i'm brand new to home roasting. i decided to take the plunge because my sweetheart couldn't figure out a birthday present, and i figured as long as she's willing to buy one of these, i'm willing to learn. :-) sometimes, the best things in life happen by accident!
i have done 5 roasts in the hottop over the last month. i was able to use 1.5 of them. i'm definitely on the learning curve, and have spent more time than i care to admit on sweet maria's website (where i purchased the hottop) learning about roast levels. after burning the first batch all the way to carbon, and then mis-measuring the second batch (which also went to carbon), my third roast was too light. i stopped the roast at "city", which was a mistake. it did NOT make drinkable espresso! the fourth roast was "almost perfect" - needed about 30 seconds more to go from full city to almost viennese. and, the 5th roast came out just about as i like it - "virtually perfect" - more than full city, just slightly less than viennese. the programmed time for this roast level was 18:30 with 250g of beans.
now, i feel i have a good baseline from which to deviate and experiment. i have learned that the hottop (or perhaps coffee roasting in general) is sensitive to the final few seconds of roasting - all the "action" takes place after the First Crack and before the Second Crack ends. this time interval seems to be about 1 minute or less! the "almost perfect" roast mentioned above was stopped at 18 minutes exactly; the virually perfect roast was stopped at 18:30. the final 30 seconds made all the difference between wincing when i tasted the coffee, and truly enjoying a rich, smooth, full bodied espresso with all that deep-roasted flavor.
next roast will be for 18:40, just to see what happens with 10 seconds more time on the roast. :)
there is a little window on the front of the roasting chamber to watch your beans through. you can see the color changes, and observe the movement of the beans back and forth as the drum roatates. after about 15 minutes, the sound of the First Crack is easy to hear, as the roaster is very quiet as it operates. smoke tends to come from a number of places on the hottop - from the side vents where the heating element is, from the door where you pour in the beans, from the front of the roasting chamber where the front plate attaches, and from the back where a fan drives air and smoke from the roasting chamber through a filter. you need a good overhead hood to evacuate all the smoke.
after each roast, i clean out the chaff tray. and, after 4 roasts, per the instruction manual, i take the hottop apart and clean all the components. it is simple to take apart with just a phillips screwdriver. also, putting it back together was easy. but, there was an awful lot of chaff under a metal flap in the roasting chamber that did not make it to the chaff tray. it was easy to get the chaff out with a chop stick, but i think that's what makes the roaster smell like burnt coffee. it's too bad you have to disassemble the thing completely to get this chaff - once i removed it, the hottop no longer had that smell. i'll probably just learn to live with a bit of a burnt coffee aroma in my house. completely taking the hottop apart after every roast is too much for me. chaff tray, no problem. complete and thorough cleaning after each and every roast, no way. disassembly every 4 or 5 roasts is acceptable.
the hottop does a very good job of cooling the beans after roasting. when ejected with a push of a button, or when the programmed time elapses, a door on the bottom opens up, and allows the hot beans to fall into a perforated stainless steel pan. (the hottop beeps in yet another annoying and unstoppable way as it is ejecting the beans.) air blows up through the perforations, and a small vane spins under the beans to move them around. these two things work in concert to cool your beans down completely within about 5 minutes. there is a rather large blast of smoke to evacuate when the hot beans go from the roasting chamber to the cooling pan, so turn your hood fan on high at this point! once cooled, the beans can immediately go to a storage container. i leave the top of the container open for 12 hours after that to allow de-gassing, and then seal it until i use the beans.
once the hottop cools, you must clean the chaff tray, or it will not allow you to roast again. this seems right, as the chaff could catch fire if allowed to build up.
overall, i am extremely happy with the way the machine works, the quality of the roasts (very even), ease of use and ease of cleaning and maintenace. and, the freshness of "only days old" roasted coffee beans can't be beat by any store! (sorry peet's, you just lost a loyal customer! but i'll be back for the pastries. :-) )