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Choosing A Roaster

So, you've decided to take the plunge into home-roasting, or maybe you're thinking of upgrading your present machine. Awesome!

With the number of choices out there, determining which roaster is right for you can be challenging. We'd like to give you some information and a few points to ponder when choosing your first roaster or considering an upgrade.

All of our roasters are meant for home use not commercial scale. That isn't to say many professional roasters don't also have one or more of these home roasting models around for testing new varieties, it just means you won't be starting a business with any of our coffee roasters. If you plan to roast large volumes, please visit one of the many commercial roaster sites. Our units must be allowed to cool down completely to room temperature prior to roasting the next batch, or you may experience a significant decrease in the life of the roaster, not to mention voiding your warranty. The home roaster manufacturers, who also handle their warranties, are very serious about this. Now onto the fun stuff!

Fluid-Air Bed or Drum?

There are two main types of home-roasting machines: fluid-air bed and drum. Fluid-air bed machines roast and agitate the beans by floating them on a bed of hot air, where they're constantly mixed up. Drum machines roast by heating a rotating chamber. The beans roast by the ambient temperature inside the chamber and contact with the hot surface of the drum. In general, fluid-air bed roasters will roast faster and hotter than drum roasters. Home-use fluid-air bed roasters will also have less capacity per roast than a drum roaster due to limitations on the size of the fan.

The most important factors in determining what roaster is right for you are how much coffee you roast/drink in a given period of time, and the roast style/flavor profile that you prefer. As freshly roasted coffee will start to deteriorate in quality after 4-5 days, it's recommended not to roast any more than you will drink in that period of time. The fluid-air bed roasters we carry will roast anywhere from 2.5 to 5 oz. of green beans per roast, whereas the drum roasters will handle anywhere from 8 to 10 oz per roast. As a rough idea of how much drip coffee, for example, this will yield, depending on how strong you like your coffee, 2.5 oz of green beans, when roasted, will yield approximately 1 1/2 to 2 drip pots (if they're 10-cup pots). You can extrapolate from there what your usage over a 4 to 5 day period will be and also depending on your preferred brewing method.

As mentioned above, fluid-air bed/hot air machines roast appreciably faster and hotter than drum machines. As a result, the flavor profiles of the same coffee, roasted to the same degree of roast, in a fluid-air bed roaster and a drum roaster can have a marked difference in cup character. Coffee from a fluid-air bed roaster will tend to be brighter and retain more complexity, whereas coffee from a drum roaster will have better body, a bit more sweetness, and more, but less brightness (degree of flavor). Also, while fluid-air bed roasters are more than capable of darker roasts, drum roasters tend to do a better, more consistent job with darker roasts than fluid-air bed machines. Because of the better body and depth achieved with drum machines, they tend to be preferred by people who drink a lot of espresso. On the other hand, I know many people who roast coffee for espresso in a fluid-air bed roaster and love the results. Taste in coffee, as in most other things, is totally subjective. Drink what you like, roasted the way you like it.

The Range of Roaster Choices

Home roasters run from the simplest, "put the beans in, turn the knob to start, dump the beans out when they're to your liking" (simpler Fresh Roast models) to time and temperature adjustments on-the-fly (GeneCafe) to the totally programmable I-Roast 2 and HotTop P. If you're new to coffee roasting, while the programmable roasters are very nice, some people can be a bit overwhelmed at first by all the roast profiles available with the programmable machines. A simple roaster can afford someone new to roasting the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of roasting and their roast and coffee preferences without being too confusing or intimidating. The learning curve is much shorter. On the other hand, if you want a roaster you can grow with and don't mind taking more time to learn your roaster, by all means consider a programmable machine. The choice is up to you.

Another bit of information that applies to all home roasters is that there is no such thing as a fully automatic "turn it on and walk away" roaster. Some machines are designed to function like that, but the reality is there are too many variables involved to achieve that kind of consistency. The variable list is long, but the most significant are:

  • bean density and moisture content
  • bean volume in the roasting chamber
  • ambient conditions like temperature and relative humidity
  • electric supply fluctuations

We strongly recommend you never leave your roaster running unattended. Stay with it; overprogram the cycle so that you can manually stop the roast / start the cooling cycle when the roast is right for you, and to prevent fires. While they are rare with home roasters, fires do happen, and if you are somewhere else a small roaster fire can become a catastrophic event; a risk not worth taking, however remote the possibility. We hope this is helpful to you and not too complicated. Keep it simple and happy Roasting!

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