Sunday, August 21, 2011

Roasting your own coffee - part 4 - Pumper vs Poppery II

Update (Nov. 20, 2011): I found and bought a second Popcorn Pumper at the Goodwill last month and discovered that not all machines (even within the same model) are created equal. My newest Pumper actually gets hot enough so that first crack takes only 6 minutes, like others have demonstrated on Youtube. My other two air poppers take about 10 minutes. So, if you have an air popper that seems to take forever to reach first crack, try another one, even if it's the same brand!
This is the fourth post about roasting your own coffee with a popcorn popper. This might seem a little excessive but if you think about the amount of coffee that you'll drink when you're a college student, it seems worthwhile to learn how to make the best cup of coffee that you possibly can without breaking the bank or wasting too much time. If you're going to drink a lot of it, make it good and enjoy it!

The inspiration for this post was the purchase of a second air popper at my local Goodwill store. I saw it on the shelf, plugged it in to test it (it worked), and bought it for $6.99 + tax. It was the Poppery II, which is the preferred model on Sweet Maria's. I had been going to the Goodwill twice a week looking for an air popper because I wanted a backup machine in case my Popcorn Pumper ever stops working.

Since I now have these two different brands of air poppers, I thought it might be useful and interesting to do a comparison of the two machines. The chambers look similar in that they have the same air vents on the side. However, the Pumper has a little bump on the bottom of the chamber. In the picture below, you can see that the Poppery has a higher point where the sliver part meets the black top part. However, it has a groove in the silver part of the chamber that shows you where the approximate maximum fill point is. In the Pumper, the maximum fill point is approximately where the sliver part meets the black part. In either machine, you really need to watch how fast the beans rotate at the start of the roast. If they're moving too quickly, add more beans. Otherwise, you'll never get to first crack and will have to finish them off in the toaster oven.
Poppery II (left) and Popcorn Pumper (right) 
Closer look: Pumper has a bump on the bottom of the chamber
The Covers
The other main difference between the two machines is that the Poppery II has a clear lid, which enables you to watch the coffee roasting process from beginning to end without having to remove it. Some Poppery II models have a yellowish lid but they won't be as dark as the one on the Pumper. The Pumper also has that removable butter melting cup on top but every time you open it, the temperature inside the chamber drops. This could be important in cooler temperatures, when you don't want the ambient temperature to affect the temperature inside the chamber. Also, there are vents on the Poppery cover but I'm not sure what their function is. Writer of other blogs have warned that the cover will melt after a few roasts but I'm hoping this doesn't happen with mine. If it looks like it's going to warp soon, I'll save it for winter roasting.

Other Differences:
  • Wattage of the Poppery II is 1200 W, the Pumper is 1250 W
  • Poppery II is a little shorter than the Pumper
  • Poppery II is a little quieter than the Pumper (this means that you might be able to hear the cracks better with the Poppery II)
  • The bottom of the Pumper chamber has a little bump in the center while the bottom of the Poppery II chamber is just flat. Perhaps this explains why the beans move a little more efficiently in the Pumper.

Poppery II (left), Pumper (right)

The reason I wanted to compare the machines was because other people on youtube have managed to create dark roasts in half the time it took me with my Popcorn Pumper. Even though the wattage of the Poppery II is slightly lower, I thought the design of the Poppery II might make it faster to roast a batch of coffee. The first few batches in the Poppery II didn't seem to work because the beans took forever to get to first crack, if at all. I had to finish them off in the toaster oven. While this worked fine because most of the chaff came off when the beans were spinning around, I still wanted to be able to do a complete roast in the Poppery II. I also remember having a similar problem with the Popcorn Pumper when I first got it. Perhaps the machines need to be "conditioned" before they are able to do a complete roast.

After roasting a about 3 or 4 batches, I was finally able to do a complete roast and hear the first crack. It also helps to add more coffee beans than you think is enough. The beans should look like they are percolating and not moving much at the start. Here's a video of me comparing the two machines and a more recent roast in the Poppery II:

I roasted the beans for over 13 minutes and wasn't able to see any oils at that point. Sometimes the oils take a few days to come out of the beans. I've been able to see a bit of oil when I use the Popcorn Pumper. Perhaps it just takes a few more batches for the Poppery II to be broken in fully. The slightly lower wattage of the Poppery II might also prevent me from getting the beans up to a high enough temperature. Time will tell.

Resting the coffee
Some people on the web will say that the coffee tastes the best 4 to 24 hours after the roast. However, I've found that the coffee actually has more flavor a few days after the roast. It really depends on the bean. There's a de-gassing process that needs to happen. So, if your coffee tastes a little flat at first, let the beans rest a day or so and try again. At some point, you'll get a feel for how long it takes for the beans to reach their full flavor.

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