A good choice if you’re just starting to roast. Simple modifications allow you to create consistent roasts.
Positive Product Points
Simple to use; pretty good chaff control, inexpensive, easily modified for temperature probe, easy to keep clean
Negative Product Points
Small batch size.
You should plan on spending additional money on a digital thermometer.
You'll also want a way of providing additional cooling for your roasts.
Using the Fresh Roast Plus 8
The Fresh Roast Plus 8 has been superseded by the SR300 and SR500, and you can probably find one at a bargain price. I used mine for about eighteen months and was pleased with both what I learned and with the improvement in the coffee I was drinking. Sweet Maria’s has an article on using the Fresh Roast that you should read before buying. It provides good advice on using the unit and on some of the roasting limitations you can expect to encounter.
Operation is simple – load the cylinder with two scoops of beans and turn the timer knob to start roasting. The nominal time is eight minutes of roasting and two minutes of cooling. If your AC power dips down to around 115 volts, or if you want a darker roast, you’ll need to turn the knob back during the roast to extend the time. I’ve done this often with no impact to overall performance or reliability.
What you will definitely want to do is to drill through the top of the chaff collector and mount a digital thermometer probe that will reach down into the bean mass. If you put a small block of wood with a hole in it between the probe base and the top of the chaff collector, you’ll eliminate potential problems with the thermometer base heating up and melting into the chaff collector. A digital thermometer (get one that measures up to 500 degrees) and eight-inch probe will set you back about $35 on eBay. I looked at all-metal thermometers that were cheaper, but couldn’t find any that had both the needed temperature range and probe length.
With the thermometer, all you need to do is to read out the temperature and stop the roast (just turn the knob all the way to the OFF position and dump the beans in your cooler) when it hits your target. Depending on the strength of the electric current and the ambient temperature, the time it takes to get to the desired temperature may vary by a couple of minutes and this will make a small difference in the way your roast tastes.
Surprisingly, considering the noise of the Fresh Roast, it’s not too hard to pick out first and second crack, but I found the thermometer modification was much easier to use. However, for any new bean that you’re roasting, I strongly advise doing your first two roasts by paying attention to the cracks and color and noting the temperature when the cracks occur.
The built-in two minute cooling cycle is not very effective. I made up my own cooler with a kitchen sieve, a $4 Wal-Mart bathroom trash can and a small ShopVac that I already had. Cut a hole in the side of the trash can to hook up the ShopVac hose. When the beans get to the right temperature, stop the roaster and dump the beans into the sieve, which sits on top of the trash can. Turn on the vacuum and stir the beans with a spoon for about ninety seconds at which point they will be cool to the touch. Since the ShopVac’s already running, you can use it to clean out the chaff collector as well.
You can keep the bean hopper clean with Simple Green and a paper towel. I did this after every eight roasts. It only takes a few seconds. I also followed the instructions to wait for twenty minutes between roasts. I suppose you could clean a little less often or not wait for the full twenty minutes, but I have never had any problems with the unit following the manufacturer’s recommendations.
A Few Issues
The biggest single issue with the Fresh Roast is the small size of the roast. If you want to roast a half-pound of coffee, plan on spending an hour with your roaster. If you just want a cup or two of espresso in the morning, the batch size will be fine.
My Fresh Roast developed a crack at the top of the plastic housing, but it never became more serious. I understand that this is a common problem. The glass portion of the bean hopper is attached to the metal base with some sort of glue that gave way after about 70 roasts. I epoxied it back in position and have had no further problems.
The Fresh Roast is significantly affected by ambient temperature. If you live up north and roast in your garage, expect to spend an additional two to three minutes on each roast once the temperature gets code.
There is really no economic way of developing profiles on the Fresh Roast Plus 8. The only means of controlling temperature and airflow is to adjust the voltage, and a Variac regulator will cost about twice as much as the roaster. I tried to use a router speed control to adjust the voltage, but the changes in current are in big increments and bean agitation will stop all too quickly. If you want to have more control, you should probably look at the SR500.
Even without temperature and airflow controls, the Fresh Roast Plus 8 produced some very good roasts for me. I used Central American beans (particularly Costa Rican beans) for the most part and found that a City or City+ roast made a delicious espresso.
The Fresh Roast does best with lighter roasts, but I also did some darker roasts with Brazilian and Ethiopian coffee that turned out well.
I purchased the Fresh Roast Plus 8 from Burman Coffee, and received several packages of beans with the roaster. I had no problems with the order and I thought the price was more than fair.