How-To: Roast Coffee with a Popcorn Popper


A couple of weeks ago I wrote a piece for about roasting coffee at home. Today, Craft published a more in-depth piece I wrote about how to do it.

Relaxing in a coffee house with a professionally made cup of espresso or cappuccino is one of life's simple pleasures, but I also enjoy making my own coffee drinks at home. I buy whole beans online and grind them in a coffee grinder. I'm a pretty good home barista, if I do so say myself.

The one coffee-making activity I've always avoided, though, was roasting coffee. I assumed that coffee roasting required large, expensive machinery and considerable training. But a few weeks ago, I heard about a way to roast coffee using a hot air popcorn popper. I gave it a try and found out it was fun and very easy. It takes less than 15 minutes to roast a small batch.

How-To: Roast Coffee with a Popcorn Popper


  1. Poppers are perfect for small batches.
    There’s also been some brilliant hardware hacks done to turbo-ovens and bread-makers to make larger roasters. I’m a little more basic and use a heat-gun and a steel dog-bowl to roast my coffee.

  2. I used to do this all the time, but finally gave in and got machine for this very purpose (a Nesco roaster.) The advantage is that it doesn’t fill the house with smoke and it roasts a lot more slowly.  Plus it’s more of a “set it and forget it” type thing.  Roasting with a popper is a lot more work.

  3. Step 1:
    Travel back in time to when people still had air poppers.

    I seriously haven’t thought about those things in years!  I’m glad to see they finally have a use for something other than making dry, flavorless popcorn.

  4. A couple of years ago I walked by an Ethiopian grocery, and they had green coffee beans there.  Hmmm.   So I got them, and tried roasting them at home, using a frying pan, and tried another batch using a metal pie plate in the toaster oven.  Both sort of worked, and you do have to keep stirring or shaking so they roast evenly – it’s kind of like making Jiffy Pop.

    It was worth doing once for the experience of trying the same batch of coffee beans at anything from very light to very dark roasting and seeing how the tastes change.  It’s more trouble than I thought it was worth for my regular coffee drinking, especially since the Ethiopian grocery doesn’t sell decaf beans, and since there are lots of local coffee roasters around who always have something interesting.  But definitely, try it if you’re somewhere that you can get green coffee beans, or order a batch on the net to experiment with.

    I haven’t tried using an air popper – I don’t mkae much popcorn, and I’ve also heard that if you use it for coffee a couple of times it becomes too coffee-flavored for most people’s popcorn tastes.

  5. Roasting coffee at home is one of those activities like making pizza, sharpening knives, or screen printing which is perfectly possible to do at home with a minimal investment (and indeed is also good fun), but near impossible to do with remotely the same quality as a professional without some severe investment.

    Really well roasted coffee requires a specific finishing temperature and development time to ensure that the coffee is both roasted to an adequate level and is evenly roasted throughout, which is something that a popcorn popper, a stovetop, or an oven just can’t really do very well (the popper comes closest, but generally runs a bit too hot to get a good development time)

    I’m not saying “don’t try it”, but I would say “don’t try to roast some really nice Sun Dried Harrar in one of these and expect the same bright, full bodied, blueberry-esque drink that you get from the pro craft roaster” 

    1. Hey bud, hate to sound like a jerk, but you’re wrong about that. Here is why:

      1) Most areas don’t have a local micro-roaster, where you at least ought to be guaranteed fresh, not stale, coffee. If you aren’t close to a micro-roaster, you’re likely buying stale coffee. If you do live near a micro-roaster, there’s about a 10% chance that they know what they’re doing.

      2) I have been roasting in a hot-air popper for 4 years now. While it has taken me a while to learn the tricks to get the most out of my roast, it has certainly paid off. A local (Knoxville, TN) coffee shop, who was rated the number 1 coffee in the city last year, loves my coffee so much that the manager offered to sell it from his store. He admitted that my coffee is as good as, if not better, than his. The most encouraging part, for me, is that he sells Intelligentsia coffee from his shop. How’s that for an ego boost?

      I am currently going through a few pounds of a sun-dried/dry-processed (or, natural) Eth Harrar. Sure, I have to pull a few quakers, but is it worth it? Absolutely. The flavors that pop out are milk chocolate and (which impresses me that you know this) blueberries. Everything that you mentioned I shouldn’t expect out of a popper, I’m getting. The only downside about the popper is the “brightness” which you refer to as a good thing. While a “bright” coffee can be a good thing, dry-processed = bright, and an air-roaster to roast with = bright. For me, this equates to “extra-bright.” While “extra-bright” is not desirable, in my opinion, I’m the only one that notices, since all others who try my coffee are just impressed that they taste more than just “coffee.”


  6. I seriously haven’t thought about those things in years!  I’m glad to see they finally have a use for something other than making dry, flavorless popcorn.

    Hey! I like air-popper popcorn. I bought an air popper specifically for that purpose. The stuff in the microwave bags is too greasy for my taste.  

  7. i’ve done this for a few years, and like others have said, it’s a fun hobby that takes practice and time. as mark says in his article, check out for beans — it’s also a great place for howto instructions. but PLEASE — don’t spend money on a new hot air popper! the best kind to use is an old West Bend Poppery II, and odds are your local thrift stores have some. it should only set you back a couple bucks that way. don’t buy new – reuse!

  8. i do this on my fire escape. it makes a ton of smoke. perhaps more than the blue bottle coffee roasting plant that opened next door.

    don’t do this indoors.  its fun, and makes good coffee.  but don’t do this indoors.

    also, you can only roast about 1/2 cup max coffee in one of these.  if you make a chiminey with a cleaned metal can, it can roast 2/3 cup.

  9. Agree on the thrift store. There’s always one or two of these floating around, and it is not like they wear out (at normal rates of popcorn consumption).

  10. A few years back, I was working for an organization that, at the time, was trying to establish a gourmet coffee industry in Laos.  I attended a couple of Specialty Coffee Association conventions, and it was great to be given sample bags of green beans from the world’s finest coffee growing regions.  But I’ve never gotten myself a popcorn popper to roast them with, so they’ve just been sitting around neglected on a shelf, all this time…  I remember we bought a “sample roaster” once (much pricier), but shipped it off to Laos before I ever gave it a spin.

    Anyway, I’m inspired, thanks!  I hadn’t realized how cheap those poppers are!

    (FWIW, @boingboing-976f4351abf05885b28cec3fe0600a66:disqus and @boingboing-218a6beba67ce30416235c45f0357c20:disqus, I’ve been told, it’s much easier to burn your beans, in parts, roasting over the stove–or, rather, it’s much easier to roast your beans in a popcorn popper, without burning them, in parts–perhaps not unlike the difference between stovetop JiffyPopping and one of these machines)

    1. I meant to say, too, that part of “developing a coffee industry in Laos”, involved getting the farmers the technology to turn their red coffee cherries, which can quickly rot or spoil, into dry green coffee beans, which they were able to store almost indefinitely, pursuant to the market’s fickle demands–y’know, like socking away an investment.  In much the same way, we’re able, here in coffee consuming places, to store green beans indefinitely before roasting (as per Fraser’s comment on the Craft post, “I buy beans once a year – about 30lb at a time”), while, once roasted, your beans are only ever going to taste their best within the first week (or day, even).  I’ve not priced Sweet Maria’s, or any other local sources, but I seem to remember the energy and volatility involved in roasting introduces something like a 2-300% mark-up in the cost per pound.

  11. Our neighbors just gave us an air popper (because they never used it).  We use it all the time since the kids love watching the corn pop and they consider it a real treat even though it is so much healthier than microwaved popcorn (even though we do add salt and butter (yum)).

    Now we have a new use for the popper.  Does anyone know of a good place to buy green coffee beans in Vancouver (or anywhere in Canada)?

      1. Two other sellers of green beans you might consider are at

        10349 Jasper Avenue
        Edmonton, ABT5J 1Y5
        (780) 421-7734

        Buy 5 lbs. get 10% off, and free shipping available on purchases of $25 or more.

        Then there is at

        TOLL FREE: 1-800-425-5405
        Telephone Sales open 9am to 9pm
        315 Steeles Avenue East
        Milton, Ontario, L9T 1Y2, Canada

        Of course, both of these vendors also sell roasted whole-beans or ground coffee as well as the green beans.

  12. Now that it’s grilling season (again) in Texas, I’ll buy 2-3 lbs of green beans from the coffee guy down the street and roast them in a cast iron skillet after everyone is done making burgers on the charcoal grill. The oil from the beans (30% by weight) helps keep the seasoning intact on my skillet, and the grill being outdoors keeps my smoke alarm happy, while making good use of the waste heat of the charcoal :)

  13. I’ve been home-roasting coffee via various methods (FreshRoast, dog-bowl/heat gun, air-popper) for years now.  I would take issue with Jackson’s comment above — of COURSE you won’t get the same results as the professional roasters.  That’s like saying that you won’t get as good of bread as the professional bakers with their 1000º wood-fired convection ovens.  That doesn’t mean that the bread (or coffee) you make at home still isn’t 100x better than anything you can buy in the store.  Most people who try the coffee I roast at home swoon over it.  I don’t pretend, however, to roast as well as Stumptown or Intelligentsia.

    One VERY IMPORTANT thing to remember about air-popping, though — BE SURE and get the right kind of popper — the kind with the solid bottom and the air vent flutes around the side.  If your popper has a mesh bottom, you are more likely to start a fire in your roaster than you are to get good coffee.  The chaff collects in the mesh bottom, heats up, and starts your kitchen on fire.  Please check before you roast.

  14. “I assumed that coffee roasting required large, expensive machinery and considerable training.”

    You assumed correctly, if you want to do it well and consistently. You can get really passable coffee out of a popcorn popper, certainly better than anything you’d find at a grocery store, but home roasted coffee can never be as good as craft roasted coffee. 

    I can boil up some malt and do a decent job of producing tasty beer, but I will never, ever be able to do what Belgian monks are capable of.

    1. Wow – you really couldn’t have chosen a worse example.  I’ve had homebrewed Belgian-style ales that leave the various abbey and Trappist beers for dead.  What is you think Belgian monks do, exactly (or any other commercial brewer, for that matter) that can’t be replicated or even done better in your own garage?

      Next week, ‘craft’ chefs rally against people *gasp* cooking their own food, because it can’t possibly be as good as something from a restaurant.

  15. [I hope this isn’t a dupe, having trouble w/ disqus, noscript, 3rd party cookies, etc.]

    I found that the beans continue to roast while cooling, so cooling the beans quickly gives a more precise roast.  What worked for me was using a couple of heavy aluminum baking pans like you’d find cheaply at a restaurant supply shop.  You pour the hot beans onto the first pan and shake a bit to sink off a bunch of heat.  When the pans feels warm, transfer to the second pan.

  16. I’ve got to disagree on the lack-of-quality statements above on both the coffee and the beer.

    The thing with the coffee is that it is in fact *quite* easy to make incredibly delicious coffee at home roasting your own beans. What you won’t be able to do is to consistently roast the same batch over and over. Each batch will be very good, but in different ways. What the precision high-end roasters can do is make the coffee taste the same time and time again.

    Similar thing with the beer. I have made some absolutely incredible beers at home, but getting that 2nd batch to taste just like the first one is the trick. That’s where the fancy equipment comes in so that you can control every variable to great precision.

  17. I just started home roasting. I got a West Bend Poppery II, apparently the gold standard when it comes to hot air corn popper roasting,  through eBay, but forgot all about the voltage issues as we have 220V here in Norway. As I don’t want to shell out like $100 to have an 18 pound voltage converter on my kitchen counter, I turned to the good ol’ wok pan solution. It actually works quite well, and I’m starting to see my roasts turn out surprisingly evenly roasted and tasty. If you like your roast on the lighter side, the smoke problem is minimal, your ordinary kitchen hood fan will take care of it. If you like your roasts dark, you should probably step outside and use a gas burner or something like that. Oh, and if anyone with some technical knowledge knows of a way to solve my voltage conevertion problem that does not involve a lug of a converter, please let me know ;)  

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