Ted’s essays

coffee roasting

coffee green
My joy of coffee evolved a long ways over the years. Appreciation for quality drove me to more and more select roasters, fresher and fresher suppliers, then finally to the fanatics of select green coffee beans at Sweet Maria’s.

…We are more than just another online store, we are a virtual coffee university. Simply put, we really like what we do…

If you decide you are ready to graduate from high-end roasted coffee, I doubt you can do much better than to buy fresh green beans from their round-the-world selection. The variety is nearly overwhelming. Simply start with one of their samplers to get a feel for the choices. My current favorite java comes from, of all places, Java – the birthplace of coffee.

I have learned a lot from Sweet Maria’s, and from roasting my own over the last seven years. I started with an air roaster and sample set of 8 one-pound green bean packages.

coffee roaster at workI burned out my first air roaster while it was still under warranty. I roasted in the barn over a camp stove until the replacement arrived. It too, burned out rather quickly inspiring me to give up on air roasters. I like my coffee dark – back then, really dark. I suspect an air roaster would last longer for lighter roasts, but if you prefer French or Full City(+) roasts, I’m betting air roasters won’t do it for long.

While I suspect an eight hundred dollar drum roaster would be excellent, and last a long time, my roasting system is also very good and will last virtually forever, as far as I am concerned.

To the right is the roaster at his roasting station stirring the pot. You will only roast indoors without serious ventilation once. I built a second face for my box-fan air filtration system that has a little heat shield built in and focuses all the intake of air from right where the roasting smoke comes off the pot. This allows me to roast indoors year-round in a space that has great lighting.

It is very important to see the roast as it progresses. That is why my one attempt to roast in a stove-top popcorn-popper was totally unsatisfactory … I could not see through the smoke in the pot.

When I built this studio space, I put a gas line in for this specific purpose. My gas burner gives me a moderate, even heat. The copper-bottom pot holds a 3″-deep batch of beans that I stir constantly so none of them fry or burn, while all of them share the heat. It is called “roasting”, not frying. While imperfect, my method it is pretty darn close.
coffee roasting in progress
There are two different cracks in the evolution from green beans to actual coffee. The first cracks the outer shell, and is louder than the second, which cracks the inner shell. Between the first and second, the coffee is light brown and favored by some people. There are only a couple minutes between the time the beans start their second crack and ruination of the whole batch. It is in this period of time where your favorite flavors are found.

If you have stirred consistently enough, most of the beans in the batch will experience their first and second cracks together – making all the beans in the batch taste about the same; bringing to your cup your favorite part of the coffee beans you are working with. This is a good thing.

My favorite flavors come out when the majority of the beans get into the second crack. Just before the chorus of second crack peaks, I shut off the gas. The residual heat in the pot and the beans gets the majority through their second crack.

This is also the point where it starts smoking quite a bit. Were I to keep the heat on half-a-minute longer, I would reach French roast … which I no longer prefer. A half-minute after that it would smell burnt, and, in fact, BE BURNT. Don’t go there.
coffee roasting near done
Once I get the roast where I want it, the heat has gotta get outta there. I dump it into my copper colander and stir. I then run it outside and start transferring back and forth between my two colanders, stirring to rapidly cool off all the beans.

Unsurprisingly, my two big-city daughters have developed a serious love of coffee. One worked for a high-end roaster that would sell no coffee until at least 14 hours after the roasting and would consider it too old to sell under their brand name three days after that. Fresh is fresh.

I air mine out from end of roast, usually mid-day, until at least that evening. Then I put it into its jars, grinding and drinking the first of it next morning. The next few days are indeed the best.

Compromising ultimate quality with convenience, my batches last about a week. That is still pretty dang fresh by most standards.

Sweet Maria’s considers green beans fresh for 6 months. That’s being a bit picky for most people and, from the perspective of those drinking old ground coffee from old beans out of high-volume monoculture valley farms, 6 months is darn near premature. But of course the people at Sweet Maria’s are right. Here, too, I compromise and have some extra green beans set aside in case supply lines are somehow disrupted.coffee roasted

As you can see in my roasted beans to the right, there are significant variations in the roasted levels of my finished beans. Drum roasted beans will be quite uniform. That is probably ideal. However, the variation in flavors in my roast adds a complexity that I think I like. I say, “think”, as I really don’t know any better. What I do know is that I haven’t tasted coffee that I prefer to mine in a long time.

I don’t pretend that mine is the best. I have, however, developed a pretty good fan base here in the boondocks. I have a number of friends who also haven’t tasted better coffee in years. One, who grew up in Japan, said my cup of coffee takes her back to a coffee shop of her youth – a place she has not been in over 50 years … not with anybody’s coffee, anywhere, until mine here and now.

Now for some coffee lover good news:

Why If Coffee Is A Drug, It’s a ‘Good’ One

Could coffee do more than just stimulate alertness and stress out the adrenals? What if there was more going on to this ritualistic beverage consumed by billions around the world than just caffeine addiction? What if it was medicine for both the body and soul?


It is inhumane, in my opinion, to force people who have a genuine medical need for coffee to wait in line behind people who apparently view it as some kind of recreational activity.” ~ David Barry