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I just roasted beans at home for the first time and have a question about the expected timing between cracks. I roasted 1 cup of beans in a Crate and Barrel stovetop popcorn popper on the side burner of my outdoor grill with the heat on high.

From what I had researched ahead of time, I was expecting to hear the series of first cracks, then pause of a couple of minutes, then faint cracks. Instead though, the first cracks started around the three minute mark and continued for the next four minutes. I can't tell if the second cracks ever started, since the sound never stopped from the first round.

The color and texture of the roasted beans is close to other store-bought beans, but they smell burnt. I kept thinking I should take them off the heat but thought it might be too early and I hate weak coffee.

Should there be a space of time in between cracks? Does this sound like I had the heat up too high? I was stirring constantly, about one turn every 2-3 seconds.

  • Three minutes is pretty fast for first crack. I usually try for 15 minutes total time for full city+. As this rate there is several minutes between first and second cracks. As mentioned, try reducing the heat. One sign of too fast a roast is the beans will tipped (I.e., darker at the ends). – Curt Sep 6 '16 at 19:29
  • When I use my hot air popcorn popper, the second crack starts pretty quickly after first crack dies down. First crack is a definite, louder, less frequent crack, second crack is almost more of a crinkling sound, en masse as you get into second crack. Three minutes does sound pretty fast for first crack. – PoloHoleSet Sep 7 '16 at 18:03
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Distinguishing between end of first crack and the start of second crack can be very tricky. A lot has to do with the variety of beans being roasted and your heat application.

What I think happened to you was that you lost control of your heat. At first crack your beans become exothermic (give off heat) and you didn't reduce your heat. What happened then is that you had too much heat at raced through the "development" time in your roast profile. To correct this you should reduce your heat at the start of first crack and develop the flavor by how much/long you let the beans go for before taking them off the heat. This is a critical time for your roast because your are developing the flavor in your roast by time and roast level. How you apply heat changes from variety to variety and darkness. Take the time to read up on roasting theory.

Here is a good basic guide: A basic roast profile guide for home coffee roasters.

Good luck

  • Thanks very much, the tutorials I had been reading didn't mention turning the heat down. Does three minutes sound too early for the first crack? I tried the coffee this morning and it doesn't taste burnt, it tastes very thin. – Bren Sep 4 '16 at 15:53
  • The "thin" flavor more than likely comes from your lack of development time after first crack. I have never tried home roasting. I am commercial roaster but 3 min sound very fast. That can lead to some roasting "faults" that can lead you down a bad road. I would try and ease off the heat at the start and then again at first crack. Take detailed notes of what you are doing and when you get something you like keep doing it. – roasterbob Sep 4 '16 at 20:23
  • Great info! Just got a personal roaster and will be roasting my own coffee next week! This has been a great source of info! – brendo234 Oct 14 '16 at 16:50
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I am a home roaster and I've ruined my fair share of coffee beans learning just how to use my own roaster. I use a hot air roaster, the Fresh Roast SR500 and I've done many hours of internet research to try and get a basic understanding of home roasting.

The first basic principle of roasting is that you want the temperature of the beans to be constantly rising. If the beans ever cool during the roast cycle, you've most likely ruined them. It doesn't sound like this is a problem for you.

A second basic principle is that the heat should rise at a rate no faster than the full mass of the beans can absorb. This means that the temperature needs to rise evenly in the whole bean, not just the outer part. If the temperature rises too fast, the outer bean will begin to burn while the inner bean hasn't yet fully dried, so the whole batch is again ruined. This sounds like what is happening to your roast.

Commercial roasters and home roasters using drum roasters are able to roast large batches but at a slower rate than my hot air roaster. This will give a particular flavor profile to a bean that my roaster won't be able to duplicate, primarily because my hot air roaster simply roasts too fast. Nevertheless, I've been able to get very good results with my roaster by learning how to slow it down as much as necessary while still keeping the temperature rising throughout the roast cycle.

I've read in more than one place on roasting forums that first crack (FC) should occur somewhere around 75-80% of the way through the entire roast cycle and should last for as short a time as possible, generally less than 2-3 minutes. My own current roast profile has FC starting around the 6 minute mark and I'm starting my cooling cycle at around 7:40 shortly after FC ends. Not exactly the 75-80% time frame, but those folks are generally using drum roasters in the 15-20 minute range for a complete cycle. They also recommend a roast time no shorter than 10 minutes, but again, that is for a drum roaster. My coffee tastes fantastic with my current profile.

If you get your bean temperatures to rise at a reasonable rate, there is a definite pause between first and second crack, and there is a distinct difference in the sounds of FC vs SC. Since you are using a popcorn popper on a stove burner, I wouldn't be able to give you any better guidance than this, but your 1 cup of beans is relatively small, so I don't think these times are unreasonable. I'm generally roasting 100 grams of raw beans per charge. Your one cup sounds like it's probably I bit more than 100 grams.

I would advise you to go online, search "home coffee roasting forums" and start reading. I would also strongly advise you to start logging each and every batch you do as to times, weight of beans, heat levels, the outside temperature, smells you detect, what color your socks are, etc. Just joking about the socks, of course, but the idea is that you'll begin to see some definite trends and you'll be able to home in on the right method for your setup much more quickly.

In short, definitely slow things down and aim for ending FC around 7:30 or later if possible. End of FC generally equates to a medium roast level, although you'll find lots more information about that online as well. Even with the benefit of the internet and lots of information on the forums, it still took me awhile to get my own setup to produce the results I was looking for so be patient. Good luck!

  • Great write-up! I'll be back to re-read this when my green beans come in! – brendo234 Oct 14 '16 at 16:51

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