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How Do You Roast Coffee in An Air Popper?

coffee roasting air popper

Have you ever wondered if you could roast coffee in an air popcorn popper? There are a lot of videos of people doing it but is it really a good way? I have used this method with great results for roasting my coffee!

How do you roast coffee in an air popper?  The process is very similar to roasting popcorn.  Add your desired coffee beans to the popper, begin your roast then monitor the roast process as it goes for first and second crack as well as desired roast.  Careful monitoring of the process is critical to achieve the perfect roast and eliminate over roasting or burning the beans to charcoal!

I have done many successful roasts in my $20 air popper without any issues.  The biggest factor to success is careful monitoring of the roast. Too long or too short will result in bad coffee and no one wants that!

What air poppers can I use?

 The first question you probably have is what air popper should I use.  If you have read the online resources or seen this on Youtube a lot of people say you need to buy an older air popper because they have higher wattage.  I have successfully roasted many batches in my 1250 W $20 air popper with no ill effect. So why do people say you need higher wattage? Probably they are roasting larger quantities of coffee and that would definitely help with that aspect.  

I roasted about a 1/2 cup (70 grams or so) of green beans in mine successfully with ease and it only took about 10 minutes start to finish for a medium roast. A half cup may be a lot or a little depending on your drinking habits.  This lasted me a few days of casual drinking. On a really heavy coffee day that could go by in an afternoon. But the goal isn’t to be a commercial roaster just do interesting things.

Is it dangerous to use an air popper to roast coffee?

 Now onto the legal requirements.  If you do try this you probably will cause a fire and burn your house down and have to explain to your spouse why you listened to some guy on the internet doing things with a device not meant to do them.  That said be smart with what you are doing.

So is it dangerous to use an air popper? Some resources I have found indicate you could cause a fire using an air popper to roast coffee.  It’s important to note there are two kinds of air poppers available generally. One has a screen at the bottom to allow the air to blow into the popping chamber.  The other has slots and on the sides to blow the air into the chamber. Neither will endorse use for coffee roasting by the way 😉

Some feel it can be dangerous to use the type with the screen on the bottom due to the chaff from the green beans dropping through the screen and contacting the heating element.  I would agree this could cause a fire however since the air is forcibly being blown through the screen I doubt this could really happen (Don’t say I didn’t warn you thought).

Still it’s better to be cautious then not.  Because of the smoke generated while roasting coffee not matter what design air popper you have I would recommend doing this outside.  That way even if you have a fire it will be outside and a lot easier to contain. Be smart and plug this into a GFI outlet to eliminate any hazards of electrocution from things getting wet like the neighbors poorly aimed sprinkler system.  Again be careful when you do things that involve non standard uses of devices especially electric ones. I am warning you, you could burn down your house and likely electrocute yourself if you do this wrong.

How long do I roast my coffee?

 Roasting time will vary on several parameters mostly desired roast level i.e. medium or dark, type of beans, overall freshness of the beans, wattage of the air popper, fan speed of the air popper or mass of beans added etc.  

As this is a backyard roaster there is not any way to data log the roast event.  Key things to look and listen for are going to be bean color, listening for first crack and second crack, as well as general smokiness.  I am going to attempt to add a turkey fryer thermostat and keep track of the temperature every thirty seconds and see if I can develop reasonably repeatable roast process (stay tuned).

Overall I prefer darker roasts so I aim for about 7-10 minutes to get a medium to dark roast.  I am currently using Sumatran beans as well. Any beans will work its just a matter of dialing in the roast process to your liking.

Can I control temperature and speed of an air popper?

Unfortunately no, there are no air poppers on the market currently designed to allow for air speed or temperature control.  As popcorn pops pretty much at the same temperature there is no need for this feature on an air popper.

Some more tech oriented people have modified air poppers to control these to get better roasts both mechanically with dials and electronically with a small controller.   This is definitely an advanced skill and one not for the faint of heart. I intend to modify my air popper in this way eventually but after I dial in a light, medium and dark roast profile with it as it.

The next biggest reason to control air and temperature is for cooling uses.  As you cant turn off the heat in an air popper this is really for discussion only.  BUt in theory turning off the heat would allow you to cool the beans directly in the roasting chamber versus pouring them out into another apparatus.  THis would be a nice feature but not available on any air popper I am aware of.

What roast profiles can I create in my air popper?

Any you want really!  I would caution about lighter roasts as I almost killed my coffee grinder with a severely under roasted batch of beans.  When under roasted they are much harder to grind and don’t fracture the way they should.

If you really desire light roast then (or any roast really) I would weigh the beans and target for a percent loss.  As the beans roast they will give off water and lose weight. I am still experimenting and will try to create a quick guide soon!

How do I cool my beans quickly?

Cooling is essential to avoid over roasting your careful timed roast.  Just like grandma takes her cookies out of the oven slightly underdone so they can finish cooking on the pan. Coffee beans can over roast if you leave them in heat too long, especially like a hot air popper chamber.

For me I use a simple colander that I put in the freezer a few hours ahead of time to cool it down.  I haven’t experimented too much to see how much of a difference it makes but I know it helps cool more quickly.

Another method would be to have some forced air to cool the beans.  I wouldn’t recommend using air duster as that can have chemicals in it designed to bitter the taste to avoid abuse.  I don’t know if this would ruin your beans but I wouldn’t chance it.

Other methods to roasting?

 Ok maybe you decided after reading this using a popcorn air popper isn’t right for you.  No big deal as there are many other methods that you can use. From simple stovetop to top dollar micro sampling roasters I have you covered!

Stovetop method:

This is the most basic so I won’t  cover this in great detail. Basically you fry up some fresh roasted beans in a pan.  Just like how mama used to make your griddle cakes on Sunday morning. Two quick tips with this method.  First do it outside on a grill. There will be smoke, lots of smoke. Second, stirr like your life depends on it!  If you think your stirred enough stirr some more. This will allow you to not burn your beans and get the most even roast possible.  One more bonus tip, use cast iron as it seems to hold heat more evenly then thin stainless pans. I did it in a stainless pan before I had my cast iron pan and it led to poor results.  Overall this method is fun to try a few times to see what you get but overall not a reliable source for fresh roasted coffee.

pan roasted coffee
A good try but not an even roast!

One special derivative I will mention of this method is the ceramic coffee roaster.  A really quick search reveals this method was an old method of roasting seeds, nuts and tea in Japan.  Basically it’s a ceramic pan for the stove with a hollow shaft to blow through. My only real complaint with this is the demo video shows you constantly need to shake it to avoid burning the beans.  This looks like a lot of work, it’s hard enough to stir for 10 minutes let alone shake a 2 pound pot with beans in it. Very artsy though so if you want to impress that lady that stayed the night bust out this bad boy, roast up fresh beans, brew them in your chemex and serve organic cage free quail eggs.  If that doesn’t have her hooked you’re probably just creepy!

Fresh Roast SR340 and SR500:

These roasters are the merging of entry level roasting and budget friendly technology.  At less than $200 for either roaster they are a good deal and a definite step up from the air popper.  Although at first glance they appear much more sophisticated generally they are really the same technology as an air popper.  One big negative to both these compared to an air popper is they don’t offer any smoke filtering so they recommend doing this under an exhaust fan or outside.  For the added cost I’m not sure how much more in terms of technology you are getting. I will say being made to roast coffee they are probably more precise on temperature control and the SR500 offers multiple temperature settings.  I would speculate the thermocouples are probably a reasonable precision and there probably is some control system to maintain an accurate temperature. Either roaster is setup to accommodate about ¼ lbs or 120 grams. This will supposedly get you about 20 cups of coffee, so this is definitely a small batch roaster.  I speculate the air popper method is probably about the same but its not a direct comparison. A definite advantage over the air popper is variable fan speed. This is probably more of a big deal during cooling but it will definitely be useful during roasting to get a little extra tweak to the roasting process. Also an integrated chaff collector is built in so you don’t have to worry about chaff going everywhere like the air popper.  Overall this looks like a great entry level solution if you want to formally dip your toes into the world of coffee roasting. I will say for the extra price point it doesn’t give you a huge advantage over the air popper. I would need to roast some coffee side by side to really judge the difference but I suspect it’s not that different if you are diligent. A cool little home coffee roaster machine for a stylish kitchen though!

IKAWA coffee roaster:

This one is the granddaddy of them all the Ikawa coffee roaster.  Billed as a professional sampling micro roaster it has its own app.  Yes that’s right it has its own app to datalog and track recipes you can share with the world.  This coffee roaster has probably the best back story. I will just quickly mention a few highlights here.  The result of a kickstarter campaign and one entrepreneur who grew up in a foreign land where coffee wasn’t just a drink to get you through your cubicle life to the next cat video.  He saw a need to improve a system as a whole. I really like the story and inspiration of this device.

 Overall the aesthetics of this device are exceptional and its definitely a precision instrument.  One big drawback that they have a good answer for is capacity. At 60 grams of green beans this is the smallest capacity home coffee roaster machine of the bunch. No worries as you can precisely match any recipe you have within minutes.  Fair, very fair point. At almost $1500 this is by far the most expensive machine. Is it worth it overall? I’m not sure. This is definitely the Apple of the coffee world, I expect this will be a very high quality long lasting and precisie machine.   I would love to stack this up against an air popper with a raspberry pi and data logging and see the differences in roasts.

 Which one is the right at home coffee roaster machine for you?  Roasting is a very personal and artisan process. I’ll let you decide but I personally think I have some more mileage to go with my air popper before I step up to the next level.  That said I have visions of a raspberry pi data logger and some cheapish thermocouples for fun and see what I can do. I could even test out my roasts on my coworkers!! No zombie movie ever started out with a guy home roasting coffee in his backyard only to infect his coworkers with a deadly zombie virus from poorly roasted beans right?!  Right!!?!?!

 Just for fun check out “Stalled” the ZomCom about a janitor stuck in a bathroom stall during a zombie outbreak. It was shockingly good but it is oddly a Christmas movie.

Related questions

Does roasting coffee create a lot of smoke?

Yes roasting coffee is a very smoky process.  While it can be done inside with a good range hood it is best outdoors unless you have a roaster with a smoke filter.  It is advisable if you live in communal housing like an apartment you not do your coffee roasting indoors. Neighbors never want to evacuate because you were dark roasting your Kenyen AA on the stove at 6:30 am!

Should I roast outside or inside?

Outside is best unless you have a roaster with a smoke filter or a good range hood.  If you live in a single family home and you will only smoke out yourself feel free to try it inside.  I found it to be a pretty smokey process so I did it outside.

How long should I roast coffee?

Coffee roasting is as much a science as any other cooking process.  The answers cannot be directly surmised exactly but in a standard air popper about 7-10 minutes is sufficient to make good roasts.  Air popper wattage will determine exact times as well as amount of coffee being roasted at one time.