This is the second (and almost certainly last) in my series of posts on reasonably cheap ways to get into home roasting. I found that doing so was fun and informative and I learned a lot about coffee, but I also learned how amazing the great roasters truly are when you can try their roasts fresh. Getting into home roasting is exactly what made me appreciate sites like Roaste.com. I do have friends who can produce amazing results – far better than I can, but even so by the time you realize that the equipment costs money, the beans lose moisture so a pound in does not yield a pound out, etc, you realize that it is not usually a great way to save money (especially if you are looking at time as a form of money, too). None the less, I think it is a fun and informative thing to do (but 90 % of the coffee I drink is pre-roasted).
One of the cheapest home roasting methods is using a hot air popper that was intended for popcorn.
Not every popcorn popper will work, but Sweet Marias reports that some of their customers have had success with the following models.
West Bend Air Crazy
West Bend Poppery II (1200 watt model) - a preferred model
Kitchen Gourmet (from Walgreens)
Toastmaster 6203West Bend Air Crazy
Presto Poplite (from Wal-mart - stock #s 04820*, 04821, and 114316)
Nostalgia Brand (Bath Bath & Beyond)
Toastess TCP-388 (also TCP-1)
Some of these can be found for five dollars on Ebay or in thrift shops.
They work like the slightly higher end Iroast machines, but without some of the bells and whistles that allow you to control the temperature, collect the chaff, etc.
Another imaginative method is a drum roaster on a grill. You can order one or build one and get it on a mechanized spit. RK drums makes one that is supposed to be quite good, but it is not cheap. I would imagine one could make your own for a reasonable price that would not be as good, but would be fun to use and would work fine.
These can do much more coffee at a single time than most roasters that home roasters buy. Usually one only does a fraction of a pound and these in theory can do several pounds at a time.
I toyed with the idea of buying a mechanized rotisserie for a grill and trying these out but just as I was thinking about it my gas grill died and I decided to go with charcoal and have never looked back. At the same time I saw someone refer to his grill drum as being much better at coffee for drip than for espresso and I mostly drink espresso. (I do think roasting for espresso seems harder for some reason, but perhaps I just have a different standard for espresso than drip). I think it would be hard to do this kind of roasting over real wood or charcoal, but it is not unheard of.