We drink coffee, a lot of coffee, I mean it is even in our blog’s name, Slowly Sipping Coffee. All of this coffee consumption over the years has led me to trying to find a good balance between “good” coffee and “low cost” coffee. In Denver, I would go to Sunflower Market to their bulk bean bin and pay ~$6/lb which was good at the time. We’ve tried buying in bulk when we still had our Costco membership, we’ve tried the bulk bean route at the grocery store, and those worked well to cut down on costs but the best savings and flavor balance I’ve found so far is – wait for it – roasting my own coffee!!
I know right?! How would roasting your own coffee at home be cost effective and easier than just buying it at the store? Don’t you need specialized equipment, a grand knowledge of coffee roasting principles, and somewhere to buy the beans? The short answers are No, Meh, and the internet. For the longer answer, keep reading and let me explain. I tend to be a serial hobbyist, in that I pick up hobbies, I am passionate about them for a while and then they fade away and more times than not I’m left with a lot of “hobby supplies” in their wake and I didn’t want to do this with coffee roasting. I was first introduced to the concept of roasting your own coffee at my local homebrew store – a hobby that I am proud to say has stuck around for many years now. They had some green coffee beans, equipment, books on roasting and more and I saw it as nothing more than a good way to part with my money quickly. I just thought it looked so time consuming and expensive. Boy was I wrong.
Roasting Your Own Coffee is Easy
Fast forward a few years later, and my interest in coffee roasting came up again, but this time I was wanting to try it out on the cheap. That way if it didn’t pan out I didn’t invest a lot of money and end up with a lot of useless stuff. I started where any person starts their research nowadays, the internet. A quick google search of “How do I roast my own coffee beans” led me to this eye opening declaration.
“You can roast in your oven, use a skillet, re-purpose a popcorn popper or buy a fancy coffee roasting appliance. Whatever method you use, you will be on your way to drinking much better coffee. The basic process is simple: use heat to turn green unroasted coffee into brown roasted coffee.”
Sweet Maria’s had a great quick overview of the roasting process as well as specific instructions for different DIY methods. That site along with a few others I read made me realize that I can use things that I already had to roast coffee. I tried the toaster oven method first, because, well, we already own one. I took it out back and did it outside because of the “smoke” some sites had warned about. Of all the methods I’ve tried, regular oven, toaster oven, and Whirley Pop, the ovens are the smokiest – especially the regular oven. However, it just makes your house smell like fresh roasted coffee, so it’s not all bad.
Our toaster oven was a little underpowered for this so it took about 25+ minutes to get a decent roast and I had to turn the pans and pay close attention. This method took the most effort to get an even roast. I ultimately settled on a Whirley Pop Popcorn maker (New on Amazon for ~$25, I got mine for ~$20) and it has worked amazingly well over the last year. True to their word, and most reviews, the plastic gears did give out after about 8 months of use, but when I called the company for their lifetime replacement guarantee, they signed me up and shipped out new gears, all free of charge. I didn’t even have to be registered prior to it breaking (I really suck at staying on top of things like that).
This method takes about 15 minutes for about 1/2 – 3/4 of a lb of beans, which is plenty to get through a week or so. Plus, the stirring mechanism rotates the beans and once you get your own popper figured out, it’s by far the easiest, most consistent, and repeatable roast method I’ve tried.
Finding coffee beans
I googled “Green coffee beans for roasting” and found a plethora of sites with beans available. I ended up going with a company called Smokin Beans even though you have to pay for shipping. They had reasonable prices and great product descriptions of the type of coffee, grade, acidity levels, and flavors. Plus, once you order from them, they include a code for 20% off your next order and free shipping which saves $7 plus the 20%. Not too bad at all. I stick to their Nicaraguan Jinotega beans mostly and on Amazon they are $22 per 5 lb. bag. The first order was $28.50 all total so $5.70/lb to start with which is still a reasonable price for fresh roasted coffee! With free shipping and 20% it comes in at $20 per 5 lbs or $4/lb.* Not too shabby! You can get smaller bags of beans than 5 lbs, however, the price goes up with the smaller amounts.
Fun and Fresh
The beauty is that you can roast your beans to whatever level of roast that you like, you can even experiment with different roast profiles because, well, you have 5 lbs to go through. Sometimes I like it lightly roasted and sometimes I’ll go for the medium or darker roasts. I never expected that I could get fresh roasted coffee for that cheap though. I can roast it over the weekend, on a weeknight, or whenever I run out of coffee because it only takes about 15 minutes.
The expensive fancy machines do seem to make it easier however. With them, you can set the desired roast levels, they also offer smokeless options, and they typically have a blower to remove the chaff that will come off of your coffee beans and they’re more set it and forget it type of roasting. While the popper method is a little more labor intensive, it doesn’t have a $150 – $370 start up cost.
That’s my DIY summary of coffee roasting. Fun, inexpensive and you can try different coffee varieties and roast profiles. No need to invest in any fancy equipment either, but be warned, once you roast coffee in your Whirley pop, if you get one, I wouldn’t recommend cooking popcorn in it. Unless you really like the taste of coffee popcorn.
After doing this for over a year now, this is one unexpected hobby that has stuck around.
Have you found an unexpected DIY that saves you money? Would you want to try roasting your own coffee?
* – On Amazon the price is ~$3 per 5 lb. bag cheaper, but you pay $7 for shipping. On their site you don’t pay for shipping with their loyalty code, but the cost is a bit higher, hence the higher cost per lb than it would be if you started at $22 per 5 lb bag. Go figure.
Also, I haven’t added any affiliate links here, rather just links to helpful sites that I came across when i first started getting into roasting. There are probably cheaper places to get green coffee beans, but this is one I like because they’ve been consistent and fairly priced.