Roasting Coffee in an Electric Air Popcorn Popper is a Great Way To Start, and a Inexpensive Way to Continue Roasting at Home!
Features: We highly recommend this method because it’s easy and produces very even roasts from the City to the French stages. Used poppers can be found in many thrift stores. They roast quickly, but usually only 3-4 ounces at a time. Since it’s a fast and easy process, roasting two batches consecutively is not a big deal.
What You Might Need to Roast Coffee in Your Popper:
- -Hot air popper of the recommended type ideally.
- -big bowl or colander to catch the chaff
- -big spoon, long handle.
- -metal colander for cooling
- -oven mitt or heat glove
…and here’s another video showing the whole process:
Instructions for Air Popcorn Popper Coffee Roasting
- Location Matters: Set up the popper in a ventilated place near a kitchen exhaust fan or window, if possible. It’s nice to have strong overhead light so you can look down into the popper chamber to accurately judge the roast as it progresses. You can roast outside but be mindful of ambient temperature – hot/cold weather can affect roast time. Roasting in extreme hot or cold impacts the roast.
- Batch Size … How much can I roast? Put the a similar amount of coffee in the popper that the manufacturer recommends for popcorn. For the Nostalgia, 3 oz. is the good, or 1/3 to 1/2 cup. There is a trick for figuring out the batch size: with the popper running, add green coffee until the mass of beans just stops swirling. As the roast progresses and the beans lose mass, the beans will begin swirling. (Note that you can roast more in the Nostalgia but you should manually stir it for the first 2 minutes or so, with the lid off the top of course).
- Yellow-to-Brown Roast Phase: Put the plastic hood (including butter dish) in place, and a large bowl under the chute. We put our popper by the sink so it blows chaff right into the basin. Or run it outdoors, if the temperature is mild.
- First Crack: With the machine running, watch for steam coming from the machine, and soon after the “first crack” of the beans at about 3-5 minutes. First crack can sound like a real “pop” sound. Wait another minute, then start to monitor beans closely for desired roast color by lifting out butter dish and looking into popping chamber, or, better yet, by smelling the smoke and listening to the crackling.
- Each 10 Seconds Matters at the End of the Roast! Total time for a lighter roast should be around 4-6 minutes, full city roast around 5-6, and darker roasts closer to 6:30-7. Roasts develop quickly, so be vigilant! Never leave the popper while roasting! Believe it or not, in the final phase each 10 seconds of popper roasting will result in a different coffee flavor in brewing. When you stop the roast really matters.
- Second Crack: If you want a darker roast, you might hear “second crack”. While first crack sounds like the pop of popcorn, second crack is a snap … ever hear how Rice Crispies cereal sounds when you pour link over it? Like that! If you hear second crack while roasting, you are already going to have a dark roast taste, even if the coffee doesn’t look dark and oily. Advice: if you like that dark oily bean roast in the past, do NOT roast your coffee until it looks oily. If you do, it will taste way darker than you expect … it will taste like charcoal!
- Cooling Time: Unlike popcorn, coffee doesn’t toss itself out of your popper into a bowl! You want to pour the beans out of the popper when they are a tad lighter than the color you desire, since roasting continues until beans are cool.
- Cool it Quick: Agitate beans in a metal colander with a big spoon or toss between 2 colanders until they are warm to the touch. You may need oven mitts for this. You may want to walk out to a porch to aid cooling. I actually use a large cookie sheet and spread the coffee out. The surface area conducts the heat away from the coffee rapidly.
- Coffee Storage: Coffee should be stored out of direct light (and not in a fridge or freezer) in an airtight glass jar, but with a fresh roast, wait 12 hours to seal the jar tightly; it needs to vent off C02. You can read more about storing your roasted coffee here.
- Rest your coffee: Warm, fresh roasted beans are wonderful, but the coffee won’t be at their peak to drink until 12-24 hours after roasting. If you store your roasted coffee as we recommend, it should be fresh for one week. When you open that jar in the morning, you will know what fresh coffee truly is!
Trouble Shooting Air Popcorn Popper Coffee Roasting
Roasting in a popper is a DIY venture – so you will need to assess your own situation and make accommodations accordingly. Some of the most common issues:
How do I slow down my air popper roast? It’s too fast
Each popper can run differently and some can run very hot – especially at first. For a simple fix, use an extension cord between the popper and the wall outlet. This will reduce the voltage slightly and make the popper run slower. Consider roasting a larger batch size and manually stirring the coffee for the first 2 minutes to prevent scorching. Also, it’s on early in the roast to turn off the popper for 20 seconds or so while manually stirring the coffee. I often do this when the coffee is still green, after about 1 minute of the popper being on, and again when I see the first sign of yellow. If you are stirring while doing this it does not harm the roast quality.
My air popcorn popper roasts too slow, how do I speed up the roast?
You can have the opposite problem – the popper is too cool. Try the reverse of the suggestion above: if you are using an extension cord, try plugging into the outlet directly. Or try a different outlet. Sometimes running a major appliance – like an air conditioner or refrigerator – on the same circuit will also limit the voltage. Finally, ambient air temperature has a major impact on popper performance so, if you are roasting outdoors, try to move inside or at least to a sheltered area. Also, it might be counterintuitive, but a larger batch size of beans can trap more heat and roast better than a small batch, that allows a lot of the hot air to blow by. Try a larger batch, but stir it initially to ensure even roasting.
My popcorn popper roast stalls, and doesn’t get hot enough to roast coffee … what can I do?
Some poppers are underpowered – they have do not have sufficient wattage. If you are using an old/thrift store model, consider upgrading to a new unit. Also, you can cover the exit air flow, or limit it, to try to get the roast chamber temperature to rise.
Another issue is ambient temperature. If you are roasting out in the cold you might need to move it to a warmer location.
But you also might have a problem with the internal temperature cutoff, a safety switch usually mounted to the side of the roast chamber. If this is the case, you can often hear your roaster fan speed increase and decrease in long cycles, as your roast gets dark up to a point and then just swirls around without getting darker. The trick here is a pretty simple surgery: open the popper, find the temperature cutoff, take the 2 wires going into it, and connect them to each other, effectively bypassing the high temperature limit. Of course, this has some dangers, and you must watch your roaster like a hawk to make sure it doesn’t have thermal melt down! But “no walking away” and “no multi-tasking” are rules for modified and unmodified home roasting anyway!
My air popper gets hot but the coffee doesn’t roast, so what can I do?
This is a similar issue to the previous … but also consider this: Batch size makes a big difference: in a hot air popper, you need enough beans to block the hot air. If you have too small a batch, the hot air blows right past them and the beans will never roast. See the trick in the video above where, with the popper on, you add beans until they just stop swirling.
Modifications and Refinements to Roast Coffee Better in A Popcorn Popper
We have a series of tips about improving your air popper roasting experience and getting better control of the roast. Rabbit Hole Alert: People start out with adding a thermometer and next thing you know you’re buying an DC transformer or an Arduino controller and running your $5 air popper from the Goodwill off your $1500 laptop. Well, good on you!
Adding a thermometer to a Air Popcorn Popper can be easy and give you some benchmarks for better repeatability. Here’s a more recent article on temperature monitoring: https://library.sweetmarias.com/adding-a-thermometer-to-a-coffee-roaster-or-air-popper/
Check out our Video About Reading Your Air Roasts!
Using a timer when roasting – a vintage SM article on air roasting
Electric Air Popcorn Poppers for Coffee Roasting – models that are known to work well!
- West Bend Air Crazy (only the model with flat bottom and side vents)
- West Bend “The Poppery” AKA Poppery 1, 1500 Watts. The Best!
- West Bend Poppery II (1200 watt model) – a preferred model
- Popcorn Pumper, Especially the Oldest Model
- Kitchen Gourmet (from Walgreens)
- Toastmaster 6203 West Bend Air Crazy
- Toastess TCP-388 (also TCP-1)