01.Test results for three coffee roasters, priced from $380 - $1650
Please note: this information was current as of November 2009 but is still a useful guide to today's market. For more recent information, see our Coffee Roasters Review 2012.
As well as grinding your own coffee beans, roasting them yourself is another key step in making a perfect cup of coffee at home. It gives you fresh coffee to suit your taste and in the long run can be cheaper than buying coffee in a supermarket. As the beans are roasted, their colour and smell changes to produce different flavours. You can roast coffee beans in an oven, frying pan or even popcorn maker, however home coffee roasters are the new trend for enthusiasts. CHOICE put three models to the test and found they vary greatly in performance and ease of use.
Gene Café Coffee Bean Roaster CBR-101
This model has a maximum capacity of 300g per roast but, at 5.5kg is large and bulky to store. Its roasting guide is easy to follow, it has good visibility through the chamber and performs very well across the range of roast profiles. Overall, it’s very easy to use, particularly when adjusting time and temperature. However, care must be taken when inserting the roasting chamber, to ensure it’s properly aligned.
Hottop Coffee Roaster KN-8828B
Hottop is an excellent coffee roaster overall, with features that mimic commercial roasters. It accommodates 250g per roast, and of the three models is the most expensive and the heaviest, at 10kg. It has time and temperature settings, as well as heated power and fan speed settings, which give you better control over the roast. It has one pre-programmed setting, three programmable settings and comes with a useful roasting guide. For each cycle, the roaster preheats to 75°C and then ejects the beans onto an external cooling tray when they’re cooked, which speeds up the cooling process. Its only disadvantage is cleaning, which is slightly more complex than the other two models. Its filter also needs to be replaced periodically.
iRoast Home Roaster
The iRoast only has a maximum capacity of 150g, and while lightweight and compact for easy storage, it’s very noisy during operation – louder, in fact, than the noisiest vacuum cleaners we recently tested. It has two pre-programmed and 10 programmable settings, but the temperature can’t be controlled adequately and rises dramatically beyond the setting, reaching 180°C in one minute, causing the coffee to burn quickly on the outside, without being fully roasted on the inside. For this reason, our tester was unable to achieve good coffee with this roaster.
Following testing the manufacturer has since told us that the problems CHOICE found can be modified to produce better results. The machine was repaired and retested and we found that the modifications made a difference to the performance of the roaster. Even though the temperature still rises quicker than ideal it becomes possible to roast good quality coffee. With modifications made CHOICE would give this machine a higher rating however
it's still very noisy.
During the roasting cycle of all three models, two cracking noises indicate points in the different stages of roasting. The supplier suggests continually monitoring the beans during roasting and once you’ve reached the desired stage you either turn it to the cooling phase or, if you’ve pre-programmed the cycle, it starts automatically. It’s important not to interrupt the cool-down phase, otherwise the beans will remain hot and continue to roast. The Hottop is very quiet, so it’s easy to distinguish between the two cracks. You can also hear the cracks in the Gene Café, however the iRoast is so loud it’s difficult to hear them.
Buying Vittoria Oro pre-roasted coffee beans at $32/kg and making 30 cups of coffee per week will cost you about $320 per year, whereas buying green beans at $14/kg and roasting them yourself would cost only about $175/year. Keep in mind that these figures don’t take into consideration the purchase price of the roasters so cost savings won’t initially be evident.
The freshest coffee comes at a price. However, for coffee aficionados, the Hottop is a worthwhile investment and so is the Gene Café at half the price. Their roasting guides are a great tool, and with a little trial and error you can find your desired coffee flavour. They are both bulky appliances, but could look good on your countertop if you have enough bench space. Keep in mind these roasters can create a lot of smoke during roasting. They should not be operated above a gas stove but in a well ventilated area, such as under a suitable range hood or possibly in a garage or shed.