Inexpensive entry into coffee roasting made a bit more expensive by variac and thermocouple that are very helpful. Small batch size can be a plus.
Positive Product Points
NOTE: i bought the Freshroast8+, not the original Freshroast. This review is very early, i.e. 1 month, so don't read into it too much.
-Relatively cheap way to get into coffee roasting -small batch size is a PLUS if your goal is to learn how to roast coffee -quieter than the i-Roast2
Negative Product Points
-Fast roast times on a 120V line (too fast) -can't control roast profile like the i-Roast2
Like most people, I did a lot of reading before buying this machine. If you are not sure whether you're going to enjoy roasting, this is an inexpensive way to explore your interest before buying a machine that costs over $500.
I had decided on getting an i-Roast2 until I realized it would be too loud for my neighbors. The i-Roast2 allows you to change the temperature profile of your roast, and that's a big plus. But using my variac, I might have much more control with my roasts than an unmodified i-Roast2.
I knew from my readings that the downside to this machine was the fast roast time.
Unmodified, on a household line measuring 121 volts, my first crack was around 2 minutes and 30 seconds, and second crack around 4 minutes and thirty seconds: too fast.
With a variac and a thermocouple, and can now stretch \first crack and second crack out to longer than I want. If you are going to buy a Freshroast, I think having a thermocouple and variac are necessary to stretch out your roast times to something reasonable (e.g. 1st crack at 5 or 6 minutes at the very least; I like my first crack at around 8 or 9 minutes).
I consider this an educational tool that will allow me to teach myself about roasting; as such, the small capacity is wonderful. I can continually alter one variable at a time and evaluate the taste of each new batch on a daily basis. With a larger capacity roaster (e.g. around half pound of Gene cafe or hottop), I'd have to drink each roast for a couple of days at least.
For those who are interested, I thought I'd save you some time and tell you where can buy the necessary instruments:
$10 Steel mesh Collander from Target for bean cooling
FYI, the thermocouple is snaked down into the roasting chamber through the top, and can be taped down to the chaffe collector on the outside. With your hand on the dial of the variac and your eye on the digital thermometer display, you can adjust the variac to a level (around 105V) that allows the temperature in the roast chamber to go up as slowly or as fast as you want.
Total equipment cost, inclusive, is around $275. I'm not familiar with the i-Roast2, but if it allows you do manually adjust temps on the fly the way I do with my setup, than you should definitely get it. At this point, I really enjoy the control I have over temperature and the small batch capacity of this roaster, and I would not trade it for an i-Roast2 or a Gene Caffe.
Sweet Marias is great.
Three Month Followup
Still roasting, still enjoying it, still recommend a variac with this machine (otherwise, the roasts are too fast). As others have said, the downside is the small roast batch size, i.e. about 1.5 servings on a 4-cup drip coffeemaker or a large french press. So you'll be roasting 5 batches a week if you drink one time daily, and at 20 minutes per roast (warm up, set up, clean up included), that's all most two hours a week, which is not bad, but roasting every evening gets old quickly... but I love roasting and this machine is great.