Sweet Maria’s General Roast Observations

Sweet Maria’s General Roast Observations

Roasting is fun and easy as you want to make it, or as exacting and technical as you care to be. You can be a barbarian and roast in a skillet (as I used to do), or go buy a fancy professional sample roaster. Don’t be afraid of crackling coffee beans and pay attention to the process, especially toward the end of the roast. Either way you will make friends and influence people (maybe).

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Choosing a Roaster

There are many ways to roast coffee, from home appliances made specifically for this purpose, to simple pan roasting. The method you choose should be influenced 1) how much coffee you drink (i.e. how much roasted coffee you need) and 2) how much money you want to spend. Whether you choose a D.I.Y. approach or a small appliance matters depends more on how you like to approach things, and if you want a more convenient way to home roast.

D.I.Y. Instructions
I think the D.I.Y. approach is a great way to get started, especially if you can re-purpose an electric hot air Popcorn Popper that you have in a cupboard, or can find second-hand. You can even find them cheaply in a hardware store, Target or Wal-Mart usually. You can also use a skillet, a stovetop popper, or a cookie sheet in the oven. These latter methods are less even and require some technique to get good results, that is why we recommend the air popper method.

Hot Air Popcorn Popper Instructions (Recommended) Ye olde Skillet / Wok Instructions
Stovetop Popcorn Instructions Oven Roasting Instructions

Small Home Coffee Roasting Appliances

An appliance gives you a built-in timer, a way to collect chaff, and (depending on the model) some control over the temperature and air flow. We sell some small appliances (like the Freshroast Home Roaster that work on the same principle as a hot air popcorn popper). Air roasting takes under 10 minutes and roasts very evenly without scorching. The other main method of roasting is radiant drum roasting (like the Behmor Roaster.) The advantage of drum roasting is a larger batch size and an even roast, but it requires a bit more attention and can mean more smoke.

See our Choosing a Roaster FAQ for more help finding the right roaster for you.

Click here to view our selection of Drum Roasters


The Roast Process in a Nutshell

  • Yellowing: For the first few minutes the bean remains greenish, then turn lighter yellowish and emit a grassy smell.
  • Steam: The beans start to steam as their internal water content dissipates.
  • First Crack: The steam becomes fragrant. Soon you will hear the “first crack,” an audible cracking sound as the real roasting starts to occur: sugars begin to caramelize, bound-up water escapes, the structure of the bean breaks down and oils migrate from their little pockets outward.
  • First Roasted Stage: After the first crack, the roast can be considered complete any time according to your taste. The cracking is an audible cue, and, along with sight and smell, tells you what stage the roast is at. This is what is call a City roast.
  • Caramelization: Caramelization continues, oils migrate, and the bean expands in size as the roast becomes dark. As the roast progresses, this is a City + roast. Most of our roast recommendations stop at this point. When you are the verge of second crack, that is a Full City roast.
  • Second Crack: At this point a “second crack” can be heard, often more volatile than the first. The roast character starts to eclipse the origin character of the beans at this point. A few pops into second crack is a Full City + roast; a roast all the way through second crack is a Vienna roast. Small pieces of the bean are sometimes blown away like shrapnel!
  • Darkening Roast: As the roast becomes very dark, the smoke is more pungent as sugars burn completely, and the bean structure breaks down more and more. This is a French roast.
  • ACK!! Too Late! Eventually, the sugars burn completely, and the roast will only result in thin-bodied cup of “charcoal water.”See our Visual Guide to the Roast Process page with lots more details about the sights, sounds and smells of various roast stages so you know what to look for.


Good to Know

  • Coffee roasting produces a wonderful fragrance, unobtrusive with light roasts but smokier if you roast dark. With some methods you can roast on a porch or near a partially open window. With stove/oven methods, it’s nice if you have a stove hood or oven fan for the darker roasts.
  • Roasting produces chaff. Chaff is a fine skin that detaches from the bean as your roast is agitated. There are various ways to collect and contain chaff, but if you are careless, you may have to do some sweeping. Chaff is flavorless so if you grind up a bit with the beans, it is not a problem.
  • Be organized. Lay out the items you will need to cool the beans before you roast, like a colander to dump the hot coffee beans into when the roast is finished.
  • Installing a 550 degree thermometer in your air popper can help you understand the roast better and be more consistent. It is strongly recommended for the stovetop popper method. Sweet Maria’s sells some thermometers for this purpose.
  • Air poppers and stove poppers may need periodic cleaning to remove built-up coffee oils. Otherwise, they can be used for popcorn too. Remember that you are voiding the warranty and reducing the lifespan of these appliances by using them for coffee roasting. It is but a small sacrifice for a nice reward!


Our Coffee Library Covers These Topics and Much More:

Roasting Specifics, Blending, Espresso Blends, Decaf, Ecology, Storing Roasted Coffee, Storing Green Coffee, Grinding, Brewing