What Is Hand-Roasted Coffee? (Explanation And Guide)

Coffee roasting plays a vital role in influencing its flavor. With the increasing demand for coffee worldwide, people are always in search of ways to make their cup of joe better than ever.

Specialty coffee roasters are increasingly moving towards conveying their craft and attention to detail in their branding. This includes the use of the phrase “hand-roasted”. 

Short answer: Hand-roasted coffee, as its name indicates, uses manual power to roast coffee beans.

Is this a different process of roasting? Or is it just a wider marketing strategy that alludes to greater care and quality control from the roaster?

Keep reading to find out!

What Does Hand-Roasted Coffee Mean?

hands on a bunch of coffee beans inside a machine
Hand-roasting coffee beans.

Hand-roasted coffee is made in small batches by an expert coffee roaster who knows the art of bringing out the unique flavor from the beans.

Hand roasting implies that there’s a greater degree of human intervention involved in the process of making coffee.

With more control over the roasting process, the beans can be roasted in accordance with one’s preferences. Better flavor can be expected due to the extra care and attention provided in the process.

However, while this personal touch might be appealing to some, any additional level of manual control means consistency can be an issue.

Does the Roast Matter?

The roast matters because coffee beans exhibit different flavors at different levels of roasting. Additionally, the caffeine content in the coffee beans also varies depending on the roast level.

Therefore, in order to attain a perfectly roasted coffee, it is important to know what happens in each stage.

The most popular method of determining the degree of roast is to judge the bean’s color by eye. As the beans absorb heat, their color shifts from yellow to increasingly darker shades of brown.

During the later stages of roasting, oil appears on the surface of the beans. The color of the beans will continue to darken until it is removed from the heat.

Apart from the visual indications, the beans emit cracking sounds at two events. The “first crack” marks the beginning of a very “light roast”. The expansion in the size of the beans can also be noticed at this point.

When the internal temperature of the beans reaches approximately 224 °C (435 °F), it emits a “second crack”, this represents the structure of the coffee becoming brittle and fracturing as the beans continue to swell and enlarge because of the internal pressure.

The following table shows how different levels of roasting can influence the flavor of your coffee.

Common roast namesNotesSurfaceFlavor
Light Cinnamon Roast, American Roast, New England Roast, Half City Roast, Moderate-Light RoastAfter several minutes, you can hear the beans pop or crack and visibly expand in size. This stage is the first crack.DryLighter-bodied, higher acidity, no obvious roast flavor. This level of roast is ideal for tasting the full original taste of the coffee.
MediumCity roast, City+ Roast, Full City RoastAfter being developed through the first crack, the coffee reaches the medium roast level.DrySugars have been further caramelized, and acidity has been muted. This results in coffee with a higher body, but some roast flavor imposed.
DarkFull City+ Roast, Italian Roast, Vienna Roast, French RoastAfter a few more minutes the beans begin popping again, and oils rise to the surface. This is the second crack.Shiny. The level of oil correlates to how far the coffee is taken past the second crack.Bittersweet flavors are prominent, aromas and flavors of roast become clearly evident. Little origin character remains.
Qualitative description of roast levels and their respective flavors.

How Do You Roast Your Own Coffee?

A person roasting their own coffee beans
Roasting coffee beans in a cast-iron wok.

I wrote a separate article on home roasting and included a few tips. You can check it out if you’re interested, but to keep it short, just follow these steps.

Buy Unroasted Green Coffee Beans

The first step to roasting your coffee requires you to buy unroasted beans which are green in color and smaller in size. During the roasting process, the size of the beans will increase, but they’ll lose some of their weight, too.

If you don’t know where to buy your unroasted beans, there is a wide range of reliable online options you can look into. Just make sure to order double the weight than what you require because of the weight loss property of unroasted beans.

Choose Your Equipment

With your beans in tow, now you need to choose the right equipment to start the process. 

You don’t need to buy expensive equipment to roast coffee at home, just look for a popcorn popper. It’s the perfect tool for the process as all you need to do is heat the beans in a confined area to temperatures over 450 degrees.

If you can’t find a popcorn popper, you can also use a Whirley-pop, a cast-iron skillet, or even a metal mixing bowl and a heat gun. 

Start Roasting

After adding the raw beans to your heating equipment, light up the flame, keep stirring, and watch how your tiny green beans enlarge and change color from green to yellow, and eventually, to light brown.

This is where you’ll hear them crack, a sound vaguely similar to popcorn popping. The “first crack” tells you to start looking for the chaff or the husk of the raw bean which appears in the hopper.

Pull Them Out Once They’re Dark Enough

Although you can choose how dark you want to roast your beans, just keep in mind that the darker the roast, the less caffeine in your cup.

Also, be very careful not to roast until the beans are black because they will taste terrible.

Let the Beans Cool Down

Once you’re done with the roasting level, let your beans cool down in a strainer or a baking sheet. They’ll be extremely hot, so be careful not to burn yourself off. 

Let Them Breathe Before You Start the Brew

Once your roasted beans get nice and cool, place them in an airtight container. But don’t seal the lid completely just yet; because the beans slowly excrete carbon dioxide, they might explode.

It’s always better to grind the beans minutes before you want to brew your coffee. Additionally, make sure to use them within five days for ultimate freshness.

Watch the video below to learn more about roasting coffee at home.

How to roast coffee at home?

Is Roasting Your Own Coffee Worth It?

A person drinking a cup of coffee smiling
Roasting your own cup of coffee is worth it.

People who have tasted the flavor of hand-roasted coffee swear that roasting your own coffee is worth it.

The most important reason being freshness. Once coffee beans have been roasted and grounded, they tend to go stale fast.

But if you buy whole beans, roast them in small batches and grind them up minutes before you brew up your pot of coffee, the flavor is much stronger.

Even though roasting your coffee has its merits, the process involves some hazards too.

The process of coffee roasting produces chemicals called Diacetyl and acetyl propionyl, which, when inhaled, can cause serious, irreversible lung damage. 

Therefore, it is very important to take all the safety measures before you plan to carry on this process on your own. Follow these safety measures to avoid any hazards when roasting your coffee: 

  • Wear masks
  • Make sure the area has proper ventilation
  • Wear gloves
  • Make sure a first aid-kit is available
  • Have a fire extinguisher nearby

To Sum It All Up

Hand-roasted coffee is manually roasting coffee beans.

Coffee roasting plays a vital role in influencing its flavor. The easiest way of determining the degree of roast is to judge the bean’s color by eye. From a very light roast to an increasingly darker shade of brown, each step exhibits the beans’ different characteristics and flavor profiles.

The biggest reason some coffee drinkers prefer this process is the “freshness” that is apparent in the cup.

When coffee is roasted and ground commercially, some coffee grounds may be kept on shelves for days, causing them to lose their freshness.

Despite this, I think this process is still worth trying as it produces high-quality coffee.

Try it today and taste the difference for yourself.

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Matt Marshall

As I learn more and more about coffee and coffee products I want to share all my learnings with you here on this website. I hope you find my articles useful and entertaining to read.

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