Cold Weather Coffee Roasting

I just had to leave Southern California, didn’t I? For the past seven years I have been home roasting coffee from San Diego without any problems. Unless my attention drifted during the roast, it was almost a sure thing the coffee would turn out great. Then I moved to Seattle and I experienced something I almost forgot about: winter. Not Minnesota winter, but roasting just got 30-40 degrees F colder for me.

Roasting coffee can be done indoors or outdoors. With my current pad, roasting on the outdoor patio is the only option. My smoke detector is hyper sensitive and requires an acrobat to disable. As the months went by and the temperature dropped, my roast times were getting longer and longer. A long roast where the temperature doesn’t get high enough results in a baked tasteless coffee.

A Tale of Three Cold Roasters

Currently I use three different coffee roasters: I-Roast 2, Behmor 1600 and the Westbend Poppery. When the temperature dropped, I was still learning how to use my new Behmor, so I leaned towards using the I-Roast. The roasts got longer and longer and in the end I gave up trying to get a consistent roast that didn’t taste flat.

iRoast 2

After I gave up on the I-Roast, I considered using the Westbend Poppery. Several years ago Ryan Jacobs taught us how to trap heat into the Poppery using a box in his article Winter Home Roasting. Popcorn popper roasting requires a higher level of hands on attention. Add a flammable box and you really should not step away from the roast the entire time. The problem with this strategy was that I was cold. This was my first winter in eight years. I still needed time to acclimatize, but I needed fresh roasted coffee first.

Westbend Poppery
West Bend Poppery

This left me with the Behmor 1600. Fortunately, Chris Arnold had an excellent tutorial Behmor 1600 Coffee Roaster Tutorial to get me started. Things were going along great until the temperature dropped below 45F. Then the machine started throwing ERR 1 codes. When the machine throws an ERR 1 code it will not roast. After getting the ERR 1 codes multiple times, I gave up.

behmor 1600
Behmor 1600 Coffee Roaster

Surrendering to Seattle

During my roasting frustration I thought back to my early home roasting days. It was the summer of 1998 and I was living in St. Petersburg, Florida. The coffee there was dreadful. Ryan Jacobs came down and gave me a hands on roasting tutorial for my Poppery 2. That tutorial eventually became the Roast your Own Coffee article. Suddenly I had great coffee.

Fast forward to the present. Seattle is nothing like St. Petersburg, Florida. There are so many outstanding coffee roasters in the area. So I decided not to fight cold weather on my balcony and embrace roasted coffee. I stopped home roasting. Between Caffe Vita, Victrola, 49th Parallel and Zoka, I had lots of great coffee to keep me warm during the winter.

The Cold Weather Coffee Comeback

With no offense intended to the great roasters of Seattle, I found myself missing the one thing I couldn’t guarantee when buying roasted coffee: freshness. Now don’t get me wrong, all those roasters sell fresh coffee. But after a decade of home roasting, my definition of fresh is different than the consumer of roasted coffee. As a home roaster, I’m often throwing out beans that are 7-10 days old. If I buy beans from a local roaster that are 5-7 days old already, my freshness window is closing fast.

I needed to go back out to the balcony and tackle winter.

The I-Roast would be my first challenge. I tried setting the machine in a box to trap heat, but that didn’t work. The I-Roast was losing heat from the top, so I decided to block some of airflow using black electrical tape. Not a good idea. The tape got hot and started to melt. It was a mess to clean up. Don’t use electrical tape to block airflow on the I-Roast. Although the tape was bad idea, going after the airflow was the correct line of thinking. Digging through my cabinets I found a small saucepan lid. By leaning the saucepan lid over the top, it trapped the air and the roast time dropped.

It was working well until the winds picked up. Then it was back to under-roasted coffee. The I-Roast went back into storage.

That is when I decided to try the Behmor 1600 again. I needed to see if I could overcome the ERR 1 codes. The user guide’s description of ERR 1 says:

Indicates the thermostat is damaged. Call tech support for immediate service.

I knew the machine was fine. It was just like me – it didn’t like cold weather. That got me thinking. When I don’t like cold weather, I go inside to warm up. Perhaps the Behmor just needed to sit inside the toasty warm house for an hour? I decided to let it warm up inside and then take it back outside and the ERR 1 code might go away.

That worked. Once back outside the electronics in the Behmor were warm enough to start the roast. The only additional thing I needed to do was increase the roast time a few minutes to compensate for the cold weather.

Happiness is a Warm Roaster

If you find yourself roasting in 35-45F temperatures with the Behmor 1600, take the roaster inside an hour before you need to roast. Just before you take it back outside, plug it in and try to start an empty roast. It will either start or throw an ERR 1. If it works, hit the cool button, wait a few seconds, power it off and then take it outside. You are ready to roast. If the ERR 1 still appears, wait another hour and try again. If it continues to throw ERR 1, you may actually have to call tech support.

UPDATE: The most recent manual for the Behmor 1600 states storing the roaster in a sub 45F environment can cause the ERR 1 code.

Michael Allen Smith

Michael Allen Smith fell in love with coffee while attending college. Shortly after graduating college, he found himself in the Tampa Bay area far away from the good coffee he had at The Ohio State University. That is when he starting home roasting coffee. Less than a year later in April 1999, he launched the coffee website has been going strong ever since with hundreds of articles and tutorials submitted by over one hundred contributors.

In 2007, Michael moved to America's coffee capitol Seattle, Washington. He has visited close to three hundred different coffee places in Seattle, Portland,Vancouver and San Francisco and met many of the top roasters and baristas in the country. Since 2009, Michael has been the Organizer of the Coffee Club of Seattle, which is a Meetup group of over 800 coffee enthusiasts. Besides the social aspect of the group, the Coffee Club of Seattle partners with local coffee professionals for educational events such as coffee cuppings, brewing demonstrations and roasting tours.

Unrelated to coffee, Michael has a personal blog at which covers several topics including fitness, cooking and economics.