Roasting coffee transforms the chemical and physical properties of green coffee beans into roasted coffee products. The roasting process is what produces the characteristic flavor of coffee by causing the green coffee beans to expand and to change in color, taste, smell, and density. Unroasted beans contain similar acids, protein, and caffeine as those that have been roasted, but lack the taste. Heat must be applied for the Maillard and other chemical reactions to occur.
As green coffee is more stable than roasted, the roasting process tends to take place close to where it will be consumed. This reduces the time that roasted coffee spends in distribution, giving the consumer a longer shelf life. The vast majority of coffee is roasted commercially on a large scale, but some coffee drinkers roast coffee at home in order to have more control over the freshness and flavor profile of the beans.
The coffee roasting process follows coffee processing and precedes coffee brewing. It consists essentially of sorting, roasting, cooling, and packaging but can also include grinding in larger scale roasting houses. In larger operations, bags of green coffee beans are hand or machine-opened, dumped into a hopper, and screened to remove debris.
Some coffee drinkers roast coffee at home in order to have more control over the freshness and flavor profile of the beans.
The green beans are then weighed and transferred by belt or pneumatic conveyor to storage hoppers. From the storage hoppers, the green beans are conveyed to the roaster. Initially, the process is endothermic (absorbing heat), but at around 175 °C (347 °F) it becomes exothermic (giving off heat). For the roaster, this means that the beans are heating themselves and an adjustment of the roaster’s heat source might be required. At the end of the roasting cycle, the roasted beans are dumped from the roasting chamber and cooled with forced air.
The most common roasting machines are of two basic types: drum and hot-air, although there are others including packed bed, tangential and centrifugal roasters. Roasters can operate in either batch or continuous modes. Home roasters are available but less common, and tend to be expensive and time consuming.
Drum machines consist of horizontal rotating drums that tumble the green coffee beans in a heated environment. The heat source can be supplied by natural gas, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), electricity, or even wood. The most common employ indirectly heated drums where the heat source is under the drum. Direct-fired roasters are roasters in which a flame contacts the beans inside the drum; very few of these machines are still in operation.