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Alpenrost Roaster - Deward Hastings's Review
Posted: January 20, 2002, 9:45pm
review rating: 8.7
feedback: (0) comments | read | write
Alpenrost Roaster
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Arrow The Alpenrost Roaster has 22 Reviews
Arrow The Alpenrost Roaster has been rated 7.54 overall by our member reviewers
Arrow This product has been in our review database since November 30, 2001.
Arrow Alpenrost Roaster reviews have been viewed 132,699 times (updated hourly).

Quality Reviews
These are some of the best-written reviews for this product, as judged by our members.
Name Ranking
Phil Dodgson 9.00
Rick Waits 9.00
Roger Placer 8.87
Deward Hastings 8.70
Brendan Getchel 8.44

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Ratings and Stats Overall Rating: 6.2
Manufacturer: Swissmar Quality: 8
Average Price: $300.00 Usability: 5
Price Paid: $280.00 Cost vs. Value 5
Where Bought: Sweet Maria's Aesthetics 8
Owned for: 2 months Overall 5
Writer's Expertise: I like coffee Would Buy Again: Maybe
Similar Items Owned: sirocco air roaster
Bottom Line: Probably not the best "first" roaster . . .
Positive Product Points

8 oz. capacity, the biggest "consumer" roaster available
reasonably well built, although something squeaked in mine
relatively quiet compared to hot air roasters
relatively easy to vent using inexpensive dryer duct

Negative Product Points

Can't see or sample the beans while roasting, a particular problem since
The "roast settings" are a cruel joke, inconsistent and unreproducable
Once running you can shorten the roast cycle, but can't extend it
There is no "progress" indicator except smell (smoke) and sound (crack)
Does not produce an even roast.  
This not the roaster for experimenting with blends . . . you'll toast or under roast a lot of coffee before getting it right

Detailed Commentary

The idea seems great . . . a "consumer" drum roaster with enough capacity for a weeks worth of coffee, and ideally suited for Espresso, at that . . . and the Alpenrost is, at the moment anyway, the only one and it does work.  But it's not easy to use, particularly because of the near worthless "roast setting" control, among other defects.

"Roast setting" is a straight time function on the Alpenrost . . . "1" corresponds to 16.5 minutes roast time, "15" corresponds to 21 minutes.  Each step, then, corresponds to about 20 seconds, or 1.5% of the total roast time.  If the electric power to your house varies by only 5 volts (depending on time of day, load etc.) you're lucky . . . and that would change the power (heat) in the roaster by ~9% (P=E^2/R).  Forget the numbers . . . what that means is that a setting that gave you a Full City roast (if there is such a setting within the 16-21 minute window) the last time can give you, at the whim of your power company, anything from Cinnamon to Charcoal the next.  You will, of course, eventually learn from the smell of the smoke and the sound of the crack when to stop the roast, but the Alpenrost doesn't even give you a countdown timer to help keep track of what stage the roast is at . . . the display stays set at the meaningless "roast setting" while you count the minutes on your watch or wall clock.  And remember, you can't see the beans.  The only option is to set the roast too long, and hope you shut it off in time, because, to make matters worse, the Alpenrost has no provision for extending the roast time if the smell and sound clues tell you that it has shut itself off too soon.

As an experiment I grabbed a 1KVA Sola constant voltage transformer from "supplies" . . . at the Sola's 118 V. modified sine wave (extra power) output the Alpenrost reached first crack at about ten minutes and second crack at about twelve and a half.  A "roast setting" of "1" would make briquettes for the doll house, "15" would probably have started a fire.  With a "normal" line voltage (around 110 V) everything took 2 to 5 minutes longer. But, I must say, some roasts came out acceptable once I realized that there would be no help from the machine and learned to stop well before *any* of the "roast timer" settings.  There's still an uncomfortably large element of chance, though . . . it's not always easy to be sure of the start of the second crack, and you're on your own if you want to stop between the first and second for a lighter roast.  You're not going to know the color of the beans until you dump the hopper, and you can expect an occasional surprise.  Keep your eye on your watch . . .

And, the Alpenrost does not produce an even roast.  With some bean (particularly washed) this may not be a problem, but with many dry processed beans which tend to roast unevenly to begin with the unevenness can be extreme.  Granted my Alpenrost (since returned) ran very "hot", which exacerbates the problem (less time for mixing), but with, for example, the Sweet Maria's Brazil Mogiani Sun-dried Bourbon I was getting, in a single roast batch, beans ranging in color from City to Vienna.  It is my suspicion that this is the result of the "combined use" of the vanes in the drum (they keep the beans in the drum while roasting, pump them out when the drum reverses for the unload cycle) which piles the beans high at one end of the drum while leaving them thin at the other end during the roast cycle.  This wouldn't matter if they mixed well, but they don't seem to . . . some beans stay at the thin end throughout the roast, while others stay "in the pile" at the other end, and they don't roast the same.  There may be some other (better) explanation, but the unevenness of roast is certainly there.

If I knew two months ago what I know now I'd probably have saved $140 (or more) and bought a Caffe Rosto or Home Innovations Precision (which, at half the price, look to be better machines, especially for someone just getting started roasting) instead.

Maybe in the next model Swissmar will fix the more obvious problems with the Alpenrost . . . putting in a "view port", adding a countdown timer and an "extend roast" button (which would cost only pennies, since the display is already there), adding some sort of temperature/power regulation (which could be done for just a few dollars), and giving up on the "automatic" unloading and using straight vanes for mixing/agitation.  There is the potential to make this a really fine machine.

Buying Experience

Sweet Maria's, on line, no delivery damage, no problems (great coffee selection).  Then . . . after discussion with Swissmar about the fast roast times I was seeing Swissmar sent four packages of their own bean for "testing" (trying to put the problem on someone else?).  When I reported the same results with Swissmar beans (a "roast setting" of "8" produced uniformly burned beans at "normal" line voltage) and asked how to proceed there was . . . no further response from Swissmar ! ! !  Sweet Maria's, on the other hand, jumped right on the problem, suggesting that I return the machine to them and let them deal with Swissmar (which, finally, I did).  I cannot praise Sweet Maria's (Maria in particular) enough . . . these are *wonderful* people to do business with.  Particularly worthy of note . . . that they have changed the "roaster comparison chart" on their web site to reflect some of the problems that users have had with the Alpenrost.  If only all businesses would be so honest . . .

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review rating: 8.7
Posted: January 20, 2002, 9:45pm
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