The specialty coffee scene has spurred an interest in quality coffee for many consumers. It’s never been easier for coffee lovers to experiment with innovative ways of brewing it, and they have access to a wider range of coffees and brewing equipment than ever before.
While the average person can purchase a range of different beans and prepare them for consumption from the comfort of their home, some are also starting to take interest in the roasting process, and how it impacts the end result.
Here’s why consumers are increasingly eager to explore home roasting for fun and how this could impact the specialty coffee industry at large.
Home Roasting Defined
Before examining why the popularity of home roasting is increasing, the difference between home roasting and micro roasting must be defined. Micro roasting involves purchasing small lots of quality green beans directly from importers or traders and roasting small amounts of it for cafés and businesses. Home roasting is something undertaken recreationally, without the goals of profit, and purely for enjoyment.
Home roasting offers several benefits for coffee enthusiasts. It offers a sense of personal satisfaction and can lead to a deeper appreciation of specialty coffee. As it encourages experimentation, it can lead to a better understanding of how different roast levels impact beans and how different varieties respond to the roasting process. In some circumstances, it could save money in comparison to purchasing already roasted beans.
Depending on the sophistication of the machine used, developing a roast that meets specific goals will help a home roaster develop certain skills which can only be acquired through experience, such as being able to discern a roast’s level according to bean colour, or control the degree of roasting taking place by judging the level of smoke emitted.
As many home roasting machines don’t offer as much control over specific roast variables as commercial machines do, it will likely produce diverse results, and no two batches will be the same – something that could appeal to those looking to explore various qualities of a particular bean.
A History of Roasting & Today’s Landscape
Roasting coffee at home dates back to the 1400s in Africa and the Middle East and is almost as old as the discovery of coffee itself. It was time-consuming and required careful attention, as the beans had to be placed in a thin, perforated pan over an open flame and turned with a spoon to ensure even roasting. As it produced messy and inconsistent results, it was abandoned in favour of the cylindrical roaster in the 17th century. Beans were added to the cylinder, held over an open flame, and hand-cranked for even roasting. With the 19th century came industrialisation, and gradually commercial roasters took over coffee roasting.
Bryon Dote is the head of Marketing at Sweet Marias, a home coffee roasting company that was founded in 1997 in San Francisco, USA. He says that while the development of the specialty coffee industry and artisanal roasting in the sixties and seventies led to a brief interest in small-scale roasting, it didn’t take off in earnest.
Since then, the international coffee roasting market has been growing and will increase by an estimated 6.3% over the next four years, with most of this growth concentrated in the USA and Europe. According to Europe’s Centre for the Promotion of Imports, Europe accounted for over a third of global coffee consumption in 2018, which has been accompanied by a rise in specialty roasting. Currently, Germany has the largest coffee roasting industry in Europe (with a roast coffee production volume of 551 thousand tonnes), followed by Italy (with a roasted coffee production volume of 414 thousand tonnes).
Stefan Bracht owns Kiez Rösterei, a micro-roastery in Berlin, Germany. He attributes this growth to quality green beans becoming available in affordable and smaller quantities, and customers starting to pay attention to their coffee’s sustainability, transparency, locality, and freshness. Claus Fricke is the author of the book Home Roasting, and says, “As a result of the current abundance of high-quality freshly roasted coffee, coffee lovers became more demanding. Now they are searching for a way to enjoy a brew that is ever fresher, with an ever-varying taste profile, and even custom roasted to one’s taste.”
The Pros & Cons of Home Roasting
The current home roasting scene is ripe for development for many of the reasons listed above. Another more specific reason is that it’s never been easier to acquire quality home roasting equipment at a mid to high price range. Brands such as Gene, Hottop, and Aillio are all known for manufacturing home roasting systems that are accessible and produce a quality result.
Other established brands demonstrate that the industry has plenty to offer those interested in home roasting. US-based Roastmasters has been selling a wide range of home roasting equipment and green, unroasted coffee since 1985. Behmor was founded in 1997 and has developed their own range of home roasting machinery.
Byron says, “While this is still a hobby market, we see growth in it and this growth goes hand in hand with consumers’ awareness and education. For example (and to our surprise) among the groups that we’ve recently added to our customers are baristas, who are looking for a way to kickstart their coffee roasting careers.”
These brands (as well as others like Sweet Marias) offer customers an extensive online knowledge and resource base to refer to, in addition to an after-sales support network. This, in addition to the wealth of roasting information available online through videos, social media, and messaging forums, means that information on learning how to roast is available to anyone interested in it.
However, this is not without its pitfalls. Roasting without formal training or guidance could result in green beans not developing their flavour potential, or getting burnt. A lack of knowledge on roast coffee storage can also result in a failure to degas the coffee sufficiently, preventing the coffee grounds from being fully extracted during brewing. As Stefan says, “Roasting isn’t magic; everyone can roast at home if they wish to. The question is whether they have the time and equipment to reach consistently good results”.
Whether a person is partaking in home roasting purely for the fun of it or wants the satisfaction of being able to roast and brew their own coffee, investing in equipment and experimenting with it is a useful way to gain a better understanding of coffee and its origins.
The development of more affordable and user friendly roasters will be instrumental in helping home roasting become more accessible. As a result, coffee will become more demystified and decommodified, leading to a deeper appreciation of the specialty coffee in general.
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