Friday, November 9, 2012

Roasting Coffee in Cape Town

I've been searching around Cape Town for a place that'll let me bring my own container to get coffee beans. It's not because it's my only remaining source of waste. On the contrary, it's absurd and inconsistent but I got really into it anyway.

What I learned was that good coffee roasters with good beans balk if you ask to bring your own container (or even reuse theirs)- The carbon dioxide! The beans will spoil! The solution, we thought, would be to start with raw beans, so we can roast in tiny batches as we need it.

So we visited Lourensford Wine Estate in Somerset West to get some unroasted green coffee beans. This is the only place I know of that sells unroasted beans, but I'm sure there are some places in the center of Cape Town. Can you comment if you know a place? Lourensford hosts The Coffee Company, which sells beans online and also has a store where you can go in and select your beans.

Noah just wanted to hunt peacocks.

Noah begins his peacock hunt.
Note the hands behind his back. He thinks he's hacked how to not get bitten by large birds.

Hunting peacocks is exhausting

We successfully selected some beans, and I had to really explain that we didn't want a bag. "You can just throw it away!" That's the point. I don't want to throw it away. "?????" Repeat. So if you're interested in trying to roast your own beans, do take a glass jar or a bag or something, so that I'm not the only crazy one.

Unroasted beans!

We had a torch from fixing up the bathroom and soldering the copper pipes, so Eug had the genius idea of using it to roast the beans outside. Bean roasting produces a lot of smoke- which unfortunately doesn't really smell like lovely coffee- so we thought we'd try it outside rather than on the stove. 

Noah's pictures provide a pretty good idea of how Eug did it.
The final product- a fairly light roast.
The first attempt was good. Eug is experimenting with ways to slow down the process by adding a layer of old foil in the tin can- an even roast seems to be quite challenging. We're trying even tinier batches so that all the beans roast through without burning. The green coffee beans at Lourensford cost half the price of their roasted beans, so about R90/kg. This is about 1/5 of the cost we'd been paying before.


luke said...

Keep in mind that beans lose 10-20% of their weight when you roast them (moisture content), so a pound of green beans is fewer beans than a pound of roasted. I'm getting green beans for maybe 70% the cost of roasted, but its probably only a 10% savings all told.

You can use high heat and still get an even roast, I pre-heat my stove-top manual popcorn popper to almost 500 degrees, the key is just agitation., no matter what method you use. Contact with the surface of your metal container will scorch the beans, which is why many roasters use a revolving drum, or some home DIY'ers use a rotisserie type setup. Some people even use a heat gun (think heavy blow dryer) and a dog food bowl, the air stirs the beans as you blow on them, keeping them from charring. Just keep shaking the can as its over the heat, so the beans are always jumping, and they will roast more evenly.

Concrete Gardener said...

That's helpful Luke! We hoped you'd weigh in.

Eug has had good luck with adding the foil layer inside the tin can, with a small batch. We really liked the result. The problem with direct flame seemed to be that the outside of the bean roasted much more quickly than the inside, so he started putting the flame further away. That uses too much gas probably.

We're going to try the oven and stove top and see how they work, as the smokiness wasn't too bad when they roast more slowly. Shall we think of great coffee ventures in South Africa?

Tiff said...


What a coincidence. A friend of mine and I tried roasting our own coffee a few weeks ago. We've been trying to Malaysian/Singapore style coffee. So we dry-roasted in a steel wok on gas stove using high heat(but constantly constantly stirring the beans as Luke said) in order to ensure all the beans are evenly roasted. Then the Malay/Sing way is to add sugar and some margarine at the last minute to coat the beans and preserve them better (perhaps more important in the tropical heat?) and of course, give it a slightly sweet and buttery taste. In any case, it turned out pretty well: on the third try we got something that was definitely coffee-tasting and -looking! I think the secret for us was not to be scared of overburning..the first batch turned out quite pale in colour because the beans were cooked on the outside but not on the inside.

Concrete Gardener said...

That's super cool! I'll try it out with sugar and marg/butter- is there a ratio I should use?

Our experience was similar- the first two tries had quite light coffee when we ground it up. Then on the third try it smelled lovely and the ground was nice and dark.

Tiff said...

We ended up doing it by feel. But this blog (URL follows) says the Malaysian ratio is 60kg beans, 30kg sugar; Singaporean ratio is 60 kg beans, 20 kg sugar.

There was nothing about the amount of margarine, so we were just using it sparingly and hoping for the best!

It was quite hard, suprisingly, to find any detailed information about roasting kopi this way. Perhaps you will have better luck on the interwebz? If you do, please do let me know too!

That blog I was telling you about above:

Tiff said...

Also, feel free to tinker. We felt weird about using that much sugar to coffee. The first time we tried using that ratio (approximately 2:1 or 3:1), we ended up with something that looked like peanut brittle, but with coffee beans embedded in it instead of peanuts.

Concrete Gardener said...

Hehe. I like the image :)

we've been trying just frying the coffee beans (without oil, for now) in the frying pan and the results have been really good. There's a lot of smoke but our kitchen has a door and a big window and I like the smell.

Charles said...

I really enjoyed going through this post and seeing how the coffee culture is growing in Cape Town. Props for having a go at roasting your own beans! It is an art!

I work for a company called Global Coffee and we import our own green beans as well as doing roasting and private label packaging. You are welcome to bring your own container however the minimum order is 10kg of raw beans so your need a big glass jar :)

Keep working at roasting at you might just create the perfect blend! I am always happy to talk about coffee so feel free to pop me a mail with any questions.

Concrete Gardener said...

Thanks Charles! We will be in touch! Since Coffee Company in Lourensford seems to be closed, we've been trying other places- we found a place in town that offers green beans, though ironically it was already packaged.

But we're roasting almost every day now, in a small frying pan, and we really like the results. More soon, and thanks for commenting.

Lynette said...

Am also looking to buy green beans (in small amounts). where do you buy your beans?

Concrete Gardener said...

Hi Lynette,

We started to buy larger amounts (10kg) from the global coffee co., because we were able to save quite a lot of money and get good, well grown beans. I'm mainly motivated by the fact we don't have any packaging on the beans.

Coffee Company in Lourensford farm in Somerset West is open again, and will let you bring your own bag and sell green beans at 1/2 the cost of roasted (whatever quantity).

Komati in Obs also sells green beans in 500g/1kg quantities. I think it is about the same price as the roasted beans- they're not coffee specialists though.

There's one old school coffee shop that sells in the city- leave a comment if that's the one you want to try and I can remind myself where it is. Itsold great coffee but was packaged in plastic and pretty expensive- again around the same price for green vs. roasted.

Unknown said...

Hi Jo

I want to buy some unroasted coffee beans from The Coffee Roasting Co. and I see that you've commented that Lourensford sells them unroasted. I tried looking on their website but couldnt find anything on unroasted beans.

So I just to make sure before I drive all the way out there if they do still sell unroasted beans?

Kind regards

Concrete Gardener said...

Hi Lisha,

I usually buy large-ish quantities from Global Coffee.

I would consider calling Lourensford ahead of time, but I'm pretty sure they still sell unroasted- they roast them there and the cost of unroasted is just half the cost of roasted.

Komati in Obs also sells unroasted in small quantities.

All the best!