Let's face it, there's nothing like a cup of fresh roasted coffee. The perfect green coffee beans are easy to find, but many people think they have to spend a lot of money on a coffee roaster.
After all, the basic and popular FreshRoast SR540 costs more than some coffee machines.
A countertop hot-air popcorn popper might be in your cupboard already, and if not, costs quite a bit less and can make popcorn too! For the money, the popper's the choice, especially if you aren't sure how serious you are about roasting your own coffee.
Let's take a closer look at why this works, and how to roast coffee in a popcorn popper.
Learning to roast coffee
Learning to roast coffee = experimentation. To learn how coffee goes through its stages of cracking and color changes, home-roasters have to try various heat settings, methods, and types of green (nation of origin) to find what works best for them. Learning some of these using an inexpensive countertop popcorn popper makes a lot of sense.
Please remember, however, that using a popcorn popper for anything other than its intended use absolves the manufacturer of any responsibility for what happens. Legally, using a popcorn popper for roasting coffee creates absolutely no liability for the popper's maker. ROAST COFFEE BEANS IN A POPPER AT YOUR OWN RISK. That said, it's a lot of fun.
How to Roast Green Coffee Beans in a Popper
A popcorn popper like the West Bend 82702GB Air Crazy On Demand Hot Air Popcorn Popper Featuring Single Serve or Family Size Portion Control, 4-Quart, Black will easily roast a bit over 1/3 cup of green coffee. It uses hot air in a confined space to "pop" coffee beans instead of popcorn.
With temperatures near and sometimes exceeding 500 degrees Fahrenheit, a popcorn popper is probably the easiest way for those interested in roasting coffee to learn.
The setup is extremely simple. The popper should be placed on the porch or under a good stove exhaust hood, since roasting coffee makes a lot of smoke. There should be oven mitts, a chaff-collecting bowl, a metal colander, and a stirring spoon within easy reach. When the roasting beans reach the beginning of its second "crack" (a popping sound made by roasting coffee), the lid should be removed with the oven mitts on, and the coffee gets dumped into the colander.
As soon as the coffee enters the colander, it needs to be stirred fairly rapidly and consistently to help it cool. The stirring allows the cooler ambient air to circulate and speed cooling. The hot beans can also be dumped back and forth between metal pans or containers to achieve the same end. If the beans aren't cooled quickly, the roast continues too long, and the beans get charred.
Advantages to Roasting Coffee with a Popcorn Popper
Roasting with a popper is one of the best ways to be able to watch the process while it happens. Popcorn poppers use hot air to roast the coffee, so they "bounce" the beans around the chamber throughout the roast.
The factory "chimney" that comes with the popper will suffice for most people, but an alternative is to buy or find the glass tube that usually tops an oil lamp for replacement. The advantage of the replacement top is simple – it makes it easier to see the roast clearly since the factory chimney is colored plastic.
Both the factory chimney and the replacement allow the chaff from the roast to disperse easily. The hot air from the popper blows it right out the top. If using the factory chimney, it actually directs the chaff dispersal into a bowl placed under the opening.
Whether using the clear glass top or the factory opaque plastic, it's still easy to check the roast. Wearing a glove, it's easy to periodically lift the lid to see how far the roast has gone. Many of the popcorn poppers were originally made with a swivel chamber (for dumping butter) in the lid. This swivel can be used to peek at the coffee beans, too.
Popcorn Poppers Recommended for Roasting Coffee
Many popcorn poppers work well for roasting coffee. The most frequently used are the are air poppers. Here are some of our favorites:
The key is the way the chamber is made, and if it's the wrong kind, chaff and oils drip into the motor and eventually burn it out. If the air vents are on the side, and there's no "screen" on the bottom of the chamber, the popper will likely work.
There are many other ways to roast green coffee beans, but this is definitely one of the cheapest and easiest. It provides an affordable way to try a new hobby, and the product competes with roasters 10 and 20x the price. It provides a uniform roast and often turns roast-moonlighters into life-long friends.