Build an Excellent Coffee Roaster With a Satisfyingly Low Price Tag

There’s a lot of mysticism around coffee roasting, but in the end it couldn’t be simpler. Take a bunch of beans, heat them up evenly, and stop before they get burned. The rest is details.

And the same goes for coffee roasters. The most primitive roasting technique involves stirring the beans in a pan or wok to keep them from scorching on the bottom. This works great, but it doesn’t scale. Industrial drum roasters heat a rotating drum with ridges on the inside like a cement mixer to keep the beans in constant motion while they pass over a gas fire. Fluidized-bed roasters use a strong stream of heated air to whirl the beans around while roasting them evenly. But the bottom line is that a coffee roaster needs to agitate the beans over a controllable heat source so that they roast as evenly as possible.

My DIY coffee roaster gave up the ghost a few days ago and I immediately ordered the essential replacement part, a hot air popcorn popper, to avert a true crisis: no coffee! While I was rebuilding, I thought I’d take some pictures and share what I know about the subject. So if you’re interested in roasting coffee, making a popcorn popper into a roaster, or even just taking an inside look at a thoroughly value-engineered kitchen machine, read on!

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DIY Coffee Roaster uses Cordless Drills and a Camp Stove

We’re no stranger to coffee roasting hacks, but it’s been a while since we’ve seen a new DIY roaster design. Thankfully [Larry] has been hacking together a small-batch roaster with a bunch of off-the-shelf parts. He was originally trying to make a fully-automated roasting system, but after a bunch of failed prototypes, he settled on a simple roaster design that works great.

[Larry]’s roaster is designed for small batches of coffee (about 3oz). He has a small hopper with a motorized auger (cannibalized from a chocolate fountain) which drops coffee down into his roasting basket. The basket is mounted to a cordless screwdriver which rotates it to agitate the beans inside. A small camp stove provides the heat, which is placed right under the basket. The beans churn around in the roasting basket and heat up until they reach the desired roast level (typically between first and second crack).

Once the roasting is complete, another hand drill rotates the basket assembly to dump out the coffee. [Larry]’s build includes an assortment of knobs and switches which control the auger, basket speed, bean dumping, and even a “speedometer” gauge that shows how fast the basket is rotating. Want to build your own roaster? Check out the instructions for building [Larry]’s roaster or some other builds we’ve featured before.

Fabricating custom displays for a commercial coffee roaster


Roasting the perfect coffee bean is an art form. But even the most talented of roasters can use a little feedback on what’s going on with their equipment. [Ludzinc] recently helped out a friend of his by building this set of 7-segment displays to show what’s happening with this coffee roaster.

The yellow modules hiding underneath the display panel are responsible for setting the speed of the hot air blower and the rate at which the drum turns. They’re adjustable using some trimpots, but it sounds like the stock machine doesn’t give any type of speed feedback other than direct observation.

The solution was to patch into those speed controllers using the ADC of a PIC chip. They each output 0-10V, which [Ludzinc] measures via a voltage divider. After the speed is quantified the microcontroller outputs to one of the displays. Since there’s a different chip for each readout, the firmware can be custom tuned to suit the operator’s needs.

Keep this in mind if you’re still planning to build that coffee roaster out of a washing machine.

Computer controlled coffee roasting

I knew about this when it came out, but it never made it’s way to Hack-A-Day. We’ve mentioned a computer controlled roaster before, but this one is far and away the best I’ve seen. [Jeffrey Pawlan] has been selling individual units to the coffee industry (and extreme coffee geeks) – with good reason. He modified an already sweet Hottop coffee roaster (~$500 US) to be completely computer controlled. He wrote a complete software interface that accounts for room temperature to create complex, repeatable roast profiles. More than anyone, I’ve lamented the lack of details on the system. It’s a safe bet that he’s using more than a few thermocouples with a multi-line A/D converter. Anyone feel like writing some open source coffee roaster software? Modifying my current setup wouldn’t be that difficult.