How home roasting can make you a better barista
Anyone that works in coffee has fantasised about having their own roaster at home – not a gigantic 120kg roaster, but a small sample or domestic roaster to roast your own samples and experiment with profiles. In the last couple of years, we’re seeing more and more ‘micro-roasteries’ pop up throughout Europe and across the world, with coffee professionals using their skills for small-scale production (or just for fun at home). We’re also seeing the emergence of more companies designing roasters for consumer use, both as part of cafe service and at home. The roasters that I have looked at in the past are two of the most well known – the ROEST roaster and the Ikawa. I’ve been able to use both, using the Ikawa as a sample roaster for the shop I work at in Berlin and the ROEST because a friend of mine had one of these roasters at his house in Australia. Finally, a few weeks ago I got the opportunity to get my hands on a second hand Ikawa roaster, and I didn’t hesitate! I used a good chunk of my savings to buy it – I’ve been wanting to buy a roaster for home for such a long time, but had never found a price that was justifiable (for me) or felt like it was the right time. I was also lucky enough to recently receive some incredible green bean samples from my Australian friends at Project Origin - thank you, guys! The timing couldn't have been more perfect.
What can you learn from roasting at home?
First of all it's a huge relief to stay at home on my day off if I wanted to try something new with roasting, or sample a coffee. I always had to go into work on my days off to experiment or train, and even then it's been hard having the peace and quiet to roast. Getting up and being able to actually have a slow morning without rushing is fantastic! I started roasting coffee over 7 years ago, but of course I was always following the instructions my bosses gave me. Moving between businesses has already helped me so much, as I have started understanding more about coffee quality and high batch production, how storage and temperature affects roasting and how to properly clean a roaster every single day. But after a while, I also realised there is a limit of experimental roasting when you always have to roast at least 10kg in a batch – this coffee costs money, and even if you’re not roasting the most expensive coffee in the world, it adds up. Also, coffee offerings usually don't change every week, so when you’re working for a bigger roastery there’s limited opportunity to experiment with new coffees all the time.
With a smaller sample roaster you have a lot more freedom to experiment and try new profiles. Whilst at my workplace we have used the Ikawa mainly to roast samples to decide which coffees we should buy in the first place, I now have the option to tweak my roast profiles at home to learn and to understand how tiny temperature changes can change the whole character of a coffee.
How can roasting at home improve roasting coffee on a larger scale?
Due to my experiences and my taste development as a barista, I can typically taste if a coffee has to be dropped into the roaster with a higher or lower curve. For example, I have learned that peaberries (coffee beans with a special mutation) usually need super high start temperatures, as they are so hard and dense that they need more energy to develop. Some processes need different approaches to roasting (or ‘roasting curves’), just as different origins and varietals need different approaches. Some roasts even darken after the roast due to their processing, such as carbonic maceration coffees. By writing all these profiles down and then comparing them with my dial in/tasting sheets, I am constantly learning new things about varietals, processes, roasting and ageing of coffee.
There are so many different types of coffee roasters that use different materials, applications of heat and different software to roast coffee and measure this roasting process. It isn't as easy as transferring a roast profile at home to the roaster at work - however, roasting in these smaller amounts can help you to better understand the behaviour of different varietals, processes and origins. These lessons can then be applied on a larger scale in your work, and make you a better roaster in the long term.
Whether you’re experimenting with a home roaster, or experimenting with new ways to prepare and extract coffee at home, I encourage everyone to spend more time and energy on tasting, testing and innovating! There’s no perfect profile, recipe or method to making a great coffee – however, the more you understand, the closer you will come to achieving it.
What’s the best way to store roasted coffee at home?
While I am getting further into home roasting, I’m also doing a lot of experiments with degassing and ageing of coffee, and trying different materials for coffee packaging. I can store my samples in a controlled environment in basically anything I want to test.
At the moment I am testing the difference between recyclable, compostable and standard coffee bags (more to come on this). I'm also planning to test out storage of tins vs. glass jars, and how coffee ages when the bag is half full compared to when it is completely full.
To compare and monitor the taste between the different bags, I am using my dial in sheets (read more here). In order to monitor how each bags affects the flavour, I brew the coffees with the same recipe which also helps me to practice my brewing.
Coffee is typically sealed in specialised bags with one-way valves and the tops heat sealed ... but obviously no one has this at home. So, my advice is to try and reuse old, empty coffee bags you've used in the past, and/or to store your coffee in a sealed container out of direct sunlight.
Should you buy a home roaster?
The experience of using the Ikawa and ROEST in the past had already opened my eyes to what home roasting could add to my skills as a coffee professional. Now with my own roaster, I think it's even more valuable as a tool to develop skills in roasting, tasting and understanding how coffee behaves. I've started seeing sample or domestic roasters as a real option to develop and learn how to roast different styles, to share roast profiles and to understand my own competition coffees a bit better. It's also made me rethink about all the money I have spent in the past on equipment, and made me ask myself have these tools really improved my coffee knowledge? Even after a few roasts and taste tests with the Ikawa, I can confidently say that this will improve my skills as not only a roaster, but as a barista.
So, should you buy a roaster? If you are willing to invest the money, if you have the time to roast and experiment and you genuinely want to improve your coffee knowledge - definitely. If you're just a keen coffee drinker that will enjoy the smell of roasted coffee at home ... you probably don't need a roaster. But hey, do what makes you happy!
In the coming weeks and months, I'll be sharing some updates about my home roasting journey. If you have any questions in the mean time, please feel free to contact me.