We highly recommend this method because it's easy and it produces very even roasts from the City to the French stages. Used poppers can be found in many thrift stores or rather inexpensively at department stores. You can even buy one from us too! They roast quickly, but usually only 3-4 ounces at a time.
After some testing we decided to sell the Nostalgia and think it works great.
Here's some other models that customers have said work well:
-West Bend Air Crazy
-West Bend Poppery II (1200 watt model) - a preferred model but discontinued
-Toastess TCP-388 (also TCP-1)
-metal colander (or 2, aluminum is best) for cooling
Here's a video we did showing the process in a popper.
...and another one with the whole process
Set up the popper in a ventilated place near a kitchen exhaust fan or window. It's nice to have strong overhead light so you can look down into the popper chamber to accurately judge the roast as it progresses. Have all your supplies within reach. Turn it on. Start pouring green coffee into the chamber. The coffee will spin under the force of the hot air coming from the vents. When the beans are barely moving, stop pouring. This is the correct batch size for your popper. It will probably be around 4 oz. (2/3 to 3/4 cup). Put the plastic hood (including butter dish) in place. Some cheaper popper hoods will begin to warp after a while. Put a large bowl under the chute to collect the chaff. You can put some water or a wet towel in the bowl for the chaff to stick to. We also like to put the popper by the sink so it blows chaff right into the basin. Listen for the "first crack". It's a cracking/snapping sound that will happen sometime around 3 minutes. Throughout the roast, monitor the beans closely for desired roast color by lifting out butter dish and looking into popping chamber. You will notice that the aromas will change too. Make note of these smells. Remembering what smells occurred at certain stages of the roast will help you make roasting adjustments in the future. Depending on your popper, the total time for a lighter roast should be around 4 minutes, and darker roasts will develop in the next few minutes. Roasts develop quickly, so be vigilant. Since roasting continues until beans are cool, you want to pour the beans out of the popper when they are a tad lighter than the color you desire. If possible, dump the roasted coffee out before turning off the popper. Do it fast to avoid beans shooting all over your counter. This will keep the very, very, very hot roast chamber from scorching the edges of the stationary bean mass. If you don't get the coffee out of there, within seconds of turning off the popper, you will start to see extra smoke and smell burning coffee . Agitate beans in metal colander with a big spoon or toss between 2 colanders until they are cool enough to touch. You may need oven mitts for this. If it's cool outside, walking out to the porch could aid in cooling. Coffee should be stored out of direct light, away from moisture (and not in a fridge or freezer) in an airtight container. With a fresh roast, wait 12 hours to seal the jar tightly since it needs to vent off C02. Warm, fresh roasted beans are wonderful, but the coffee attains its peak 12 to 24 hours after roasting. If you store it as recommended, we'll call it fresh for 5 days. When you open that jar in the morning, you will find out what fresh coffee truly is.
My coffee is roasting too fast - Each popper can run differently - and some can run very hot. A simple fix is to use an extension cord between the popper and the wall outlet - since this will reduce the voltage slightly and make the popper run slower. Power strips work well too. Reducing your batch size will allow for more air to pass through the bean mass. This could help slow your roast a bit too.
Another issue that can arise is that because the popper is heating up so fast, you can run into the auto shutoff safety feature. The air will keep blowing through but the heating source is shut off. In this scenario you end up baking or flattening out your coffee after first crack, or worse, stalling your roast before it ever reaches first crack. This might be the case if you feel your roasts are very long but never progressing past a light or medium roast. The solution for this issue is a bit more DIY. You have to disconnect the thermo limiter so that the popper can continue to heat up. We do not recommend doing this, as the risk of heat related damage is then greatly increased, however we have heard of customers doing this with success.
My coffee is roasting too slow- You can also encounter the opposite of the problem outlined above- the popper does not get hot enough. In this case, you can try the reverse of the suggestions above regarding power source: if you are using an extension cord, try plugging into the outlet directly or try a different outlet. Sometimes, if you are running a major appliance (like an air conditioner or refrigerator) on the same circuit, this will limit the voltage. Ambient air temperature also has a major impact on popper performance, so if you are roasting outdoors, try to move inside or at least to a sheltered area. Some poppers are underpowered - they have do not have sufficient wattage. This is an unfortunate reality of using a device that is made for a function that requires far less finesse than roasting coffee, the manufacturing is inconsistent across devices. Unfortunately there's just not much you can do about this. You will probably have to buy another popper. In a hot air popper, you need enough beans to block the hot air. If you have too small a batch, the beans won't create enough resistance for the beans to properly roast.
Modifications and Refinements:
We recommend reading Home Coffee Roasting by Ken Davids to learn more about popper modification and how to produce wonderful coffee. Also, take a look at our DIY tutorial on adding athermometer to your popper.
Believe me, my (well, our) primary interest is having people enjoy this great hobby, and we really don't care about selling tons of fancy roasting appliances. Many of our customers perform basic surgery on their poppers to get them to roast hotter or to add heat/fan speed controls. Check out these modifications on our forum.