We wanted to create a coffee roaster, one that was a lot like a popcorn popper from the ‘70s. We didn’t want to think up any new design, or new roast method. We wanted to take what works, the air popcorn popper, and roll it back to the way it was 30 years ago.
So we took an old vintage air popper machine we bought at a thrift store in the ‘90s for $4, and sent it to China. We sent it to the factory that still makes air poppers, and asked if they could make one just like that. They said they could.
They sent us back a prototype machine. It looked just like the popper we sent them. Actually it was the popper we sent them, but they added 2 knobs to the front.
From then it was a long (and actually pretty boring) back and forth between Oakland and the factory.
Eventually we got something from them that didn’t actually look as bad as we expected, and roasted 100 grams of coffee evenly in about 7 minutes. (That’s a good roast time for an air popper batch). We compared the roast quality favorably to other machines.
We liked the way they had perfectly followed our plan: no computer control, no roast profiles, smart technology or connectivity.
There are 3 knobs that turn: A timer, a fan speed knob, and a heat knob. A roaster (person) must turn these to roast, and must adjust these using their hands, while roasting. We called this the “set it …and do not forget it” approach.
The good news is that this machine wasn’t going to be the most expensive ever created. In fact it would sell for what the first generation air poppers often fetch on Ebay. So things went pretty well and the factory was ready to start making this “coffee roaster.” They asked what we called it, but we had waffled on this for a while. We didn’t want to be weird about it.
We thought about a name that captured the story behind this machine. We settled on Popper. Popper is a coffee roaster. (Just to be super clear). Anyway, we figured the name was accurate and people who had other ideas of what “popper” meant would figure out the difference soon enough.
The entire process was incredibly easy. Other people did most of the work. We just roasted the coffee and enjoyed it, which was also pretty easy. We wanted to visit the “origin” of Popper there in China but then the virus came along, so that has to wait.