What You Need: A hot air popcorn popper of the recommended design only. (Not all air poppers are recommended for roasting coffee.) An optional thermometer. A big bowl to catch the chaff, a big spoon, a metal colander (or 2, aluminum is best) for cooling, and an oven mitt.
Set up the popper in a ventilated place near a kitchen exhaust fan or window, if possible. 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.
Put the same amount of coffee in the popper that the manufacturer recommends for popcorn. For the West Bend Poppery II, 4 oz. is the maximum, or 2/3 to 3/4 cup.
Put the plastic hood (including butter dish) in place, and a large bowl under the chute. We put our popper by the sink so it blows chaff right into the basin. Turn the thing on.
Watch for fragrant smoke and the "first crack" of the beans in about 3 minutes. Wait another minute, then start to monitor beans closely for desired roast color by lifting out butter dish and looking into popping chamber, or, better yet, by smelling the smoke and listening to the crackling.
Total time for a lighter roast should be around 4 minutes, full city roast around 5, and darker roasts closer to 6.5 minutes. Roasts develop quickly, so be vigilant. You want to pour the beans out of the popper when they are a tad lighter than the color you desire, since roasting continues until beans are cool.
Agitate beans in metal collander with a big spoon or toss between 2 collanders until they are warm to your touch. You may need oven mitts for this. You may want to walk out to a porch to aid cooling.
Coffee should be stored out of direct light (and not in a fridge or freezer) in an airtight glass jar, but with a fresh roast, wait 12 hours to seal the jar tightly; it needs to vent off C02.
Warm, fresh roasted beans are wonderful, but the coffee attains its peak 4 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 know what fresh coffee truly is
Trouble Shooting: Roasting in a popper is a DIY venture - so you will have to assess your own situation and make accommodations accordingly. Some of the most common issues are:
Popper roasts too fast - Each popper can run differently - and some can especially at first 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.
Popper roasts too slow - So you can have the opposite of the problem outlined above- the popper is too cool. You can try the reverse of the suggestion above - 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 too will limit the voltage. Ambient air temperature has a major impact on popper performance - so if you are roasting outdoors, try to move inside or at least to a sheltered area.
Popper never gets hot enough - Some poppers are underpowered - they have do not have sufficient wattage.
Popper gets hot, but beans do not roast - Batch size makes a big difference: in a hot air popper, you need enough beans to block the hot air. If you have too small a batch, the hot air blows right past them and the beans will never roast. See the trick in the video above where, with the popper on, you add beans until they just stop swirling.
Here is a list of some models that customers have said work well:
West Bend Air Crazy
West Bend Poppery II (1200 watt model) - a preferred model
Kitchen Gourmet (from Walgreens)
Toastmaster 6203West Bend Air Crazy
Presto Poplite (from Wal-mart - stock #s 04820*, 04821, and 114316)
Nostalgia Brand (Bath Bath & Beyond)
Toastess TCP-388 (also TCP-1)
* (This model has the mesh on the bottom of the roasting well, and that does pose a bit more of a fire hazard - but customers say it works... also you might have to agitate by shaking or with wooden spoon)
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 stores like Walmart or Target. They roast quickly, but usually only 3-4 ounces at a time.