Category Archives: Roasting

Home Roasting – Which Roaster Should I Get?

So, you wanna start home roasting.  But, which roaster is the best one to get?  There’s a ton of written material on this subject, so here’s my contribution.

The Short Version

For those of you with short attention spans, get a FreshRoast SR500.  It produces excellent results, allows you to experiment some typical roaster variables (fan and heat) and won’t break the bank.  Why not the SR700?  Well, as much as I have fun with it, the computer control is really not great for a beginner.  A manual roaster will let you actually experience the roast better and you’ll learn more.

The long version

What follows is my opinion after having tried most of these things over the last 5 years.  Most people will recommend starting out with a Westbend Poppery popcorn maker from eBay.  Yes, this will work, and can produce good results.  But, to truly get the most out of it, you will need to modify it.  And, there’s an impressive set of mods you can make if you are so inclined.  But, and the end, you will basically have built an SR500.  But, hey,  if you like building things, and you have the skills, go for it.

You could even start off with a cast iron skillet, or a wok, or even your current toaster oven.  If you have a toaster oven with a convection setting, you can easily roast 1/2lb loads and do a pretty decent job.  But, you will likely outgrow these more primitive tools and methods VERY quickly.  Having a roaster that can still be of service after you upgrade is going to be a nice thing.

What about a Behmor?  The Behmor 1600+ is a great roaster – for the price it really is.  But, there’s significant quirks and short-comings that make it really aggravating for beginners (just Google for Err 7 and read about all the dumped roasts due to this “feature” – it’s an insurance this for the company.)  Also, while it will in fact roast a full pound, I find the sweet spot is 1/2lb, and with the cooling cycle, you can actually roast a full pound in 4 batches in the SR500 in almost the same amount of time.

There are of course other options.  But, for ease of use, ability to actually learn about roast mechanics, and quality of the result, if I had to do it over again, I would start with the FreshRoast SR500.  And, the bonus is that it is such a capable roaster, when/if you upgrade to something larger, you can still use the SR500 as your sample roaster (there are some commercial roasters that actually do this).

Roasting with the Behmor 1600 Plus

The Behmor 1600 Plus is one of the most popular home roasting solutions out there because it can roast a pound of coffee and only costs $369.  I personally roast 1/2lb batches because I find that to be the sweet spot of the Behmor 1600 Plus.  I like my roasts to not go longer than 14 minutes.

Here’s a video I did showing a roast profile I like for beans destined for cold brew.

3rd Wave Coffee – Taking Light Roast Way Too Far

After attending the New York Coffee Festival yesterday I had what I will call a revelation.  The so-called 3rd Wave Coffee singular characteristic is really light roasts…that’s not the revelation.  The theory is that you are better highlighting the varietal of the bean by applying less roast character.  That’s great in theory, but even the best Ethiopian Yirgacheffe will taste like shit if it’s under-roasted.

So, is this 3rd wave movement going too far?  I think so.  You would think that 2nd crack is a criminal offense the way these people are acting.  Now, don’t get me wrong, the way Starbucks treats 2nd crack is criminal and results in bitter nasty crap.  But, some beans just simply work better at darker roasts, and ALL beans need to reach a proper roast state to taste good.  But, so many people these days seem to be completely afraid of even a medium roast.  And, at the festival, I tasted several under-roasted examples from people that were really proud of what they had done.

So, why the fad?  Who started this, and why is it persisting?  And what exactly does “medium” roast mean anyway?  Making coffee is part art and part science.  And as with all endeavors, constant improvement is what makes it worth pursuing in the first place.  But, it seems like we are in a massive over-reaction to Starbucks now.  People have forgotten the goodness that lays in between the extremes.    Let’s take a look at the Starbucks spectrum:

Starbucks Roast Spectrum

Starbucks Roast Spectrum

It should be totally obvious the beans on the right are flat out burnt.  Now, let’s look at these three basic roasts as the SCAA defines them:

SCAA Roast Spectrum

SCAA Roast Spectrum

It’s not perfect apples to apples, because the SCAA samples are ground, but it’s close enough to make the point.  What SCAA calls “moderately dark” is what Starbucks is calling “Blonde”.  WTF?!  How is that even remotely possible?  The answer is simple.
There really is no standard.  The SCAA putting Agtron numbers for color in a book, doesn’t really mean shit.  Do you see “blonde” on the SCAA chart?  And, isn’t “blonde” really like super light yellow (think hair)?  Roasters can call their roasts whatever they want.  If it’s the darkest they are willing to go, then it’s “Dark Roast”.  And, it seems that Hipsters have single handedly taken this whole light roast thing off the deep end (or is that the shallow end?) in the name of “promoting complete bean development.”

What is the result?  Majorly acidic coffee that isn’t really enjoyable.  Really, all you’ve done is created the polar opposite of Starbucks.  But, as is often the case, the extremes, at both ends of the spectrum, are not good.   Brewing a good cup of coffee really hasn’t changed in, well, forever.  Yet, people still actively seek out ways to screw it up, and then charge $5 a cup for it.

So, I issue a challenge to all the Hipster roasters out there.  Roast a batch so dark it makes you uncomfortable and let people try it.  If you really are a good roaster, you wont have to worry about even coming close to a Starbucks “dark” roast, and I’ll bet the taste will surprise you.

FreshRoast SR700 and Roastero

When I started home roasting with the FreshRoast SR700, it was for two reasons.  First, I realized that even though I had started to buy really great beans from local roasters, it was expensive.  I looked, and a pound of very good green coffee is about $5, and a pound of good roasted is anywhere from $15 to $20.  So, by roasting myself, I save big bucks.  Second, I am able to get exactly the coffee I want when I want it.  I roast on demand, and never have any wasted coffee.

So, I decided on the FreshRoast SR700.   It’s computer controlled, and that’s too geeky to pass up.  But, a friend had an SR500 and recommended that.  So, after some research, it really did look like a great way to start at home.

Now, enter Roastero.  After I started roasting, I joined the FreshRoast Facebook group.  There’s over 100 people there comparing recipes and sharing advice on the FreshRoast SR700 and SR500.  Then, I see a post from 2 college kids that are writing an open source program to control the SR700.  You better believe I jumped on that invite.

The stock SR700 software lets you save lots of steps, but you still only have control over 3 heat levels, and 9 fan speeds.  It’s pretty flexible, and produces fine roasts, but it’s still sort of limiting.  Roastero on the other hand uses temperature targets for each step.  You can actually build a real roast profile.  This software takes a really good machine and makes it a great machine.  The roasts you can do with this level of control are incredible.  The only nit is that the software is still using those 3 heat levels, so it toggles back and forth between them to maintain a given temperature.  That is a limitation of the hardware.  So, the resulting curve is not smooth.  But, the average of the result works out fine.

I am able to create profiles that put 1st crack anywhere I want it.  I can produce nice even light roasts, or dark roasts with a roaring 2nd crack, and they are all nice and even.

Here’s a quick video.

Not an Espresso Fan?

I know, some people don’t like espresso? What’s up with that?!  Well, what are you supposed to do if someone is visiting and want’s coffee but just wants “a cup of coffee”.  I humbly suggest Guatemala Volcan at Full City roast.

I roasted this batch with my Fresh Roast SR700 at 2min past 1st Crack.  This is one of, if not the best, “cup of coffee” I’ve ever had.  I brewed it in an Aeropress at 185F.  It was spectacular.

Guatemala Volcan

Guatemala Volcan 2min after 1st Crack

Home Roast Sumatra

Sumatra Iskandar won some awards this year.  So I picked up a few pounds to home roast.

Roasted with FreshRoast SR700 to Full City+

Roasted with FreshRoast SR700 to Full City+

This batch was roasted 20 sec into a rolling second crack.  It came out excellent.  Brewed as a single origin espresso, it had all the body you would expect.  It was thick and syrupy, with mild sweetness and a touch of acidic tang to wake up the mouth.  I regularly use 25% Sumatra in my “go-to” espresso blend, and this bean again showed me why I do it.

As an Aeropress brew, this was also outstanding.  The cup was exceptionally smooth and not bitter at all.  The sweetness was perhaps more pronounced than in the espresso preparation and the aroma had chocolate notes to it.  The thickness of the body noted in the espresso preparation was also very noticeable.