I began my home roasting journey soon after CoffeeGeek featured home roasting on a podcast last fall. While I enjoyed the experience, my growing inventory of melted, spent, and how can I put it, hot-wired popcorn poppers was becoming problematic. The acquisition of a triple basket and naked portafilter was the final straw.
I needed to find an efficient way of roasting larger batches of beans. I looked at many of the more popular alternatives available today such as barbeque drums, hot air roasters, larger capacity home units such as the Hottop and a few small used commercial roasters. While all provided their own unique benefits, it was only after I found a report written on the Gene Cafť that I really became excited. After a little more investigation, I ordered the Gene Cafť Roaster from Burman Coffee Traders the following week.
The unit arrived double boxed and well protected. Included with the roaster are a 100gm green bean scoop, a manual, a payload stand and one pound of green beans (Burman Coffee Traders). The roaster is covered by a one-year warranty that is supported in the US by Fresh Beans Inc., of Park City, Utah. I spoke to a representative on the phone and they seemed reasonable, interested and helpful. Per the manual, the Gene Cafť roasting capacity is rated at 300 g or 10.6oz, a little less for chaff-laden beans. The unitís dimensions are 15x10x9 inches or 383x243x229 mm and weighs 5.5kg or 12.3 pounds.
The roaster has a rather unorthodox look that reminds me of a rock tumbler I owned as a kid many years ago. The beans are housed in a rotating container supported on each end. Unlike some other larger home units, the Gene Cafť allows an unobstructed view of the beans roasting inside. While the payload container can be a little confusing to load at first, loading soon becomes second nature. I found that by aligning the right side of the container first, the unit falls into place easily. As others have mentioned, the roaster appears well made, the materials are heavy-duty and seem appropriate for their assigned purpose. All of the hot section pieces are made up of metal, Pyrex glass, or high temperature plastic. One of the attributes of this unit I found notable is the roaster-friendly chaff collector that friction-fits into the left side of the unit. The large screened exhaust port and twist of refuse cap are well thought out and allow for quick cleaning.
Classifying the roaster is a little tricky. The unit uses hot air for roasting, but not in the way a fluid bed popcorn popper uses hot air to circulate and heat the beans. Instead, a slower and quieter stream of hot air flows through the off-axis rotating chamber. The unit is so quite that you can easily conduct a normal conversation standing next to the unit. The controls (two) are simple and offer modest but adequate flexibility. One knob turns the unit on and allows the user to select the roasting temperature while the other controls duration and allows the user to turn off the heater and begin the cooling cycle. One feature this unit lacks is the ability to load multi-step roast profiles. You can manually adjust both duration and temperature at any time during the roasting period; so complex roast profiles are possible. I donít feel Iím missing anything by not having a true programmable interface. The roast temperature can be varied from 374F/190C to 482F/250C. Since the cooling cycle takes place inside of the machine, the operator needs to compensate for the residual heat within the container. The machine turns off when the beans cool to a temperature of 140F/60C. That said, I was able to nail my roast preference on the second batch and I donít think itís going to be any issue going forward. A shortcoming noted by others, is a lack of immediate, external cooling. Given the platform design, an exterior cooling system like that offered by the Hottop is probably unpractical.
But enough with the technical stuff, the reason one purchases a roaster is to roast beans. I only roast beans intended for use in espresso-based drinks. My preference is to roast 10oz of beans composed of 50% Brazilian, 30% Salvadorian and 20% exotics to full city roast. I start the roast off at the maximum temperature (482F) and drop the temperature 10 degrees at the 13-minute mark and finish the roast around 15 minutes. The leaning curve for the roaster is short and intuitive; the glass container allows the roaster to easily watch the bean color darken and its quiet enough to listen for the beginnings of second crack. I typically roast two batches at a time, which lasts me about a week. So far Iíve had no problems with chaff build-up, small fires or stuck beans.
My beans and Brewtus produce beverages that are consistent, rich and satisfying. There really is not too much more I can say; itís a simple, straightforward proposition. Last weekend I roasted four batches and compared them for consistency. By my eye, I could not distinguish one batch from other.
Overall Iím very pleased with the construction and performance of the Gene Cafť home roaster. It offers the home roaster the ability to roast reasonable sized batches with flexible profiles and repeatable results. It also has a lot of cool factor sitting in the counter. This roaster coupled with a good blend of beans, a reasonable espresso machine and a little barista skill will reward the home enthusiast with excellent results. While itís too soon to predict the reliability of the roaster with precision, mortality rates thus far are reported to be especially low. At no time has there been a better time to be a home roaster. Invite your friends over and share the goodness. I predict this unit is going to be a big hit with many home roasters.