Jenny and I have always loved coffee. But roasting it ourselves wasn’t something we discovered until we’d been married for about 5 years.
It must have been in the fall of 2013. Or maybe winter, I can’t remember for sure. We had just welcomed our third child into our lives, Jimmy.
We had also also just moved into our “new house”, which had been moved in to replace the old farm house that originally stood on our property.
I’ve always loved to pick up new hobbies and try them on for size. Somehow, in the hustle of young parenthood, and the busyness of moving into a new house, we caught onto the exciting idea of home-roasting coffee.
Well, I caught on to it. Jenny was more skeptical at first. Maybe that was because my prior hobbies had included knife making, braiding (think long evenings spent making bullwhips, etc), and some fascinations with small engines, such as chainsaws. Remnants of these former hobbies still grace our farmstead.
These days, a Google search for “home coffee roaster” yields a plethora of ready made roasters, priced from $80 all the way up to over $1,000. In 2013, roasting coffee at home was a relatively new idea, and the folks doing it were doing it with set-ups they dreamed up on their own, such as re-purposed air popper popcorn makers.
My first set up was a combination of a stir crazy popcorn popper, and a countertop convection oven. The stir crazy popcorn popper was a thrift store find. I modified the base to delete the heat element. All it was supposed to do was stir the coffee. The upper half was the powered top of a countertop convection oven. Its halogen bulb and convection fan provided the heat and air flow to get the coffee roasted. I’d love to show you a picture, but unfortunately I don’t have one. The best I can do is give you this link to a blog that shows one just like mine.
The trouble we soon ran into was that we developed a taste for freshly roasted coffee. Other coffee we had previously thought was good now tasted stale. We didn’t set out to become coffee snobs, it just sort of happened.
That first setup worked well, but could only roast about a half pound at a time. Our coffee consumption is such that we soon realized roasting half pound batches was poor stewardship of our time.
I needed a better roaster. And I knew what I needed. A drum roaster.
I located a burner from an old gas grill, and began. First, I welded a frame for the burner from some scrap metal I had lying around. I still needed a drum though, and for that, I had an idea.
Irrigation pipe is pretty common in our area. As long as I can remember, the summertime routine of “changing water” has been observed during the dry months on my grandpa’s farm. Water flows through the pipe, and gates are opened and closed to allow the water to “flood” down the field between the rows to water the crops. It’s not the most efficient form of irrigation, but it’s certainly effective.
I went to our local hardware store. Side note: if you’ve never been to Beaver Hardware, you should go.
Kenny set me up with a short length of scrap irrigation pipe. I closed off the one end with a piece of metal I swiped from the countertop convection oven. On the other end, I used an 8 to 6 inch reducer, so the end would remain open for easy dumping, while still retaining a pound or more of coffee during roasting.
The beans can’t just roll around the drum as it turns, they have to be tumbled (or so I was told when I built my roaster. Having a half dozen years of experience I’m not so sure if this is true). I took some pieces of left over drywall corner bead from the house project, cut them into short pieces, and randomly fastened them inside the drum with self tapping screws.
For an axle on which to rotate, I simply ran some 1/4″ rod through the entire drum, and welded a makeshift handle on the open end.
And that’s it! The rest is history. Six years (give or take), and a few hundred pounds of coffee later I’m still using the same setup.
It’s awkward looking. Some things about it were simply patched together quickly so it could be given a trial run. Like the tinfoil stuffed into the cracks between the pipe and reducer on the end, so beans wouldn’t fall out.
But it works! In fact, it works so well that I’ve never seriously considered re-building it to make it look nicer. It roasts a pound and a half to two pounds at a time. That’s about the perfect amount for us. We use it fast enough that it is still fresh, yet we don’t have to roast more than every week or week and a half.
Yes, these days I could easily buy a roaster to do what Old Faithful does. But I’m glad I couldn’t do that back when I started this adventure.
There’s a lot more satisfaction in having built it myself.
If you want to hear about the actual roasting process, drop a comment and I’ll take you along to roast coffee.