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Fat Guy

Adventures in Home Coffee Roasting

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Fresh Roast is indeed a good choice for new home roasters. The Caffe Rosto is good for those who like to roast to darker levels but there was a batch with quality control problems recently and it's tough to know whether you're getting one of the good ones or not. The HWP (Hearthware Precision Roaster( was generally considered to be excellent but there were many reported failures. Some attribute it to folks who were roasting way too often (i.e. many pounds per week) and others say it was QC issues. Regardless, the folks who made and sold it lost a bundle of money making good on the warranty and eventually stopped production. There is supposed to be a new and improved more robust model coming out soon but it's not here yet.

I started with a $5 used West Bend Poppery. Look for the original Poppery, not the Poppery II. They are fairly easy to find at thrift stores and yard sales. My gripe was too messy (lots of chaff flying around) and small batch size. Popper roasting is a good way to start because it's cheap and it's also easy to see the color change on the beans. As a newbie I found this the easiest way to judge roast level - stop roast just before beans hit the desired darkness level and then dump in colanders or on cookie sheet to stir rapidly and cool.

FR, HWP and popcorn poppers are all fluid bed - they utlize hot air to roast and agitate the beans. The shortcoming is that the short roast times (4 to 6 minutes is typical) result in a bright flavor profile. Some folks like this but many of us, especially espresso aficionados, prefer a longer roast time that results in a smoother, mellower flavor profile. Most achieve the longer roast profile by using a drum roaster such as the Alpenroast or the new Hot Top. Others, mostly the tweakers, (I am not one) use voltage controllers known as Variac's or other special modifications and techniques to get a longer roast and better profile on fluid bed (hot air) roasters.

I own and use an Alpenroast. There was a generation of Alps that had QC problems and many breakdowns. Mine is a bit newer (retails $280 - got mine used for $175). It's been flawless and roasts in half pound batches - very convenient. In theory it's a set it and forget it unit - the roast level you choose controls a timer that stops the roast, starts the airflow for cooling and then dumps the beans when it's done. The beans generally need a minute or two of cookie shet agitation to cool completely but it's a sweet system and chaff is collected nciely - no mess. The downside is that you can't see bean color. You must judge roast level by the sound of the cracks and/or by smell of the smoke. Once you've established a time for a particular bean or blend it's easy to replicate a roast by just manually pressing the stop button to initiate the cooling cycle.

I woulden't recommend an Alps to a newbie unless you can tolerate the learning curve.

The Hot Top, at about $500, has all the benefits of the Alps with beefier construction, an adjustable roasting profile (starting at a lower temp and raising roasting temp later in the roasting cycle can improve results) and has a viewing window. Early reports from the home roasting community are overwhelmingly favorable in terms of usability, quality, results and reliability. It's pricey but I'll get one sooner than later.

The Z&D (Zach & Dani's) roaster seemed promising at first and is good for the casual roaster who has no desire to get more involved than pressing a button but lengthier testing has indicated that it has a bit of trouble getting a nice dark roast profile. It's long roast time but inability to ramp quite to the right temp results in what some describe as a "slightly baked" or "flat" flavor profile.

I heartily recommend Sweet Maria's as a good source for roaster, info and green beans. great selection and excellent info on the characteristics and recommended roast levels for various beans.

Not to quibble with the suggestion of using Columbian for a base when blending but it should be mentioned that good quality (e.g. Estate quality( Brazil beans are a better choice for the base when making espresso blends. Most recommend anywhere from 25 % to 40% as a base. If blending all decaf, the individual bean flavors are not as robust and blending with one decaf bean as a base is NOT recommended.


Edited by phaelon56 (log)

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Thanks, F-G and phalelon56. That's helpful. I will probably start with a Fresh Roast Plus.

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As the primary coffee consumer in the Fat-Guy-Household I can say the home roasted product has really improved the coffee around here. I'm not confident enough to do the roasting myself, and once in awhile FG forgets so I have to fall back on Illy. It's always a disappointment to have to drink not-fresh-roasted. There's just something missing from the flavor, even though Illy is very good.

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In the FG household, what is the standard coffee preparation? I've been playing with home roasting for a couple of years, on and off, and haven't succeeded in getting an espresso that isn't a little too sharp and bright for my tastes... and I generally don't drink brewed coffee, which seems (if my guess that you brew rather than extract is right) to be where the benefits you derive from home roasting display themselves.

I'm using a hot air roaster, btw, and a variety of different green beans from sweet maria's. Maybe it is a blend issue, but I think the roast might have something to do with it too...


Edited by cdh (log)

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In the FG household, what is the standard coffee preparation?  I've been playing with home roasting for a couple of years, on and off, and haven't succeeded in getting an espresso that isn't a little too sharp and bright for my tastes... and I generally don't drink brewed coffee, which seems (if my guess that you brew rather than extract is right) to be where the benefits you derive from home roasting display themselves.

I'm using a hot air roaster, btw, and a variety of different green beans from sweet maria's.  Maybe it is a blend issue, but I think the roast might have something to do with it too...

It is very hard to get a mellow roast using an air-roaster, the faster the beans roast the brighter/sharper the coffee ends up. If you can slow down the roast you can reduce the brightness, see if you can find a rheostat at a hardware store and run your air roaster at 75% power. My preference is for the roast to take about 15minutes. If you have a gas grill and a rotisserie you can make a drum roaster for about $7 worth of parts and half an hour of your time. If your interested let me know and I’ll post plans.

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FG household is a brewed coffee household.

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I'm using a hot air roaster, btw, and a variety of different green beans from sweet maria's.  Maybe it is a blend issue, but I think the roast might have something to do with it too...

What blend are you using from Sweet Marias? Are you making your own blend? I have been using their "Espresso Monkey Blend" for some time with around 7% of Monsooned Malabar and 7% of their top Robusta added. I roast to a "Northern Italian" (i.e., just a bit beyond full city) roast using a Hearthware Precision air roaster. Never had any problems with excessive brightness.

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I know that our local Starbucks stores are all using automated espresso makers. I do miss the hand-tamp macines they used to have because I could get a longer shot as I prefer my espresso a little richer, but their espresso is one of the best Ive ever had and always consistant.

Anyway, back to your coffee roasting experiment, I just purchased the Freshroast and I am enjoying your articles so far, very imformative.

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I definately agree with you when it comes to grinding in a burr grinder. Not only is it consistant, but for my french press, it makes it the perfect size grind.

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Franke is one of the major brands of super-auto commercial machines but Shcaerer is another big one. The only palatable and tolerable espresso drinsk I've ever had from a super-auto were from the Schaerer machines that Peet's uses in their San Francisco airport location.

This recent Coffeegeek article discusses even newer advances in super-auto technology.

Is This the End of the Barista?

I'm far from weing a Luddite - I welcome the introduction of technology into society in general and my life in particular when there's a tangible benefit. But I still believe that the real benefit of super-auto machines is increased "efficiency" and higher profits for the coffee retailer. Yes - it does produce "greater consistency" of drinks in the mass market chains. But that same result (and better) could be achieved by higher wages and better training.

And I don't believe that a super-auto machine will ever be able to consistently replicate what a highly traioned and dedicated barista can produce behind an espresso machine.

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It is very hard to get a mellow roast using an air-roaster, the faster the beans roast the brighter/sharper the coffee ends up.  If you can slow down the roast you can reduce the brightness, see if you can find a rheostat at a hardware store and run your air roaster at 75% power.  My preference is for the roast to take about 15minutes.  If you have a gas grill and a rotisserie you can make a drum roaster for about $7 worth of parts and half an hour of your time.  If your interested let me know and I’ll post plans.

Wow, I've been curious to figure out a way to slow down the roasting of my Freshroast (I have an older "5" minute version I got on ebay) because I just cannot get those deep rich tones I get from my favortie coffee chain. When the beans get to the darkness I like (Im in the upper third crack stage) it becomes almost bitter, in a bad sense, with no flavor hanging around on my tounge, like I prefer.

Also, if you hadn't already, could you post plans for that grill rotisserie basket? I have a feeling I may grow out this air-roaster fast because of the tiny batch size.

Thanks everyone! :wub:

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There is always my favorite method: heatgun/dogbowl. Details can be found at Michael Lloyd's HG/DB primer

I routinely roast one pound batch sizes, and I prefer a more mellow and richer roast. The Hearthwares/Fresh Roasts/hot air poppers are generally too bright for my taste.

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When home roasting, how should green beans be stored and how long are they viable? i assume like nuts that they last longer (when stored properly) than roasted nuts as the oils have been released and denatured in the roasting process, thus leaving them more susceptible to rancidity (staling)...is this the case?

I've heard differing opinions on storage of already roasted beans, so any information on that would be appreciated as well. example: if buying roasted beans, store them in the freezer in three-four day measured packets which can be defrosted and used quickly.

by the way MGLloyd, great website!

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My weapon of choice is the Turbo/Crazy, which will digest from 1/2 to 1 pound at a time. Details at turbocrazy.atspace.com

I've cranked out way too many pounds with this rig to switch to anything else!

my2c Jorge

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