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Roasting coffee with a popcorn popper
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Senior Member

Joined: 17 Oct 2009
Posts: 12
Location: Montreal, Canada
Expertise: I like coffee

Espresso: Rancilio Silvia
Grinder: KyM knee from OE
Posted Thu Dec 24, 2009, 12:35pm
Subject: Re: Roasting coffee with a popcorn popper

After roasting with a hot air popper for about a month and a half, here's my take:

Sub zero environmental temperatures are no barrier to hot-air popping outside... I've roasted out on the front porch during a blinding blizzard (sheltered from the snow) and in -20 degree Celsius (-4 deg F) weather.

I'd even say that the cold weather is a boon to hot-air popper roasters, since you can control the temperature of your roasting much more when using the "cardboard box" method.  Appropriately, my Rancilio Silvia box is exactly the right size to house the popper.  Close down a couple of the top flaps and the temps shoot up, open them out completely and they rise much more slowly or even stabilize.

I don't bother even attempting to collect the chaff, I just make sure that there's a net covering the intakes of the popper's base.  What I had lying around and seems to work well is a wad of extra fine steel wool.

The only mod I've done is the hole drilled in the butter tray for the thermometer.  It's melting downwards, but in any case it's only for ballpark measuring anyway... the only dial thermometer I could find locally only goes up to 400F.  First crack starts just about the 400 degree mark, and then it's usually about done once the dial is even with the "F" at the bottom of the dial face.  This gives me a medium dark roast.

The coffees I've tried are great, and sometimes produce so much crema that it doesn't pour from the porta filter spouts, it pretty well shoots out under pressure.  I'm not sure if that's a good thing... but it's impressive, nonetheless.

It took a little over half an hour last night to roast about 1/2 a pound (225g) roasted... I can see where upgrading to a much larger capacity would be seductive.  Shelling out $400 US for a Behmor isn't an option right now, and I can't see myself upgrading to anything less.  From everything I've read the fluid-bed roasters generally don't have much larger capacity than hot-air poppers or phenomenally better smoke handling abilities.

I'd like to extend my thanks to coffeegeek.com and home-barista.com for putting the idea in my head that this might be a feasible option for fresh roasted coffee.  I spend a few extra pennies on electricity and save $$$'s by not driving downtown on a weekly basis to buy coffee... a couple of kilos of green will keep me going for a long, long time.


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Senior Member

Joined: 6 May 2009
Posts: 116
Location: US
Expertise: I love coffee

Posted Wed Jan 13, 2010, 12:12am
Subject: Re: Roasting coffee with a popcorn popper

Thanks for the article! That was really a very good read! Even if it is an old article. :) Will definitely try this out!
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Senior Member

Joined: 28 Aug 2010
Posts: 1
Location: Wisconsin
Expertise: I love coffee

Posted Sat Aug 28, 2010, 7:15am
Subject: Re: Roasting coffee with a popcorn popper

Just roasted my first batch of beans ever and your instructions worked perfectly! Thank you so much, I feel like a real first-time pro. The fresh roasted beans tasteso intriguing so I can't wait to brew a cup. Looking forward to many new green bean discoveries.
Thanks again!
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Senior Member
Joined: 18 Dec 2008
Posts: 57
Location: Reno, Nevada
Expertise: Just starting

Grinder: Zass Havanna
Vac Pot: Cona Old no. 2
Roaster: Poppery II
Posted Wed Sep 22, 2010, 5:32pm
Subject: Re: Roasting coffee with a popcorn popper

There is one statement which seems strange in the original review: "Oh and chaff. It's going to get everywhere! :) ".

I have been roasting 2 years with a Poppery II. When I roast (indoors) not a single solitary peice of chaff will fly around the room, it all stays in the pan beneath the chute. Because that pan is half full of water. Chaff hits the water, grabbed and held by adhesion, and isn't going anywhere after that. No dedicated coffee roaster handles the chaff problem anywhere near as well.

For 100% effectiveness I use a really large pan, namely the kitchen sink! Afterwards just pull the drainplug, pick up the faucet sprayer nozzle and drive the chaffy mess down the disposal. This is exactly the method described by the "Sweet Marias" website owner in their section on how they first began roasting with a popper, by exhausting directly into the kitchen sink.

Safety: I have the popper velcroed onto a large board (1 foot by 3 foot), so there is zero danger of it falling into the sink: which is a deadly electrocution situation. Others may sacrifice some efficiency and just use a pan of water instead of the sink. Pan size being selected to that the popper is too big to fall inside it, and also the pan elevated so gravity prevents the popper falling in. That method probably will not grab 100% of the chaff, but there is no long board to store away. But it will certainly be neater than exausting into a dry pan or no pan.

I don't have problem with beans coming out, the fan is on a rheostat to slow it slightly.
I don't have a smoke problem: as someone wrote above, smoking starts half a minute after the 2nd crack. By using lighter roasts there is no smoke.

Indoors always, why go outside?

EDIT: The velcroe is the industrial strength stuff and it completely covers the popper bottom. It takes half of all the strength I have to pull the popper off the board. An earthquake couldn't tipple the popper into the sink.
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Senior Member
Joined: 24 Dec 2010
Posts: 22
Location: Northern VUHginya
Expertise: Just starting

Grinder: Santa's bringing a burr...
Drip: Clever Coffee Dripper
Roaster: West bend Poppery II
Posted Tue Feb 1, 2011, 9:25pm
Subject: Mods you might like to make to your Popper


click here

Web page devoted to discussion of mods that can easily be made to the popcorn popper roaster.
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Senior Member

Joined: 30 Mar 2013
Posts: 20
Location: South Florida
Expertise: I love coffee

Posted Sat Mar 30, 2013, 9:54am
Subject: Re: Roasting coffee with a popcorn popper

A couple of thoughts...

First, this should be a very inexpensive purchase.   A used popper is great (as long as it use slots on the side to direct the air), and is over 1000 watts.   You can find these at garage sale, and/or thrift stores for $3 or $4.

Second, forget the thermometor, especially as mounted through the cup as shown.   The beans need to rotate and keep moving, and the thermometer as shown is counterproductive, inhibits rotation,  can cause burning of non-moving beans.

Third, as far as the overheating problem goes (a thermostat will stop the roast), this is easily corrected as there are two things you need to do at some point:

  1.  A couple of screws and you can easy take the popper apart.   Hint:  the switch will pry out with a screwdriver, the cord clamp can be squeezed with a pliers and pullled out.    Easier done than described.   Now you can pull out the assembly and remove the cup - use a flat bladed screwdriver from the outside of the cup to pry the slots just a bit more open - doesn't have to be much, this will allow better air flow into the cup.  

  2.  Second you will find a thermostat - mine was a little "puck" strapped to the side of the cup - simply remove the strap, clip the wires (and reattach with a wire nut), push the wires down so they won't touch the hot cup when it's running.   The other type of thermostat looks like a strip of metal with a contact inside.   In either case the thermostat has two wires connected to it - just remove, clip and reattach them to remove the thermostat from the circuit.

Caveat:  you must, must, must disable the thermostat in all poppers.

Now you have good airflow and no thermostat to stop the roast - perfect!    BTW, you really don't need the cover unless you are roasting inside - the cheepo plastic cover will - I repeat - will deform from the heat.   You don't need a cover - just roast outside with an extension cord - no worries.

Last piece of advice:  lots of the videos tell you to add coffee until it barely rotates.   This is not bad advice, although I have much better results by loading until the rotation just stops.   This will limit you to maybe 1/3 cup, but the amount doesn't matter, loading the popper correctly does.   Start by loading this way and do say five roasts out to a well-established 2nd crack, and note your times.   Don't worry at all about the results, you're just learning to hear first and second crack and seeing how your popper runs.    If you are getting 1C at about 3 to 4 minutes and 2C at around 7 to 9 minutes, you're golden.    

If your times are much faster, say 2C at 4 or 5 minutes, your initial load needs to be a bit smaller, for more initial rotation.   Most noobs tend to overload.    If on the other hand you have trouble getting to 2nd crack dark roasts, your initial load is too small - OR - you didn't disarm the thermo.   If the latter, do it already.

Plan on at least 5 or 10 test roasts to 2c until you get your numbers dialed in for your popper.   Once you have, you can now proceed to roast your head off, have fun, and get terrific and predictable roasts to your level of choice:

City:  1C is over (don't worry about isolated late pops)
C+:   go another minute or so
Full City:  just before 2C, beans glowing as oils emerge.  
FC+:  2C is active (like rolling a crinkly cellophane wrapper in your hand).

Now I know, I know - how do you know when 2C is about to start?   Experience, but until then if you dump the roast when you hear the first couple isolated 2nd's, that's just fine.

Last and most important:

Please, please, please don't waste your money on the Popperys/Pumpers.   Even used they now go for $50 - an outrage - because way too many noobs have imbibed the Koolaid and bought into the ego-hype about these very well made poppers.    Yes, they are well made but so what?   You can buy fifteen cheepies like my $3 no-name all day long at garage sales and recycle shops for the same price as one used P1.    And guess what?  My cheepie has done at least 150 roasts and is still roasting.  

Furthermore and especially for noobs, the cheapies will roast better.   Yes, better and why?   The "name" roasters are powerful, up to 1400 watts and have a real tendency to roast too hot, too fast.    They require the hand of very experienced roasters who know how to compensate for this.   You don't.    In truth, they only make sense for those who want to modify and control heat and fan separately for advanced roasting profiles.   Mods are expensive.   In general all air poppers roast a bit too fast, and the unmodded ego-poppers are much worse.    You don't learn to ride on a bucking bronco, now do you?  Of course not.

Your best choice:   a lower wattage cheepie which will roast slower and better than an unmodified ego-machine, and much more predictably for the beginner.    For example Sweet Maria's recommends the Air Crazy - this is a nice lower wattage (1040 watt) popper that for most poppers will do a better job, with preferred longer roasts and most important for you - easy to learn and manage.    It's the Honda Civic of roasters.

Bottom Line:

  1.  Start with any used side-slotted popper you can find.   Don't pay more than $5, or get it free.  

  2.  Be SURE to learn to load it properly (above), and do say 10 roasts to full, active 2nd crack and record your times.  Modify load as necessary to get roughly decent times (3/4, 7/9).

  3.  Assuming you now understand 1C pops and and 2C light crinkles now you can have fun.   Buy 5 pounds of Columbian and have at it.   Go to all the first four levels, and then go farther to even darker, oilier roasts.   See how they taste.   Stick with this one bean until you really "get" it and you are completely consistent in reaching your targets.  

  4.  After -and only after you've got it down, start buying sampler packs.   Not only will you learn how different beans taste, you'll learn that each of them roasts differently, and you'll now learn how to use your new skills to adjust your loads for each one.     Get the sample packs of 1 pound of each bean, and roast at least 20 to 25 lbs of different beans.    At a point you will "get" how to now adjust your roasts.

  5.  If you get this far - and you will - you will now have the skills, knowledge and ability to go nuts (pun intended)!   Now mods - of your cheepie first - can be considered and if this really pays off, then - and only then - consider the ego-poppers.

My guess:  you'll be so happy with your basic - and fine roasting cheepie - that you'll be like a pig in the grounds.  You won't want or need to change.   Trust me.   I finally found a free (!) Pumper, tried it a couple times and promptly went back to my cheepie which continues to produce terrific roasts for me...
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Senior Member

Joined: 27 Apr 2013
Posts: 1
Location: oregon
Expertise: I love coffee

Posted Sat Apr 27, 2013, 9:03pm
Subject: Re: Roasting coffee with a popcorn popper

I can't wait to try out home roasting. I have seen a few different videos about this method, and I am extremely intrigued. The ability to roast my own coffee with an air popper would be a lot of fun. I know that some people who did home roasting had issues with the heat generated. Is there an easy way to avoid these issues? Obviously, the thermostat would help, but I am curious about any other methods.
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Senior Member

Joined: 31 Aug 2012
Posts: 22
Location: Basingstoke, UK
Expertise: Professional

Posted Wed Jul 31, 2013, 7:33am
Subject: Re: Roasting coffee with a popcorn popper

What an absolutely brilliant idea! I just need to invest in a popcorn popper now...
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