A first test of the popper

The popcorn popper arrived in the post some time on a weekday morning. I opened up the box, took a glance over the machine, plugged it in, turned it on (it made a noise, it expelled hot air) and then got to making some popcorn! The machine had arrived before the kilo of green coffee that I had ordered, but I thought it would be useful to see how it did with what it was meant to do before I started messing around with it.

This thing is awful at making popcorn! By my crude estimates around half of the kernels that went into the machine ended up flying out of the machine at high speed, un-popped, and very hot! Whilst the popper was impersonating and anti-air gun, firing hot pellets of starch all over my kitchen, some of the kernels that did pop were failing to leave the popping chamber and starting to smoke. This isn’t at all as bad as it sounds though! In fact, this is good news as far as roasting coffee goes.The spitfire of corn kernels tells me that the popcorn popper has a fan powerful enough to function properly with coffee in the popping chamber rather than corn kernels. I want enough air to be pushed through the chamber to agitate and mix the beans during a roast and this suggests that the fan is up to the task. Also, the charring of the kernels suggests that the 1200 watt heating element gets hot enough to roast coffee (typically coffee beans heat to around 200OC during the roasting process, whereas corn kernels only need to be brought to 100OC in order to turn the internal water into steam and cause popping). Great news!

A day or two later my green coffee arrived and I could get on with my first exploratory roast! I ordered a kilo of Honduras Clave del Sol from Rave Coffee. I chose this particular bean for a few reasons. First of all it was the cheapest arabica that wasn’t either a monsooned Malabar or from Papua New Guinea or Sumatra. I don’t have anything against these origins, I just have had many coffees from those regions that I didn’t like, and I thought that would make it harder to work towards roasting to a flavour profile I enjoy! Secondly, I had a vague memory of an article I read that suggested that Central American coffees were easier to roast. Finally the tasting notes of the Clave del Sol are flavours that I am quite familiar with, and so I might perhaps have a clearer goal in my mind for the roasts. I ordered a kilo since I want to make sure that most, if not all, of my first exploratory and experimental roasts are with the same bean! It’s important to control as much as possible in an experiment, after all! So the coffee arrived, and I slung 45g of beans into the popper, set it down on the balcony, turned it on and watched, listened and smelled!

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The first thing that I noticed was that 45g is not enough of a load for the fan. The beans circled rapidly around the chamber, but didn’t really mix within themselves. As soon as I noticed this I used the handle of a wooden spoon to make sure that the beans were mixing. The second thing I noticed was the chaff cyclone! I’m glad I took this outside! The beans started to hit first crack at around 3:30, but the crack was quite long – I noted that the cracks started to slow and stop at nearly five minutes. I am pretty sure this is not only way too early for first crack, but the variation in time-to-crack within the beans suggests very uneven roasting! I pulled the beans at 6:30 when I started to notice some smoke, and started to hear what I thought might be the start of second crack. Once they had cooled and I took a look I was actually quite surprised – the didn’t look too bad!

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They were pretty dark – darker than I typically like to see a bean – but the colour looked even, and I didn’t see much evidence of burning or scorching. They turned out drinkable, but most of the flavour in the cup was roast. The brew was slightly ashy, a bit hollow and reminiscent of a supermarket coffee with a name like “Monday Morning Might” and a big thick 5 denoting it’s strength. Better than I expected though!

I learned three things from this roast! Firstly, use more beans. Secondly, the popcorn popper definitely needs some modification to bring it under control! It roasts way too fast, and I also have no idea what is going on in terms of temperature inside the chamber. Thirdly, roasting coffee makes a lot of chaff, and a lot of good smells and sounds! I think this will be fun.

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