A Tale of Two Roasters

In my never-ending quest to find the best [cheap] coffee roasting technology, I took some time to study the coffee-roasting performance of two slightly modified “air-popping” popcorn poppers.


The two models I used were: West Bend Air Crazy and a Presto PopLite.

Both of these models feature “safety” circuits that keep the poppers from getting overheated. Since coffee roasting requires sustained temperatures of approximately 400°F, it was necessary to perform some minor modifications to their internal circuitry for use in coffee roasting.  Disabling the circuits facilitates great coffee roasting… but can lead to some problems when you try to dark-roast coffee. — The modifications were relatively simple for both of these roasters and detailed instructions on how to perform these modifications will be posted soon.

Ignoring the challenges of modifying these off-the-shelf products, these two models also have a major design difference. The West Bend Air Crazy was designed to feature a circular airflow and the Presto PopLite’s airflow is directed upward.


These differing airflows are what encouraged me to explore roasting with the West Bend Air Crazy. The majority of my coffee-roasting experience has been with a Presto PopLite and while I have been generally happy with it, it is worth an investigation since a circular airflow should be a great gain in the coffee roasting experience. — One of the major problems I have with the Presto PopLite is I am often having to stir the beans throughout the roasting process as the vertical airflow isn’t strong enough to thoroughly circulate the beans. The West Bend Air Crazy‘s circular airflow promises great feature; auto-stirring the beans! Since auto-stirring means less work for me, I was naturally intrigued.

Now that I have both poppers roasters modified, I thought it would be interesting to compare the experience. I roasted an identical volume of Peru High Grown beans with the two roasters starting from “cold” states.

Quick Disclaimer: There will obviously be manufacturing variations for both of these products. My results may not be consistent with the poppers you acquire.

Brand Time to Start of First Crack (minutes) Time to Start of Second Crack (minutes)
Presto PopLite 2:04 3:30
West Bend Air Crazy 3:20 6:40

In the future, I would really like to study the heating profiles of these two poppers roasters but in the meantime, I am sad to report that I expect to continue using the Presto PopLite for most of my roasting. I do not trust either popper to roast unattended and I currently consider the time-to-roast a more important feature of the roasting process.


About Nate

Nate is an embedded software engineer and coffee lover from Melbourne, FL. // Twitter: @afraud

12. April 2013 by Nate
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