Large viewing window, quiet operation, roasts up to 1/2 pound, solid construction, effective cooling cycle.
Negative Product Points
Sensitive to voltage, requires a replacement filter after every 20 roasts.
After contemplating home roasting for more than a year, I received the Hottop for Christmas (what a gift!). I'd done a fair amount of reading and research on home roasters, and had decided that, when I entered the fray, it'd be the Hottop because of (1) it's 1/2 pound capacity (which sets me up for a week at a time), (2) it's substantial construction, and (3) the fact that it's a drum roaster (vs. hot air).
I was pretty intimidated by the notion of roasting at home, both because roasting is largely sensory (requiring the experience of sounds and sights and smells) and because of the potential fire hazard. In fact, my first read of the Hottop manual nearly scared me right out of the whole idea. Respect the appliance-- never leave your roaster unattended, and be sure to have a fire extinguisher handy. Enough said.
Thankfully the Hottop has made it pretty easy to learn sensory part of the roasting process. The Hottop's quiet operation makes both the first and second cracks easily audible. And the large viewing window makes the beans easy to observe throughout the roast.
The operation is simple: push the "Start" button, then push the "Temp" button from 1 to 7 times, depending on the desired degree of roast. The machine heats up, and then beeps to signal that it's time to the beans into the top. The microchip does the rest. The machine beeps again when nearing the end of the roast cycle. At that point, you can add 30 seconds to the roast up to 5 times to take things a little darker.
I roast exclusively for espresso, and started off using setting 6 with good results. For some reason, after about 15 roasts i had trouble getting my beans dark enough using the 6 setting and all 5 pluses. So I started using the 7 setting. Then the 7 setting with all 5 pluses, and my beans were still not getting into the 2nd crack. A little research revealed that the Hottop is pretty sensitive to voltage. A friend came over with a voltmeter and we discovered that my voltage was dropping as low as 112V at the peak of the heat cycle. so I bit the bullet and purchased a Variac to ensure that my line remains at a consistent 120V. Since the addition of the Variac, I have had no problems getting beans dark enough.
I've just completed my 51st roast, and am very happy with the Hottop. I now always roast at the 7 setting, and use the "Eject" button to end the roast manually at various stages of the 2nd crack.
When DVDs first came out, I thought "how much better can this really be than VHS?" Then I got a DVD player and was amazed at the difference. I thought the same thing about roasting: "how much better can this be that buying freshly roasted beans from a local roaster?" The answer is much better. Home roasting definitely has taken the quality of my espresso to a new level, and I have the Hottop to thank.
My wife ordered thebig boy from Sweet Maria's. An excellent experience.