature, and humidity.  All of these and more effect your roast.  So, log and measure as much as you can.  Then try to only change a variable or two.  I know this sounds intimidating, but it shouldn’t be overwhelming.  At first, just log something…it’ll be better than nothing.  Be as obsessed as you want to be.  3).  Invest as much money in the hobby as you want, but don’t feel overwhelmed by the amount you could invest.  I joke that I started a business to subsidize my coffee habit and in many ways I did.  Sagebrush Coffee was a thing a lot longer than it was my primary source of income.  It really was a way to pay for my coffee habit at first.  However, I’ve learned that every new brewing method or roaster or amazing coffee bean doesn’t have nearly the impact as that first good cup of home roasted coffee did.  There are step functions in the growth of becoming a coffee roaster, but 95% of the things you do provide an incremental change.  The biggest thing you can do to improve your coffee is to roast at home at all.

The last piece of advice I’d give an aspiring home roaster is to be careful.  I started this blog by talking about how the coffee routine is a therapeutic start to your day.  Don’t let roasting turn into an obsession and then you lose the joy and comfort that morning cup of coffee can bring.  Coffee is one of our greatest gifts, enjoy it!

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