Recently my sister brought me a batch of coffee beans fresh from Ethiopia. She's doing medical mission work there, and on trips home is happy to support my passion for Ethiopian coffee. The coffee she brings me is green. I've tried different ways of roasting it. It's possible to roast it in a popcorn popper (the air-pop style) but it tends to overheat and ruin the popper. You can do it on the stovetop, but it smokes the whole house. Most recently I've been roasting it on the barbecue grill, which works absolutely beautifully. Today I got some pictures of the process so I could better explain it to you.
I started by turning all four of the burners of my barbecue grill on high and setting a 12-inch cast iron skillet in the center of the grill. The skillet should be well seasoned, but don't put any fresh oil onto the pan-- you're cooking these beans in a dry pan.
Shut the lid and let the barbecue and the skillet heat for a good 10 minutes. You want that skillet blazing hot. Once it has had time to preheat, pour a cup of coffee beans into the skillet and use a spatula to spread them out fairly evenly. Beans will cook fastest if they're spread out in a thin layer all over the pan. As you can see, they literally are a pale grey-green at first.
Once you've got the beans spread out in the skillet, shut the barbecue and let them cook for a five minutes undisturbed. If you've got a really hot barbecue, you may want to check and stir them a few minutes sooner than that, especially if you hear them starting to 'crack'.
Here's how mine looked after five minutes-- some turning light brown, and some yellow, similar to the color of corn nuts.
Give them a stir and cook covered for a couple more minutes. Between 5 and 7 minutes you will probably start to hear them cracking and popping. You may also notice chaff coming off the beans and floating around a bit when you open the lid to stir the beans. Here's where my beans started to crack and release chaff.
A couple minutes later my beans were cracking briskly and beginning to deepen in color.
Here they are after ten minutes, coloring up nicely.
Continue to stir the beans every couple minutes, closing the barbecue between stirrings. Around 10-12 minutes you will probably begin to see streaks of oil in the pan as you stir. That means the coffee beans are beginning to release their oil.
Soon after that point you will also notice smoke coming off the beans. Don't panic -- that's a normal part of the coffee roasting process.
Once the beans are smoking, leave the barbecue open and stir every minute or two. You'll see the beans begin to gleam as they release more and more oil. When they're gleaming, and most of the beans are dark brown, they're just about done. My total cooking time for this batch was about 16 minutes. Depending on the power of your barbecue and how thick you layer your beans, your cooking time may be longer or shorter, but the beans will still go through the stages in the same way I've described: cracking, chaffing, releasing oil, beginning to smoke, darkening up. Once you've tried one batch, you'll know what your barbecue does.
There will always be a few beans that stubbornly resistdarkening. (My Ethiopian daughter told me that her mom just threwthose beans away.) You can let the beans cook a couple more minutes to darken more if you like. But there is a point beyond which you will be actually losing flavor, and only have charred hulls remaining. That makes coffee more bitter than I like. So here's the stage at which I quit.
Scoop the hot beans onto an aluminum cookie sheet to cool. The aluminum will help the heat dissipate more quickly and let the beans stop cooking. And there you have it-- beautiful freshly roasted coffee beans, all ready to be ground for tomorrow morning's coffee!
Now, a fun bit of news: I'm giving away bag of these fresh-roasted Ethiopia-grown coffee beans on Friday morning! All you have to do to enter the drawing is go here to comment and tell me about the best cup of coffee you've ever had. And if you'd like to roast some beans yourself, check out the links below.
Amazon.com-- Fair Trade Organic Ethiopian Washed Sidamo,. $12.90/ 2 lbs
Dean's Beans --Fair Trade Organic Ethiopian Yigacheffe/Sidamo Blend $4.50/lb