Where can I find a popcorn popper suitable for home coffee roasting?
I am planning to home roast coffee (for the first time) and understand that certain models of hot air popcorn poppers (those with side vents as opposed to mesh vents) are good for beginner roasters. Sweet Maria's coffee site lists several models that work: The West Bend Poppery II, The Popcorn Pumper, and the Popaire 2 by Hamilton Beach, but I haven't been able to find any of them (they may no longer be produced). I would prefer to pick one up at a store (NYC metro area), but would order online too. Any suggestions for where to get one, or info on other specific models that are suitable for home coffee roasting? Thanks.
Most air poppers are discontinued these days. In fact, all the models you've mentioned are discontinued. Your best bet is to check out thrift stores and the Salvation Army.
In addition to your list, the best-though-of popper for coffee roasting is the long-discontinued West Bend Poppery - the original model.
As you've read, poppers with air vents in the side of the popping chamber, rather than the bottom, are preferred. Side vents make the beans swirl better. Also, it's alleged vents in the bottom can burn the beans, or even set them on fire. However, no one seems to have ever had that happen to them, personally. In addition, the dedicated roasters from Hearthware have vents in the bottom, and nobody seems to mind that.
The original West Bend popper, called "The Poppery," works better than Poppery II or the Pumper. It is more powerful and has about a third more capacity. They are long out of production but can be found at thrift shops and on eBay. Popcorn Pumper would be my second choice if I couldn't get The Poppery.
Why not just buy a home sized green Coffee bean roaster?
I have had a Mellita Electric Coffee Roaster for years. It roasts small amounts, but it is worth the enhanced taste over any large roaster company.
Finding good green coffee beans to roast seems to be the biggest challange! Anyone have sources for them?
I've used a variety of hot air poppers. I get them at thrift stores or garage sales, and pick them up whenever I see them. I try not to pay more than $5 for a popper, because I've melted so many (the plastic top/vent part mostly). :) In my experience, one popper is just as good as another.
I'm always on the prowl for a 'home roaster', but they seem rather expensive for something that's going to get 'abused' a lot (roasing beans is dirty and very, very hot).
I'm pretty lucky as my local brew shop stocks a variety of green coffee beans.
John at Chocolate Alchemy services Behmor roasters and often has them available for $199. You'll have to email him as he no longer puts them on the website. This is the roaster that I use and I've had mine now for nearly 4 years. It's very good and can easily do a batch of up to 12 ounces or so to whatever darkness you like. If you like a medium roast you probably could do 14 ounces. I never push my limits and nearly always just roast 10 ounces of green so that I get about 1/2 pound afterwards. Even still my roasts are medium or medium+.
Air-poppers often show up at thrift stores cheap. I got my first (have burned-out several) for $1.99. Flush or lazy, I've bought poppers at Target/Sears/Fred Meyer/Ross, et al for $20-30.
Though 1200w or even 1240 are faster, they also catch fire more easily (the firefighters thanked me for using effective secondary containment in a big ceramic planter, while they encouraged me to pay better attention to keep the smoke from frightening the neighbors). Also, I prefer the control the side-vented 1040 watt poppers give me, because the roast moves fast. Also, the side-vent blower-fans at this wattage cause the heavy raw beans to just barely start to give enough rotation/convection to keep them from staying in contact with the superheated air and scorching. Not only does this help the beans roast evenly, the rotation produces an elegantly comprehensive visual. As the roast progresses and the beans lose moisture and change color, a few will begin to jump out the top eventually (that's where I usually stop the roast on my 1040w side-vent popper). Although the bottom-vented ones start to blow beans out the top more easily when they get light enough, it works OK to put a metal mesh cup, slotted spoon, or colander on top. Oh, I forgot to mention a basic mod for poppers. I crimp and mash the lips of an ordinary tin-can to tweak it till it snugly fits into 3" hole in the top. Creative opportunity exists for adaptation of hurricane lantern chimneys, HVAC duct reducers, et al. This new tin-can chimney extension keeps the jumping beans in a lot longer.
I love that the green-coffee buying club sends a few pounds at a time of exotic green beans to my mailbox at prices competitive with grocery-store coffee grounds. I'm lucky to have a covered veranda outside my door, so I can roast in the rain if I want and not set-off the smoke detector.