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Learning to Roast Coffee

I’ve been drinking quality coffee since the early 1980’s when my housemates and I would buy fresh roasted beans and grind them with a hand grinder, and using a Melitta pour-over cone and filter. When I visited Boston for the first time in 1983, I discovered french press coffee at The Coffee Connection in Harvard Square. You could order one of dozens of varieties of coffee which would be custom-brewed at your table. Coffee has long been an important part of my daily ritual, grinding by hand, brewing one cup at a time.

I have been on both sides of the counter, as customer and barista/owner in the coffee trade. When we opened our first coffee business, Tom Griesemer of Stauf’s Coffee Roasters told me that coffee roasting was a great business to enter. We considered the possibility of shop roasting, but there were costs and challenges, and it wasn’t long before my regular job and life circumstances got between me and the business.

It’s only recently that I revisited the idea of roasting coffee. A few things happened concurrently, that led to my decision to buy a HotTop home drum roaster. The primary reason was my disappointment with the direction coffee roasting has taken. I was spending around $28/lb for my coffee when shipping costs were added to the price of the beans. At the same time, there were reliability issues as to when or whether my beans would arrive before the last batch ran out. With no local supplier and several disappointing batches of beans from “third wave” roasters, I was compelled to try something different.

My first choice was a Behmor roaster, since its relatively low cost would result in a return-on-investment that would be measured in months. The downside is that I would not be able to roast as dark as I like for espresso. The best home roaster, the HotTop, was out of the question, due to its high cost and small roast volume… that was until I realized that it was possible to upgrade the HotTop to a bi-directional computer interface that would enable not only recording roast profiles, but adjusting them in the computer and then controlling the subsequent roasts with an edited profile. This is actually a big deal. Instead of learning to roast by trial and (mostly) error, I could work through the process methodically.

With that in mind, I bought my first HotTop Roaster, Model 8828B-2k with two installed thermocouples and a Phidgets board for monitoring bean and environment temperatures. This particular roaster has programmed modes, but does not have the bi-directional interface. I will have to upgrade this roaster to get everything I want, but for now, I’m going to learn to roast and use the profiling software to record my roasts on my Mac. There’s plenty to learn, so I’m going to dive right in!

My first roast on the HotTop KN-8828B-2K drum roaster. Looks great!
My first roast on the HotTop KN-8828B-2K drum roaster. Looks great!
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