Starving Artist Hacks: Roast Your Own Coffee

Sage Harrington - Pyragraph

Gimme that gentle cocoa. Photo by Sage Harrington.

So, I’m a musician. I avoid day jobs like the plague. I am a privileged white lady from a middle-class background and I am definitely not starving. The advice that I’m giving here definitely falls into the how-to-save-money-if-you-already-have-money category that’s described in this article/excerpt from a book on poverty in America.

Keeping all that in mind, I still want to talk about how we at my house roast our coffee.

Want to know more about brewing up some delightful hot brown bean-juice?

Even if I had all the cash I could ever want, I would still roast coffee because it’s fucking delicious. Last year a friend of mine turned me on to Sweet Maria’s, a distributor of fair trade, organic green coffee. They seem to have personal relationships with each of their growers (although I can’t really find that much info about that on their site—they mostly focus on the flavors of the coffee itself). These people know stuff about coffee, and they will tell you all about how you can go about roasting and brewing it.

As a coffee-snob-in-training, this is just the best. I roast my coffee 1/3 cup at a time in a hot air popcorn popper I picked up from a thrift store. The roasting process takes only about 4-5 minutes per batch, can mystify and impress your friends if they ring your doorbell mid-batch, and can add excitement to your life if you go too dark with the roast (i.e. burn your coffee in a starschmucks fashion), setting off your smoke alarm.

Want to know more about brewing up some delightful hot brown bean-juice (this guy’s words)? Chuck Wendig talks about how he makes a perfect cup of pourover coffee in detail over here at his blog. (Word to the wise: you don’t need a Chemex to make a really good cup of pourover coffee.) Or, if you make ice cream out of your fresh beans, so much the better.

But here’s the clincher: green (unroasted) coffee can be less than half the price of decent (and likely stale) roasted coffee, and is going to be much more affordable than nice coffee from fancypants roasters and—I shall say this unequivocally and with complete confidence even in the face of my own ignorace—will be as good as or better than the fancypants coffee. And you don’t even have to know that much about coffee.

Because I don’t know that much about coffee. But I do know, that after roasting it at home for a year (a year in which I purchased all but two—two!—8 lb samplers of green coffee), I’ll keep doing it indefinitely.

Sage Harrington

About Sage Harrington

Sage Harrington is a musician and Managing Editor for Pyragraph. She writes songs on her ukulele and plays them with her duo, Sage and Jared’s Happy Gland Band. They make videos and post them on the internet, while tending to their flock of urban chickens, two tiny dogs, and other small creatures.

4 Comments

  1. Jason Griffin on April 8, 2015 at 10:57 am

    Awesome article and advice! Thanks for writing this!

    I completely agree; unlike making good espresso at home (which costs far more than just going to a shop) roasting at home can save a huge amount of money immediately, is incredibly fun, and the cost of entry is remarkably cheap with perfectly adequate roasters ranging in price from $10 all the way up to $1k+. Also that Sweet Maria’s is awesome.

    However, I would posit that while it’s easy to roast delicious coffee at home it is very difficult to produce delicate nuanced coffee roasts equivalent/as-good-as the top roasters such as Barismo, Stumptown, or Counter Culture Coffee’s lighter roasts. To use an analogy, it’s fun and easy to brew delicious beer at home but insanely hard to brew beer equivalent to a good genuine Trappist beer. Luckily the overwhelming majority of coffee drinkers prefer the full body satisfying flavor of coffee roasted on the darker end of the spectrum and it’s relatively easy to hit that sweet spot with home roasting.

    Separately, I strongly urge you to not self identify as a “coffee snob” and instead use the terms “coffee enthusiast”, “coffee obsessed”, and even “coffee gourmet”. “Snob” alienates the general public and hurts the non-Starbucks specialty coffee industry as a whole, in turn hurting hardcore enthusiasts like us by making it more difficult for truly high end shops to be successful outside of Portland, Seattle, Chicago, and NYC. More importantly, the overwhelming majority of people who self identify as coffee snobs know very little about coffee and care more about being a member of the coffee elite than actually exploring the world of coffee in depth. This is why it’s coffee snobs who regularly make group think proclamations stating X way is the “best” way to make coffee and Y way is the “wrong” way to make coffee following whatever is the latest fad. For example, in the 80’s and 90’s coffee snobs decided using siphon pots (aka vacuum pots) was a “bad” way to make coffee, similarly making iced coffee by brewing directly on ice was looked down on; yet now both methods are highly revered and by many snobs considered the “best” methods due to their popularity in Japan.

    If you’re interested in diving down the rabbit whole ala Alice in Wonderland and upping your coffee knowledge I can’t recommend The World Atlas of Coffee: From Beans to Brewing — Coffees Explored, Explained and Enjoyed by James Hoffman enough. For more detailed info on brewing The Blue Bottle Craft of Coffee: Growing, Roasting, and Drinking, with Recipes by James Freeman is a very very good reference. Both books make a few flat statements I don’t entirely agree with but overall are awesome.

  2. Jason Griffin on April 8, 2015 at 11:01 am

    darn auto-correct :)

  3. Sage Harrington Sage Harrington on April 9, 2015 at 12:32 pm

    Hey Jason, thanks much for your thoughful reply :) I totally agree—roasting coffee at home is fun, less expensive, a great idea all around. As for “coffee snob,” I assure you my use of the phrase is totally tongue-in-cheek. Thanks also for the book recommendations.

  4. […] roommate thinks I’m crazy for making my own deodorant, toothpaste, mouthwash and more. He says, “Only a dirty hippy would make their own bathroom products.” He claims they are not […]

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