As 2020 wears on, you may be in search of a new distraction. Maybe, just maybe, you’re ready to try the trier and start roasting your own coffee. It’s certainly not an unreasonable venture, but if you are going to start home roasting, start slow. Like, real slow. And if you’re looking for a little inspiration, here’s a fun video of two very smart people trying to learn how to roast coffee from the comfort of their own homes.
The video is the latest installment of Reactions, a YouTube channel by the American Chemical Society and PBS Digital Studios where hosts Samantha Jones, PhD and George Zaidan “[uncover] the chemistry all around us.” Stuck inside, the pair try (and fail) to roast coffee at home before enlisting the help of Candy Schibli, the founder and head roaster at Southeastern Roastery in Washington, DC.
Just 10 minutes in length, the video begins with the hosts receiving a shipment of green coffee from Sweet Maria’s, a Sumatra from the Kirnci Tujuh Cooperative. Before leaning on the help of experts, Jones and Zaidan try to rely solely on their own chemistry knowledge to frying pan roast a batch of coffee. The results are about as uneven as the coffee they roasted, ranging from “very bad, not pleasant” to “not half bad… brewed wrong.”
For take two, Jones calls upon Schibli for expert advice. Schibli’s take for the novice home roaster is to start with a high heat and use a cast iron skillet; the thicker pan retains heat better while more evenly dispersing it across the entire cooking surface. And keep those beans moving. Anything that stays in contact with the frying pan surface for too long will scorch, producing an uneven roast. After 10-12 minutes, you should have something like a light roast. But ultimately, as Schibli hints at, when home roasting in a frying pan, you need to extend yourself a little grace, because evenness is near impossible. Remember, this is all about having fun, not explaining your exacting roast curve to a panel of judges at the World Roasters Championship. (And if you’re looking for something a little more pro at home, consider checking out our beloved sponsors, Bellwether.)
The results of the second trial show how just a little knowledge can go a long way. Zaidan, who has decided to wing it, decides dropping the temperature will promote a more even roast. It is, from the outside, a very reasonable assertion, one that unfortunately is completely wrong when it comes to coffee roasting. The resulting brew isn’t great based upon his initial reaction to tasting it (despite his assertion that he could “sell it to a hipster for $8”). Jones’ brew, on the other hand, elicits genuine excitement upon first sip, which I think means she wins.
While this video won’t make you a professional home roaster, the Reactions crew does a good job of laying out the fundamentals of what happens inside a coffee bean when heat is applied to it, and—thanks to a few helpful hints from Schibli—what sort of results can reasonably be achieved in a short amount of time. No matter your roasting knowledge, this is an enjoyable 10-minute video of people having a good time, talking about coffee, which in and of itself is a refreshing break from [gestures outwardly towards the world] all this we’re living through at present.
All media via Reactions