Excellent, excellent customer service from Hottop; very customisable roasting; consistent roasts from saved profiles; highly recommended
Positive Product Points
- absolutely *stellar* customer service from Hottop! (see detail below) - customisable roasting profiles with the ability to store four different ones, nice for different varietals - entirely user-serviceable - manual adjustment during roast of temperature, fan, roast time, maximum roast temperature (with some limits to all) - ability to save manual changes to a roast profile - routine cleaning is simple - cooling cycle after roast completes is very effective - easily upgradeable - operates consistently in warm or cold temperatures (I roast outdoors due to smoke issues) - once a roast profile is dialed-in for a varietal, allows you to walk away once the beans are inserted (not officially recommended, but it can be done, and let's face it, a $$ programmable roaster better give me more freedom) - replacement and maintenance parts easy to get
Negative Product Points
- default "auto" profile dumps beans prior to second crack at 383F, which is wayyyy to soon for me - smoke filter gets clogged after 5 - 10 roasts (depends on depth of roast and smoke, of course) - consistent dark roasts require "deep cleaning" of gummy smoke residue from the inside of the roaster, requiring a fair bit of (straightforward) disassembly; some customers may not feel up to this task - roast temperature is slow to change once a button adjustment is made, it takes 45 - 90 seconds to notice an increase
Before anything else, I must absolutely commend the customer server I received from Hottop. I originally purchased a Digital KN-8828D model, and had odd roasts from it: barely into first crack and never into second crack despite setting the maximum time possible. After dropping a fair bit of $$ into this, I was rather worried! I emailed Green Beanery, where I bought the unit, after 5 failed roasts, and they forwarded my note to Hottop. Within an hour, I got a response from Hottop indicating a suspicion that there was a problem with the unit, and they included detailed instructions and a spreadsheet to record time and roast temps. Upon receiving the resulting test data from me, they immediately emailed to confirm there was a problem with my unit, and after checking that I was comfortable with the work required, they said they would send me not only a replacement circuit board, but an upgrade to the just-released programmable KN-8828B model. The new parts arrived within a week (no charge, even across the border) with very detailed and specific instructions on how to replace the various bits. The work took me approximately an hour and really meant a disassembly of the entire unit. However, I ended up with a nice upgrade and a working unit. I was extremely impressed with how the whole issue was dealt with by Hottop in such a prompt and professional manner, with such a focus on customer satisfaction.
But onto the meat of it all: the roast.
I have to admit that it took a little bit to adjust the settings and keeping a close watch on the roast in order to get a profile(s) that I was comfortable with saving for use on a repeatable basis. There is a fair bit of adjustment possible on this unit, ranging from maximum temperature, fan speed and timing of speed adjustments, roast temperature and when to increase or remain stable. Even though this is the "simpler" of the two adjustable digital models they offer, there is enough customisation for me and what I roast. The four entries for saved profiles are fine for me; once I get a roast just right for a particular origin, I save that setting for use by me or my wife.
The roast flavour is definitely different from the old hot air popper I used to use, but I believe that is because of the drum vs. fluid roast method, and the "rest" phase in the Hottop roast profiles vs. the straight-on heat of the popper. Overall, it is a more pleasurable and rounded flavour in the cup.
I roast outdoors due to the large volume of smoke generated - I think the smoke filter is more to control internal heat than filter smoke, and besides, smoke leaks out from everywhere. That said, I prefer a dark, Northwest style roast with some oil on the beans so smoke is inevitable. As noted in the positive points above, the ambient temperature makes no difference to the roast: it comes out the same whether in summer or winter's near- or sub-zero temps. This definitely was not the case with the hot air popper, where cool temperatures would wreak havoc and even stall some roasts.
Routine cleaning of the unit is simple, and essential. In fact, the unit will not do a subsequent roast if you forget to clean the chaff out and will remind you of it. The only drawback with cleaning is that the dark, smoky roasts I prefer tend to gum up the system inside, and require a disassembly and deep cleaning to remove a lot of the tar inside. However, I only have to do this after approximately 30 roasts, so ymmv depending on your roasting style. Note - I am well into 50+ roasts by now.
The cooling mechanism cycle is a real plus in my mind: at the end of the roast, the beans are dumped into a tray, an arm stirs the hot beans, and a fan blows through them to cool them down. The cycle lasts five minutes and the beans are cool to touch at the end. This lets you determine the final results of a roast without risk of subsequent residual heat burning your beans - a very well-designed feature.
On a final note, I found the smoke filter to get get clogged/gummed up pretty quickly, like in about 10 roasts. This is acknowledged in the roaster instruction manual, and installing a replacement is recommended. However, this can get expensive over time, and I found that rinsing and soaking the used filter in very hot water cleaned it up pretty well and I have been able to reuse them just fine.
In summary, I am very pleased with my decision to go with a Hottop roaster, and after the initial problems, have been absolutely satisfied with my investment. We have fresh-roasted beans all the time, and it takes little effort to do a roast due to the saved roast profiles. The work needed to clean the unit is not really a problem overall, and is part of maintaining an investment I am sure will last.
Purchasing online from Green Beanery was prompt, easy and straightforward, pretty much what you expect from an efficient Internet purchase. Interaction with them was minimal, but not really needed. They did not respond directly to me regarding my initial complaints of poor roast results, but did immediately forward the issue on to Hottop customer service without delay. Note - I never did get any follow-up from Green Beanery after that.
I can not say enough about Hottop customer service itself: prompt, personal, and detailed. Have I mentioned that? :-)