Roasting Your Own Coffee with a Popcorn Popper

Coffee. I can’t be functional without it. I hate to say that, but I must admit I have an addiction. My husband, Tom, and I took on a challenge to not buy food at the grocery store or restaurants for a year. That also meant no more chain coffee shops. I had to find an alternative.

When Tom and I were in the UK on our honeymoon one of the things that struck me was just how good the coffee was at all the Bed & Breakfasts we stayed at. It wasn’t bitter like the coffee you get here. It was smooth and nutty with hints of caramel. When we got back home I was all of a sudden extremely disappointed in my options. So I started doing research on how I could possibly recapture that flavor here while also avoiding the grocery store and chain coffee shops. While I haven’t reached the exact flavor I have come pretty close by roasting my own coffee. I can get the green beans from a specialty store (which still follows our no groceries rule).

I researched coffee roasters. They aren’t cheap and from reviews it seems that most of them are very short lived. Then I found out that you can roast coffee in an air popcorn popper. Yep, that’s right, an air popcorn popper. We have an old one, that has, well, seen better days as you can see. It’s also probably 20 years old, back when they made things to last. The bright yellow plastic has now turned brown from heavy use. But so far it’s been going strong for nearly a year.

The one thing you have to make sure when buying an air popcorn popper to roast beans is that it rotates when heating because you want the beans constantly moving. With newer poppers you’ll probably burn it out in about 6 months with regular use so I always stick with buying them at thrift stores where they are a dime a dozen. Another option is you use a stovetop popcorn popper. If ours burns up we’ll probably just switch to that style.

You can get beans online from different retailers or from some homebrewing retailers. I recommend getting a sampler pack for your first time. The number of varieties of beans is mind boggling and they all taste different – sometimes drastically different. So find a place that offers 1lb samplers. There’s nothing worse than buying a 5lb bag of beans only to learn that you can’t stand the taste of it.

Roast coffee outside, seriously. Why roast outside? Because it is incredibly smokey and the popper blows the chaff from the beans all over the place. I try to catch as many as I can in the metal colander but it can only do so much. The photos were taken on my stove under the hood because it was too cold that day. My popper takes extra long to roast coffee if it’s cold out, so it’s faster and easier to roast under the hood and then clean up the chaff afterward. Not to mention it also helps save the wear and tear on my poor old popper.

What you will need:
Green coffee beans
Air popcorn popper
Metal colander preferably one with a wire bottom but I don’t have one of those so I just use this one
Pot holders if the popper gets hot
A box fan set on it’s back face so that the air is blowing up. I put mine on a metal patio table that has a perforated top.

How you do it:
1. Depending on the size of your popper put about 1 cup of green beans in it. The beans should just reach the top of the rotating “drum” inside the popper. Turn on popper. Never ever leave the popper unattended. It gets really hot and can very easily catch on fire. Don’t let this scare you though. As long as you are attentive you shouldn’t have an issue.
2. The beans will begin to make a popping sound. This is called the “First Crack.”
3. You will notice that the popping sound slows and stops for a little bit. When it starts to pop again this is the “Second Crack.” You will notice that this popping has a slightly different sound than the first crack. This is when you need to really pay attention. At this point it’s called a “City Roast.” I prefer to roast 30 seconds into the second crack. You can roast it all the way to an Espresso roast but it will change the flavor. I find the lighter roast helps keep away the bitterness. It takes us about 8 minutes to roast the coffee from star to finish. It will probably vary depending on your popper. The longer you roast you’ll also notice the beans become shiny. This is because the cracking sound is caused by the beans creating fissures that release the oils from inside the bean.
4. Unplug the popper and with the pot holders carefully, but quickly, pour the beans into the colander. Be careful! The beans are around 450 deg F.
5. Put the colander on the fan and swirl beans. You want to cool them off as quickly as possible, otherwise they will keep roasting.
6. You will notice now that the beans have expanded about 50%. Put them in an unsealed jar and let them sit overnight to rest. This allows them to release built up gases.
7. Only grind your beans right before you use them. You spent all this time roasting them you don’t want to ruin it by grinding them ahead of time.

Viola! You now have your own home roasted coffee. Enjoy it!

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