help dialing in popper roast?


New member
Mar 21, 2024
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hey folks!
I've been roasting with popcorn poppers for over 10 years (and for about 2 years with a BeanBon before it's fan went out and I went back to poppers).
With the poppers I've typically modified them for fan and heat control and added a cheap thermometer that sits in the middle of the bean mass.
Before getting the BeanBon I'd always assumed that my weakest link was not having access to accurate data about the roast (and it may still be ;))
But I found that, even with real time data/feedback with the BeanBon app - I still struggled to match roast profile changes to desired expectations.
My preferences are for fruit forward Ethiopians. and I tend to look for dry process - I'm not 100 percent sure if that's more because that type of bean is my preferred flavor, or I just happen to have stumbled across roast techniques that just work better with that type of bean.
After my BeanBon quit working and I went back to a popper (I currently have sweet maria's "the popper") I had a bit of what I'll call "chart fatigue" in that I'd figured out how to get the BeanBon to produce a near "perfect" looking light/med-light roast chart - with beans whose color seemed to match that expectation but whose flavor always seemed to be not quite as good as it could given the beans I was purchasing.
So I decided to focus more on the visceral aspects of the roast - smells and colors during the roasting, while still keeping an eye on temp and ROR but trying not to let them dictate my decisions as much.
I have also gotten the feeling from reading various posts regarding fluid bed roast profiles - that there's maybe just some general misconception about the expectations of roast profiles with regard to fluid bed vs drum roasting.
One that has tended to ring true for me is around heat/inertia - i.e. where drum roasts profiles tend to slow down dramatically during/just before the development phase, I find that - if I slow my roast too much there, development seems to stall. I wind up with a weak or non-existent first crack and an under developed roast.

That brings me to my current struggle.
My batch size is about 100 - 110 grams - this is about where my roaster produces slight movement of the beans at the start.
My typical roast tends to run about 7:30 - 8 minutes total + 3 minutes of cooling.
I tend to try to start with med/med-high heat but cut it to low sometime in the first minute to try to keep my total time from ambient temp to roughly 300F to about 3 - 3.5 minutes.
At which point I reduce my fan and increase my heat to med/med-high in order to reach roughly 385F - 390F by about 5.5 minutes, backing heat off just a bit in the last 30 seconds or so.
This is typically about when first crack begins.
I aim for about 1.5 minutes of development - but I tend to go roughly 30 seconds longer and end at a about 7:20 - 7:45 at a temp of between 405 - 415.
The variance is mostly due to the lack of automation.
The result is what I'd call a very decent roast, better than typical from local bigger batch roasters - but not as good as high end boutique small batch roasters.
But it's darker than I'd prefer. I tend to cull out about 30 or so under roasted beans and the remainder look to be about a city+ leaning into full city territory.
As I cull, I smash the beans and smell them and here's where I get the impression that I'm leaving some delicious flavor "on the table" so to speak.
The lightest beans tend to be one of two dramatically distinct things - A) acrid, under roasted, not good smell OR B) bursting with fruit, i.e. exactly what I'm hoping for.
With the vast majority having gotten more into the "winey" smelling territory with leftover hints of fruit.

My general questions are -
Do folks have thoughts or suggestions on how can I get MORE of "B" without also getting more of "A"?
Does it sound like I'm drying out for TOO long or not long enough?
How can I transition IN to first crack better/stronger without overshooting and winding up in dark territory before enough development has happened.

lengthy post I know! thanks for bearing with me if you made it all the way through!