Fire roasted coffee

20160203-coffee-roasting-grillIn my college days, I was often found in a dark corner of a coffee house, sitting on a couch of questionable character, with my face glued to a mug of coffee. I’m talking about unadulterated coffee here, not the sugar-filled-chilled-froufrou-skinny-double-whipped-cocoa variety. Caffeine fueled my studies. Moving to Belgium was like entering rehab. The coffee culture here is completely different and it’s all about the French or Italian roast. Great for espresso, but the beans are so roasted that their origin doesn’t come through. I missed the days of tasting the differences between an Ethiopia Sidamo and a Kenya Bora. Over the past few years though there have been a number of more American style coffee houses/roasters popping up (Thats sounds odd to Belgians because they think that all coffee in the US is watered down truck-stop style coffee). When Mrs. Smokey brought home a bag of beans from the coffee roaster near her office, part of my brain woke up from its coffee coma. After 10 years I was addicted again. The smell of good coffee puts me in a euphoric trance. A complex melange of nuts, chocolate, leather, earth, tobacco, ripe fruit, leaves, and more. When something like that gets a hold of my imagination I want to dive into it.

There are many home-roasters around the world and there are many techniques for doing it. They range from dedicated electric coffee-roasters, popcorn poppers, ovens, to cast iron skillets. After reading a few posts online about turning a rotisserie into a backyard roaster, I knew I wanted to try it out. About a week later, Weber introduced a fine mesh basket for their rotisserie (Only in Europe at the moment). It looked perfect. But would it work?

Weber 22 inch charcoal grill with rotisserie ring and fine-mesh basket

Condensing coffee roasting down to its most basic form you get this:
  • You need high heat
  • You have to keep the beans moving
  • The beans will go through stages of “cracking” (1 or 2 depending on the roast level you want)
  • You want to cool the beans as quickly as possible and remove the chaff
  • Let the coffee beans develop their final aroma and flavor for 48 hours after roasting

 

(in the above video you can hear the end of the First Crack)

On my first attempt, I used the Weber “Steak House” lump charcoal (Quebracho wood from Paraguay) since this is a very hot burning charcoal. I was really happy with the resulting coffee and the color was spot on for a City+ roast. There was a very light “campfire” smoke note on the nose, with a little carry over to the flavor. Some roasters see smoke as a flaw but there are other roasters (both professional and amateur) that roast over wood-fire and are looking for that character. I for one found it a nice, subtle addition.

For the next few roasting sessions I used coconut briquettes just to see if I could make a “clean” coffee without any smokey notes. The resulting coffees were smoke free, but the fire was lower in temperature. This creates some problems. You have to make sure that you get all the heat right under the coffee beans. If the fire is too cool you end up baking the beans rather than roasting them. Then you get a more bready and grainy coffee. The chaff also doesn’t “explode” off the beans like it should giving you some odd looking beans.

Cooling and de-chaffing the beans is pretty simple. Just pour the beans back and forth between two colanders in front of a fan. After that you will have roasted coffee but you’ll notice that the aroma isn’t quite right yet. Let the beans sit and mature for at least 48 hours. The aroma develops further while the acidity and roast notes mellow.

20160203-coffee-before-after

My process (usually going for a City+ to Full City roast):
  • Light a full chimney starter of charcoal. Wait until all the charcoal is well lit, then dump the charcoal into two charcoal baskets.
    • If using high heat lump charcoal, place the two charcoal baskets a little ways from center on either side of where your spit will be turning
    • If using briquettes, place your charcoal baskets back to back in the center of the grill, under where your spit will go.
  • Add your green coffee beans to the Weber Rotisserie basket and place the spit on the rotisserie ring. I usually roast 1 kg at a time but you could probably fit 2 kg in the basket.
  • make sure all vents are fully open on your grill and close the lid. Resist the temptation to lift the lid and peek.
  • After 7-10 minutes you should hear the first crack beginning (if not, next time try to get a hotter fire going).
  • Once first crack seems to be slowing down, you can start taking a quick peek to keep an eye on the color of the beans.
  • When desired roast level is reached pull the spit out and immediately dump the beans into a colander or screen.
  • Cool the beans by pouring them back and forth between two colanders (or screens) in front of a fan. This will remove the chaff too.
  • Put the cooled beans into a container and let them sit for 48 hours (If it is a completely airtight jar, vent it every once in a while during that time).
  • Don’t waste the charcoal. Throw a chicken on the spit for dinner!

20160203-coffee-roasting-chicken

Roasting coffee in this way is a lot of fun and it’s another excuse to fire up the grill and experiment with flavors. It is also quite easy and quick. Just try it out if you like coffee and have a rotisserie. I was quite surprised how much I liked the slight smoke character when I used the quebracho lump. There are a lot of possibilities playing around with smoke and matching it to specific coffees. Of course there is also the whole question of blending which I haven’t really played with much. Once you get into it there are millions of ways to create new flavors in coffee, and that’s before the geeking out really starts.

 

The beans I’ve been using have been ordered from Fascino Coffee (NL) and Redber Coffee (UK)

3 thoughts on “Fire roasted coffee

  1. Fascinating article Phil. Ethiopian Sidamo was my first single origin coffee crush. Now it’s hard to find much of it at retail. A friend with a small coffe shop here started roasting his own beans very recently. I’m going to show this to him tomorrow. Outstanding work!

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    1. Most of what I’ve been roasting is Sidamo! Now that I’ve gotten the hang of this I’m going to branch out more. Unfortunately the weather has to cooperate… so I still buy a lot of coffee from a small roaster in Antwerp.

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  2. Thanks for this post. I’m waiting for my first batch of green beans and haven’t decided how to roast. I wanted to use my grill and a rotisserie with lump charcoal, but everything I read pretty much said only a gas grill would work.

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