August 18, 2020

The Best Starter Coffee Roaster for Weekly Coffee and How to Make it Work for You.

I remember the first time I was introduced to home coffee roasting.  A friend was trying to convince me that coffee roasting was easy and would create an amazing cup of coffee, even for the novice roaster.  I went over to house after a ton of prodding to appease him.  He used an old school air popcorn popper, put green beans in and let it fly.  It ran for about 10 minutes and there it was…fresh coffee.  But not a whole lot of it.  He roasted the beans in his garage and after they were done, he made me a French press and we sampled them.  That was a very good cup of coffee, but he told me we didn’t wait long enough after the roast, we needed to wait a few days for it to properly rest after the roast.  So he sent me home with the rest of the beans.  I don’t think either of us had a clue that day would change the trajectory of my career, but I was very aware that my coffee-life was about to change.

There were some flaws with the air popcorn popper.  The batch was too small for me.  I am a coffee drinker and so is Jenna.  We drink 1-2 pots of coffee a day, which translates to about 3oz a day.  The air roaster’s capacity is about that and I didn’t want to roast daily.  I didn’t start with an air roaster; I jumped straight to the stovetop popcorn popper.  I could roast a full pound or even more and I felt like I was on the right path.  I roasted on that on my stove for years and it was perfect for me.  I still remember days cranking the roaster while leaning my head on the hood and reading a book on my iPad.  At that point, coffee roasting was more therapeutic than it was a hobby. 

In this post, I want to give you a few tips to get started roasting on a stovetop popper.  This is not intended to be a roasting guide or an intro to coffee roasting blog.  It is intended to focus on the tools I used to roast on a stovetop popper.  I’ll show you some of the things I learned over the years and help you see the benefits to this roasting method.  I plan to create blogs similar to this for every piece of equipment I’ve used as a home roaster.  Roasting is a lot like many hobbies, you start with entry level equipment and add to it as you start to grow in your abilities within that hobby.  I personally see two types of home coffee roasters.  Those that want better than store bought for about the same price coffee or those that are aiming to get the best cup of coffee they’ve ever had.  Many of us start with the former and graduate to the latter.  Either way, the stovetop popper is a great way to start!

So what do I recommend for you to get started?  Obviously, a stovetop popper.  I’ve used a few and even sold some at one point.  I’ve found that selling them is tough, because they’re so large and shipping is too expensive, so I’ll just set you up with Amazon links of items that I recommend (I do have an affiliate account, so Sagebrush will get a small commission on those sales).  The two keys to a good stovetop roaster are the gear for the agitator and it is much better if it has a stainless steel bowl.  I’ve found the VKP Time for Treats Popper is the best of both worlds.  I’ve used a few of the others over the years and I think this one holds up the best.  Note, that they all say that roasting coffee in it will void the warranty, so don’t expect it to hold up very long (maybe 75-100 batches).  Other items I’d recommend to get started are listed below with links:

Honestly, the only item that is really required is the popcorn popper and many of these items are probably at your house, but I’ve found that each one helped in my roasting.  I roasted my coffee on my stove, but I had a very good hood and Jenna liked the smell of roasting in the house.  I know many people get too much smoke or cannot do it at home.  If so, a grill works fine or get a burner to keep outside, however at that point you might want to spend the money on a larger roaster.

You’ll hear me say this time and again with roasting.  Measure and log.  If you measure and log everything, you’ll be able to confirm that you’re being consistent and be able to replicate what you’ve done.  Measuring your time and temperature as you roast is key, so I recommend the kitchen scale to measure batch size (although I started with a ½ cup measuring cup) and a thermometer to take measurements throughout the roast. You’ll want to see that your coffee is getting to temperature at the right speed (I’ll talk about this in a the tips).  The colander and fan help with the cooling process and chaff.  The skin comes off of the bean like a peanut and that makes a mess everywhere.  The easiest way to clean it off is to go into your backyard and shake it out with a colander and a fan.  I’ve used two colanders and tossed the beans back and forth between the two in front of a small fan.  That is the quickest way to cool the beans too, so you can basically stop the roast with that method.

Here are some other quick tips:

  • Roast on medium heat, so the coffee doesn’t scorch while you’re roasting. Since there will be bean to bean heat transfer, the amount of beans you roast will dictate that curve.  The goal is to get to about 394° at the first crack at around 12 minutes.  You’ll be able to taste if you do it too quickly because it will taste burned.  It will taste like baked bread, not coffee, if you go too slow.  If it is going fast, feel free to lift the popper off of the heat for 10-20 seconds to slow it down.  And stir the entire time.  If the beans settle, they’ll burn.
  • Don’t open the popcorn popper while roasting (especially if you are inside). It’ll let out too much heat and stall the roast.  You may be able to peak, but the smoke will be bad and it probably isn’t worth it.  When roasting on a popcorn popper rely on sound (crack), temperature (log with time during each roast about every 90 seconds or so, more if you want), smell.  You’ll know the aroma of a perfect transition to well-roasted beans.
  • When someone says first crack, they do not mean the absolute first pop of a beans. Every bean should pop and they’ll do it at varying times, so that time (probably 20 seconds) when they’re all popping is considered the first crack.
  • Drill a small hole in the top of the lid and use a thermometer. It is SO worth it.
  • When the roast finishes the first crack (at least at first, you’ll learn timing as you practice), run outside and pour the beans into a colander. Be careful not to burn yourself or let all of the smoke out in the house.  Then shake out the chaff and shake up the beans to cool.  They’ll keep roasting after you’re done and you don’t want them to overroast in the colander.

Those are the key tips for me.  Comment below some of your tips.  If you could tell anyone 1 tip for roasting on a stovetop popper, what would it be?

 


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