A Brief Rundown on Coffee Roasting


August 20, 2013 by mattwilcoxen

Right out of high school Starbucks Frappucinos were my gateway drug. Then I moved on to vanilla lattes, then lattes, then Americanos. Thankfully, I eventually realized that there were much better places to get coffee. Before I moved from Los Angeles to Sydney at the end of 2012, I was enjoying some of the nice cafes in the Long Beach area, with Peet’s Coffee & Tea as a go to for some decent, drinkable coffee.

Sydney has some really great coffee houses and roasteries. Though it pains me to admit it, the coffee here is better per capita than in Los Angeles. There are just more high-end places here. However, in the northern part of Sydney suburbs where I live, there are hardly any good places to grab good coffee beans. And since Annie and I make coffee at home every morning, it isn’t sustainable financially for us to buy them anyways (good beans could run $25-$30/lb).

So I want really good coffee, regularly, and within some sort of budget ($10-15/wk would be ok).

I decided to start home roasting my beans. After flirting with getting a popcorn roaster, I decided to lay down an initial investment of a few hundred dollars and buy a small air roaster called the Gene Cafe. I did so because (a) it can roast 250g of coffee at a time compared to the popcorn roaster’s 80-100g, (b) it has precise temperature controls, unlike the popcorn roaster which is on high all the time, (c) it was said to make less smoke, and (d) it is not as labor intensive (you say lazy, I say efficient).

So I’ve been roasting now for about six weeks. I get high quality beans from Bean Green and Ministry Grounds. I generally buy some of the best I can get my hands on (like the Cup of Excellence offerings) as well as some more middle-class beans. I take about 20-30 minutes twice a week and I roast up some coffee for the family and sometimes for some friends. I thought I’d give you a brief rundown of the process, with some photos.

Here goes…


First, make sure your puppy is asleep. For all the nasty things puppies love (poo, rubbish, moldy cheese), they are not keen on coffee. Moving on…


Set up your gear. You can see the Gene Cafe is warming up–already at 234C. I heat it up to about there before putting 250g of beans in the hopper. You’ll notice the stand for the drum to sit upright in when it’s taken out. Take note of the oven mitt, that’s very important to keep around.

Today’s coffee, if you’re wondering, is Kenya Gethumbwini Estate AA. It’s a really, really juicy coffee with a lot of fruit flavors. It’s very characteristic of a Kenyan coffee. Highly recommended. Next…


Quickly (but safely) pour the preciouses into the preheated drum…


Set the Gene Cafe to about 17 minutes (you won’t let it go that long) and the highest temperature (250C). If you look closely at my roaster’s temperature knob, you’ll notice that it’s chewed up. I told you puppies don’t like coffee….


…Interlude: here’s a shot of green coffee beans…


Head back to your office and grab a good book (maybe even the good book) to while away the next 10 minutes or so. I don’t particularly recommend Heidegger this time of night, or any time, really…


Stay within sight and earshot (and noseshot?) of the roaster. Read well, but listen closely for “first crack”. When you hear that first pop-pop-pop (usually at between 9-11 minutes), you’ll want to give it about 30 seconds and then dial back the temp to 235C. Leave it there for about 2 minutes and then start the cooling cycle. The cooling cycle brings the temp down over a few minutes to about 60C.  (Note: with this roaster, the times are all approximate. Every type of bean is different, and you have to use sight and smell to help as well. The general principle is keep it at the hottest temperature to first crack, then slightly ease off for a couple minutes before beginning the cooling cycle.)…


Cool the roasted beans a bit more in a metal colander. You can see these ones look pretty nice. The chaff you notice on the beans is just part of home roasting; it is flavor neutral though. I’m not sure if you can tell, but the coffee has a color that is about chestnut or just a hair darker. The beans are dry on the outside. These are good signs. You don’t want dark brown or black oily beans. That means you burnt them….


You don’t want to use these to make coffee just yet. They need to rest (de-gas) for about 24  hours. They will be at their best for a few days after that. Make sure you store them in a container that lets gas out without letting air in. (I usually prefer my Airscape container.)












If you’re really good, you won’t even wake the dog.

Well, that’s a wrap. If you’ve got any roasting tips, let me know.


One thought on “A Brief Rundown on Coffee Roasting

  1. Anthony says:

    Better coffee per capita? Under-statement of the century! Suva has better coffee per capita! (admittedly, it only has 80k people :) ) I am keen to try some of your beans when I am in town next. Hope you guys are going well.

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