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Choosing a Coffee Home Roaster

So, you've decided to take the plunge into home-roasting, or maybe you're thinking of upgrading your present machine. Awesome! That being said, All of our home coffee roasters are meant for personal, small batch use not commercial scale.

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.

If you plan to roast large volumes of green coffee beans, please visit one of the many commercial roaster sites. Our units must cool down completely to room temperature prior to roasting the next batch, or risk 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 mix the beans by floating them on a bed of hot air. 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 drink in a given period of time, the roast style, and flavor profile that you prefer. As freshly roasted coffee will start to degrade in quality after 4-5 days. It is recommended not to roast any more than you will drink in that period of time.

The fluid-air bed roasters 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 mentioned above, fluid-air bed/hot air machines roast the beans 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 either type of roaster can have a marked difference in cup character.

Coffee from a fluid-air bed roaster will tend to have more acidity and brightness with less body, whereas coffee roasted in a drum roaster will have more complex and fuller flavors with a better mouthfeel and body.

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.

Taste in coffee, as in most other things, is totally subjective. Drink what you like, roasted the way you like it.

Other Types of Coffee Roasters

While the fluid-air bed and drum roasters are the most common home roasting machines, an electric roaster, stovetop roaster or even a popcorn maker are all other options. There’s a perfect coffee roaster for suited for your needs.

Electric Coffee Roaster

Electric roasters are super easy to use and easy to clean! They are one of the more popular types of home coffee roasters right now because of the convenience and high level of control over the process. Just pick your settings, hit a button and wait! The electric roaster holds around 4 oz. of coffee beans.

Stovetop Coffee Roaster

Stovetop roasters are inexpensive but require a lot of attention and require a little bit more work from you. The roasting is done manually as you shake the roaster over an open flame or gas burner, listening for the beans to crack. Stovetop roasters hold around 2.5 oz. Many people like stovetop roasters for camping.

Popcorn Makers

You can use popcorn makers! If you are a beginner and just trying roasting out, using a popcorn maker helps you test the waters without investing too much money. The popcorn makers to use are manually stirred on the stovetop. Think the Great Northern Stovetop Popper. This isn’t the best way to roast coffee beans, but it’ll help you decide if you think if it’s something you enjoy. Once you make that decision, consider investing in a slightly more high-end machine to get a more consistent roast.

The Range of Roaster Choices

Home roasters run from "put the beans in, turn the knob to start, dump the beans out when they're to your liking" to time and temperature setting adjustments on-the-fly. If you're new to coffee roasting, 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 coffee beans without being too confusing. The learning curve is much shorter. On the other hand, if you want a learn a bit more about you roaster, 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; over-program the cycle so that you can manually stop the roast and start the cooling cycle when the roast is right for you.

Which Coffee Roaster Should I Buy?

To determine which roaster to buy, you need to ask yourself three questions:

  • How much coffee do I drink?
    Fluid-air bed machines just don’t measure up to the capacity of drum machines. If you drink a lot of coffee, you might consider the drum model over the fluid-air model.
  • How long have I been roasting?
    Some of the more advanced drum machines can be overwhelming to new roasters. All of the programmable bells and whistles are a great addition for mature roasters, but if you are just starting out, a fluid-air bed machine might be a smarter choice to learn on.
  • How do I like my coffee?
    Fluid-air bed machines roast at a quicker pace and hotter temps. Even roasted to the same darkness, they produce brighter more complex coffees. While the drum roasters tend to produce coffees with more sweetness and body, and tend to produce preferable espresso and darker roasts for this reason.

Other Factors to Consider

The most important factors in determining what roaster is right for you are how much coffee you drink in a given period of time, the roast style and flavor profile that you prefer. Freshly roasted coffee begins to degrade in quality after 4-5 days.

It’s not recommended to roast any more than you will drink in that period of time. Also, consider how much control you want to have over the process and how much effort you want to put into it. Do you want to be able to flip a switch and walk away? How much do you want to spend? What features do you want control over?

It’s also important to note that flavors differ between roasting machines because of how quickly the roasting is done and the heat applied to the bean. Each home coffee roaster makes a slightly different cup of coffee when it comes down to it.

Taste in coffee, as in most other things, is totally subjective. Drink what you like, roasted the way you like it. When you figure out the best home coffee roaster for you, make sure to perfect your brewing and storing methods to get that delicious cup of coffee.

Popular Roasters

The Fresh Roast SR540 Roaster
The Fresh Roast roasters are some of the most popular and affordable fluid-air bed roasters available. The 540 model has a lot of feature upgrades since the beloved 500 model. It has a roast capacity of 120 grams (4 scoops). It has 9 levels of heat adjustments and a wider range of fan adjustments. A single knob controls the heat, time, and fan. It also gives you a real-time temperature reading. The ease of use and the great functionality makes the fluid-air bed roaster a great choice for beginners who are wanting to grow in their knowledge of home roasting. And, for those who prefer the taste of a brighter, more complex roast this roaster is a great affordable option.

Gene Café Drum Roaster
This drum roaster affords a much larger roast than the Fresh Roast 540. It roasts up to ½ pound (250g) of coffee for those who need a larger capacity roaster. It’s an intuitive roaster that is ideal for both the novice and the more experienced roaster. The simple knobs allow you to control the time and temperature of your roast for every step of the process. The glass chamber allows you to visually monitor the progress of your roast. The unique off-axis rotation assures that your green coffee will be uniformly roasted. Finally, this model does have a venting system, and can be attached to a common dryer vent hose. This model is a great choice for those who want “all of the control.” It has enough great features that let you see and know what is going on with your roast, but the control is in your hands.

The Hottop KN-882B-2K+
Sounds pretty sophisticated right? Let’s just call it the Hottop “B-2K+” or the “plus” for short. And, when it comes to plusses, this machine has them all. The plus is Hottop’s flagship model. They call it the most sophisticated home-roaster ever. It actually has two thermocouples, one to monitor bean temperature and one to monitor the environmental temperature. The plus also has a USB port that allows it to use third party software to graph, record, and reproduce exact roasts. While it does have many automatic features, you can also have full manual control with this model. Advanced roasters will love the control, accuracy, and the repeatability of roasting with this machine. And, of course, big coffee drinkers will love the 300g capacity of this drum roaster.

How to Clean Your Coffee Roaster

Cleaning your home roaster is easy and affordable for the most part. It’s all about upkeep. After every use, get a wet cloth and do a general cleaning of the machine. This is usually enough, but roasting coffee involves a lot of smoke, dust and oils. If you only make darker roasts, you may have to clean it more often.

Weekly, empty the chaff bucket, check the cooling tray to ensure no holes are clogged and wipe down the roaster. Yearly, take your machine to an expert and have them take it apart to thoroughly clean your home roaster. Maintaining a clean machine extends its lifespan, so make sure to stay on top of it.

We hope this is helpful to you and not too complicated. Keep it simple and happy roasting!

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