How to Roast Coffee in a Cast Iron Pan ~ Every Sip is Worth the Wait!

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My husband and I were seriously considering buying a coffee shop that was for sale in our area, once upon a time. We were so close to going ahead with the idea that I had been trained by the owner of the turn-key operation so that I would be able to step right in and fill her shoes. After doing lots of research and talking to a financial advisor, however, we realized we could open a little coffee shop/bakery from scratch for around half the asking price of the one we were considering, so that was the end of that.

But while we were in the midst of the process, we decided that we would like to sell our own small-batch roasted coffees if we ever did open a shop. I did lots of research on machines small enough to fit on an apartment counter top up to big commercial roasters that take up some serious floor space. Smoke, I learned, was a problem when it came to roasting coffee, so housing a large coffee roaster in a separate building or work space, other than in a kitchen open to customer traffic, would be a good idea.

In the years following, we got busy with life. My husband started a new job and I came home full time, grateful every single day that I hadn’t tied my home-schooled boys and myself to that shop. They would have finished growing up there, with me baking away and serving customers while trying to teach them at the same time, rather than on our little farm and beside mountain streams, where we would frequently move our lessons for a change of scenery. I think I would have missed our quality time even more than when I worked outside of our home away from them. It would have been a completely different life for all of us, and considering the health problems my husband started having not long after we passed on the shop, an exceedingly stressful one.

I’ve had trouble ditching my dream of being a coffee roaster, however. When I stumbled across this Ella Costner quote a few years ago, it stuck with me. It had never occurred to me that Smoky Mountain homesteaders had roasted their own coffee. And they certainly wouldn’t have had apartment-sized counter top roasters, or a special coffee roasting barn out back in which to do it. They would have done it right on the tops of their wood stoves, in an oven, as Ella Costner had done, or over a fire.

While I roasted coffee, at intervals I would run out the door to cool from the heat of the oven, and throw my head back to better feel the cool breeze from the south, the delicious lazy caressing breeze, laden with fragrant aroma of the roasting coffee. And as twilight faded, and the stars came out and the moon showed an orange glow through the tree tops, I would forget the tasks of the day, the long day in the field, I would forget my bruised and briar-torn feet and the discomfort of a sweaty grimy body burned by the sun. I would forget that the rattler’s fangs had missed me just by a hair’s breadth.  I would forget that life was ever difficult or hard here in this place, this my world was so filled with beauty that nothing else  mattered.

~ Ella Costner, Poet Laureate of the Smokies of East Tennessee

I decided to try roasting my own beans without using any fancy equipment, my biggest fear being that scorched, hot beans would pop and coming flying out of the pan at me and all over my kitchen. I looked online for small batches of green coffee beans that I could buy. I found Rhoads Roast Coffees in Hammonton, New Jersey on Amazon and ordered green Brazil Cerrado coffee beans. Then I got busy and fired up a cast iron skillet.

I used a half pound of beans at a time, keeping the heat of my old electric stove on medium-high while I constantly stirred the beans, as I do when toasting rice or nuts.

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I didn’t worry about “crack”, the stages of roasting coffee, I just paid attention to the smell of the beans as they roasted and their color. They did crack and pop and shed chaff.

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The papery chaff blackened and put off any small amount of smoke that I saw during the process, but nothing came flying out of the open pan at any time.

The roaster’s label on the package of beans I received in the mail stated that my beans were best roasted to medium.

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I stirred them around for 40 minutes in the pan until they were a dark brown…

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…but not a black espresso color.

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They went from smelling like cooked lima beans at the heated green stage to having very little aroma at all when I was satisfied with the roasted color, which surprised me…until I completely cooled and ground them, a process that, combined with the roasting time, took around an hour.

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WOW! I got really excited when the rich smell of coffee filled the whole kitchen when I ground those freshly roasted beans the first time ~ heaven to those olfactory receptors!

I realized with the first brew that I had ground them a little too coarsely.

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The color of the brewed coffee was lighter than I’d expected, but the flavor was out of this world. I ground them a little longer the second time, to a finer coffee grind, then brewed a cup in my French press.

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Oh my! I’m definitely sold on this whole home coffee bean roasting idea after dreaming for so long of trying this back-to-basics skill, but I enjoyed roasting them in the pan so much that I’m not sure I’ll ever buy a counter top roaster for our kitchen. But that commercial roaster for a little coffee shop of my own? You just never know…

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What do you think of roasting coffee beans on the stove? Would you be willing to give it a try?

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