This is a much better roaster than the old Plus 8 and a better option than a hot air popper because it is built to take the heat and has more control, as well as a chaff collector and a timer.
Positive Product Points
Good value on a hot air (fluid bed) roaster. Fast roast times. Adjustable heat and fan speed.
Negative Product Points
No information on cycle time. Roaster's chaff trap stays hot for a while. Nothing holds this stack-o-stuff together, best to transport one piece at a time when getting ready to roast or putting things away. The default time of 5.9 minutes is too little time to get a nice dark roast. Very few beans will get even close to second crack in that amount of time. Time can be added in 6 second increments by pushing a button. This is too little time with annoying side effect that is like cutting the power for an instant. An easier way is to turn the machine off then back on which resets the timer to 5.9 minutes.
If you like bright coffee, a fluid bed roaster is tough to beat. This little roaster fits the bill just right for an inexpensive and tough little machine. This machine is great if you like to blend different coffees together in varying quantities. With this roaster you can roast up several different coffees at a little over 4 ounces at a time, and have a 1 pound blend of roasted beans in about 5 roasts. If you already have a drum roaster but still like the flavor of some beans when roasted in the fluid bed, this is a delightful machine.
My main roaster is a Behmor. It works fine for most purposes, but with the Behmor I can't seem to reproduce that bright flavor that an air roaster imparts to the roast. I started roasting with an air popper and that may be where I acquired the taste for the fluid bed roast. Now when I want that flavor in my blend I simply pull out the Fresh Roast SR500 and roast away.
The SR500 has two features that its little brother (the SR300) doesn't have: variable speed fan, and a low/medium/high temperature controller. This gives surprising amount of flexibility to adjust the roast profile. If the desire is to dry the coffee a little before getting the roast under way, then I can set the power to medium or low for two minutes until the beans start to dry, then I turn up the heat and roast the coffee.
Temperature is also controlled to some degree by the fan speed. The roaster uses air movement to both agitate the beans, and transfer the heat from the heating element to the beans. If the beans are not agitated enough the ones on the bottom by the heating element can over cook. If the beans are agitated to much it has the effect of lowering the roast temperature. With the fan speed controller you can adjust the fan speed to where the beans are agitating well, but not so much as to work against the roast.
If the beans are not agitated enough when you start out there are two options. First is to stop the roast and take out some beans. Second is to turn the heat down and let the roaster dry the beans a bit. As the beans dry they become lighter and easier for the fan to agitate. I use both options. I have found that the 130 grams (four scoops) stated in the user manual is just a bit to much, so I start out with 120 grams (4.2 ounces). This initial number differs with the type of bean and is related to the dryness and density of the product. Lowering the amount of beans gives enough motion in the bean mass that the beans don't get scorched. Then as the roast progresses I can turn down the fan speed to keep the agitation so it is not so vigorous, and this keeps the roast at a higher temperature, which means I get done sooner.
I always roast under a vent fan. Smoke is common and this roaster has no smoke suppression. To start a typical roast I measure the beans, put them in the glass roast chamber, assemble roast chamber on top of the roaster base, and the clean chaff collector on top of the roast chamber. Check to see that everything is stacked properly and the fan adjustment is set to its highest setting. Then turn on the roaster with the heat set on medium.
About 2 minutes into the roast the beans are dry enough that good agitation is taking place. At that point I'll turn up the heat and adjust the fan speed so the agitation is just right. First crack is usually within 3-5 minutes. This is where the adjustability of the SR500 comes in handy. If the beans roast quickly I'll add time as necessary with the little button on the control panel. If the beans roast slower I'll turn the roaster off and on quickly. This resets the timer to 5.9 minutes. That way I have plenty of time to achieve second crack for that darker roast. The instructions are very clear that one should never leave the roaster unattended. Since most coffee geeks are very much into their roasting profile I find this unlikely, but still a necessary precaution. Fires can happen when applying heat to dry beans.
When the timer runs out the roaster goes to a cool cycle. If you have added to much time or want to stop the roast you can hit the cool button and send the roaster into this cycle at any time. Just be sure to turn up the fan speed if you have adjusted it down. The beans cool in about 3 minutes. You will need a hot pad or two when the roaster is done. Take off the chaff collector and place it in a waiting metal bowl to contain the mess. Then dump the beans on a cooking sheet to cool.
When I want to roast another batch right away I'll position a small fan to blow across the roaster and its components, especially the chaff collector lid. I'll let the roaster cool this way for about 10 minutes. The chaff collector lid takes the brunt of the heat and is the last piece to cool down. When it is cool to the touch I'll load things up and go again. The instructions don't have any information about duty cycle or minimum down time, but I don't like to push my luck. If the roaster is not cool to the touch I wait until it is.
When done for the day I wipe things down with a soft cloth and put the pieces in the cupboard one at a time. The whole assembly is only held together by gravity. Don't try to transport this machine while it is assembled or you may be buying new pieces. I noticed that my vendor sells a replacement roasting chamber for about $25.00. My bet is most owners will buy one at some time if they are not careful.
All in all this is nice little roaster. This is a much better option than an air popper because it is built to take the heat. I love the bright flavor I get with Columbian and Kenyan coffees when roasted in this fluid bed roaster. When I blend different coffees I will roast each coffee to what I have found to be the flavor profile I prefer. Having the option to do it in a fluid bed roaster adds to my enjoyment of the coffee, as well as the roasting experience.
Great service. The roaster shipped the next day and the vendor answered my e-mails promptly.
Three Month Followup
This roaster is holding up well. I don't use it as much as I thought I would when I bought it because I have found a way to get a brighter flavor profile from my Behmor. Since I can roast more coffee in the Behmor this little one gets used less often.
This is still my prefered roaster for Kenyan and Columbian coffees. If I'm blending three or more types of beans I'll roast them in the Fresh Roast and get each one to the profile I like. This takes just a bit longer but the difference in flavor is worth it.
I'm still happy with my purchase. I'll keep this little roaster until it dies.
One Year Followup
After one year I find myself using this roaster at least twice for every new coffee I try. Some coffees do really well with an air roast. This roaster will also give me that real dark roast profile that some of my friends prefer, but the Behmor simply can't deliver.
Another use for this roaster is to roast a component of my espresso blend. When blending for espresso only one of my favorite coffees requires a dark roast and this roaster delivers.
I will also pull this roaster out for fresh roasted coffee for a dinner party. I can roast enough for a pot of after dinner coffee in about 12 minutes. That gives the house that coffee roasting aroma to go along with the other emanations from the kitchen. This roaster will continue to serve me for a long time to come.