Hearthware Gourmet Coffee Roaster: $100-120 US
Home roasting isn‘t something I recommend for the feint of heart. It takes dedication and a keen eye if you want to get the most out of roasting at home. While simple in theory, there are several things that can make a tremendous impact in the final product of your roast. Not only are there countless roast types, but a mind-boggling amount of blends. While dedicated coffee drinkers may find this experimentation fun, others may just find it too much work.
As an avid home espresso drinker, I rely on tools that provide consistency and simplicity. The less variables that come between the roasting of an espresso blend and the final shots means there are less things that can go wrong. This is important, because making espresso is already full of complexities. The Gourmet provides this simplicity.
The Gourmet is a basic, no-frills coffee roaster. It doesn‘t have a computer chip that tries to optimize the roasting process, as the Hearthware Precision does. This is an important feature, as that means every batch is roasted in the same manner. This makes it easier to replicate previous roasts.
Another particularly nice feature of this machine is how easy it is to see how well a roast is coming along. The beans are held in a see-through glass bowl-shaped container, and it is easy to notice them going through their various roast types. Since every second counts in the roasting process, it is important to be able to see where the beans are at and how much longer they should be roasted for.
The chaff collecter which sits atop the glass bowl allows for an easy cleanup. Simply wait for the cool down cycle to finish (I wouldn‘t recommend stopping the roast before the cool-down cycle is completely finished, as everything is still *extremely* hot!), pop off the top and empty chaff into trashcan. This machine comes with a handy little brush that makes it easy to scrub off the stubborn pieces that can get caught in the steel mesh. All in all, cleanup should take less than 30 seconds.
The Gourmet does have a few drawbacks. If you are a heavy coffee drinker, or have a houseful of coffee drinkers, prepare to spend some time roasting. The Gourmet roasts a half-cup batch, which is roughly a 12-cup pot of coffee. So if you are the type of person that drinks a pot of coffee a day, you are going to be roasting every night. You could roast in advance, but it is recommended to not let your coffee sit longer than ten days, as it will lose its freshness. Since I mostly drink espresso, a batch usually makes about 6-8 shots.
Another thing some users might not like is the smell coffee makes when roasted. Roasting coffee creates a peculiar scent that could easily fill an entire house if there isn‘t proper air circulation. Particularly, if you plan on roasting coffee rather dark, there is a lot of smoke than can cling to walls, drapes, paint, and other things in your house and leave a rather ugly, yellowish taint. I usually roast with the windows open and my stove fan on, and have found this to be adequate enough, though it does pose a challenge during the winter months.
It is also rather loud. I would say probably a bit louder than a vacuum cleaner, so don‘t plan on roasting in the middle of night if you have light sleepers in the house. This could also be an issue for people who live in apartments with thin walls. Because of the noise, it can be hard to hear the second crack. While the first crack is generally a bit more defined, and thus easier to hear, you have to pay attention if you want to hear the second crack. Not really an issue, as you should be keeping an eye on your roast anyway.
Also, since the ambient temperature of where you are roasting has an effect on the roast, I‘ve found that I am constantly adjusting the roast time. While doing this should easy, you just need to change the dial, trying to do so can be an exercise in frustration. The dial they use is flimsy, and doesn‘t have a precise feel to it. Not only that, but the mushy dial can be hard to move without grabbing a hold of the base, which, if one isn‘t careful, can result in some rather ugly burns. While you can move the dial while roasting, it is harder than it should be.
The general workmanship of the Gourmet isn‘t anything to brag about, particularly for the price. Since I had mine, I‘ve had to tighten where the chaff collecter snaps onto the glass bowl, because it came lose while roasting, resulting in tiny fragments of the chaff flying throughout my kitchen. On the same note, the tabs that hold the roasting chamber in place became loose, and the air wasn‘t circulating the beans properly. Another adjustment that I had to make that could have been easily rectified by some better planning by Hearthware. Since the Gourmet roaster is basically just a modified popcorn popper, one has to wonder what all the money you pay for it goes to.
I don‘t want to sound to harsh about this machine. In spite of the few complaints that I have, it is an excellent addition to any coffee lovers home. For those of you that demand the freshest coffee, home roasting provide this. Particularly for the espresso lovers out there, I would say that home roasting is probably the best thing you could do to obtain the ever-worshipped crema that defines a good shot. While people have modified popcorn poppers to roast at home, buying a Hearthware gives you a warrenty, good customer service, and some convienent additions to help make home roasting easier. These features do come at a high price though, one that non-hobbyists may find too extreme.