A Robust Idea for Coffee Lovers

It all started when my friend Rosalie told me she’s going to start roasting her own coffee beans in her kitchen. In a popcorn popper. The motivation? First quality and taste, but also to cut the high cost of quality coffee by at least half. That was enough to get my attention.


Turns out Rosalie’s co-worker, Dax Wilson, has taken up this hobby of home roasting in a serious way. A conversation with Dax together with a visit to a strategic website was all I needed to become equally enthusiastic.

I learned I could roast green coffee beans (half the price of commercially roasted beans) in a frying pan although that is not the most desirable. There are two methods of roasting: with hot air or on a hot surface. Hot surface allows for a darker roast, which for many tastes is preferable. 

4153Z0G472L._SX450_At Dax’s suggestion, I purchased an old-fashioned style popcorn popper, a  Whirley Pop, a high-temp candy thermometer, a simple food scale and a couple of pounds of green coffee beans. My total investment including beans was less than $40.

I preheated the popper to 400 F then dumped the green coffee beans into the roast chamber (popcorn popper) with the kitchen exhaust fan on high. I began to turn the crank immediately and continued at a steady pace (one revolution per second) until the roasting was complete. The roasting chamber cooled as the green coffee beans absorbed the heat. When it reached 350 F I turned the heat down to medium-low and continued to roast until I achieved my desired roast color (light, medium or dark). Dax said a dark roast would take from 9 to 11 minutes and through the “first crack.” Coffee beans “pop” as the moisture is released and sound a lot like popping corn.

I dumped the hot beans into a metal colander and swirled them gently to allow the heat to escape and to allow them to cool quickly. That’s it! Roasting complete.

It took me a couple of tries to achieve a roast color that met my particular preference (I like it dark). I was too overly cautious in the beginning and ended up with a very light roast. But practice does make perfect, and I’m happy to say I am enjoying the best coffee of my life. My only regret is that I may have turned into a coffee snob, finding ordinary coffee to be woefully unacceptable. Freshly roasted coffee is to store-bought what vine-ripened garden grown tomatoes are to grocery or Wonderbread is to homemade bread.

For detailed information on every possible question I recommend Home Coffee Roasting: Romance & Revival, by Kenneth Davids (St. Martin’s Press, 1996, $15.95).

By the way, for surface heat roasting, a popcorn popper is a great option (like the one linked to above or an old air-popper that plugs into an electrical outlet, NOT used in the microwave oven). But check the garage first. You might already have one.


Whirly-Pop (like) Popcorn Popper 

High-temp candy thermometer

Green coffee beans 

Book: Home Coffee Roasting: Romance & Revival


A Good Hot Cup of Coffee





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10 replies
  1. Anne
    Anne says:

    I started roasting with a hot air popper, when my last hot air popper burned out I invested in a coffee roaster, it collects the chafe and roast the beans just right. You can adjust the time on the roaster to get the roast you want.
    I have been roasting for a few years, my family won’t drink any other coffee without complaining.

  2. iRoast2
    iRoast2 says:

    I’d like to share some other options for those who plan to start roasting coffee or are already roasting. I have been roasting for about 5 years now. I have been using a Pop-lite hot air popper (the same one) for about 3 years with great success. And, contrary to what you may read elsewhere, you do not have to use a side-vented popper. It should be noted that the newer poppers may have thermal cut-offs in them that don’t allow the popper to sustain the heating process long enough to achieve good results and require a cool-down period. I visit Goodwill stores, Salvation Army and other thrift stores, as well as yard sales looking for the older hot air poppers. You can pick them up for as little as $4 in my area although I paid $10 recently for a spare in case I ever need it. I have a homemade chimney on my popper because coffee beans are blown quite high (up to 6 inches above the popper reservoir) when roasting. I do all of my roasting on my patio because of the smoke and the chaff blown off by the coffee. Also, I always let the roast continue partially into the second crack for the darker roast I prefer. Another source for good quality green coffee beans is eBay. My personal preference is African varietals, most particularly Ethiopian Yirgacheffe or Kenyan AA. I have had some success with Guatemalan and Costa Rican but seem to always come back to the African varietals because of their richness in flavor. Sweet Maria’s is a great site with great coffees but eBay can offer better deals if you keep your eyes open and read the details with regards to the quality rating of the coffee beans. There is a great deal of difference in quality. I guess that’s enough for now. I trust what I’ve shared will help you make a more informed decision, after all, experience is the best teacher.

  3. AdoptaGrey
    AdoptaGrey says:

    What did you use to grind the beans? When we researched grinders, we found such varied opinions on what was good and what was bad that we gave up. (For now, we buy our beans at Costco since they have a high-quality grinder, unfortunately placed next to the onion chopper in the food court, and they don’t carry flavored beans which would contaminate what we grind.)

    • Guest
      Guest says:

      Set the popper over high heat with the lid on. When it seems to be getting hot, lift the lid far enough to stick the thermometer into the pot and see how hot it is. I used a screwdriver to tweak one of the vent holes to allow the thermometer to fit through and kind of hang from the lid. Imrprovise! You just want to make sure the pot is really hot. And, by the way, I do this on my patio using my outdoor grill which has a stovetop burner on the side. Check SweetMarias.com which has a huge library and fantastic info from other roasters.

      By the way, you can find beans for $4.00/lb delivered at Costco, and these are fabulous beans. http://www.costco.com/Rainforest-Alliance-Green-Unroasted-Arabica-Coffee-6-x-3.75lb-Cans.product.100054969.html

  4. Shannon McGlynn
    Shannon McGlynn says:

    There is no way I would recommend this or the hot air popper method in the house! Yes it will produce smoke. If you want to roast indoors, check out the Behmor roasters

  5. Evelyn Moore-Hicks
    Evelyn Moore-Hicks says:

    Will this method cause a lot of smoke when the roasting is being done? I’ve been wanting to do this method for several months but I’m afraid it will be too smoky for my poorly ventilated home.

    • Joanie
      Joanie says:

      My neighbor used to roast his coffee in an air pop popcorn popper on his patio. Only a couple times did he forget or get side tracked and burn is beans. We really enjoyed the smell of his roasting while he was doing it. He roasted it outside so his house didn’t get smoked up.


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