Sooner or later, everyone who’s into coffee starts to think, “Maybe I could roast my own…”
But few actually give it a go. It can seem daunting or expensive or dangerous or just plain difficult.
It’s easy to understand why. We rarely see the roasting process at a coffee shop, so it all remains a little mysterious.
But mystery leads to myths, and those are exactly what we’re going to dispel today.
Here are seven of the most common misunderstandings that keep home roasters from getting started.
Myth: It Takes Lots Of Equipment
Reality: You can start with what’s already in your kitchen.
Historically, people roasted coffee in some sort of iron pot over an open fire. From the Wild West to the modern Ethiopian countryside, that’s been the norm whenever dedicated equipment wasn’t available.
I personally did my first batches in a simple skillet.
It’s not easy, of course, but you’d be amazed at what you can produce with spending a dime. Just get it squeaky-clean first, since leftover oils or aromas will make for some awfully odd coffee.
By the way, you might wonder about roasting coffee in the oven. It’s certainly possible, but I don’t recommend it.
Beans need to move constantly as they roast, and that’s nearly impossible in the oven but quite easy in a skillet or wok.
Myth: It’s Expensive
Reality: Dedicated roasting equipment is surprisingly affordable.
While a skillet is free, it’s not ideal in the long run. Once you know that home roasting is for you, it’s time to look for something more sophisticated.
My next step was a couple of popcorn poppers. One was a modern air popper and one was an old-school stovetop version. It’s been a while, but I think they were only $20 and $50, respectively.
Each had its pros and cons, but neither cost more than a few bags of coffee beans.
And most importantly, I learned a ton about roasting and ended up with heaps of excellent coffee in the process.
Incidentally, the green beans themselves are inexpensive if you choose a good source (more on that below). Plan on something like $5-$8/lb shipped, depending on the quantity.
Myth: It’s Really Hard
Reality: It’s no harder than most other kitchen skills.
Before coffee shops and roasting became an industry, it was a standard kitchen skill. And just like everything else people have traditionally done at home, it’s not rocket science.
In fact, some home roasting machines are so easy that they practically take all skill out of the equation. I don’t like to automate that much, since it’s helpful to learn and troubleshoot hands-on.
But the point is that you don’t need any special training (let alone talent) to create an endless supply of fresh beans.
Myth: It Won’t Taste That Good
Reality: In capable hands, home-roasted coffee is as good as it gets.
As mentioned above, roasting isn’t very difficult. But the cool part is that roasting a great batch isn’t really harder than roasting a mediocre one.
Now, you won’t get an award-winning roast right off the bat. You’ll probably even go through several pounds of coffee before you’re proud of the results.
But chances are your first batch of cookies or first homemade marinara weren’t anything to write home about, either!
Assuming you’ve got halfway decent equipment, good coffee really comes down to timing and patience.
Not to toot my own horn, but after consistent practice, I’d consider my own coffee as good as 75%-90% of the professional roasts I’ve tried.
And that’s as boastful as it sounds, since thousands of home-roasting hobbyists are far better yet!
Myth: Green Coffee Is Tough To Find
Reality: It takes 5 minutes to order green coffee from any corner of the world.
Grocery stores rarely if ever sell green coffee beans, so where on earth do you get it?
Thanks to the internet, this is no longer a problem. Excellent importers and wholesalers like Oakland-based Sweet Maria’s (check them out here) keep hundreds of green coffees in stock at all times.
From single pounds to entire 60kg bags, you can have any amount of any bean on your doorstep this week.
By the way, it makes sense that groceries only stock roasted coffee, since few people roast at home anymore.
But back in the day, roasted coffee was a bit rare and expensive, so you could in fact stroll down to the corner store for a bag of green beans. In less developed coffee-producing countries, you can even do this today.
Myth: You Need A Permit
Reality: Odds are you’re already free to roast all you want for personal use.
I can’t speak to your local laws, of course, but few if any places require a permit.
Assuming you’re roasting coffee for personal consumption, it doesn’t require a permit any more than cooking or baking does.
And in many jurisdictions, like my own state of Washington, you can even roast small amounts for sale without any sort of legal restrictions. Speaking of which…
Myth: You Can’t Make Money
Reality: It won’t make you a millionaire, but home roasting can be a great side business.
Nothing is better than a hobby that pays for itself.
I wouldn’t recommend getting into home roasting in order to make money…but as you get good, friends and family will be eager to get hold of your roasts.
Like I said just above, many places even let you do this without special food service or food handling permits. After all, coffee beans are a low-risk food subject to extremely high heat.
There may be rules on annual sales, or restrictions on roasting equipment size, but hobbyist roasters are not likely to be a problem.
So read up on the law, stock up on green coffee, then get that side hustle off the ground!
P.S. I learned a lot by roasting on air and stovetop popcorn poppers. But my roasting went to the next level when I upgraded to a Fresh Roast SR800. It’s my go-to recommendation for beginning to intermediate home roasters. Find out why in my full review here.