There have been several well-written articles about pan roasting of coffee. It seems everyone who has tried this has his or her own little tricks that come only with experience. Here at The Dutchman, we have tried many different ways, only to find that it is somewhat difficult and requires a certain amount of physical exertion (rocking a heavy frying pan back and forth over a stove burner set to high heat) and close attention to keep from scorching the beans. Then we met an immigrant from Ethiopia named Tsege.

Tsege grew up in the capitol of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa. Being centrally located in the country, the coffees that this region is famous for (Harrar, Yirgacheffe, Ghimbi, Sidamo….. you get the idea) all find their way to the marketplace in this capital city. It is customary for the younger girls in an Ethiopian family to prepare coffee for social gatherings, which happen quite frequently (uh…like almost daily). During this “coffee ceremony”, as it is called, the coffee is roasted, ground, brewed, and served while neighbors, friends, and family gather around for conversation. Without going into great detail about the coffee ceremony itself, it should be noted that after the coffee has been served to guests, it is customary for at least one of them to offer the words, “Tu bun” (Pronounced similar to “Too Boon”), meaning “good coffee”. If this compliment is not offered, then the coffee-making girl must go back and start over. You can assume that after years of hand roasting and brewing coffee that Tsege is quite the expert. To our knowledge, she continues to roast coffee in a frying pan today, foregoing “automated” home roasting appliances.

For this pan-roasting demonstration, Tsege roasted about 8 ounces (by weight) of some fine Harrar Organic green coffee that we normally keep in stock. The resulting roast was brewed in an open-pot and tasted similar to what one would expect from correctly made coffee made in a Press-Pot (aka “French Press”).

Now, some of you coffee ultra-aficionados out there are going to probably jump out of your seats in disagreement as you read some of this. All we can say is, try out this method for yourselves. This is probably as easy and efficient as pan roasting can get while producing a great tasting cup.

Start By Washing The Beans

If you are using an electric stove, turn up the burner to nearly its highest setting. The element should be glowing red. Thoroughly rinse and wash about one-half pound of green coffee beans. Yes, wash them. This not only cleans the beans, but also moisturizes them prior to roasting them. Place a medium sized frying pan on the burner and let it get plenty hot. If you plan on making a habit of pan-roasting, consider using a dedicated pan for this as the high temperatures and coffee oils will discolor it over time. It is not necessary to use a heavy, iron skillet unless you want to develop your forearm muscles!

green beans

Beans have been washed and are very moist just before putting them on the burner

Steam rises from the beans

For safety reasons, it is a good idea to use a cooking mitt for the next part to avoid the heat coming off the burner. Place the beans in the hot pan and immediately begin stirring them around with a wooden spoon. Be careful, because the beans will immediately begin giving off steam which can cause burns if you’re too close to the action. Tilt the pan to about a 20-degree angle while constantly stirring the beans. It only takes a few seconds of inattention before the beans become scorched. After about a minute or so, the steam dissipates and is replaced by smoke from the beans (make sure you have your range-fan turned on high). The beans will probably appear to be roasting unevenly, don’t be concerned at this point. Just keep the spoon going. It should only take five or six minutes (no kidding!) for the beans to reach a full-city or French roast level. If it’s taking longer than that, the heat’s not turned up high enough.

Beans appear to be roasting unevenly. Don’t be concerned about this. Photo was taken about 3 minutes into the roast.

After about 5 minutes. The steam has completely burned off and has turned to smoke. Note the intensity of the glow of the burner – this is important.

Once the desired degree of roast is obtained, take them off the stove. Wet one of your hands with the equivalent of about one teaspoon of water and flick the water onto the smoldering beans. The idea here is to rapidly quench the beans to stop the roasting process (the beans are still roasting because of a “spontaneous combustion” effect, even though they’ve been removed from the original heat source). The trick is to add just enough water so that it completely vaporizes upon bean contact. Resist the temptation to overdose the amount of water used for this, as it takes about ½ as much as one would think. If too much water is added, it will settle in the pan and boil off. This is undesirable.

Pour out the beans onto a cool plate, spread them around, and gently mix them up with a spoon. Placing the plate of beans in front of a fan while turning them with a spoon works best. This should be done outdoors or in a manner so the chaff (skin from the bean that detaches during the roasting process) doesn’t blow all over the place!

Well that’s it. Plain and simple. You should give this a try if you’ve never pan-roasted before (good experience), or even if you are a veteran pan-roaster (new experience).

Viola!! Nothing better than fresh roasted coffee beans! Tsege roasted these beans to near perfection in less than seven minutes.