Dressed in a T-shirt, jeans and socks, Benjamin de Waard stands on the front porch of his Maquoketa, Iowa, home, shaking a football-size wire basket filled with green coffee beans.
“I have to make sure none of the broken ones fall out during roasting,” he explains while intently eyeing the basket’s contents.
His 2-year-old daughter giggles and runs to the steps to sit down as he places the basket in a coffee bean roaster that looks more like an oversized toaster oven sitting on the ledge of the porch.
“What I love about roasting myself,” de Waard said, “is you know what the bean is supposed to be like. My goal is to roast my coffee beans for the right amount of time. I know the flavor the coffee is supposed to impart based on the region the beans come from.”
Each year, thousands of self-described “Coffeeheads” discover home roasting and buy green (not roasted) coffee beans with names such as Guatemalan Finca Vista Hermosa, Kenya Nyeri Peaberry-Kirimara Estate and Ethiopian Natural Harrar. They learn through friends, experimentation or the Internet how to roast their coffee beans to have flavor descriptions such as: “medium-full body, malty sweet chocolate flavors with delicate fruit notes and a fine, savory aroma.” Or “A full-bodied cup with plum, grape, tangerine acidity, slightly tangy pineapple with a floral clove finish.”
Three years ago, a co-worker walked into de Waard’s office and said, “Dude, I’m thinking about roasting my own coffee. I’ll save money. It’s going to be awesome.”
“I literally laughed at him, saying, ‘That sounds good, you go do your thing.’ ”
At the time, de Waard was an average coffee drinker, buying the pre-ground flavored java off the shelf.
“I was not a coffee connoisseur by any means,” he added.
Time passed and one day the co-worker returned to de Waard’s office with a cup of coffee.
“ ‘Drink this,’ ” he told me. “I was blown away. It was just incredible. It was a Natural Process coffee with a blueberry-like taste,” he said.
That sip hooked de Waard for good. And with an initial $35 investment, he was officially a Coffeehead. (A Whirley-Pop 6-quart stovetop popper cost about $25, along with a $5 thermometer and a pound of green coffee beans, which was about $5 at the time.)
Garry Burman, the owner of Burman Coffee Traders, LLC, near Madison, Wis., is one of the largest providers of green coffee beans in the country. He says that “unless you’ve got a friend or someone at work that has done it, the majority of people don’t know that home coffee-roasting exists.”
Burman’s has 800 regular customers in the Madison area and has been gaining close to 4,000 Internet customers each year.
“A local customer can walk in and choose from nearly 60 world-class coffee beans starting at $5 per pound, and we have all the roasters we carry out for them to try. You can play with one, roast a batch of beans for free, take it home and try it,” Burman said, “That’s what we do. We’ll show you how to do it, you take the coffee home and see if you like it.”
To some people, coffee is just caffeine in the morning. They don’t want to work for it.
“Most people, though, once they have tried some (home-roasted), they’re hooked,” Burman added.
Businesses such as Burman’s (burmancoffee.com) and Sweet Maria’s (sweetmarias.com), owned by Tom Owen in Oakland, Calif., sell everything needed to home-roast and provide the how-to information for everyone from beginners to the advanced home-roaster.
Since getting his start, de Waard has progressed as many do in the home-roasting life.
“I went through a few Whirley-Pops and finally broke down and purchased a more automated roaster that will do up to a pound of beans,” he said. “I have a group of regular customers that I roast for each week and a website: PerfectRoastCoffee.webs.com.”
His knowledge has increased along with his roasting skills.
“Starbucks and places like that will say, “This is a Kenyan, this is a Colombian,” and they literally will all taste the same because the beans are all roasted the same. You taste the roast, not the bean,” he said.
Picking up a coffee cup, de Waard takes a sip and says, “I like to give a cup of coffee to someone and have them say, ‘Wow, I never knew coffee could taste like that.’ ”