Beans, Beans are good for your heart.

So the other day, I made these:

Well, I didn't actually make them, I mean I didn't grow them in my garden or anything. But still, I had something to do with their transition to that state.

If you didn't know, I'm a bit of a coffee snob. If someone offers me a cup of coffee and I accept, and they immediately take the can of Maxwell House out of the freezer, I always have second thoughts. Sometimes I'll change my mind and say I'd like tea instead, or sometimes I'll choke it down if I'm trying to be polite. I think "Good to the Last Drop" is probably one of the biggest and oldest marketing lies out there. In other words, I prefer to grind my own beans and I am partial to a darker roast and using a french press.

And then it all went to hell, because I read a stupid article on the stupid internet about how I could roast my own stupid coffee using nothing but a stupid $20 ebay popcorn popper.

I had to try it. Apparently the popper I wanted was called a WestBend Poppery, or Poppery II. I found a Poppery II cheap, so I Bought it Now, baby. Then I went on a search for green coffee beans, having visions of the sweet, sweet aroma of freshly roasted coffee wafting through my house.

I researched a few other things, too. Technically, coffee is "stale" about 5 days after it's roasted. You can slow that down with vacuum packing, but once you open your bag, use it up quick. Green coffee beans supposedly stay fresh and good for 6 months to a year in their unroasted state. I learned about chaff, and first crack and second crack. I found a place called Sweet Maria's, and I ordered up some coffee.

I got the popcorn popper first. It sounded like a worn out blow dryer with a bad bearing, but it got pretty hot and looked clean. I cleaned it up a little more, found a glass lantern chimney to replace the plastic top, and waited for my coffee to arrive.

I had ordered the "sampler pack" which means I got about 8 pounds of coffee total, with four different types of beans from different countries. It finally showed up a few days after the popper, and I was ready to roll.

The labels on the beans read like terms you'd hear at a wine or beer tasting. "Fruited bittersweet balance, chocolate biscuit, plum, sweet spices like cinnamon, ginger, clove and coriander" was on one package, and another read "Dried mango, peach, tamarind, rustic chocolate" (Rustic chocolate? That doesn't sound very appetizing.) I was excited. I had to try this asap.

I set everything up on the kitchen counter and plugged the popper in. I opened one of the bags of coffee and dumped in around 4-5 ounces of green beans, and got a wooden spoon to stir it with until it lost enough moisture to stir itself.

The first thing I noticed was that roasting coffee smells like ass. It smells nothing at all like coffee, and instead of a heavenly aroma of coffee wafting through my house, instead what I had was something that smelled like rotten grass slowly heating up in the sun. I turned on the fan over the stove, and started stirring the beans with the handle of the spoon. Immediately I noticed another problem. In order to look at the coffee, I had to put my head directly over the top of the popper, and since it's a hot air popper, air that smelled like ass was blowing directly into my face. It was like being forced to talk to someone with bad breath because they have something you want. After a minute or so, I noticed the chaff starting to come off the beans. This is the outer skin of the coffee bean, and it's very light. Think of that thin covering over a peanut when you take it out of the shell. Like that. This isn't so bad, I thought, leaning in for another stir.

Suddenly, I was in the middle of a brown, smelly snowstorm and chaff was blowing all over the kitchen. I had half-expected some kind of mess, which is why I decided to do this when my wife wasn't home. It was then that I heard what they call "first crack" and it sounds exactly like it was described. Sort of a popcorn-y sound, but not quite. It was less violent, maybe more like the sound you'd hear if you broke a candy cane in half. Suddenly, all the beans were doing this, and the popper was getting pretty lively. The smell didn't really improve much, however.

After most of the chaff had blown away, the beans started to brown. After about 14 minutes of this, I heard what I thought was "second crack" which sounds just like first crack except it's one higher. I wanted a nice dark roast, so I kept things going for a bit, watching the color of the beans until I had what I wanted. The fan over the stove wasn't cutting it, and the room was getting a little bit hazy. I was pretty sure that I saw the beginning of a little smoke, but I wasn't positive. Maybe the bean fumes were getting to me.

When I had a color I could live with, I unplugged the popper and dumped the beans into a metal colander, in order to quickly cool them. As I swished them around, I leaned in to take a little whiff, and sadly, things hadn't improved. It didn't smell like rotten grass anymore, but it certainly didn't smell like coffee. But that was OK. It was my first try, and I figured I did something wrong. I dumped the beans into an airtight container, and cleaned up my mess. Mission accomplished, sort of.

That night while I was in bed, I kept smelling that ass-grass roasting coffee smell. My wife didn't mention anything when she got home, so I figured airing out the house had worked OK, but this was really strong. It took me a few minutes to realize it was my hair. From sticking my face over the popper, I had that oily stench pretty much embedded in my scalp.

The next morning, I went downstairs to the kitchen and opened the container and...it was coffee! Honest to god, fantastic smelling, fresh-roasted coffee that smelled like you would expect it to. I brewed it up, and I thought it tasted pretty good for my first attempt. It wasn't as strong as Starbucks, but it wasn't as bitter either. I am now going to try a bunch of other bean types, and roasting times, just to see what I end up with. Also, I'm doing this in my shop now. No more kitchen counter. Here's a little video of that roast in the first picture when it was almost done.

I've tried all four in my sampler pack and here's what I've written down in my log so far:

Ethiopia Harar Longberry:
What I am supposed to taste: Hints of dried mango, peach, tamarind, and spicy cinnamon
What I actually taste: Weak-ass Coffee

Sumatra Dry-hulled Aceh Bukit:
What I am supposed to taste: Fruity, chocolate biscuit, plum, sweet spices
What I actually taste: Your Basic Really Good Restaurant Coffee

Brazil Cerrado DP Fazenda Aurea:
What I am supposed to taste: creamy body, very nutty, chocolate in darker roasts, banana, melon
What I actually taste: Average Coffee

Costa Rica Bajo Canet de Tarrazu:
What I am supposed to taste: Brightness (?), heavy fruit aromatics, banana, melon, orange peel, dark brown sugar
What I actually taste: More Coffee

So clearly I have to work on my tasting skills, because I have none. They all taste like coffee to me. Good, and fresh, but similar in nature. I need to learn more about the limitations of this corn popper method, too. Maybe that's my problem. Maybe I need to get an $800 home roaster so I can turn into a pretentious dickhead and pretend I taste all that stuff in those descriptions.

More so, I mean.


  1. Anonymous11:17 PM

    I'm not surprised at the stench. I was thinking that's where the post was headed. This is because I used to commute past a Tully's roasting plant every day on the way to work. Before I figured out that's what was happening there, every time I drove past that spot, the stench made me think something was wrong with my car. Or that the car next to me had bad exhaust. Finally a coworker set me straight.

  2. Speaking of exhaust, some things are better left to automation and dedicated processes/locations. This may be one of them.

    If you want to do something at home that beats the snot out of anything ready-made you can buy, get an ice cream maker. Worlds of difference.

  3. One thing I learned when I was in Kona, HI was that a dark roast is actually used to cover up poor quality beans (i.e. you are tasting the roast, more than the bean itself). So you might taste more flavors in the various varieties if you do more of a medium (Vienna?) roast.

  4. That is awesome! I had no idea that roasting coffee smells like ass. I am a coffee snob too. But I am not brave enough to try roasting my own. Thanks for the laugh

  5. There was a serious coffee snob in my office a few years back who always insisted on drinking fancy bean varieties, all while chastising others for drinking "that crap coffee from Dunkin Donuts". One day we switched his frou-frou beans with the D&D beans, and then watched him run around the office all day insisting that everyone try his new bean discovery, as it was the best coffee he had ever tasted. It was a good day.

  6. Thank you for taking one for the team. Suddenly feeling smart for NOT roasting my own beans a few years ago...

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  8. The stench is normal, I work for a coffee & tea company and days we roast I stay in my office.

    Make sure the coffee you are roasting is 100% Arabica, the other type (Robusta) is typically lower quality and produces a more bitter taste.

  9. Everyone who commented is all about the coffee and here I am, drinking a cup of coffee that I nearly laughed through my nose several times reading this post. I had this image of ass smelling dust wafting through the kitchen. You are a gifted writer. I felt like I was actually in your kitchen with you. I hope you indulge more of your hobbies/snobberies and write about them.

  10. I'm forwarding your link to my husband and very much hoping that he doesn't decide to try this at our home! LOL

  11. Oh boy, oh boy... am I EVER glad my hubby does not read this blog. He is a total coffee snob and also fond of experimenting in the kitchen. I had absolutely NO idea coffee *could* be roasted at home, and I don't think he does either, so let's keep it that way! I can just imagine the disaster area. Nope, we/he will have to stick to buying the good stuff at Costco.

    Lest you think I'm a totally Horrible Mean Wife, he is getting a new coffeemaker for Christmas. I did my homework and purchase a highly-rated machine from Amazon. It concerns me a bit because I have never heard of the brand before (it's Zoy-something, Japanese), but people raved about it so I have my fingers crossed. If you hear cries of disappointment emitting from MO on Christmas afternoon, it's because the thing has overflowed or otherwise effed up on the first go-round...

  12. Also, @ Brian - LOVE that! I can totally relate. :-)

  13. Anon, I've never smelled active roasting before -- there's a coffee shop in town that supposedly does it on a regular basis, but maybe I just never knew what it was I was smelling. I'm not giving up though!

    Cagey, maybe you're right. I'm drawing the line at pigs and chickens. I don't eat much ice cream though, and I'm afraid I'd like it too much.

    DBB, I read that too, and I think you're right. I'm going to try some lighter roasts but maybe using more coffee when I brew.

    Amby, you're welcome!

    Brian, you're a mean, mean man and also that is totally awesome. Did you ever tell him? I think you should.

    Glen, just don't do it inside.

    Fount, why'd you delete your comment? I thought it was good advice.

    Fish, I've been thinking about trying to duplicate this one belgian tripel I love called Golden Monkey. I hear there's a kit for it, so I might be in the beer making business soon.

    Jen, you can do it with a heat gun and a dog bowl if you're desperate!

    Rider, let me know what the brand is, or send me a link. I need a new pot desperately. The french press is good, but I hear the paper filter in a drip machine takes out some bad stuff that can raise your cholesterol.

  14. OMG...like the other commenter, my husband must never see this! Not that he is much of a coffee drinker, I am, but he IS into gadgets and would do it "for me".
    BTW, the best coffee I've ever drank is called Jamaican Blue Mountain. However, the true JBM is very expensive, so get the blend (much cheaper), I've had both and it tastes similar.

  15. p jane10:22 AM

    My everyday coffee pot is a $17 Black&Decker programmable drip...but for more leisurely coffee brewing we have a Yama 8 cup vacuum/siphon stovetop pot. (Looks like Sweet Maria's carries them!) Strong, smooth, rich coffee--amazing. Beans that I thought were pretty damned good brewed in the drip were even better vacuumed. Not sure if a cloth filter works like paper in removing the bad stuff, but it sure makes good coffe.

    RE: the stink...I'm imagining it's similar to toasting hops, which is also a strong and unusual odor (Anheiser-Busch is just up the road...)

  16. So glad to read this... I'm going to try roasting my own this week, the first step into going back into the coffee business. I'll be using a home drum roaster and if youre interested in reading about that - coffeejunkee.blogspot