No matter how precious you are about your coffee brewing methods, the truth is the finished cup will only be as tasty as the beans you started with. And when you consider that beans are at their most flavorful only within a week of their roasting, odds are whatever you're using has been sitting on the coffee shop or grocery store shelves for weeks—or even months—past its prime.
Why drink that crap? Take back the power and start roasting fresh beans yourself. Trust us, it's a lot easier than you'd think.
Step 1. Buy unroasted green beans
Pro tip: Buy two pounds raw to yield one pound roasted
You'll first need to pick up a few pounds of raw coffee beans, which look like tinier greener versions of their fully roasted selves (don't try to taste one, they're hard as a rock and you'll crack a tooth). If you know of a local coffee place that roasts its own beans you may have luck scoring some there; if not, there are a wide range of solid online options.
Keep in mind when ordering that while the beans will increase in size as they're roasted, they'll also lose about half their weight, so if you want to end up with a pound of roasted beans buy two pounds of raw. Every raw bean will give you its own subtle flavor characteristics as well, so do some research to make sure you're picking something you'll like.
Step 2. Round up the equipment
Pro tip: Use a popcorn popper or iron skillet to save money
Most commercial coffee companies use enormous industrial roasters to turn out tons and tons of the good stuff, but you don't need to go out and buy any remotely expensive equipment to turn out small batches at home. If you don't feel like shelling out the $150 for a countertop roaster, you can mimic one almost exactly with a popcorn popper like the one above. It's a perfect tool since the objective is to heat up the beans in a confined area to temps in excess of 450 degrees—exactly what they're designed to do to corn kernels. If you don't have a popper laying around you could also use a cast iron skillet, a whirley-pop, or even a metal mixing bowl and a heat gun.
You'll also want to set aside a couple of metal bowls, a pair of gloves or oven mitts, and a wooden spoon long enough to stir the beans while in the popper.
Step 3. Start roasting
Pro tip: Listen for the "first crack" of the beans
The other great benefit to roasting your own beans (apart from the freshness, duh) is that you have full control over the boldness of the flavor and level of caffeine.
Once you've dumped the raw beans in your heating element, crank the heat and stir. As you watch, they'll slowly begin to change color from green to yellow, and eventually to light brown, which is when you should perk up your ears to hear them crack, a sound vaguely similar to popcorn popping. This is what the pros call the "first crack," and it signals when you begin to see chaff (a.k.a. the husk of the raw bean) appear in the hopper. If you're using the popcorn popper, the chaff should rise up and out the spout on its own, but if you're using a different heating method you can simply blow it off the top.
Step 4. Pull them out once they're dark enough
Pro tip: The lighter the roast, the more caffeine in your cup
If you like your coffee incredibly light (i.e., a city roast), you'll want to quit the roasting process around this point. Like it darker? Hang on a few minutes until you reach a Viennese or French roast. Just be careful not to wait until it's so black that it's essentially charcoal; it will taste terrible and you risk starting a raging inferno in the machine.
Step 5. Cool beans
Pro tip: Use a baking sheet or strainer
Once you're happy with the roasting level, it's time to remove the beans and let them cool for a few hours. It's up to you how to do it, whether you lay them out on a cookie sheet, swoosh 'em between two metal strainers, or even jury-rig a metal grate atop a box fan. They'll be crazy hot, so be careful not to burn your face off.
Step 6. Let them breathe, then start the brew
Pro tip: Brew within 5 days for ultimate freshness
Once it's nice and cool, transfer the batch to an airtight container. But don't seal the lid completely for a day or two, since it may explode as the beans slowly off-gas carbon dioxide. You'll want to wait about as long to grind and brew them as well, and use them within the five subsequent days for ultimate freshness, and fully embrace your next-level coffee snob-dom.
Joe McGauley is a senior editor at Supercompressor with a crippling three-cup-a-day coffee habit.