Stovetop Popcorn Popper Coffee Roasting Instructions and Tips
A stove top popcorn popper is a throwback to an older way to make popcorn before the microwave and the hot air corn popper. It is a good way to roast coffee too, as this pan features and geared crank that keeps the coffee moving to prevent scorching. One big benefit is batch size: you can roast up to a pound of coffee in a batch, whereas air poppers are limited to 4-6 ounces.
There are various brands of these stove top popcorn poppers available. We used to offer the all-aluminum Whirley Pop but we prefer the one we currently sell, the VKP (aka Victorio) Stovetop Popper. It’s a durable build, and can even work with an induction burner, as well as traditional electric or gas stove tops. Since stove top roasting produces smoke, some like to buy a small semi-portable burner and take their roaster outside.
Features: Can produce any roast style, from City roasts to dark French roasts. Lighter roasts and even results are more difficult with this method. Air roasting produces even roasts with less effort but, if you like doing things the “olde tyme way”, you may enjoy this! Beans can be observed during the roast since half the Stove Popper lid is hinged and flips up. Since there is no fan or motor, it is very easy to hear the cracks with this method. This is a conduction method and produces a roast close to drum roasting, although the lack of airflow will produce a smokier flavor. Can roast 8 oz of coffee at a time; larger batches are possible but you will have more difficulty achieving good results. More effort required than a roasting appliance or even an air popper because you have to crank to agitate the beans. Luckily, if you don’t like this roast method, the stove-top poppers are great popcorn poppers!
Download our printable Stovetop Popcorn Popper Tip Sheet:
What You Need: StovePop by VKP Stainless Steel popper, gas stove (electric stove with larger burner OK, and electric Induction burner is great with the VKP but does NOT work with aluminum models such as Whirley Pop), thermometer (essential for this method), 1-2 metal colanders for cooling, and oven mitt.
Benefits of Stovetop Popper roasting:
- You can roast more in one batch than air roasters and some expensive drum roasters! 8 oz to 1 pound batches are possible. This means you can probably roast enough for a week in one sitting with 1 or 2 batches.
- You can get good roast results through the entire range, from City roasts to dark French roasts. Lighter roasts are a bit more difficult with this method, but all levels can be done well with a proper technique.
- If you like doing things the “olde tyme way”, you may enjoy this! There are no electronics to break. Completely Y1k compatible.
- It’s fairly quiet and with experience you should be able to hear the first crack and second crack easily.
- You can have total control over the length of the roast, getting more of a “drum roast” profile, which some people prefer for espresso.
- You can go nuts and modify/customize the process endlessly. People have added spit motors or electric screwdrivers to power the agitator, bolted the roaster to camp stoves so it doesn’t move around on them, installed thermometers of all sorts…
Problems with Stovetop Popper roasting:
- Stovetop roasting produces a lot of smoke, mainly because you are roasting more coffee in each batch. You must have a hood over your stove that actually goes to the outside, or roast outdoors on a camp stove … or maybe you really like smoke..
- This method requires some skill – you need to set the heat source so you don’t roast too fast and scorch coffee, or too slow and bake it.
- You need to be patient … to roast coffee well the process takes 8 to 15 minutes, and you need to stand there and slowly crank the roaster the whole time. Sometimes the popper doesn’t crank easily and you need to overcome that …
- … Stovetop poppers might require some adjustments and occasional repairs to keep working right. You are on your own, since you are using it for an unintended purpose you can’t expect a warranty to cover you. Poppers are for DIY people (do-it-yourself). You may need to fix gears, replace rivets with screws, modify the stirring paddle, etc.
- Some coffees don’t get along with stovetop roasters and tend to jam them up … namely the Yemeni coffees and other small-bean types. Peaberry coffees roast especially well because they “roll” in the popper.
Stovetop roasting takes some practice. There are more variables than other methods since you set the heat and provide the agitation. But the results can be outstanding and the 8 oz batch is nice. It sometimes seems like a 3-handed act: before you start, try a dry-run by adding green coffee without any heat, and agitate it. In the course of the roast, agitation gets easier as the coffee loses weight and expands.
- Turn on your stovetop exhaust fan, or open a kitchen window. Have all your supplies within reach.
- Measure out about 8-9 oz of coffee by weight, or about 12 oz by volume.
- Use a low flame / medium electric burner setting. NEVER use highest heat settings/flame – you’ll scorch the coffee! See the tip below about using a heat-diffusing cast iron pan if necessary. Heat until thermometer reads about 200. PLEASE NOTE: A thermometer is going to give an inacurrate reading when the inside of the popper is shiny and reflective, so use a LOWER heat until the popper is broken in and seasoned.
- Put your beans in the popper and start medium-paced, steady cranking. Thermometer will drop to around 350F. Don’t let it drop much below 300F, or get much above 400F until the end. These temps are starting points; you will ultimately personalize the process once you have done it a few times. And remember: you are measuring the air temperature in the popper, and the actual temperature on the bottom will be higher. DO NOT ROAST BY TEMPERATURE ALONE – watch the beans and popper to be sure the roast is moving neither too fast, nor too slow.
- Around 6 minutes you should hear the first crack and see smoke. Wait 1 minute and slightly reduce the heat (or lift the popper off the heat): not so much that the roast stalls, but enough so that the roast does not progress too quickly. Start checking the roast by flipping back the lid at about 30 second intervals or less. Second crack ought to occur anywhere from 9 to 12 minutes, depending on how you like to time the roast. TIP: If you can learn to roast by smell and sound only (and avoid opening the lid), you can reduce escaping roast smoke and any reduction in temperature.
- Pour the beans out of the popper into a colander when they are a tad lighter than the color you desire, since roasting continues a little into the cooling process .
- Agitate beans in metal colander or bowl with a big spoon until they are warm to your touch. You may need oven mitts for this. You may want to shuffle the beans between 2 pans/ colanders.
- You may want to walk outside to aid cooling.
- If beans have light colored chaff still attached to them, simply agitating them in the colander should remove it. If you blow lightly on the beans the chaff will fly off, but do this outside or over a sink to avoid sweeping the floor. Chaff has no flavor so don’t worry if a bit of chaff remains with the roasted coffee.
- Coffee should be stored out of direct light (and not in a fridge or freezer) in an airtight glass jar. With a fresh roast, wait 12 hours to seal the jar tightly; it needs to vent off C02.
Warm, fresh roasted beans are wonderful, but the coffee attains its peak 4 to 24 hours after roasting. If you store it as recommended, we’ll call it fresh for 1 week. When you open that jar in the morning, you will know what fresh coffee truly is.
- If the agitator jams while cranking, don’t force it. Work it free by cranking a bit the opposite direction. When the popper is cool, see if you can bend the agitating tines to hug the bottom of the pan a little closer.
- If the flame is too high, or you worry about burning up the pan, you can use a cast iron pan, or cast iron heat diffuser under the pan.
- Having trouble getting an even lighter roast? You need to slow down the initial warm-up period of roasting (from the time you put the coffee in until first crack).
- Clean the popper with scalding hot water every so often to reduce the coffee oils … it is not necessary to clean it after every roast. I clean mine after every 15-20 roasts.
- VKP Popper jamming once it is heated up? The agitator tip assembly is supposed to have 1/4” free play on the shaft. See the instructions that came with the VKP Popper. You received a small hex head wrench, so just loosen the tiny bolt and adjust the free play. VKP Agitator not turning? The same little bolt might have come loose from the shaft. Use that hex head wrench and tighten it!
Modifications and Refinements:
- We recommend Home Coffee Roasting by Ken Davids for more information. You can use the stovetop popper without a thermometer, but the thermometer gives you more information that can help you make roasts more consistent. Stove popping is great! It’s like cranking an old butter churn or a meat grinder.
- Resist the urge to peek all the time! Listen to the sounds and smell the steam/smoke. After you do this a few times, you’ll know what stage the roast is without looking, which lets a lot of heat escape and makes the kitchen smokier. Remember, first crack sounds like corn popping, while second crack sounds like the snap from an electric spark (or a “snap” in the sense of “snap, crackle pop”).
- When the roast is done, there may be a lot of smoke that makes it hard to judge the color. A good overhead light helps a lot. I keep the popper closed, walk outside with my metal colander, and then transfer the beans.
Here’s a helpful overview of the stovetop process written by Philip Scott-Smith, a home roaster on the island of Guam. It sounds like his initial temperatures are probably too high for the stainless poppers with the plexi window – unless you have modified the popper and replaced this with a pie plate:
“I believe I finally have the Whirley-Pop method worked out right. The most important thing to remember is that the W-P is a CONDUCTION roaster. Consequently, the beans always are at risk from scorching. Even if the thermometer is reading acceptable temps, it’s easy to get scorched results because simply cranking the agitator doesn’t get them far enough away from the hot skin of the roaster.
Here’s my new method, which has produced consistently superb coffee (possibly even better than my Hearthware roaster):
Once the temperature reaches 450*F, I lower the flame to the smallest available (I use a single-burner Coleman stove in my carport). When the temp has stabilized at 500*F, I add 9 oz. of green beans and swirl them for initial, even distribution (swirling as though they were marbles in a covered sauce pan). Then, I crank at a moderate speed until I see the temperature start to rise. At that point, I swirl the beans for about 30-40 seconds, keeping the pot’s bottom centered fairly closely over the flame (the swirling mimics some of the levitation we see in fluid bed roasters, and that’s how I got the idea).
The cycle continues: more cranking (faster now), then the next temperature rise, then more swirling, etc… . With each rise in temperature, I crank a little faster after swirling. I take my first look inside the chamber after the first crack. As the temp passes 375* and approaches 400*, I swirl continuously, take one last peek, and dump them in the colander. At that point, they usually are just right for me (Full City/Vienna). If still not dark enough, back they go for a few more seconds. If I’m after a lighter roast (e.g.: Harar), I check the beans more frequently after the first crack. Once I’m satisfied (beans slightly lighter than the desired final color), I shuttle them between two colanders until cool. And that’s it! Fast and furious at the end, but gosh! the coffee’s wonderful. – And there’s a 9 oz. payload for the effort!”
Here’s is yet more feedback from a customer on his stovetop popper method – from Bill Baddeley 5/27/05:
“I’ve been working with the steel version of the stovetop popcorn popper for the past several weeks, and I’ve gotten to the point of getting consistently good coffee from my roasting efforts. I found a few small glitches as I went along, mostly in the first roast.
The popper has metal gears on threaded rods. When the agitator began to stick, prior to the first crack, I cranked backwards. The gears began to unthread from the rods, so I went back to “forward only” cranking. I put blue locktite (thread sealer) on the threads and replaced the gears, and have had no trouble since. The blue formula allows you to take the gear off if you need to at some later date.
•Shortly after I’d narrowly avoided losing the gears by cranking backwards, the clip that retains the handle on the crank rod popped off and rolled away. So, now we’re cranking forward, and being careful not to slip the handle off the crank rod. And we’re mildly apprehensive. I used a 5/16″ O.D. c-clip to retain the handle, and it’s been fine.
•The polycarbonate window sagged when the heat got too high, but stayed put well enough to get me through the first batch. I replaced it with a pieoe of sheet aluminum and that, too, has been fine.
•The thermometer fit through a #8 (8-32) t-nut with the threads drilled out of it. The gasket compound works very well, but I didn’t use enough the first time, and the thermometer AND the t-nut wobbled around, giving me one more thing to try to keep lined up in that first attempt to roast coffee. I used a nut to secure the t-nut to the lid, and then the gasket compound, and it’s been fine since then.
Your advice on listening and smelling the roast as it goes is excellent. It’s much easier than trying to see the beans through the smoke. I had one batch that turned out to be a bit lighter than I wanted, so I poured the beans back into the pot, and roasted them a bit more. I had a couple of roasts that ran too hot and too fast: one so bad I couldn’t drink it. But once you get the hang of it, the roasting process is pretty straightforward. And the coffee is wonderful.”