Real Coffee

We like coffee. That is a simple statement and it just does not tell the whole story.

Every Sunday after church we come home and as a rule, we roast our coffee for the coming week.

Some find it strange and being the “do it yourself” type family we have been able to source a supply of green coffee beans. Not that easy to do and it can get a tad expensive as one has to order a few bags of beans at a time. To get around the cost paying outright for 200 kg’s of beans, we have a “Coffee Bean Co-Op” so a few close friends and like-minded coffee snobs, can get their caffeine hit as fresh as we like it.

I think it’s more emphasis on the coffee snobs that anything else, as we have become serious about our coffee and we really like it fresh.

If you look closely you can see the three different beans. (From the left Malawi, Indo Man and Columbia)
If you look closely you can see the three different beans. (From the left Malawi, Indo Man and Columbia)

If it’s pre-roasted you can almost guarantee that it’s stale, and we can track the flavour of a batch over the week, we find that the flavour on day 3 (tuesday) is probably the best it’s going to get, but by Saturday it’s getting a bit tired.


Ok, so if you are blessed with a source of green coffee beans you are in luck, the green beans can be stored for a long time. We have tried some that are close to 2 years old that roast up just fine, so buying in bulk does make some sense, as the coffee price just keeps on climbing.

We have found that the approximate weight loss from roasting is around 15-20% depending on the freshness of the beans. So we roast up 1.2 kg’s of beans every Sunday so that leaves us with around a kilo of beans for the week. Yes we do like our coffee, and sometimes our little farm is like a train station, requiring umpteen pots of coffee for thirsty visitors. (Personally methinks they are just here for the coffee and not to visit.)

The nice thing about roasting your own is that you get to play with single origin bean and blends of beans so that you can “design” your own house blend. We try and get different beans every time we do a share, so that we get to taste coffees from around the world. It seems that every time we get a new favourite that we can drink to our hearts content for a few months.

Coffe roasting paraphenalia
All thats needed for roasting coffee, except the single malt.

So, you want to know how to roast your own. Here’s how.

Cast Iron Pot. (The deeper the better as the beans swell with roasting.)

Wooden Spoon. (Try dedicate one)

Gas stove

Cooling pan(s)

Oven Gloves

Green beans (If you look closely you will be able to see the colour variations of the different beans)

The single malt in the pic above is fuel for the Roast Master.

Weigh out your beans and put them into your pot, light the gas and start stirring. The idea here is to get them to brown evenly. You will find that the beans will burn EXTREEMLY easily so you need to keep them moving, just a few seconds in one place and you will get burnt beans.

How hot must it be? Well this is for you to work out, full blast is not going to be the answer and you are looking for a happy medium of not too cool and not too hot. A kilo should take around 30 mins to get to a med-dark roast which is where we like our coffee.

If you don't have a R10 000 coffee roaster do it this way... the cheap way.
If you don't have a R10 000 coffee roaster do it this way... the cheap way.

As the beans start to cook you will see the colour start to change from green to yellowish and then you will get the occasional bean that turns up dark. If you have too many burnt beans you are either too hot (the pan that is) or you are stirring too slowly.

1st crack and 2nd crack. One can get technical and follow very specific temperature charts and worry with thermometers and and and… Personally I don’t hold much store in doing it technically, I much prefer the Mmmm that looks perfect approach. Needless to say you will get to learn about first and second crack as you will experience them in your roasting exercises.

1st Crack starts quite early in the roast and there can be a definite gap between 1st and second or they can blend into one long crack with just a slight dip in intensity.

1st Crack has started and you can see the colour changing. Some smoke has started to fill the air.
1st Crack has started and you can see the colour changing. Some smoke has started to fill the air.

Rather worry about the colour of your beans and an even roasting technique, the results are much better if you just manage the final product instead of getting side tracked with where you are at during which crack. Suffice to say that the more you do this, the easier it becomes to show-off to your friends as to where you are in the roasting cycle.

I should have mentioned this a tad earlier, but roasting coffee generates a fair amount smoke, pleasant at first but it will create an acrid cloud of smoke. The rule is the darker you like your roast the more smoke this is going to produce. For those poor souls that like to destroy one of Natures great botanical gifts with a French Roast, best you do this outside.

Stirring like crazy, smoking like mad.
Stirring like crazy, smoking like mad.

We find it beneficial to blow off the chaff as we are roasting, as it leaves less to clean during the cooling process, also the beans get sticky as they start to release the oils (which makes the smoke). Once you are happy with your roast turn the gas off, tip the beans into your cooling pan, they will still be cracking as the beans continue to cook, but this will soon stop.

At this point you want to cool the beans down as fast as possible, the cooling process slows the “off-gassing” process. Off-gassing is where your flavour comes from and this is also why people suggest that you store your beans in the freezer. This process continues until the bean is way past its useful life as beverage of the mind.

The only way to get fresher coffee is to skip the grinding stage and chew the beans.
The only way to get fresher coffee is to skip the grinding stage and chew the beans.

We use two pans and a wire baking cooling rack to allow the base to cool as well. Keep stirring to help bring beans from the bottom of the pan and allow them to cool. We tip from one pan to the other to speed up the cooling process and get rid of the chaff.

Then it’s just a case of grinding your beans and preparing in the manner that you most enjoy.

For some interesting reading on the history of coffee, have a look at this book, it’s very reasonably priced and well worth reading.



4 thoughts on “Real Coffee

  1. Frank Kratz says:

    My father had his own coffee tree growing in Somerset West in a protected corner and harvested about a kg of beans every year. I used to do the same with seeds from that tree, but unfortunately lost it while moving! Does anybody know where I can get a few seeds, from the “robusta”, as well as “arabica” types of coffee? I am staying near Wilderness and am sure I will be able to grow my own coffee!

  2. Cris Higham says:

    Lovely article. Being all into self sustainability, why not grow your own? We had a couple of trees, when living on the Swaziland, Mozambique border in Northern KZN. We were at about 600m and had very bountiful crops.

    Ran it as a Grade 9 Technology project with my high school students. Had great fun. Unfortunately the grinding process was our Achilles heel, not being coffee drinkers and not having a good grinder.

    How did it taste? Like coffee I guess, but I am not sure a connoisseur would approve, I thought it was a bit ‘thin’.

  3. Bill Kerr says:

    This is my input for what it is worth.

    I find the heat of the pot important. The first time around, I had the heat too far up (6 setting on my electric hob) This caused black lesions on the beans no matter how I stirred which resulted a burnt, bitter taste to the coffee. After trial and error, I found that a setting of 4 was best. I would allow the deep stainless steel pot to pre-heat and then add the beans and stirred.
    The amount of beans used per batch also has an influence. When I used more, it took longer and turned out better. After 15 minutes I get to first crack and am done by 20 minutes. I get very little smoke but have a torch handy to check the colour by blowing the little smoke away and with the torch, can check the colour.
    I use 10 handfulls of beans per batch using a blend of thee bean sources. When you get the roasting just right, keep some beans in a small glass bottle to have handy to compare the colour so as to get the next batch the same. I use a couple of those wire screens used to keep flies off your cakes to cool the beans off fast by transferring from one to the other whilst blowing the chaff away. Sean has 5 children to clean up the chaff in the kitchen!

    There is a downside to all of this. I can never drink coffee when visiting anyone other than the Freeman’s as even the best instant coffee’s taste awful to me now. I have to choose tea when visiting now. Finally, if you roast for more than a week, grind only enough for that week. I concur, the third day coffee is awesome with full range of complex flavours. Coffee making has now become a most important and pleasurable part of my life.

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