True coffee connoisseurs who actually love their cuppa are always more likely to enquire how a particular batch of coffee they’re enjoying was roasted. If while making such inquiries you ever came across the term ‘air roasting’, chances are that you didn’t know what it referred to, or how coffee could be roasted in a popcorn popper.
Maybe you’ve mastered the art of coffee grinding and brewing process and are now looking for ways to expand your mastery by achieving the perfect roast as well. How is air roasting of coffee beans different from the conventional roasting methods, and how can you modify a popcorn popper into an air roaster to earn yourself a delicious, rich cuppa? Read on to find out:
Conventional roasting vs. roasting in a popcorn popper (air roasting)
Traditional coffee roasting usually takes place in a steel drum, wherein the coffee beans are made to tumble repeatedly under constant heat supply. Sometimes, as the roasting progresses the beans come in contact with the overheated metal surface of the drum, wherein their exterior cover – or chaff – gets scorched by the time the beans settle by the end of the roasting process.
This blistered chaff may render a rather bitter and unpleasant flavor to the resulting cuppa, much to the dismay of coffee purists. Sometimes the prolonged burning of chaff can even alter the chemical reactions that take place inside the coffee beans, ultimately leading the coffee drinkers to experience unpleasant symptoms like acid reflux, heartburn etc.
On the other hand, air roasting involves floating each coffee bean individually on a flowing bed of hot air, using the principles of convection. In some popcorn poppers, the outer husk or the chaff gets separated at the very beginning of the roasting process, before it has the chance to damage the bean itself. This keeps the origin character flavor and aroma of the bean intact, resulting in a rich, delectable cup of coffee, minus the burnt or bitter flavor.
Selecting the right popcorn popper for coffee roasting
There are several brands of popcorn poppers available in the stores, although sadly none of these were designed to roast coffee beans, which is why we need to find the right popcorn popper for efficient coffee roasting.
Here are some factors that will help one select the right popper machine for home roasting:
Comfort in usage – The ideal popcorn popper for coffee roasting should be lightweight, easy to move around, and should preferably have a stirring handle or arm for uniform roasting. A transparent lid would be a bonus, as one would be able to see through it and monitor the roast closely.
Uniformity of roast – Experts recommend a stainless steel popcorn popper rather than an acrylic or aluminum one, as steel poppers have a more robust build as well as ensure an even roasting degree for the entire batch of beans.
Design and operation – There are several types of popcorn poppers available in the market, like:
- Hot air popcorn poppers: Relatively inexpensive, ideal for roasting coffee as these usually do not need manual stirring of beans. However, these tend to heat unevenly, rendering a rather lengthy roasting process, and a relatively darker roast. Perfect for those who love their coffee roasts medium-to-dark.
- Stove-top popcorn poppers: These allow you to monitor and set the temperatures manually, thus providing a perfect roast, similar to what professional roasters can offer. Most of these come with a clear lid as well, allowing one to monitor the roast levels accurately. These can also be wiped clean with ease for the next batch of roasting.
- Electric popcorn poppers: Automatic temperature control, self-stirring and easy to clean, this variety is favored most by home roasters for the degree of ease these offer. The only drawback – these usually offer only single temperature setting, which means limited control over the roasting degree for the user.
- Microwave popcorn poppers: Made of plastic, these poppers end up rendering an unpleasant flavor to the coffee beans. Coffee roasting requires higher temperature settings than what can be achieved in a microwave oven. This may result in an uneven roast, wherein you may end up with some beans burnt to ashes, while some may remain under-roast.
Easy of cleaning – Unlike in the conventional drum roasting where a non-stick coating pertains a bitter flavor to the final roast coffee beans, popcorn poppers with non-stick interior are a bonus, as the post-roasting clean-up process is a breeze. In some machines, the chaff may even get separated from the bean early on, and the non-stick coating would not pose any risk of altering the flavor or aroma of the roast coffee beans.
How to roast coffee beans in a popcorn popper?
Now that you’ve learnt about the ideal popcorn popper machine for home roasting, here’s how you can proceed to roast coffee beans:
- A popcorn popper of your choice
- Good quality green coffee beans
- A well-ventilated area
- A large container (like a cardboard box), for discarding the chaff
- Metal colander or trays
- Set out the green beans and the popcorn popper in a well-ventilated area. Measure the beans as per the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Load the popper and start the machine as instructed by the manufacturer. You may need to stir the beans continuously if the machine lacks an automatic stirrer.
- The 1st crack stage occurs within the first 3-5 minutes after you begin the process. After the distinct pop or cracking stops, a light roast degree is achieved. Continue the process if you want a darker roast.
- Monitor the roast degree carefully and stop as soon as the color looks satisfactory to you. This takes a few trials, but you will eventually learn to match your roast preferences with the color of the beans.
- Turn off the heat as soon as you are satisfied with the roasting level. Transfer the beans into the metal colander or tray, and toss a few times over the large container to get rid of the exterior husk or chaff. This step may be eliminated if your popcorn popper has an inbuilt arrangement for chaff removal.
- Allow the beans to rest and cool completely. Transfer into airtight containers for storage.
If you dislike the flavor of coffee beans roasted in a conventional manner, try the straightforward process of roasting your beans at home in a popcorn popper. Choosing good quality green beans and some practice will reward you with a great-tasting cuppa, every single time you brew some coffee.