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Roasting your own coffee from green beans

By: | April 17, 2015

Roasting your own coffee is both easy and fun to do. Your coffee will be just the way you like it, every time, and you can enjoy it at a fraction of the cost of firing up your Keurig or visiting your local coffee shop

Steve McBride
The Good Life follows the adventures of Lisa & Steve as they get 'back to basics' by living simply and sustainably, and producing their own food.

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You may not be able to grow it locally, but ordering and roasting your own coffee beans means fresher coffee, and it's better on both the environment and your wallet. Photo by Lisa McBride.

As aspiring homesteaders, we try to eat local, in-season foods whenever possible. This has meant cutting out, or cutting back, on some of our favourite things. I’m willing to give up a lot of things as we chase “the good life,” and yet there’s one thing I am stubbornly unwilling to give up: my morning cup of coffee. But that doesn’t mean I want to pay full price for it!

After working for several years in the coffee industry, I suppose I became a little spoiled. Free lattes and espressos can do that to you. I became accustomed to drinking expensive coffee every day, heedless of the retail price. In my “post-café” life, I was in for a very rude awakening. The sticker shock for coffee was insane: one latte a day for two people quickly adds up to nearly $1,500 a year! So I chose a reasonable and popular option and bought a French press. Whole bean coffee made in a French press was cheaper, and better, than going out for coffee or buying and using a Keurig machine daily. Somehow, though, it didn’t feel like it was enough. I wanted to get closer to the source, while also trying to downsize the environmental impact of my coffee habit. Roasting our own coffee has basically eliminated all packaging and waste associated with our daily java.

The thought of growing our own coffee trees crossed my mind. A coffee tree is similar to a cherry tree; the bean we drink is two halves of the coffee cherry seed. We grow green tea trees inside as house plants and they thrive, while also providing us with a steady supply of excellent green tea to drink. Why not grow coffee?

This was a pie-in-the-sky idea, however — it turns out the yield of a mature coffee tree for an entire year is approximately one pound of coffee. We drink about a pound of coffee a week, so by that logic, we would need a mere 52 full-sized coffee trees to cover our own consumption. That’s a bit of a deal-breaker.

Sourcing green beans and roasting your coffee

We became interested in the idea of roasting our own coffee beans after doing some research. We discovered that fair trade, environmentally sustainable green coffee beans can be bought from a Canadian retailer and shipped right to your door, for about half the price of a pound of ‘house blend’ at a coffee shop. The Trinity Coffee Company also supplies green beans. Green coffee has a shelf life of several years, so you can stock up and roast it as you need it. We roast coffee about twice a month to ensure our coffee is fresh and aromatic.

 K-Cups cost approximately $40-$53 per pound of coffee…compared to a pound of roasted whole bean coffee from Starbucks for a mere $15, or a pound of green beans that costs around $8-$9.

Once you have some green beans, you need to roast them and grind them. Roasting coffee is a pretty simple process. We roast coffee in our oven. Basically, you are looking to heat the beans up as quickly as possible without burning them. It is important that they be able to breathe as they roast, so ensure you use a slotted roasting pan or something similar that will allow air to circulate below the beans. Coffee doubles in size as it is roasted, so only fill up your roasting pan half way.

Set your oven to its highest setting (around 525 degrees Fahrenheit), place the tray in the middle of the oven, and set a timer or watch the clock; a typical medium roast will take about 12 minutes. With some basic experimentation, you will find the magic number for how you like your coffee. We are partial to dark roasts, so our roasting time is 14 minutes. Five minutes into the roasting process, flip the oven to broil to direct the heat from the top rather than the bottom. Flip it back between bottom (oven setting) and top (broil) every two minutes to ensure your beans are roasting evenly.

Another popular method for roasting coffee at home is to use an old air popcorn popper (probably not the same one you use for your popcorn). A popcorn popper will do a great job of ensuring your coffee doesn’t burn on one side, and it will also make the whole house smell delicious!

Coffee pops, just like popcorn, as the moisture in the bean escapes with a burst. One pop means your coffee is nearly done. However, if you like a nice, dark roast, wait for the second pop. Waiting for the second pop is necessary if you want to make espresso for lattes. Have a fan on, or the kitchen window or door open, since coffee begins to let out some delicious-smelling white smoke once the roast is nearly complete.

Once the coffee is roasted the way you like it, pull it out of the oven. Pour the coffee off of the tray and into a large metal colander. You will need to fluff the coffee out to cool it down quickly to prevent it from darkening further under its own heat. Fluffing the coffee by stirring it, or even tossing the contents of the colander in the air and catching them, also helps to remove the papery skin on the outside of the bean. Once your coffee has cooled, it is best to leave it out for 24 hours. Coffee de-gasses, releasing delicious-smelling CO2, for about seven days, but most of the de-gassing happens in the first 24 hours (this is why coffee shops always smell so delicious — it’s not the coffee being brewed, but the de-gassing of roasted coffee you smell). Grind up your coffee in a coffee grinder, or with a mortar and pestle, and brew away.

Ditch your K-cup habit

Photo by Lisa McBride.

Photo by Lisa McBride.

If the delicious smell and the satisfaction from roasting coffee yourself isn’t enough to persuade you, consider that four out of every 10 Canadian households now “brew” their coffee using Keurig machines and that the percentage is still soaring, according to research firm NPD Group. Behind this rather startling number lurks an absolutely appalling amount of waste. Single-serve coffee consumed in North America alone generates an estimated 966 million pounds of landfill waste per year! Newer generation K-cup pods use DRM (digital rights management) technology, just in case you thought you could get away with re-using pods, in order to keep the price artificially inflated. Since K-cups are too small for recycling machines to sort, there is currently no possibility of recycling this enormous amount of waste or diverting it from landfills.

Also, consider that K-Cups cost approximately $40-$53 per pound of coffee — this is compared to a pound of roasted whole bean coffee from Starbucks for a mere $15, or a pound of green beans that costs around $8-$9. K-cup consumption has gotten so out of control that their creator, John Sylvan, has recently said he regrets ever developing this technology.

All things considered, roasting your own green coffee is easy, affordable, and rewarding. Your whole house will smell delicious, and you’ll be doing yourself, your pocketbook, and the environment a huge favour in the process. You may not be able to source coffee locally, but this is a step towards sustainability you can feel good about, without having to forego your morning cuppa joe.

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