Good visibility of roast chamber. Can easily cycle between roasting and cooling with buttons. Good chaff collection. Produces managable amounts of smoke.
Negative Product Points
Very noisy. I find timer dial to be of little use. Feels cheaply made. Exhibits odd behaviour once in a while.
I became interested in roasting coffee after surfing randomly through the web one day and stumbling across the Sweet Marias web site, which specialises in green coffee. I wasn't certain at first if roasting coffee was going to be something I'd be interested in doing long term but knew I wanted to at least give it a try (to find out what all the fuss was about). After further research it seemed that a common way many people start out roasting is with a modified pop corn popper which can be quite economical to come by. The main disadvantage with this method appears to be that the roasting needs to be done outdoors since it produces lots of smoke and chaff tends to fly everywhere. Living in a city, I don't have anywhere outdoors to roast in addition to the fact that it goes well below freezing six months of the year. For these reasons I decided to go the step up and get a mini fluid air roaster.
At the time it was a toss up between the Hearthware Precision and the FreshRoast. I chose the Hearthware mainly because of the larger capacity. I think the best thing I like about the Hearthware Precision is that it produces a manageable amount of smoke, such that I can roast indoors in the kitchen with the fume hood turned on, withought setting off any of the smoke detectors. I think part of the reason there's not a lot of smoke has to do with the good chaff collection in the lid of the roast chamber. So long as the lid is properly seated to the chamber, the chaff gets trapped in the lid and can be easily cleaned out after the roasting has finished.
The glass roast chamber makes it really easy to see what stage the beans are at and makes it very easy to hear first crack. Second crack is a little more difficult since it sounds a lot like the noise the beans make hitting the glass chamber. I had a lot of trouble picking out second crack in the beginning but after a few roasts under my belt I knew what to expect and could easily pick it out over the other noises. As for noise, it makes a lot of it. The noise is quite similar to a noisy hair dryer set on full speed.
Controlling the roast is quite straight forward. Press the roast button to start and then the cool button when you want it to start the cool down phase. You can also start the roasting again after you've pressed the cool button if you feel the need. There's also a dial that lets you select a roast number. The idea here is that you can then simply press the roast button and the beens will be roasted for a certain amount of time after which the cool down phase is started automatically. My problem with the roast dial is that the numbers don't seem to have any basis in reality ie. 6 isn't 6 minutes or anything it's just 6. This is probably only a problem because of the way I like to roast. I time how long it takes to get to first and second crack and the time at which I stop the roasting. I haven't found any way to translate these times into roast numbers. As such I just leave the dial set to a sufficiently high number that it won't stop the roast automatically and I then start the cool down manually at the appropriate time by pressing the cool button.
My only other concern is that the unit I have seems to exhibit odd behaviour every once and a while. Odd noises and fan behaviour for one or two roasts and then everything goes back to normal. It continues to work though so I'm currently attributing it to personality.
As for the question of whether I would buy it again. This is a bit difficult to answer. I think it was a great way to get introduced to roasting and the glass roast chamber makes it easier to understand what's going on during the roast, but I now find the capacity (3 oz.) to be on the small side. If it were to break today I wouldn't buy another one but instead opt for the Alpenrost mainly for its larger capacity.
Purchased from Sweet Marias without any problems (as always).