Coffee Roasting Best Practices: Master Guide (5-Part Series)

Updated Dec 12, 2023 • Donna Lu

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Coffee Roasting Best Practices (5 Part Series)

Have just discovered your newfound love for coffee? Curious to learn how to handle your own coffee from farm to table? This guide on coffee roasting best practices for beginners may be the holy bean book you've been looking for. 

When it comes to coffee handling, every step of the process is essential. However, it’s ultimately the coffee roasting process that truly and directly affects how good (or bad) your coffee will be. Coffee roasting determines the flavor, body, aroma, and your entire coffee-drinking experience.

I’ve taken the time to put together a 5 part series on the best practices for coffee roasting, starting from the source and leading through the roasting storage process. The guide covers everything from coffee harvest to storage, transport, preparations, roasting, and storage after the roasting process. 

The purpose of this detailed guide is to give beginners a full understanding of how coffee is handled from the green flavorless cherry bean to the fully flavored beverage we all love. Further, the guide also offers a full understanding of the bean for those who want to get their hands a bit dirty in lieu of a readymade Starbucks cup. 

After carefully following this guide, you can confidently call yourself a mini coffee expert. Whether a new roaster or just a coffee fanatic, this guide is perfect for anyone that identifies with caffeine junkies!

dozens of red cherries of the coffee bean in a tropical plant leaf

Part 1: Choosing Quality Green Coffee Beans

Choosing Quality Green Coffee Beans is the very first determinant of great quality and best tasting coffee. Before roasting, coffee in its natural state comes in the form of a green bean or cherry. The green beans usually boast a neutral grass-like taste with zero aromas. Nonetheless, proper care of these harvested beans plays a crucial role in ensuring they remain in the best state when delivered for roasting.

If you plan on using the beans for a small roasting batch at home, you can always buy these beans at a local supplier or grocery store (make sure you are purchasing ethical coffee that benefits the farmer!). On the other hand, if you intend to use the coffee for commercial purposes, say a roastery or a coffee shop, to develop your own blend, it’s always a wise decision to know the traceability of your coffee as much as possible. 

In fact, if you can afford to, travel to the source, i.e. the coffee farm, and establish relationships with farmers to ensure an ethical and quality supply chain. Alternatively, you can research and source your coffee from a reputable importer.

Note: Sourcing coffee directly from the farmers and coordinating export may not be as simple in some areas since every county comes with its own set of laws (and bureaucracies).

Key highlights of this stage;

  • Green coffee is harvested by the farmer once it hits maturity
  • The coffee is then dried (farmers from different regions use varying methods with air drying being the most common among peasant farmers).
  • The drying process extracts up to 85% moisture to allow for safer storage, transport, and export to recipient destinations. Extracting most of the moisture content ensures the coffee doesn’t succumb to microbial or fungal activity on the way. After all, it’s not always easy to maintain quality storage and transport standards in some areas. For instance, major regional roads in low-income countries are not always in the best condition. So, a consignment intended for 2-day travel can sometimes take up to 14 days to arrive.
  • Export green coffee is normally packed in large burlap sacks although you can invest in better quality bags (if you are taking care of export logistics yourself) for even better air, smell, temperature, moisture, and light regulation.
Green beans in a glass tube and in a hand

Part 2: Storing Green Coffee Beans

As a coffee lover, you should know the importance of proper storage for green coffee beans both pre and post-roasting. Each storage step has its own unique needs. For example, storing your coffee post-harvest at the farm and during transport will not be the same.  However, the principles remain pretty much constant, both pre-and post-roasting. 

Coffee, before and after roasting is affected by four key elements, i.e. light and heat, moisture and humidity, pests, and critters, and smells and odors. When the coffee comes in contact with any of these elements, it is instantly degraded. When it comes to storage, the goal is to protect the coffee from the elements, from harvest at the farm to when you are ready to grind and brew your cup.

Key highlights of this stage;

  • Practicing proper storage post harvest, during transport and at the warehouse, at the grocery store or coffee shop, and home
  • Consider key control factors during storage, i.e. moisture, temperature, oxygen, light, pests, and time
  • As a general rule of thumb, store green coffee beans in opaque airtight, or vacuum-sealed bags or containers. The storage environment should also be neutral with no odors or smells as coffee is porous and can easily pick up the surrounding smells. Properly stored green coffee can last in storage for up to a year.
green beans in a glass tube

Part 3: Preparing for Roasting 

Preparing for coffee roasting is just as important as the roasting process itself. Remember, roasting is a very delicate and specific process that requires careful attention and optimal readiness. With a series of crucial steps, like cooling and gauging the cracks for a specific roast level, you really have to make sure you have all the tools you need before you start.

 Even the smallest mishap during the roasting process can significantly affect the overall quality and flavor of your roasted beans. Preparing for the roasting process varies based on the circumstances. For example, the needs of a commercial roastery will be more comprehensive than those of home-based roasting for your own consumption. 

Mastering the right techniques for roasting means that readily available kitchen tools in your home are more than enough. You don't have to invest in an industrial-style roaster to make coffee for personal consumption.

Key highlights of this stage:

  • Coffee roasting at home for personal consumption is more forgiving. You simply prepare by investing in a small home-style coffee roaster or even use readily available appliances such as an air fryer or handheld stovetop roaster. A little bit of research on at-home coffee roasting techniques and how to achieve the ideal roast levels are all you need to start experimenting with different roasts and blends at home.
  • Commercial coffee roasting, whether at a roastery or coffee shop requires more effort. Essential equipment to prepare in these circumstances includes an actual coffee roaster (considering several factors like roasting style, levels, and capacity). Other tools include thermometers, cooling trays, blower systems, analysis tools, weigh scales, packing tools, and other smaller handling tools. Remember as a commercial roaster, you will first experiment with different blends and roast levels to create your own house blends. Further, investing in essential tools also helps boost efficiency while marinating quality and consistency – an important standard in commercial coffee roasting!
  • In addition to the tools, commercial coffee roasting requires preparation in other areas too. You need to allocate a specific space for every roasting process and even think of important environmental factors such as light, temperature, and humidity, among others. 
  • Don’t forget to put together a clear schedule for your roasting to guarantee efficiency and reduce redundancies.
Giensen coffee roaster

Part 4: The Roasting Process

The Roasting Process is the most exciting part of making your own coffee for many enthusiasts. The roasting process is where you see the fruits of your work and creativity. You will ultimately find out if your skills and efforts yield the best tasting coffee blends or not. Unlike other stages, the roasting process is the only one that gives you full control of the entire process, letting you choose the direction to take.

The coffee roasting process simply involves turning the aroma of less grassy flavored green and yellow-hued green coffee into more flavorful browned beans with incredible aroma and taste. This process involves the use of heat to alter the coffee's chemical and physical properties. This alternation unlocks the flavors and pleasant aromas locked within the beans while eliminating the unpleasant chlorogenic acid. In layman's terms, the roasting process prepares coffee beans for consumption.

Key highlights of this stage;

  • Coffee roasting works in three key stages, i.e. drying, browning, and roasting/development stage.
  • Drying removes moisture level to about 8-12% to guarantee effective roasting of the beans
  • The browning stage involves the actual change of color from green to brown as the beans go through a series of Maillard reactions. They break their cell walls and experience the first pop before transitioning to the actual roasting stage.
  • The roasting stage is where you create the roast level and allow the beans to develop their actual flavor depths and aroma. This stage also requires undivided attention because you can very easily over-roast the beans and end up with sharp tasty and smoky beans.
  • It’s also vital to take key factors in mind as they affect the overall roasting results, including flavors and aroma. Some of the important factors include the roasting degree and time.
  • Before you roast your beans, familiarize yourself with the five main roast levels and how they contribute to determining the flavors and aroma. The roast levels also impact how you pick up the flavors of the bean types to influence the entire drinking experience. For instance, light roasts feature beans with lighter fruity, lemony, and citrus undertones. This roast level is also ideal for when you want to truly experience the characteristics of a particular bean, like the Tanzanian Kilimanjaro Arabica or the Colombian Arabica – and even note their differences. On the other hand, dark roasts contain beans that have completed their chemical reactions with every organic compound broken down. Dark roasts tend to be somewhat smoky with rich and full-bodied flavors. They are also sweeter than light roasts since they take longer to achieve and allow their sugars to caramelize more. However, since all their organic compounds are broken down, it’s not easy to pinpoint the unique components of a particular bean, like differentiating between East African and Latin American Arabica beans. So, dark roasts are not the best option when you want to appreciate the flavor profiles of a particular bean. But, this is not all. The roast level can truly help you tell the story of the coffee you want people to enjoy.
  • You should also familiarize yourself with the tips and know-how for monitoring the roasting process and achieving the roast level. With these skills, you can confidently call yourself a coffee-roasting maestro!
Hands checking the roasting process by looking at the color of the beans

Part 5: Cooling and Storage 

Handling coffee doesn't stop at roasting. Even after roasting, how you care for the freshly roasted beans will impact your coffee-drinking experience. Cooling and Storage of freshly roasted coffee beans go hand in hand. Skipping the former is the easiest way to ensure your beans don’t last long before they lose their quality. In fact, after roasting, the cooling process is an integral part of developing the coffee beans’ flavor.

Key highlights of this stage;

  • Commercially roasted coffee can be cooled in the roaster. After roasting, the roaster will automatically take the beans through a cooling stage for about 5 to 12 minutes, depending on the batch size.
  • If you are roasting beans at home without using a roaster machine, you should implement this process immediately after roasting is done. Transfer the beans into a metal colander and shake the beans, transferring them from one colander to the other – back and forth. This process cools the beans swiftly while also blowing off the chaff or bean husks to leave the beans clean. Always do this manual process nearby a sink or outdoors to avoid making a mess around the kitchen.
  • After cooling, transfer the beans to an open container and leave them out for at least 24 hours to allow for degassing. Degassing removes excess carbon dioxide that the beans accumulate during the oxidative roasting process. Degassing balances the carbon dioxide and oxygen levels in the beans to help achieve optimal flavors.
  • After degassing, your beans should not have any visible dripping or condensation-like oils on the surface. If you notice this, you will have to degas them for another 24 hours to prevent mold build up when you store the beans.
  • After the process, transfer the beans to an opaque and airtight or fully sealed container or bag and store them in a cool, dark, and dry place. Wait at least 7 days to grind the beans and brew your coffee.
  • Remember, to preserve the freshness, flavors, and aroma – protect roasted coffee beans from light, heat, moisture/humidity, and oxygen. 
  • Coffee is also very porous when ground and easily loses its freshness and the best flavor components within 7 days even when appropriately stored. 
  • On the other hand, appropriately stored roasted coffee beans will last for up to a year. But, the beans are at their peak quality, freshness, and flavor during the first 5 to 6 months. After opening the airtight container or resealable bag the first time, the freshness shelf life decreases to about 3 weeks. This explains why roasted coffee beans come in smaller bags (about 250g to 2kg) to ensure the bag is used up within a short period.
Roasted coffee beans in hands

Why Coffee Roasting Is Rewarding

Undoubtedly, coffee roasting is a rewarding experience because it gives you the freedom to control and determine the flavors of your roasted coffee. Whether you run a roastery, or coffee shop, or roast for personal use, this is the only stage of coffee handling where you can put your creativity to play. 

It’s also worth noting that coffee roasting is a form of art. In the beginning, you will experience a long and arduous process – mostly with results you don’t like. But, over time, as you master the art and become an expert, you will love how you can put together different green coffee combinations to craft the best blends or simply craft incredible flavors from a single-origin bean. 

After all, roasting gives you the ability to play with taste, color, aroma, and overall coffee-drinking experience. For many coffee lovers, roasting usually transitions from a task into a fun hobby. Now, there's nothing as satisfying for a coffee artisan as the satisfaction of creating your coffee from green beans. 

It gets even better when you can share the freshly crafted roasted coffee with friends and family or customers and fellow coffee lovers!

Beans released from a roasting machine

Conclusion

With this comprehensive guide on the Coffee Roasting Best Practices for Beginners, there shouldn't be a reason why you can't start this rewarding journey. As a coffee lover, our guide offers a foolproof and simple introduction to the world of crafting coffee from scratch. 

You will learn the entire process – from picking the best green coffee beans to ultimately roasting the perfect blend for a memorable cup of coffee. Whether you want to set up a roastery, a coffee shop, or simply roast coffee to share with loved ones, this is a fantastic place to begin.

Meet the expert

Donna is a coffee lover and freelance writer from Tanzania. Coffee runs deep in her family, tracing its roots to her grandmother’s running of their first coffee farm in the mid-70s. During the summer seasons, she enjoys writing and co-running her grandmother's small robusta coffee farm with her sister in northwest Tanzania.

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