My appraisal of the Behmor 1600 has to be colored by two years of roasting with a Fresh Roast +8, a fluidized air roaster, tweaked up with a variety of instruments. But also, the FR+8 roasted 55g batches in 7 minutes and to be successful I had to ‘ride the instruments’ throughout each roast.
I have to admit that ‘full manual’ has its attractions. I have driven four ‘manual’ cars into the ground and its good fun, except in downtown heavy traffic. If you want to get from A to B ‘automatic’ is less distracting. In the case of roasting, it lets you concentrate less on the controls and more on the process. The Behmor is a bit of both.
The fit and finish are very good. It is attractive on the outside and busy on the inside, with a roasting drum and a chaff tray, heaters, etc. With all that, the beans are visible during a roast, with a light in the right place and a clear view above the (improved) chaff tray into the mesh drum. There are little touches that are evidence of thoughtful design. As example, the door has a detent that holds it open part way, for cooling.
I have a sense that I got a good value for my money. When you go through the (recommended) ‘dry burn’ you notice that the temperature is controlled (heaters go on and off), the smoke removal heater goes on at certain times and off when not needed, the drum rotates, the fan speeds up and slows down, and the times when these things happen are factored as a proportion of the total roast time. This must be some sort of PLC control. There is a lot of ‘gismometry’ under the hood.
My first roast was Brazil, slightly under half a pound, set at one pound, P1, (hottest) A, (shortest roast). The first crack (1CR) occurred at 12 minutes into the roast and I anticipated having the second crack (2CR) several minutes later. But that’s not what happened. Instead, I was not sure if the 1CR ended and the 2CR started, but in the next minute puffs of smoke started to come out from around the door gasket (I was warned about that) and a few sparkles of a chaff fire started (I was warned about that too). I pushed the ‘cool’ button and waited for the roast to complete. In a radiant heat drum roaster the exothermic heat is not carried away in the airstream (as in a fluidized-bed FR+8) and causes rapid temperature rise.
The results of that effort: It was darker than expected and very uniform. Several days later it was covered with oil. I won’t do that again …!! Yet, it tasted great. But for the next roast I will try another profile with reduced the power on the way up.
There are a variety of ‘profiles’ that reduce power to the roast heater to anticipate and prevent a runaway and stretch the time between the 1CR and the start of 2CR. This is where you depart from fully automatic operation and assume some control. Different profiles are recommended for different varieties. I suspect that these profiles have been run (for their recommended use) hundreds of times in Behmor’s lab.
If you are a novice roaster and are working through eight 1 lb sample packs it might be a bit confusing. But when you buy 15 lbs of your favorite greens and do only ½ lb roasts, you will find settings that roast after roast, will yield good results. It will get you from A to B with a minimum investment of time and aggravation. But let me not criticize those of us who want to go full manual. After all, we are Coffee Geeks.
Other reviewers have made the point that the controls are confusing. I agree. Looking back over the years, how many user-interfaces have I had to learn that were confusing? Could I start with MS-DOS in 1985? What we have in the Behmor are roast weights of ¼, ½ and 1 lb (that’s simple). There are total roast/cool times of A, B, C and D (also simple, except they change with each roast weight). There are profiles P1, P2, P3, P4 and P5 (that’s not so simple because the profiles are expressed as percentages). There is a timer that counts down instead of up (that’s unusual when proceeding through sequential processes). So, yes, a bit confusing, but I can deal with that.
But if the interface is a bit confusing, there is always the MANUAL. Why is it that we are reluctant to ‘believe’ the manual and would rather discover the process on our own? For example: I was having trouble knowing when the first crack was over and the second crack was beginning. I tried to determine it on my own, with unreliable results. What to do? I read the manual. It said that, for ½ lb, the second crack would begin ‘around’ 2:10 minutes after the first pop of the first crack. I tried it. The roast was perfect. I repeated that three more times and got three more perfect roasts. I added a kitchen timer to my gear (that counts ‘up’) so I could follow those instructions.
What, for me, was a perfect roast? First, it was more even than I had ever achieved with my FR+8 roaster. It is absolutely uniform. Then, it is dark brown and has the very slightest sheen that tells me that, in a week, there might be the odd drop of oil. I had a sense that, with 30 seconds less on the clock I would have a light roast and with 30 seconds more I would have Vienna.
Other reviewers claimed that, even with active smoke elimination, the residual smoke or odors would set off smoke detectors and be an annoyance to other residents in my condominium building. In my case that is not so. I roast on top of my stove with the stove vent fan on ‘low’. Smoke and odors are not a problem for me.
Another small problem, mostly with dry-processed coffees, is chaff. For example, Brazil has loads of chaff. When I roasted ½ a lb and it ‘escaped’, I got into big trouble with my wife. I needed a vacuum cleaner. My choice was a Shark model EP033 Hand Vac, very small, lots of suction, long cord and a short (maybe 30 inch) hose. Stows away in a box half the size of a bread-box.
Actually, I did not buy the roaster myself. It was a birthday gift from my children. One of my sons was in California. He ordered it from Sweet Maria’s and had it shipped to him there. He brought it home to Toronto, Canada as luggage.
When I opened the box I found that the roast drum was defective; it would not engage with its bearing. Late Friday night I sent a note off to Behmor support. Around noon on Saturday I got a response from Joe Behm himself, asking for pictures. I waited until morning (for daylight), took pics, sent them off to Behmor. I got an immediate response to say that they would make it right. On Tuesday, they couriered a new roasting drum to me from their Canadian distributor. This is a company that understands that sales depend on cachet, reputation and word-of-mouth recommendation. They do it right.
What I am doing here is to fill in pieces missing from other reviews. In my early use it fits my needs completely: roast sizes, time invested, odor control, easy cleanup and minor intrusion on kitchen space.