This post has been a long time in coming. I've had the opportunity to roast over 50 ultra-micro batches of coffee by now; this makes me feel like I can comment on the home roasting experience more thoroughly than a month ago, but where to start? In part one I'll outline the pieces of equipment and my bean selections, then in part two, the process and results.
My roaster of choice is the Toastess hot air corn popper. This machine is capable of roasting about 1/2 cup of un-roasted "green" coffee beans (actually are the seeds of the coffee fruit) at a time, equivalent to about 75 grams (1/6 lb). Obviously this popper is not designed for coffee, but does function surprisingly well. Any more than 1/2 cup and the beans do not circulate effectively and become very unevenly roasted. This uneven roast is especially noticeable in lighter roasts where the outside and ends of the coffee are the only areas effectively roasted. This uneven roasted effect is referred to as "tipped" coffee, not a flattering label. First thing you want to eliminate from the package is the plastic hood that is on top- that thing will start melting after 3 or 4 roasts, even less if you do them back to back. Also, if you plan on roasting to French or Viennese (God forbid), make sure you clean the popper out as best you can after each roast to make it go more miles with you.
The popper does a decent job, but nowhere near the professional level of a drum roaster used by Northwest Coffee Roasters, Kaldi's Coffee, or Stumptown. Obviously, this popper and the roasting I'm engaging in is for educational purposes primarily. I have, however, already sold about 10 pounds of coffee to a few interested friends which helps pay for the bulk raw bean purchases also needed. For these raw beans and the intel on how to get the best roasted product out of them, I turn to Sweetmarias.com. So far, I've gotten their ugly Sumatra grade 1 Mandheling, FTO Ethiopia Oromia Yirgacheffe, Guatemala Acatenango- Finca La Soledad, Rwanda Gkongoro Nyarusiza, and their mass produced Brazil Cerrado Fazenda Aurea. I'm not including the names of these regions and farms just to impress, but also to show that they do their sourcing directly with farmers which pays the farmers more for their product and also ensures that Sweetmarias obtains a better product. I'll save my analysis of these individual coffees for another post.
Other pieces needed for the roasting process are: two steel colanders for air-cooling of the roasted beans, a timer, a large bowl to catch the chaff blown out of the popper, a wooden spoon for stirring, and some porcelain containers with airtight locking lids for storing the fresh roasted coffee (right).
Also, something that I've found increasingly useful is a small 3 cup size french press to sample the coffee you've roasted; this is to make sure that the roast time you've used is what works best for the coffee. You wouldn't want to roast 3 pounds of an expensive Rwandan coffee too dark before you cupped it and noticed it tastes like St*rb*cks! Actually, the more I think about it, I want to buy a second small press to use for a comparison. This way I can have a previously roasted batch of the same variety side-by-side with a new batch and see what I like and dislike about each, changing the roast appropriately. Lastly, get a nice digital scale for weighing out correct amounts of beans in case you want to sell some. Scales can be used for weighting accurate amounts of water for brewing consistently, as well as weighing the raw beans you want to roast- very handy.
All-in-all, the popper is worth the purchase, the experience is worth the hassle, and the savings you see by buying raw beans (roughly $5-6/lb vs. $10-12 roasted) helps to recoup the wallet abuse, especially if you can manage to sell a few pounds to friends in your church willing to experiment with your hobby. I have a great time roasting, and I know you will too, just don't take yourself too seriously ;-).
Lord, thank you for creativity and curiosity. I pray these character elements would remain in good proportion in the life You have given me. Keep my head deflated and on straight. Here we go.