Home Coffee Roaster?
Does anybody have a favorite coffee roaster? I am looking for one for my BF's birthday, without spending 300 bucks. He loves a dark brew, and the review of the Nesco Home Coffee Roaster ($150) on sweetmarias.com indicated this was best for lighter roasts. Is the cheaper FreshRoast Plus8 ($75) any good? The pricier Hearthware i-Roast 2 ($180) worth it? I'd love to hear what you coffee afficianados think.
The i-Roast 2 is definitely worth it; I use mine twice a week. The thing I like best is that you can do true custom roasts. Rather than running the machine at a pre-set temperature until the desired degree of roast is achieved, you create a profile that gradually increases the temperature throughout the roasting process. This prevents the roast from stalling on the one hand, and from quickly overshooting your desired degree of doneness on the other.
I looked at the Fresh Roast, but its maximum capacity is around 60g of green coffee, which means I'd have to roast nearly every day. The iRoast will roast 150g of green beans, so I can get by with roasting twice a week.
The only downside to the iRoast is that it's really noisy. (Smoky, too, but they're all like that.) Think "chorus of blow driers" noisy. Conversation in the same room is severely limited. But under $750 or so, all home roasters involve compromises. Ten minutes of noise twice a week is something I can live with.
I started out with a Fresh Roast Plus. Collected a couple of hot air popcorn makers as well. After a year I moved on due to such small batch sizes. I enjoy the process but roasting 3-4 times a week got old. Gave the heat gun method a try for a year and it was great for larger batch sizes but too hands on. I have settled on a homemade roaster which is a combination of a stircrazy popcorn maker base and a turbo convection oven as the heat source. The cost to put one of these together is around $100.
I realize that this is not the type of roaster one gives as a gift. There is a little tinkering that you will want to do to maximize your roasting pleasure but with this roaster I can do 14-16 oz batches of green with extremely even results in an average of 13 min from start to finish. A couple of back to back roasts and I'm done for the week. All I have to do is stand by and listen for the cracks and be ready to dump at the appropriate time.
The Behmor is the new darling of the home roasters. I had considered it when my turbo oven crapped out on me but ended up fixing it but not before buying a new turbo oven. I just couldn't justify the Behmor since it has a smaller batch size and it is not without issues for 3X what I paid for my roaster.
I think the "correct" choice will depend on how much of a tinkerer your boyfriend is and your budget.
The tinkerer and budget choice is the iRoast 2. Note that "budget" choice does not imply anything bad or thrifty, only that it's relatively cheap. The pros: great controllability, can vary temperatures, times, save profiles, and basically allows infinite experimentation so he can take one bean and roast it a thousand different ways to find his ultimate roast; relatively low price. Cons: loud as hell, relatively small batch size means doing 2-4 roasts per week, depending on his consumption and whether he's a coffee versus espresso drinker.
Option two, for someone a bit less into tinkering and with a bigger budget: Behmor 1600. The Behmor offers relatively small variability in the roast, and the user cannot control temperatures and has limited control of times. Basically, the machine has a few presets with the ability to modify those presets within fixed parameters. There is one temperature output, and any variation from this is based on flutuating on and off, rather than actually changing the energy output. Pros: great batch size, up to full 1 pound roasts, quiet, smoke-reduction system that works. Cons: price $200-$300, low play factor, bigger batches mean bigger smoke output.
The "ultimate" home roaster for the combination of batch size and tinkering: The Hottop roaster. This is a mini version of commercial drum roasters that has a great cooling system that cools the beans in about 3-4 minutes (compared to 8-12 for a Behmor)! The Hottop is also programmable and upgradeable, so that you can buy a standard low-programmable model and upgrade the PCB and control panel as you desire to get more and more hands-on and tinkery as your heart desires. Pros: upgradeable, 1/2 pound batch size, great cooling system, commercial styling. Cons: BIG smoke output, high price ($700-$1000 depending on configuration).
Personally, I use the Behmor and I'm happy with it. I just don't have the time or interest to keep a log book of my roasts comparing the difference between 425 degrees and 415 degrees, or whether an extra 6 seconds of roasting brings out more nuttiness or whatnot. I'm sure that those who keep such records really enjoy doing it, it's just not for me and I roast quite happily using my Behmor and I never miss the fine-tuning controls that other roasters have. You will have to judge your BF's personality to see if he's like me, or if he'd prefer to micro-manage with an iRoast.
Two additional thoughts: is he planning on ONLY drinking home-roast, or is he looking to play around and supplement his commercial roasts with his own home-roast? If he still likes his commercial brands, then the small batch size of an iRoast is A-OK. If he's only drinking home-roast, a 1/2 pound or greater batch is a plus.
Secondly, the Behmor is available in a fully warranteed but refurbished version for a $100 discount, making it $199. You can find this at www.chocolatealchemy.com.
In my roasting career, I have used everything from hot air popcorn poppers to stovetop popcorn poppers, the Hearthware Gourmet, the Caffe Rosto, heatgun/dogbowl and now the Behmor. For your pricepoint, I think the iRoast would be the way to go. The other turnkey appliance options have either frustratingly small batch sizes or are considerably more expensive.