If you are going to roast at home, this is the machine to have.
Positive Product Points
Quiet, easy to hear cracks Easy to use, (the digital) Crystal clear directions The cooling system
Negative Product Points
Usually a bean or two stuck in the drum Needs a Variac Lack of a good, regular cleaning schedule can be dangerous Must be watched at all times during roasting and cooling Need to keep a spray bottle handy in case of fire Filters need to be changed periodically The timing system
The first roasts turned out great, but soon the roasting time for the desired result became longer and longer until I could only get to a city roast with the maximum roast time, 23:30. I started using the Variac with a 105 setting that gave me 120 volts at the vu window, but I couldn't get past the brown stage before the maximum time elasped. I upped it to a 110 setting which gave me 125 volts at the vu window. This setting brought me to the times, for the first and second cracks and total roast, other Hottop users were reporting. I attribute the voltage decrease to the beginning of summer and the neighbors' air conditioners competing for the available juice, not the HotTop itself. I roast indoors with the stove fan on high, so the ambient temp isn't an issue, neither is smoke. The machine's timer starts when it is warm, which is difficult to coinside with the exact time the beans are inserted. Even more frustrating, it counts down instead of up, so you have to remember the amount of time you originally programmed and if you add time at the end, it's even more of a challenge to figure out the total. Using a separate timer makes keeping track of the cracks and total roast time simpler. This is especially important, if you are keeping a log of your times, because things happen fast at the end of the roast. I roast several different blends: Monkey, Classic Italian, Dolce, Malabar Gold, Green Line and Liquid Amber. Each requires slightly different roasting times and styles. My HotTop has been up to the task for everyone of them with even roasts and good color and taste. I always use a 225 gram batch and log each roast by using photo copies of the blank form on the back of the HotTop manual. Records and consistency are key to good results. I rarely use my Gene Cafe, because the beans are still very warm when the roasting and cooling are complete. On the occasion I do use the Gene, I pour the warm beans into the HotTop cooling tray, (which fits perfectly on top of a large mixing bowl), and rotate the cooling arm by hand. This takes a while and is a pain. The HotTop beans are cool when the roasting/cooling cycle is complete. This is reason enough to choose the HotTop over the Gene. (Shaking the cooling tray over the mixing bowl is a good way to remove chaff and find the occasional bad bean). After a cleaning, the HotTop drum began to squeek during roasting. I remedied this by loosening the brass screw above the viewing window. Another fix for this problem is to slightly back off the pressure on the 4 screws that hold the drum in place. I don't use the heat guards, they don't really serve any purpose. Why would anyone want to touch the machine during the roasting process?
Sweet Marias is great. I purchase everything I can from them. I dropped and broke the bean insert chute cover the first time I used the machine. Hottop USA replaced it immediately and free of charge.
Three Month Followup
I still love this roaster after 99 roasts, nothing has changed. I made a few refinements to the review, volts on the Variac, and grams per batch, (I changed the review to 125 volts on the variac and reduced the batch size to 225 grams). My best roasts have a total roast time of around 18 minutes, a few snaps into the second crack or 15-20 seconds beyond the SC, but no longer. These times are for espresso roasted between Full City + and Vienna depending on the blend. To help with the consistancy in roasting, I began keeping time/temp splits. The average time and temps with the Variac at 125 volts in the vu window and with a 225 gram batch: 5:00 minutes-267 degrees, 7:30-303, 10:00-337, 12:00-353 and at 15:00 minutes-375 degrees.