So, You Want to Roast? : Part 2
What do you get when you lock Juan Valdez and Orville Redenbacher in a cell together? Roasted coffee, of course! And if you didn’t get that, maybe you’ve never heard about roasting coffee in a hot air popcorn popper. If not, this installment is for you; that is, if you haven’t already left the site due to my bad humor.
As I began my foray into the world of roasting, the thought of roasting on the cheap was appealing to me. I didn’t know whether I would enjoy roasting, or even like the taste of home-roasted coffee (as opposed to that done on a commercial roaster at the local coffee shop). For some reason, I thought that at-home meant less-than-tasteful (I was wrong, but we’ll get to that later). So, with the fear of not liking what I create, I didn’t want to pour a lot of money into the experiment.
I had come fresh off of reading two books to educate myself about all things coffee – books that I highly recommend, by-the-way (see below) – and I was ready to get started. I decided to try roasting in a hot air popper. We had an old one around home that we hadn’t used in years, so I felt ready to go. Just to be sure that I knew what I was doing (ahem…), I again dove deep into the Internet, soaking in web pages and how-to videos to equip me for the task at hand. There is such a wealth of knowledge out there that I won’t try to duplicate it here, other than to give you a few important tips to remember.
Tip #1 – Research. You’ve got the world at your fingertips and thousands upon thousands of people from which to learn. Don’t just take the word of the first site you visit. There are, of course, some people who don’t know what they’re talking about. So, check three or four sources to see what starts to make sense (and thank you for including us).
Once you’ve armed yourself with knowledge, it’s time to make your move. Do you already have a hot air popper? It seems that with the advent of microwave popcorn, many of our hot air machines got tucked away on a shelf somewhere and forgotten. Now may be the time to dig it out and blow the dust off.
If you don’t have a hot air popper already, no worries; you can pick up a brand-spankin’-new one for not a lot of beans (sorry). But, that leads me to…
Tip #2 – Once you use your popper for coffee roasting, you pretty-much ruin it for making popcorn. Also, if it’s a newer model, still under warranty… it won’t be after you repurpose it for coffee. Roasting coffee is definitely harder on a hot air machine than making popcorn. The lifespan of the popper will be shortened when used as a coffee roaster. But hey… you only paid $0-20 bucks for it, so it’s not that big a deal.
So, I tried out the old popper we already had and it was not a good option. It had the air vents on the bottom, a design that is not recommended for coffee roasting (something I picked up from my research), but I tried it anyway. It was a good learning experience, but did not work well at all. So, I went shopping for one that had the vents around the side near the bottom, angled in such a way that they caused the beans to swirl around when roasting. This is the desired design.
I must disclose that even though I did all the groundwork, purchasing a popper with the right wattage and the correct vent design, I still did not get good results. I practiced and practiced, varying the amount of beans (4 oz. is recommended) and the roast time, but my coffee always turned out smelling and tasting bad. As I researched the situation, I learned that my problem was “tipping.” Tipping is when the beans get burnt spots. This can be identified by darker spots on the beans and sometimes pieces that are blown off. The causes of tipping in a hot air popper are: temperature too high, not enough air circulation, or too many beans in the bin. Even though I had adjusted the variables, I never did get good results. But don’t let my bad experience sway you from trying this method of roasting. There are many people who get good results from the hot air popper method. You will find this to be true when you do your research. But as for me, it was a fail.
Tip #3 – Hot air popcorn popper roasting is messy. Think about it. You’re blowing air up through the beans and the act of roasting creates chaff, which is lighter than the beans. While roasting, you get a constant flow of chaff blowing up and out of the popper. You will also get a good amount of smoke and smell. So, my recommendation is to take it outside, if at all possible. I was always setting off our home smoke alarm when I tried roasting this way and had to get the sweeper out to collect all the chaff that had made its way off the counter to the floor.
I would really like for some successful hot air popper roasters to affirm for us that this can be done successfully. Like I said, I do not want to allow my experience to sway anyone from trying this for themselves. There are lots of people who roast this way. For instance, take a look at this video from our site host, Jason Coffee.
Here are some positives and negatives of roasting with a hot air popcorn popper:
- This method is inexpensive
- It’s quick (less than 10 minutes)
- It’s fairly easy
- It’s messy
- You can only roast small batches
- You will void the warranty on your machine (but I say; not a big deal)
- You will shorten the life of your machine
So, here we are at the end of Part 2 and I still haven’t told you about a successful roast. Hang in there… that’s coming in Part 3. And I am excited to get there!
Have you tried roasting in a hot air popper? If so, please leave a comment to tell us of your experience.
Davids, Kenneth. Home Coffee Roasting. Revised, Updated Edition. New York: St. Martin’s
Sinnott, Kevin. The Art and Craft of Coffee. Beverly: Quarry. 2010.
photo credit: Cudownie