Java junkie Krista Marks is used to the looks of dismay she gets from guests when she offers them a cup of coffee and then pulls out a stash of grayish-green unroasted coffee beans. "People think I'm nuts at first," she says. Then she roasts the beans in a popcorn popper. Says Marks: "Afterward they always admit that they've never had a better cup of coffee." Marks is one of a small but increasing number of coffee drinkers for whom fresh ground isn't fresh enough--so they roast the beans themselves.
No matter how carefully coffee beans are stored, once they are roasted, the aromatic oils and flavors begin dimming within a few days; about 40% of the flavor is lost within two weeks. In an airtight container, green coffee beans stay fresh for more than a year. They also cost about half the price of commercially roasted beans, allowing consumers to stockpile a collection of higher-quality beans. Suzanne Lattanzio, a Hampshire, Ill., real estate agent, has been home-roasting for two years and says she "hates" buying roasted beans. "I like the romance of the different names and being able to pick out something from some far-off port."
Green beans can be hard to find in your local grocery store but can be bought from websites devoted to java like coffeeroasting.com sweetmarias.com and coffeegeek.com These sites also offer tips and a place to share roasting recipes and trade reviews of machines and beans.
Equipment comes in many variations. You can use a pan or a popcorn popper (free, if you already own one) or get a specialty roaster ($100 to $200). The higher-tech options allow for finer control and produce less smoke. But the lower-tech choices create a sort of DIY pride among enthusiasts and can be tweaked for more control. Home-roasting guru Jim Schulman, who conducts his own coffee-tasting sessions in Chicago, uses a '70s-era popcorn popper that he has modified extensively with a blueprint he got online from some fellow roasters who happened to be engineers.
If you aren't ready to roast at home, you can still get fresher coffee. Buy your beans in small quantities from specialty shops that roast daily. --With reporting by Noah Isackson/Chicago