Make or Buy? Roasted Coffee Beans

I can't stop thinking about that recipe for roasting coffee beans at home from Can It, Bottle It, Smoke It by Karen Solomon. I always assumed home-roasting would require elaborate equipment or a quest for raw beans, but Solomon's instructions make it sound, dare I say...simple? I'm very curious how well homemade beans stack up.For purposes of comparison, let's go with a 12-oz bag of Starbucks whole beans. This feels like a nice middle ground between super cheap coffee and super gourmet coffee. For our homemade beans, we'll follow Solomon's technique and get our raw, green coffee beans from Sweet Maria's, an online vendor recommended by Solomon.

12-oz Bag Starbucks Whole Beans from at Peapod
1 lb Green Coffee Beans from Sweet Maria's

COST BREAKDOWN

Starbucks Whole Beans
TOTAL: $9.99
PER OUNCE: $0.83

Homemade Coffee Beans
TOTAL: $7.00 (this is an average based on the price range of Sweet Maria's beans)
TOTAL INCLUDING SHIPPING: $15.99
PER OUNCE: $0.44/$1.00

Green coffee beans will keep for about a year in a cloth bag in the closet. If you're consistently buying beans over the internet, it would definitely be more cost-effective to buy several pounds at a time and consolidate on shipping. Green coffee beans are also becoming more widely available at co-ops and homebrewing supply stores, so check around locally for good deals.

TIME BREAKDOWN

Starbucks Whole Beans: 0 Minutes
Homemade Coffee Beans: 20-30 minutes

CONVENIENCE

Solomon's recipe describes roasting eight ounces of beans in a dry Dutch oven or skillet until they toast to your desired level of doneness. You need to stand at the stove and stir the beans constantly during this time to make sure they roast evenly, but the process seems to be incredibly straightforward.

Depending on how much coffee you drink, these eight ounces might last you a while or you might find yourself making several batches of beans a week. Personally, I have trouble seeing myself wanting to take the time to roast beans more than once a week. I have a feeling that if you're a big coffee drinker, at some point it would become more convenient to buy an actual coffee roaster that would let you roast larger batches.

TASTINESS AND HEALTHFULNESS

One thing is for sure: if you do the roasting yourself, you are absolutely guaranteed fresh beans for your coffee! This seems like the biggest advantage of DIY beans over store-bought. Unless you have a local coffee company with a true commitment to quality and freshness, the beans you buy in a store are very likely no longer fresh by coffee connoisseur standards.

I also like the idea of experimenting with different levels of roastedness and trying beans from all over the world. With commercial coffee, we're stuck with whatever the coffee roaster deems best. Which very often is the best, but still, who knows?!

I am very curious about the quality of home-roasted coffee verses a really good commercial roaster. While places like Sweet Maria's makes quality green beans available to home cooks, I doubt my own ability to roast them properly. I have a feeling that I'd go through a bunch of mediocre (at best) roasted coffee beans before settling into a groove.

I also wonder about consistency when roasting in a dutch oven. Maybe it's great? Maybe the results are spotty? Maybe I'd want to upgrade to real roasting equipment after a short time? No choice but to give it a go and see how the coffee turns out, I suppose!

MAKE OR BUY?

Right now, I'm going to say that there's a time and place for both. If you're a coffee lover living in a coffee desert without real access to good beans, then home-roasting might be just the ticket. Roasting our own coffee certainly sounds like a fun project, especially given the minimal upfront costs.

VERDICT: Try it for fun; you might get hooked.

Do you roast your own coffee? What's your method?

Related: Make or Buy? Ice Cream

(Images: Starbucks/Peapod and Angie Cao © 2011 for Ten Speed Press)

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