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Oct 15, 2009 06:17 PM

Best first coffee roaster?

I am itching to roast my own coffee, but I don't feel sold on any particular machine, no matter how many times I check out the home roasting websites. For what it's worth, I have a small kitchen and would prefer a compact machine. And I don't want to start out on a $500 model.

I'd love to know what you've enjoyed or disliked using, and why.

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  1. I, too, am a novice coffee roaster. It's tricky, but worth it. I went with the recommended method from Sweet Maria's website (the info there is invaluable) and found an old hot air popcorn popper on e-bay. Way cheap, and you roast in small batches, which for me is perfect. I do it outside on my teensy apartment balcony, and the beans come out great. Sweet Maria's gives good how to's on which models work for roasting, and gives recommended roasting times for different green beans.

    1 Reply
    1. re: french roast

      As a ten year veteran home roaster, I strongly recommend a hot air popcorn popper as your first roaster. Being entirely manual, you'll get a feel for roasting that the automated/semi-automated machines won't give you. You can probably find a second hand hot air popper at a yard sale or thrift store for less than $10. If home roasting is not for you, you're only out $10. If, on the other hand, you decide (as I did) that home roasted coffee is a necessity, you will be more comfortable spending several hundred dollars on a dedicated coffee roaster.

      I'd also recommend that you get yourself a large supply of an inexpensive green coffee, such as a semi-generic Colombian, to practice on. You can buy 5 lbs of green Colombian Supremo from, for example, for about $15 plus shipping. Once you've mastered that, you can go on to the more expensive, more interesting coffees that places like Sweet Maria's sells.

    2. I think an old fashioned french press produces the best coffee.

      2 Replies
      1. re: E_M

        E_M, you didn't really read the post, did you? ;-)

        Vetter, don't forget about the ol' heat gun and dog bowl (HGDB) roaster!

        1. re: Joe Blowe

          OMG! It's been a long day ALREADY.

          So sorry! My mind registered the words "coffee" and "roast" and as I am enjoying a cup right now...

          :: scurrying away in embarrassment ::

      2. I've been roasting my own beans for the past 18 months and I'll never go back to buying coffee that may or may not be fresh. I use the iRoast2 from SweetMaria's and have been very happy with it. The only drawback is the smoke so I do all my roasting outside or in the garage. If you have a VERY effective stove hood fan that sucks up everything and blows it OUTSIDE the house, that would probably work. Here are 2 links for purchase.

        1. Check out the reviews on Sweet Maria's, which I find the most helpful source of relevant information. I have a Fresh Roast and an iRoast 2. Both are decent roasters, but both have their significant quirks.

          The Fresh Roast is easy to use, likely the cheapest, very fast, and reasonably quiet. However, it can roast only a very small batch. I find it somewhat dangerous to handle.

          The iRoast 2 can roast many more beans per batch than the Fresh Roast and is much more stable. It is significantly slower, though not unbearably so. However, it is extremely noisy and is very complicated to program. (You can roast manually, but it is hard to hear the coffee crack over the noise.)

          The Nesco also sounds like a reasonable choice if you don't want a very dark roast. I haven't used it myself.

          You will need to spend a lot more money to get a better roaster than one these. If you have a reasonably decent range hood vented outside, smoke shouldn't be a problem.

          Some air popcorn poppers can do the job, but others will spray chaff all over the room or otherwise give you grief. Sweet Maria's explains this in detail. You can also roast in a stovetop popcorn popper or in a hot oven.

          4 Replies
          1. re: embee

            As far as the iRoast2 being "very complicated to program", I don't find that to be true at all. If you're the type that doesn't like to read instructions or thinks the process should be intuitive, then maybe you should stick to a cornpopper. If you've never figured out how to set the clock on your vcr, perhaps you should stay away from roasting your own coffee beans altogether.

            1. re: grampart

              You are entitled to your opinion and I am entitled to mine :-)

            2. re: embee

              A hot oven! That sounds so easy that I might try it. I have a Waring Pro convection oven which is reasonably accurate up to 500F, and the temperature required is 440F for about ten minutes.

              I use a Cafe Rosto but it is finicky. I've had to replace a lid gasket and it needs more time in my winter house temperature than summer.

              1. re: jayt90

                Beware of the smoky kitchen syndrome.

            3. Vetter as others have suggested if you haven't already done so go to sweetmarias and do as much reading about home roasters as you can. They have a very interesting page on homemade roasters as well. I've been roasting for about 6 years. Started out with a Fresh Roast Plus. The FRP is a modified hot air popcorn roaster. Down side of the typical fluid air roasters like the Fresh Roast or a popcorn popper is small batch size and very fast roast times. The fast roast time produces a very bright flavor which some people find very appealing. Many air popcorn roasters use a variac and split wire the popcorn popper to have better control over the roast. The variac can vary the heat level while the air continues to blow at a constant rate.

              At the time I was losing interest in roasting every other day with a small batch roaster the heat gun dog bowl method was getting attention. Simple, cheap and you can roast nearly a pound at a time. After about a year of the stainless bowl and heat gun I moved on to another method. Only down side of the heat gun/ bowl method is having to stir the entire time. I had mounted my heat gun over the bowl so I had at least one hand free. This method has evolved into the bread machine/heat gun roaster. There are several pictures and youtubes showing this method in action. Bread machines can be found for a song at thrift stores and a heat gun mounted over the rapidly stirring beans does a fine job. Plus side is again, cheap with a nice batch size and plenty of control over the roast.

              I have been roasting for the last 3 years with the stircrazy/turbo oven homemade roaster. Again many pictures and youtubes to see this home made roaster in action. The stir crazy popcorn roaster acts only to stir the beans while a turbo convection roaster sits on top and provides the heat source. I like this a lot. Cheap, good batch size and quiet. Lots of control over the roast.

              The Behmor is the home roaster that is getting a lot of attention these days. Many happy users. Cost around $300. Looks like a toaster oven with a drum inside. It has preset profiles so it can produce consistency which is not always the easiest thing to reproduce in home roasters. I think it still suffers from a small batch size but is better than the IRoast and popcorn roasters.

              Once you get hooked roasting you will ruined for life. There is no turning back to buying preroasted coffee. You will find you travel with fresh beans and refuse to drink the bitter brew that others scarf down like their daily poison. You will amass pounds and pounds of green beans with origins from all over the world. You will get nervous when your stash drops below 40 pounds. I must give you this warning as others in your life will be affected as well. Good luck. hehe

              5 Replies
              1. re: scubadoo97

                Thank you for the giggle and the warning. I'll be sure to make my SO read your post!

                I finally hopped onto eBay and ordered myself a West Bend Poppery for my first go. I am so excited! I figure that if I fall in love, then I can justify a fancy roaster.

                A heat gun, eh? I must go to YouTube...

                1. re: Vetter

                  scroll up and see my 10/16 post. the only link you need...

                  1. re: Vetter

                    Vetter, here is the link for sweetmarias page on home made roasters


                    You will be amazed at the creativity of those coffee obsessed.

                    Obvioulsy Joe Blowe is a heat gun dog bowl roaster. Nothing wrong with that. Like I said it's easy, cheap, good batch size and you are in control. I just got tired of having to stir for 10-15 min straight. Did it for a year. I like but haven't tried the modified heat gun method that uses the heatgun for the heat and a bread machine to do the stiring. They have powerful motors and really stir your beans around. I have never been in a thrift store that didn't have at least 3-4 bread machines for sale.


                    Here is a youtube of the stircrazy/turbo oven roaster. I just have a spacer between my oven and stir crazy. I also an exhaust fan cooling station to rapidly cool the beans


                    1. re: scubadoo97

                      I am, for now, but I'd really like to set aside some time in the future to hunt down a stircrazy popper and a turbo oven. The few times I hit my local thrift stores, I came up empty-handed. Must be more diligent...

                      1. re: Joe Blowe

                        Joe, even if you buy them at full price, you can pick up a stir crazy from Wally world for around $25 and the turbos cost around $60-70. Sunpentown even has a site where you can buy just the top for $45. A ring form pan from your pantry will work as the spacer.

                        One thing I really like about this roaster is it is quite and I can just sit back and wait for 1st crack. Then it's just waiting until 1st is competed and pulling the roast anytime after that depending on your preference. I usually am sitting back smoking a cigar with a little rum in one hand and a book in the other while roasting. Keep it nice and relaxing.