What it is: An almost perfect roaster for easily supplying your caffeine addiction without fuss, decent capacity, excellent results, and minimal smoke allowing for indoor roasting (range hood vent recommended).
What it isn't: A commercial volume roaster, a roaster for roast-control tweakers that wish to manipulate every conceivable step of a roast profile.
Background: Relative newb homeroasting for 4 years, starting with air popcorn machines (tweaked, ultimately melted), iRoast1 (TC'd,resistor tweaked, desired more capacity), iRoast2 (added capacity in concert with IR1,less consistent than IR1, still needed even more capacity), SC/TO (we all know this setup is a huge tweak, finally decent capacity, decent flavor, LOTS of smoke, inconsistent results, chaff fires, unwieldy as a kitchen appliance leading to divorce threats). Enter Behmor 1600!
Motivation: Unsatisfied with the progress and quality of my roasting hobby, I succumbed to shopping for a home roaster that had more capacity and more consistent results. I thought I had to shell out close to a grand for a new Hottop, or worse, a semi-commercial sample roaster, to get what I was after. I scanned Sweet Maria's offerings, and came across several new candidates-Gene Cafe and Behmor 1600, so forced myself to study all three. Behmor had very little written about it, and Tom from Sweet Maria's initial reviews seemed off-putting concerning dark roasts, but did suggest Probat-like flavors emerging. I found this particularly intriguing, as Behmor eschews air roasting in favor of radiant heat application via quartz elements(infrared?), and I figured that surely this difference could positively affect the oils and chemical reactions during the roasting process (air roasters seem to me to be a simple but inadequate step if roast flavor complexity is one of your goals in homeroasting). Capacity was also a strong point, as was the built-in 'catalytic' action allowing me to roast indoors with a window open, or the range hood vent running. I found some various reports of beta-tests and use from others online (CoffeeGeek,Home-Barista,alt.coffee,etc.), and that was sufficient to push me over the ledge..the Behmor's pricepoint obviously making the decision less risky.
Initiation: I drove to Sweet Maria's to pick up my newest toy and complimentary coffees, unboxed and began the quick process of acquainting myself with the controls, read the manual without completely understanding it all, but nevertheless launched into my first roast. Immediately I fell in love with my hobby again. SO QUIET! I could distinctly hear 1st and 2nd crack, probably for the first time ever. I could also smell the progress of the roast, from the initial heat ramp-up, 'grassy' stage, though the cracks, and beyond. Your senses become re-involved rather than just watching for oil sheen I was accustomed to in air roasting..my hearing was especially thankful to be liberated from the 'iRoars', (as were my neighbors). Excited, I ran batch after batch, adjusting amounts and profiles to run the Behmor through it's paces, determining limits, while following the cleaning/maintenance schedule to keep the catalytic elements optimized every fifth roast. Tom was correct, after sufficient rest, I was now tasting many of the qualities he mentions in his wonderful coffee descriptions, it was no longer just power of suggestion..it was in my cup. I have retired the iRoasts and SC/TO, and see no need to return to them..Behmor fits my bill entirely.
Customer Experience: What can I say that hasn't already been said about Tom and Maria and crew of Sweet Maria's? Top notch company all the way-much praise, support them whenever possible. My appreciation for Behmor 1600, and it's inventor Joe Behm, was further enhanced after calling Joe to discuss a few minor cosmetic quibbles (documented in the CoffeeGeek fora) with my unit-from the first shipment from the slowboat from China. His enthusiasm for his creation, and commitment to his customers success beyond the product is refreshing and a positive reinforcement..I knew I had chosen wisely. We discussed the reasons why the roaster does what it does, how it does it, and what results should be attainable. Following Joe's call, I was able to put myself into his shoes, and consider what my ultimate roaster would be like, how it would behave for simple, consistent and repeatable results, and I had to conclude Joe just got it right with the Behmor (just meaning many years of development!). I was sent the newly-released 'small-grid' basket as a token for my very small ding on front brushed steel fascia, and slightly bent exhaust flap I was able to correct on my own. These minor issues are the result of pre-ship factory handling errors in this first shipment. Joe assured me he would correct the factory, and indeed there have been no other reports since.
Usage Discussion: Joe's design concept evolved from his experience adapting a rotisserie oven into a coffee roaster, but he didn't stop there. He incorporated things many homeroasters truly desire..smoke suppression (roast indoors), simplicity, capacity, safety, and affordability. In this process, he consulted with industry leaders to produce a concise set of profiles for various coffees and blends, while still allowing for minor adjustments within profiles to enhance roast stages. The default profiles, especially when combined with experience-based input via small adjustments, allow me to get quality roasts consistently and painlessly, unlike all the roast methods I've used prior. Chaff is reasonably contained in a chaff collector, and beans emerge from the basket clean and ready for use. A quick sweep with the included brush cleans escaped chaff from the minimalist interior, although I prefer a small shop-vac. Cleaning is easy - some common non-toxic degreaser like Simple Green on a paper towel is all that is required to keep coffee oils from building up on interior walls and viewing window. I also wipe down the door seal and exterior to keep Behmor pretty. The manual indicates a cleaning cycle to keep the catalytic burners clean by running an empty roast (1/2 pound, start) after every fifth roast, so maintenance overall is minimal.
Profiles and Voltage: These subjects are variable to each user, sometimes with contention, so I'll refrain from repeating what can be learned by reading the manual about profiles, or suggesting users will run into these issues specifically. Still they deserve mentioning, so potential buyers have reasonable expectations of performance, and I'll add my own conclusions. 1) Profiles, while slightly adjustable, are comparatively 'tied-down' unlike other roasters. There is no easy way to measure fluid-bed temps or micro-manage heat application, for those obsessed with ultimate roast control. The default profiles were carefully selected to balance roast performance and safety, regardless of one's prior roast experience-always a VERY important consideration for large scale adoption of a home roasting appliance. Although I disagree with the occasional mention of 'set it and forget it', this roaster is the closest iteration of that design concept. However, Behmor still needs to be monitored during roasts, and the profile adjusted or corrected accordingly for the desired results. For example, the manual and personal experience indicate roasts will continue roasting for approximately 20 seconds beyond hitting the COOL button, manually stopping the roast. Indeed one can hear second crack continue for a while after hitting the COOL button, and some even prefer to crack the door open in hopes to arrest this final stage. The point is there are things a roaster can do to influence the default profile behaviour, if they are so inclined. But Behmor was not designed to give unbridled flexibility for obvious reasons. I am still curious about roasting profiles and will continue to experiment, but Behmor has significantly impacted my NEED to do so. I am no longer obsessed with TC probes, and micro-management, as the goal was always maximizing flavor for a particular SO/blend. The Behmor excels in flavor with the default profiles and user-inputs available. 2) Another consideration I personally encountered was variable voltage delivered to my kitchen outlets. After experiencing some roast variablity using the same charge and profile, I began to reduce charge to achieve the same result. Others also mentioned similar voltage issues, and it was concluded some of us may have inadequate voltage for a variety of reasons-old wiring, extention cords, high energy-use periods like summer AC usage in the afternoon,etc. I determined mine was due primarily to old and overloaded wiring in a 19th century-built structure. My starting voltage would vary from 119 down to 110 at erratic times, and whether the fridge was running,etc. I recommend obtaining a Kill-A-Watt device to monitor starting voltage if you experience any degraded performance, and I even went a step further and obtained a variac to have the ability to roast whenever I desired. My voltage issues are now non-existent, and Behmor roasting behaviour is predictable. I believe this is NOT a design fault of the roaster, it needs sufficient power to complete the roasts in the designed profile duration for best results. Voltage issues can be resolved as above, or a simple workaround by reducing charge..not everyone desires a 1 pound roast every single roast. It's unfortunate I have to spend the largest part of my review on these issues which many will never experience, but I feel those of us that have 'cut the path' have an obligation to report our full experience to give prospective Behmor owners a realistic picture. Prospective owners need to visit Behmor.com for the latest info on profiles, tweaks and tips, and manual updates.
Conclusions: Joe has succeeded in giving me the roaster I would build myself, if I had the time and inclination to do so. It's quiet, S.O.-friendly(significant other, not single origin), produces high quality, flavorful roasts comparable to roasters costing MUCH more. It's not out of place left out in the kitchen, is easy to clean and maintain, and is a cinch to operate for newbs or the experienced, while still allowing a decent amount of profile flexibilty when the need arises. It handles chaff collection, significantly reduces smoke allowing indoor use with proper ventilation, cools well, and happens to do all of this at a affordable price. Roasting doesn't need to be a chore, and the Behmor 1600 remains a pleasure to use..in fact I can't wait to roast again!