Back when we were nomads we met up with a dozen or so other RVers in an Arizona desert for a little winter convergence. We boondocked (dry camped) for 6 weeks and spent our days sharing knowledge, trading skills and hanging out around a massive fire every night. My friend (and amazing solo female nomad), Jill, of Vespa and a Laptop, told me about a book I might enjoy because the author liked to make things. At the time I was making my own kombucha (yes, even while traveling in an RV fulltime), almond milk, deodorant, toothpaste, cleansers and had already done quite a few DIY projects in the RV (with Clark’s skills of course). That book, called The Good Life Lab: Radical Experiments in Hands-On Living by Wendy Tremayne, helped inspire many of the things we are doing at Mutiny Ranch. Granted, we were already on a path to get-off-the-road but the ideas presented and the attitude about unchecked consumerism sealed the deal on it all.
A few months after that convergence (and after I had read the book) we found ourselves in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, the town where Wendy Tremayne wrote The Good Life Lab and the home to her and her partner’s Green Acre mini-homestead. Cherie, of Technomadia, offered to message Wendy on our behalf and introduce us. Seems they met a few years prior and were still in contact. I attended Wendy’s yoga class the next morning and she graciously invited Clark and me to her home. And it was here we learned so much about sustainability, repurposing, thrift storing and expectations.
Wendy and Mikey are remarkable people with a fearless ability to learn new things…or at least try them. They traded high paying, stressed filled jobs in NYC for a more non-commodified life. They try to live in what Wendy calls the “waste stream”, reusing and repurposing things that would otherwise end up in a landfill. Their home, a 70’s model mobile home, is now tastefully renovated and furnished with thrift store finds. It turned out it was more cost-effective to remodel the home rather than pay to remove it (adding it to a landfill no doubt) and building another structure. Strangely. we find ourselves in the same situation.
These guys are inventive and inspiring. One of the craziest things I learned from Wendy and Mikey (Taylor, Beth and I had talked about this before but none of us had tried it at the time) is that you can roast your own coffee…in a popcorn popper. Specifically, an air popper. I know what your thinking…how does that even work?
Well, there are many, many tutorials to be found. Many blog post, YouTube videos and even forums for popcorn popper home roasting. I’ll share what I know but remember, I didn’t “invent” it and I’m no expert…I just know how to copy other people and follow directions (sometimes).
From my research the ideal popper to use is The Poppery and The Poppery II by West Bend (the Poppery II being the most prized). I had been on the lookout for either of these models for over a year when I finally spotted an original Poppery at the Habitat For Humanity ReStore here in our town. Thrilled, I handed over $4 for my treasure and headed home to source some unroasted (aka green) coffee beans.
I was a bit overwhelmed by all the choices of green coffee beans I found online…and a little surprised by the price. I was really hoping roasting my own beans would save me a few dollars and what I found on Amazon was not very encouraging. See, if you don’t already know, I love coffee. Like, really love it. And, after my dad’s passing, I find that it offers me some comfort and a connection to him. But I also love really good coffee, which often comes with a steeper price tag. I have two favorite roasters, one in Bisbee, AZ and one here in Mancos, CO. Both deserve to charge $16+ per pound but with my ability to drink a crap-ton of coffee I felt this experiment would be worth it if I could save a few bucks a month.
I scoured the internet, I re-read Mikey’s blog post, I hopped on forums and eventually found that eBay was the most recommended place to source beans. After a little more digging I decided to go with seller golforca. My first purchase was 5 Pounds Green Coffee Bean Guatemala El Vergel FECCEG CERTIFIED ORGANIC which I felt was a safe bet for my first time roasting (after reading reviews and spending way too much time trying to decide on a bean I went with the safe, and cheap, bet). At $28.00 for 5 pounds it worked out to just $5.60 per pound for a very good quality coffee that’s also organic and Fair Trade.
A few short days later and my coffee arrived. It was time to put the popper to the test. I measured out 3 ounces of beans and headed outside. It’s recommended that you roast your beans outdoors for a few reasons. First, there will be a lot of chafe that comes off of the beans as they start to roast. This is the outer skin of the beans. It’s paper-thin and, with the air from the popper, will blow all over the place. Second, there’s going to be a lot of smoke. As coffee roasts, it releases its oils. Oil + heat = smoke. And third, that smoke smells strongly of coffee. Now, you already know how much I love coffee but even I can’t handle that smell for long. It’s different than the smell of freshly ground or brewed coffee (I now have images of that old Folgers commercial where the smell of freshly brewed coffee makes everyone in the house wake with a smile). No, this is much stronger and clings to everything…your clothes, your hair, your skin, your baby goats fur…everything. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.
Tools I find handy for roasting:
Small bowls to hold my beans
Scale (I have this inexpensive model)
Large Mesh Strainer(s)
Here’s how it goes:
My Poppery II only hold 4 oz of popcorn so I knew not to put too many beans in it at one time. I experimented and found that 3 oz of green beans seemed to be ideal. I dumped the beans into the heating chamber of the popper and turned the unit on and started my timer. Tip: If your beans don’t move you have too many in the chamber if they dance and bounce like they’re trying to escape you might have too few. You’ll see the beans circling around the chamber as the hot air is forced in. Pretty quickly the chafe will start to blow off. I used my wooden spoon to stir the beans a little just to help all the chafe escape. Then I waited.
Within the first 2 minutes or so you’ll hear the first pop. It will almost sound like a popcorn kernel popping. Keep waiting. After several more minutes (around minute 5) you’ll hear the second pop or crack. This will become more of a crackling sound (like pine wood in a fire) and will indicate your roasting is almost complete. Depending on how dark (or light) you like your roast will determine how much longer you keep roasting. I prefer a darker roast. Edit 2020: Now that I’ve been roasting for a few years I’ve learned to appreciate lighter roasts. I no longer seek out the oily sheen as seen in the photo below. I prefer to keep the oils inside the beans. The beauty of roasting at home is that you can decide what roast level you prefer!
A newly roasted batch using my $3 Poppery II.Once I’m satisfied with the look of the beans I turn off the machine and carefully remove the upper (yellow/orange) top. This thing is going to be super hot so be sure to use oven mitts! Dump the beans into your strainer and swirl around to help them cool. You can also use two strainers and toss them back and forth. The beans will be extremely hot and will actually keep roasting. If you look carefully you’ll probably see the surface oils bubbling. On that note, remember to not touch the beans! Don’t grab them, scoop them with your bare hands, drop them on your foot (or pets) or step on one with your barefoot. They are like lava.
It will take some time for the beans to cool enough to safely handle so find a safe spot (out of the reach of your baby goats!!) and let them cure. Opinions range from one to four days for curing (meaning you shouldn’t grind or brew these beans immediately). I generally go by smell. Freshly roasted coffee doesn’t smell like regular coffee…it’s a deeper, oilier smell. After 1-2 days they start to smell “normal” so that’s when I start to use them.
So far I’ve really liked roasting my own beans. I am eager to receive my next shipment from golforca. I ordered one of my very favorite beans…Timor-Leste for just $31.50 for 5 pounds. Quite a deal if you ask me. Golforca also has a website that might be of interest. You can check out their fabulous selection of green coffee beans at Only Coffee Beans.
Some resources you might like:
Sourcing Green Coffee Beans:
And here’s a YouTube video I made recently showing the entire process!
Note: I roast 3 oz at a time which is 85 grams. I use about 15 grams per cup of coffee so one roasted batch makes about 5 cups of coffee. I often roast a few batches at a time (each still 3 oz only) so I have a weeks worth of beans before needing to roast again. Obviously you can choose to roast as many consecutive batches as you want so you always have a supply handy.
Another note: My original thrift store find was the Poppery from West Bend ($4). It did a fantastic job of roasting until the goats knocked it off the table and on to the concrete. While it still seemed to work, it never reached a temperature hot enough to roast the beans. I was devastated since I still had over 4 pounds of green coffee beans. Fortunately, I came across a Poppery II at a different thrift store (for $3) just last week. It’s done a remarkable job on the last few roasts.