For $50, buy it, it is a great tool for making good coffee. Then figure out how to make it quieter.
Positive Product Points
Cheap, simple, effective, small outside, big inside. Easy to modify for better air flow too - all you need is a screwdriver.
Negative Product Points
NOISE, rattles, not the highest tolerences in the world, and a bit flimsey...But what do I expect for $50? For $150, this would be a problem though.
I was given a friends' Sirocco roaster some time ago when she upgraded to an Alpenrost. I loved the coffee it produces, but with parts getting hard to find, and with only a makeshift chaff collector to keep the kitchen clean, I decided to pick up another roaster for my daily duty.
I did a bit of reading on alt.coffee, read up on Sweetmarias, and asked a few friends - the consensus seems to be the the Hearthware products are a pretty decent choice. Since the Gourmet is an old model, Hearthware is selling them off cheap. Since I know that I am only stalling before I buy the Alpenrost, I didn't want to bother with the pricey gee-whiz gadgetry of the HWP. (I also bought a WB Coffee Roaster - with gee-whiz included - the other day from Rollingpin for $65, which I will review after I get a few roasts through it).
So after a week in transit, my HWG finally arrived - in a really small shipping box. How could 6 pounds of coffee and a roaster box fit in there? Quite easily as it turns out, the roaster is surprisingly small.
When taking it out of the box I noticed two amusing things: 1) Per stamp, it was made in 1998. 2) Hearthware is bewildered about green coffee.
Per 1, I think it is interesting to note that Hearthware has had these sitting in boxes in a warehouse somewhere for four years - not an inexpensive prospect. Per 2, Hearthware notes on their box that coffee seeds are dried in the "...hot tropical sun to remove the parchment and pulp..." I didn't know the sun could do all that - let alone that all green coffee was prepped that way ;-)
At any rate, my first roast was with the beans I got from in the box with the HWG, a murky Bolivian Typica that ended up perfectly roasted just into the second crack and tasted just like a murky Bolivian.
As I have experimented with what different varities & sizes of beans, different quantities, times, etc… I have noticed that the roaster does really well with a bit less than the recommended dosage. I usually weigh out 90 grams of beans (as opposed to 100). If I use the entire quantity called for, I noticed that the beans roast really quickly and have a brightness consistent with other air blower methods, but with just a smidge of slowing down, a little of the brightness gives way in favor of a toastier cup. It is only a 30 second difference, but it matters. Also, more chaff seems to come loose in those extra seconds.
The day I received it, I took a screwdriver to the vents along the bottom of the carafe to widen all but one of the slots a bit. The increased agitation helps keep everything going swimmingly while keeping the swirling beans intermixed.
Now that I have some roasting familiarity with the HPG, I can get a pretty consistent (although mind-blowingly noisy) roasts from each of my favorite beans (Yemini Mokha, Ethiopian Harar, Guatamalan Huehuetenango, Costa Rican SHB, Mexican Altura, and nearly anything Sumatra).
After degassing, the beans smell marvelous, grind up very nicely, and the espresso / coffee is excellent.
I am pleased with the simplicity of the roaster and with the ease of cleaning. I just wish it were quieter like the WB and the Sirocco (the Sirocco? Quiet?!). Oh how I wish it were quieter.
Hearthware is obviously a small company and I think I have now spoken to everyone there save perhaps their FedEx guy in the process of placing my order. Everyone has been delightful, helpful, and friendly. Linda in particular is just a sweetheart.