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The Other Kind of Green

№124 ~11 minutes

In which I talk about the basics of bean freshness and roasting my own beans using a Hot Air Popcorn Popper.

I promise I’ll try to make it interesting this time.

Back when I started drinking fresher coffee the idea was always that I would — at some point — roast my own coffee. I purposely put the idea on hold whilst we were living in Finland, partly because it was so difficult to get a hold of green beans and partly because I felt I needed to focus my time on other things. So roasting my own coffee had to wait, and wait it did. Until a few months ago when I ordered my first 2kg bag of green beans. So as you might have figured out by now this post is going to be about coffee, lots of mindbogglingly fresh and awesome coffee.

So if you want to find out how you could enjoy fresh coffee every day, brew yourself a — final — inferior cup of coffee and have a seat.

Originally I was just going to write about the transition from roasted coffee to green beans, both economically and practically but the more I thought about it, the less intrigued I felt by the idea. Of course I would find it interesting but I doubt anyone else would. So, you know what? Whilst I am obviously going to talk about coffee a lot I thought I would actually try to make it as interesting as possible. Or maybe I mean educational? I mix those two up sometimes.

Either way, it means less of the usual “blah blah price comparison” and more of the awesome stuff you actually — might — care about. This is still going to take a while, so I hope your comfortable because in the next paragraph we get started.

The Scale of Freshness

Here’s what basics you need to know first. The fresher the coffee, the better. Period. It’s not a discussion because fresher is always better. But you can still like whatever you like and that’s fine. I’m not going to judge you — or will I? — for liking something I don’t like. On the scale of freshness we first have green beans, coffee that has yet to be roasted.1 This is about as fresh as coffee gets, unless you are thinking about growing — don’t2 — your own coffee. Green beans — when stored properly — will keep for about a year.

Storage is integral to maintaining your coffee’s freshness and flavor. It is important to keep it away from excessive air, moisture, heat, and light — in that order — in order to preserve its fresh-roast flavor as long as possible. NCA - National Coffee Association USA

But that advise goes for green beans as well.

Next on the scale we have roasted whole beans. Sadly, depending on your source, the answer to this one ranges from anywhere between 4 weeks to 3 months. I strongly disagree with all of that and think that 1 week is about as long as you can expect from roasted whole beans before they’re stale. So really it’s up to you. Are you going to take advise from the internet? Or from me… a guy on the internet?

Next up, we have ground coffee. You want my advice? Never store ground coffee. Get yourself a burr grinder. Roasting yourself aside, it will be your life’s greatest investment and if you get a good build it could even last you your entire life. Trust me — you know, that guy on the internet — buy yourself a burr grinder. I still have the Zassenhaus Brasilia I bought two years ago and I will probably keep using it for many years to come, though I have looked into a better stepless manual grinder.

If you still want to store ground coffee — maybe you like punishing yourself? — then there are various sources for information and they are all over the place. Some sources say 7-10 days. Folgers Coffee says 1-3 months. Some guy on Yahoo! Answers — claiming to be a Barista — says 1 week. Personally, I don’t grind and store but if I did I would aim to only keep it for 1 day. A weekend maybe, if I was forced to go to the middle of nowhere and for whatever reason wouldn’t be able to bring my grinder with me. Any longer than that and me wouldst think it be tasting a wee bit loathsome and foul.

Cartoon styled drawing of William Shakespeare saying, 'There is no sin greater and to be more abhored, than that of one to grind and store'.
Shakespeare would have totally said that had he been alive, and cared about fresh coffee.

So there you go. Now you know everything there is to know about coffee freshness. LET’S GET READY TO RUMB… roast. Yes, let’s get ready to roast. We’ll rumble — you know what I mean, grrr — when we’re done with the coffee.

Your Enchanting First Crack

When I started roasting I just used a frying pan. I spent ages on internet, searching for every bit of information I could find, only to buy some green beans and throw them into a frying pan. Done. I now roast my own coffee. As ridiculous as it might sounds that is really all there is to it. Sure my first batch was crap. Utter and complete shit. Poo-poo. But damn it was fresh. It was only crap because I had zero experience roasting coffee and no amount of watching Youtube videos of roasting guides is going to prepare you for the experience of hands-on-roasting-yourself. But I’m getting better with every time I roast. Roasting in a frying pan is interesting because whilst it’s difficult to get an even roast, it’s a lot easier to tell when you have reached First Crack and Second Crack. Something that becomes more difficult — but by no means impossible — in a Hot Air Popcorn Popper.

Warning!

Disclaimer! Hot Air Popcorn Poppers are not designed for the stressful use of coffee roasting. I am not responsible for any potential damage or harm using this technique may cause, nor am I responsible for the products or the voiding of their warranty.

Yes, you heard me right. Hot Air Popcorn Popper. What might sound like an infeasible idea is in actuality… well… to be perfectly honest, the best damn thing ever. Even though Popcorn Poppers haven’t been designed to roast coffee — you’ll apparently burn out a machine much quicker than if you used it in its intended way — they are perfectly capable of roasting coffee. There are many great sources of information about roasting coffee using a Popcorn Popper so I’m just going to give the very — super extreme — basics here and some links that I’ve found very useful, okay?3

You’ll need the following items; Green beans, Hot Air Popcorn Popper, Big Bowl, Two Mesh Colanders, Oven Mitts.

Other, kind of optional but very handy extras include, a stopwatch, a thermometer, a digital kitchen scale and an understanding spouse when the fire alarm goes off.

Measure up 85 grams of beans but be prepared that your Popcorn Popper might not handle that much. What you want to do is turn the machine on and pour in the beans until the beans are barely moving, you want them moving, but only barely so. That’s the maximum capacity of your Popcorn Popper. Mine could handle 100g in one go, but results will vary. The instructions I read prepared me for that the roasting would take 5-6 minutes but only took like 3 minutes to get to my desired roast level. Again, as you can see, results may vary. Which is I’m giving you this handy picture of my first and third Popper roasts.

Two different degress of roasted beans.
Too dark vs. 10 seconds short of perfect

Once the beans are at the appropriate roast level you are going to want to dump them into the colander — use the oven mitts to prevent burns, beans can reach temperatures of 250°C — so that you can pour the coffee back and forth between your colanders to cool them down quickly.

There’s your coffee. If you were really eager you could drink it right away but the beans flavour peak after having degassed for about 48 hours.

I’ve only done few batches so far but I can already understand why roasters alike keep recommending Popcorn Poppers. Convenient and with a vastly improved roast, better than anything I’ve done in our frying pan. Also the frying pan is pretty much ruined now — threw it out and bought a new one — which isn’t very convenient either. I’m very thankful for the experience — even though it was minuscule — I got from roasting in a frying pan but the Popcorn Popper is hands down better in every way.

Are you itching to roast yet?

Keep It Cool, Keep It Calm

Now that you have your super-awesome coffee you will need to store it properly. I store my fresh roasted in one way valve bags for a few days before transferring them to my airtight glass jars that I keep in a dark cup board reserved for coffee usage. The valve lets the CO2 escape whilst they’re degassing and I’m very happy with my storage system, although I’m looking into a good way to store my green beans. Some people say that you can and should store your coffee in your fridge or freezer. Sadly those people are idiots wrong. Have you ever had ice cream for too long in the freezer and when you took it out and ate it, it tasted a bit like fish, because you also store fish in the freezer? Do you want fish coffee? This guy on the internet says “Don’t do it!”.

That’s it. You now — hopefully — understand the importance of freshness and what freshness actually means, you’re a little clued in on how to roast your own beans and you know how to store them afterwards. And not even once did I talk about the economical aspects of roasting yourself — it’s often cheaper — nor did I do any fancy charts to illustrate the differences in prices depending on your country. I already have a chart for that, but I’m saving it for what will inevitability be Part II.

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to comment and ask. I might not know everything but when I don’t we can find out the answers together. How awesome won’t that be?!

  1. Depending on your location, the availability of green beans is obviously going to vary but I order most of my beans from Has Bean Coffee and I’m very happy with their service. 

  2. Or do. It’s up to you, but keep in mind that it takes about 3-5 years before an Arabica plant starts to yield any beans. What I’m saying is that growing your coffee beans is not a project to be taken lightly if you expect to harvest results. Having said that, I would love to try coffee grown in e.g. Finland or other inhospitable countries. 

  3. Here are a couple of links from the most reliable sources for roasting coffee and really anything else coffee related. Sweet Maria’s Air Popcorn Popper Method and Coffeegeek’s Roasting Coffee With a Popcorn Popper. Those two alone will get you a long way. 

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