The Best Way to Improve your Shot is a Popcorn Popper!

Discuss roast levels and profiles for espresso, equipment for roasting coffee.
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#1: Post by Rockygag »

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The Best Way to Improve your Shot is a Popcorn Popper!
by Dave Jones

Over the last year, I have been on a voyage of continual improvement within the four main elements necessary for straight espresso shots that I drink. The Miscela or blend of the espresso-roasted coffee is best bang for the buck improvement that I have found. For those of you with no patience beyond the first paragraph, drink decaf ....... Just kidding, of all the improvements that I have made over the last year, the $6 hot air popcorn popper has made the most impact for the least dollars. The next most efficient improvement is the Mano dell'operatore or the human part behind the portafilter; I made these with a bottomless portafilter and a gram scale and a bathroom scale. The third most effective dollars spent were on my Super Jolly. The Macinadosatore (grinder-doser) and the Macchina espresso (espresso machine) both tend to be too expensive to have a good ratio of cost to improvement. So what follows is my experience on hot air popper roasting.


The best improvement!


BANG FOR THE BUCK: Home Roasting

The Miscela or blend I started with was Illy from a can, it was preground, and did not do too bad a job in the steam toy, and although it seemed to be better out of the Baby, it still was not up to what I wanted. The crema was poor, and the shots were a bit thin. A Gaggia Evolution, MM grinder were my next hardware setup. Pre-roased Illy beans (DEK) came with the Evo. I could now grind! I would say that this was half of my most important lesson in espresso, and that is fresh ground beans for each shot. The next move was to a Rocky and the pre-roasted Illy beans, those beans did not have a roasting date on them. Close, but not there. I had fallen into a very common trap. Name brand beans, so they must be good, and the problem is in the equipment. I had noticed a trend at CG-fourms, it seemed that everyone was talking about fresh roasted beans; there must have been a reason for this. I could go to the local roaster and buy dated fresh roasted beans. For me, there are some real problems with that, the closest roaster is about 30 minutes away, a good espresso decaf is $8-11 per lb. I then went out to the Internet, and the prices are the same per lb, but shipping coffee is expensive. So what's a poor boy to do? Go down to the local thrift store and get a popcorn popper, order some greens from Sweet Maria's, and roast em up! This leads to the other half of the bean equation; the beans must be freshly roasted . By this time, the Gaggia Evolution had gone to a new home, and an Olympia Lever was on its way. The Rocky and the Olympia is the combination that sold me on the fresh roasted beans. As you can see from the shot below, it was poured as a Guinness shot, and for a decaf has good crema.



On to some tips about getting beans: I have used local suppliers, major Internet retailers, and the Of these, I have settled on the coop. It has the best prices. The key issue is to read the cupping notes, read the roasting notes, and then get proficient at roasting the beans. The best place that I have seen in terms of details is Sweet Maria's. They have a ton of information on their website, and I try to read every bit of it. They also have a mailing list that I have subscribed too, but the format never allowed me to get the sense of community that I found in the Greenbean coop. Even though the coop is my bulk source, Sweet Maria's fills out the need for beans that I use in my blends. There are many reputable sources for green beans, and as they are generally inexpensive, experimenting is cheap.


1) Deal with the smoke
2) Ruin the first few bacthes
3) Use your all your senses
4) Roast by weight
5) Big batches roast faster
6) Oily beans

From what I can tell, any roasting method makes smoke. Either plan on venting it, roast outdoors, or in the garage with the doors open. I am an in the garage guy.

Ruinning a batch will give you a real feel for how hot your popper gets, the differences in cracks, and the smell of the smoke. Roast them until they are burnt, and pay attention.

Use all your senses when roasting. Keep an eye on the color of the beans; it changes quickly at some stages. Find a good guide for the color of different roasts, and print it in color. Listen very closely for the first and second cracks. First crack is popcorn popping, and second crack is breaking toothpicks. Smell the smoke! There is a bit that starts at first crack, and a lot that comes a rolling second, they smell different! The bit of smoke at first crack is sweetish, and the more voluminous at second is more acrid. If you can get a bean out of the popper just at first crack, taste it, compare that to one just at second, you can tell the difference.

Roast by weight rather than volume your beans. Coffee beans have different sizes and density, as the bean mass can greatly effect the roast profile, the only way to get consistent roasts is to use a scale that can measure to the .1 gram. A good place to start with many poppers is to weigh half a cup of your favorite bean, and use that as a starting point. The right amount for me is the weight so that the bean mass is just moving at the start of the roast. As the roast progresses, the beans lose moisture, and the stirring action of the popper will improve as the beans lose weight.


There is a counter-intuitive element to coffee roasting in the air popper, and that is that more beans actually roast quicker! The more weight of beans added, the more that the bean mass retains heat, and the faster the temperatures rise and thus the quicker the roast will finish.

Temperature is critical, so a thermometer is essential. In order to get a roast profile time and temperature should be recorded in a format that allows the type of bean, weight in roaster, temperature ramps and times to be recorded. A key element of the roast profile is the time to ramp, and the gap between first and second crack.


If you find that you are not getting enough of a gap between the first and the second crack, there are two physical modifications that can be made to the roasting set up that will allow the needed separation: add an extension cord, or add a switch to turn of the heating element. There are many forum posts about this issue.

And now a note on oily beans; in the big generality of things oil on the outside of your home roasted beans is bad. That oil oxidizes on contact with air, and if it is on the outside of the bean, that process will happen faster. There are levels of roast where that oil is expected, but my experience is at that roast level the character of the bean is lost, and the character of the roast shines though into the espresso, and we get the dread Charbucks effect.


The bang for the buck aspect of the popper is huge. This took me over the top to the shots that I was looking for. It only cost SIX dollars. There are batch size limits with the air popper method, so now I have both the popper and a SC/GG roaster. There are other choices for roaster, but none as cost effective and efficient as the popper.

Finally home roasting gives you the ability to play with the blend that you like! In addition, if you so choose, you can get fair trade and organic beans with little difficulty.



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#2: Post by jkling17 »

Please see attached photo. I already own one of these and it does make darn good popcorn (Cuisinart CPM-900).

Would this be adequate for initial use as a home roaster, or do I need a specialized device? I'm certainly not adverse to buying another appliance if that's the best course of action though. Essentially, I'd rather hold off on buying the $300 Behmor 1600 until I know for sure that I'll definitely be roasting my own coffee all the time and long-term. But, if the Cuisinart won't do the trick, then something for $100 or so would be good.

Best regards and happy holidays to all!


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#3: Post by ccfore »

Jeff, Its hard to tell if yours would work without looking in the bottom without the popcorn in it. The ones that I have used with very good success are those with this type of vents:

The Poppery or the Poppery II are some of the more common ones used.

You can typically pick these up used for under $10.00, and they work really well for small batches.
Todd / LMWDP #109

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#4: Post by jkling17 »

The bottom is solid - it's a non-stick surface w/ the metal agitator that slowly spins. The Top clear part has a lot of vent slits on the top to allow steam to escape.


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#5: Post by RapidCoffee »

jkling17 wrote:The bottom is solid - it's a non-stick surface w/ the metal agitator that slowly spins. The Top clear part has a lot of vent slits on the top to allow steam to escape.
Sounds like a Stir Crazy. You'll probably need a convection oven on top to supply additional heat. Look for numerous SC/CO or SC/TO threads on CoffeeGeek for more info.

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#6: Post by mckolit »

Is it important to preheat the popper before putting in the beans? And if it is, what temp is a good starting point?

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#7: Post by prof_stack replying to mckolit »

If you have an air popper, then you don't need or want to preheat it. It heats pretty darn quickly as is. Just make sure the beans are in motion when they're roasting.

If you are using a stir-crazy type popcorn maker, then you'll need to add a spacer and a turbo oven on top. Many people (including myself) disable the heating from the SC (just clip a wire). Today's roast in 35F cold outside saw 1/2# of Ethiopean Yirghacheffe Peaberries hit 1st crack at 10min and finish in second crack at 14min. So, heat from the SC sure wasn't needed.

Good luck and have fun! Don't take the hobby too seriously, its all about having freshly roasted coffee at your beck and call.
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#8: Post by prof_stack »

For those curious of the Turbo Oven / Stir Crazy system, here are three photos of today's roast outside in the mid 30's.

Turbo Oven = GG (Galloping Gourmet) = CO (Convection Oven). Mine is 1470W.
Stir Crazy = UFO (Salton)

The Yirgacheffe peaberries are really small and not suitable for roasting in the Behmor until the optional smaller-mesh drum becomes available. Even then, the TO/SC seems to do better outside than the Behmor. First crack at 10min and second crack at 13:30. At the end it was smokin'!

An 1.5" aluminum spacer with hi-temp gasket seal on top keeps the TO from moving around. The vent in the spacer takes out most of the chaff.

The cooling tower is ghetto and it works. Stirring the beans removes the rest of the chaff. Sure doesn't take long to cool in this weather.

On left are the Yirg peaberries. On the right are 2-day old Kona beans roasted via Behmor.
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