Using a Whirley-Pop to Roast Coffee

Maybe not such a good idea to use an electric popcorn popper . . .

One of the perils of creating how-to books and blog posts is when one of your bits of advice blows up in your face after writing about it. Such is the case with my suggestion of roasting coffee in a hot air popcorn popper. Yesterday, my West Bend Air Crazy popcorn popper made good on the crazy in its name, started smoking and stopped working in the midst of coffee roasting.

In my guilt ridden imagination I can already see dolphins choking on the remains of my now useless West Bend Air Crazy. I can also imagine the letter from the West Bend legal team reminding me that I was using the air popper for something it was never designed to do. And then there’s the ire of West Bend’s Chinese factory workers cursing my privileged lifestyle. But worst of all is the wailing of wives and husbands angry that their partners had been suckered into the idea of roasting coffee at home with an air popper on the advice of some dumb blogger.

Let me make amends. My coffee geek friends use a manual, hand cranked stove top popcorn popper called the Whirley-Pop. Here’s why:

  • You can roast a much bigger batch.
  • You have more control over the roasting process (by regulating the heat on the stove).
  • No electronic parts, thus nothing to break down.
  • You can roast over a fire if your utilities go out. Having caffeine (if you’re the addicted sort) during a hurricane/earthquake/Mayan apocalypse is really important.
  • Root Simple is supposedly about “Low Tech Home Tech.” There ain’t nothing low tech about a plastic hot air popper.

There are a few disadvantages to the Whirley-Pop:

  • Not plug and play. You have to stand over the stove, regulate the heat and turn the crank.
  • Smoke can set off fire alarms–harder to take outside than the air popper.

My air popper might have lasted longer had I roasted coffee in it without the top on as one reader suggested. I could also have just ended up with a bad popper. Apologies to anyone who rushed out to get an air popper. Maybe it will work better than mine did.

At least with our high tech blog I can correct mistakes. It would be harder if Root Simple was a mimeographed newsletter–the Whirley-Pop of information delivery methods. But we’ll see what format the blog is in after this week’s Mayan apocalypse . . .

Leave a comment


  1. I did indeed order West Bend Air Crazy and will receive it soon. How long did your popper/roaster last before its demise?

    Actually I was interested in trying it to roast pecans. Sounded like it would roast just about the right amount for one person’s snack.

    • Sorry! I’ve been using it for at least 6 months. Again, it might be best to use it with the top off. And let me know how it works to roast pecans.

  2. Don’t worry. In my case you inspired me too buy green coffee beans but I’m going to start with what I already have, a wok. I figure there will be a learning curve but I don’t have to spend any extra to get started.

  3. I just ordered one of these (plus the 8-pound sampler from Sweet Maria’s) as a christmas present. Sweet Maria’s makes it very clear that popcorn poppers are not designed for coffee and won’t last very long for coffee roasting. But they also say, and I believe them, that it’s a great way to get started roasting your own coffee. I don’t love buying something with planned obsolescence, but it seems like an OK tradeoff for learning about home roasting. (Here’s their whole explanation/disclaimer:

  4. I had the West Bend Poppery 2 referred to in that Sweet Maria’s article. It lasted at least 100 roastings, a good year and a half of use split between two people. I’ve had no luck with newer poppers; apparently a lot of those have a one-shot safety fuse built in. I’ve got a fancy drum roaster now. If I didn’t have that, I’d use a wok or heavy saucepan. There’s a plastic gear in the Whirley-Pop and I’m not a fan of plastic on the stovetop.

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