Buy a crappy espresso machine and grinder, buy a real espresso machine, realize you also need a real grinder, experiment with a popcorn popper, buy a roaster.
If you're anything like me, your path to espresso roasting "geekdom" probably went something like this.
After blowing chaff all over the house and setting off the fire alarm a half-dozen times, I decided it was time to step-up to a real roaster. The I-roast 2 looked like a good choice, but after the Behmor 1600 showed up on the scene, I knew it was time to take the plunge and retire the popcorn machine.
The large batch size and low price caught my attention at first but it was the good reviews on CG that finally convinced me to lay down the $299.
I decided to buy online from the Greenbeanery and avoid the US customs hassle. The CAN$ was high at the time and so the price turned out to be the same as in the US. (Recently it took a steep jump to $399). I knew I'd be roasting some smaller beans so I took the online advice of ordering as smaller drum as well (an extra $20). As it turns out, the machine came with the smaller drum, so now I have two! Oh well. I also ordered 6 x 1 lb bags of green beans. (An assortment of Ethiopian, Sumatra, Brazil and a couple of espresso blends).
Everything arrived well packed and in good shape. The machine looks nice enough with a stainless style front. There’s an odd looking ‘afterburner” style exhaust on the back that gets pretty hot. Inside, you have a well made rotisserie style chrome chicken-wire drum. In front of the drum is a chrome L-shaped chaff collector that gets a bit stained after a few roasts. The front of the collector has small holes in it to allow you to view the beans while roasting. There is also a small light that helps viewing as well. I heard some people complaining that it was hard to see the beans while roasting but I found this to be no problem at all. The semi-gloss black painted outer sides look a bit dated (kinda like a 80s toaster oven). The overall size was a lot smaller than I imagined from the pictures. It’s about the size of a small microwave. I read the manual quickly but realized I would need to read it a few more times to fully understand the pre-programmed roast profiles. I did the recommended cleaning cycle (1/2 lb - P1) and prepared myself for my first real roast.
After looking all over the websites for a good starter roast profile, I figured I would start simple and just roast a small ¼ lb batch of espresso blend on the easy ¼ lb P1-A profile. But first, I checked my voltage source (since my house is older and I heard low voltages could affect performance). As it turned out, I have a good 122V.
When you press start, the drum turns and two long, quartz lamps turn orange to roast the beans. After a few minutes the beans turned cinnamon color and a few minutes later I started to hear the sound of first crack. Soon after, the machine jumped into the cooling cycle which lasted about as long as the roasting cycle. There was a moderate smell of heated wood (or burning wet grass) but no smoke. The anti-smoke system seems to work very well. Still, the roasting smell is enough to set off the smoke alarm if you don’t ventilate. Since then, I’ve always turned on the oven vent when roasting inside and haven’t had a problem. Once the cooling stopped, I opened the machine and found a good amount of chaff in the collector and in the corners of the machine. I removed the lightly roasted beans and did a quick hand-vac cleanup of the inside of the machine. They supplied a small paint brush to aid cleanup as well (a nice extra).
I let my first roast de-gas for 24 hrs. When I pulled my first shot with the roast, I was disappointed. Since I never heard second crack, I knew it was under-roasted and the taste confirmed this.
Over the next few roasts I experimented with different beans and added more time to the P1 profile by pushing the +++ at the end of the roast. After a few roasts I realized that the maximum time was insufficient to get to second crack. I tried different profiles (P2 and P4) and added the max +++ but finally realized I was just overcomplicating things. I went back to P1 but roasted ½ lb of beans on the 1 lb weight. I kept my finger ready on the “cool” button, but this allowed me to exceed the max time for 1/2 lb, and easily get to second crack. The roasts have tasted fantastic since I started using this cheat, but be warned, you have to be careful.
I’ll eventually get back to the more complicated P2 and P4 profiles (with lower bean weights than on the buttons), but for now I’m happy going to FC+ using 1lb- P1 and experimenting with different beans and weights (less than 1lb).
As far as improvements are concerned: If they do a “version 2.0” of this machine, it would be great if they had a roast profile setup that worked like a fitness machine. Just a few customizeable red LED columns that form a roast profile on the display. You press “start” and the “stair-master” profile walks across the display. Really. How hard can that be?