While there are many pre-built home roasters on the market ranging from $100 to >$2000, achieving great results at home does not need to be expensive. Here are the top 5 ways to start roasting at home for less than $20.
1.) Popcorn Popper
The popcorn popper is probably the easiest and most common way to start home roasting. Popcorn poppers can be used without any modifications or extra equipment to achieve good results, and can typically be found at thrift stores for less than $10. I’ve tried a number of poppers, and my favorite to-date is the West Bend Poppery III. Ineedcoffee.com has a great overview of selecting the right popper for you.
There are two major challenges to roasting with an popcorn popper: batch size and speed. Due to the size, popcorn poppers are typically limited to a batch size of approximately 6 ounces. I have successfully roasted 8 ounces in a popcorn popper, but doing so will require some stirring at the beginning to avoid burning.
Popcorn poppers also typically roast a bit faster than a drum roaster, which tends to lend a “bright” or more acidic flavor to the coffee. My popper roasts tend to finish in approximately 6 minutes. This can be great for some medium roast Central American coffees, but I’ve found that the brightness of light roast African coffee can sometimes be a bit overpowering. When roasting to lighter levels, the speed of the roast does not allow full flavor development like a drum roaster would provide. Medium or darker roasts tend to not have this issue. I’ve actually modified a popcorn popper to throttle the heating element and fan, but this will be covered in a separate post.
Despite the challenges, I’d highly recommend that a first time home roaster start with a popcorn popper due to simplicity. Even though I’ve graduated to different roast methods, I still occasionally use my popper due to simplicity and convenience.
2.) Heat Gun and Dog Bowl (or glass bowl)
The heat gun and dog bowl is the second roasting method that I tried when starting to roast. In a nutshell, this roast method involves using a heat gun as the heat source while you stir the bowl of coffee manually. I typically use a wooden spoon and a glass bowl instead of a dog bowl.
This method, although labor intensive, is very effective and can replicate the results of a drum roaster. The heat input can be varied simply by distance away from the bowl to speed up or slow down the roast.
I typically use an inexpensive Harbor Freight Heat Gun which works pretty well, although a more expensive model with variable fan speeds and temperatures might give a bit better control.
3.) Heat Gun and Bread Machine
This is the method that I currently use. In essence, this is the same idea as the heat gun and dog bowl, however you can use the knead setting (no heat input) on a bread machine to avoid having to manually stir. I picked up a used bread machine at Goodwill for $10, the Harbor Freight heat gun on sale for $10, putting my total costs at $20.
There are many “modded” roasters that include a bean temperature probe on this type of roaster to allow for roast profiling or even automated control.
Although this method is slightly above our $20 threshold, it’s a great method for those with limited outdoor space, or especially those who have a whirly pop popcorn maker already. The Whirlypop is used just like it would be for popcorn by adding the green coffee beans and stirring throughout the roast process. On a gas burner, controllability is good, although it can be a bit more difficult on an electric stovetop.
5.) Cast Iron Pan
Similar to the Whirlypop, coffee beans can be roasted on a cast iron pan on a stovetop by continually stirring (or shaking) to avoid burning. This method is not my favorite, but is worth considering as it requires no additional investment if you already have a cast iron pan (which I would highly recommend, but that’s another post!). The major problems are roast evenness, likelihood of tipping , and smoke / chaff production indoors. To be totally transparent, I’ve never tried this method, as the smoke production would not be appreciated by the wife.
Hope this helps those who are new to roasting, please feel free to Contact Us if you have any additional questions. Happy roasting!