An Expert Guide to Coffee Roasters: How to Buy an At-Home RoasterPublished on 05/19/2023 · 12 min readConsidering investing in an at-home coffee roaster? Check out this article first! Coffee Expert Jeff Sutton dives into the different types of roasters!
Photo by Gregory Hayes
When buying a coffee roaster for home keep the following factors in mind: usage (How often will you be roasting coffee), yield (How much coffee are you looking to roast each batch), Control (Is adjustment on every aspect of the roast important to you), and available space (a drum roaster is much larger).
I spend many of my days watching lines on a computer screen that directly correspond to what is going on with the coffee I’m roasting. I started roasting on a commercial level a few years back at a larger craft coffee company. After learning how different beans reacted to roast techniques, I moved on to my next roasting position. I now work with high-quality small batches (still on a 12-kilogram per batch roaster) and have continued refining the subtleties of roasts and determining why they make coffee taste certain ways.
The one thing that I have learned from coffee is that it is best when shared. So, I have dived into the world of home roasting so that everyone can check out and enjoy the entire process of making coffee from the green to the cup as much as I do.
What Is a Coffee Roaster?
A coffee roaster is any machine that adds heat to green coffee beans, turning them into the flavorful, aromatic beans we use for brewing drinks across various methods. Home coffee roasters work by applying heat to the beans in a very controlled manner, typically via convection or conduction. They usually have adjustable temperature control and time settings to achieve desired roast levels, ranging from light to dark. The roasting process involves continuous agitation to ensure even heating of the beans and prevent burning. Home roasters allow coffee enthusiasts to experiment with roasting profiles that can bring out certain flavors within any given “green.” It allows anyone to enjoy fresh, customized coffee anytime in the comfort of their home.
What to Consider When Buying a Coffee Roaster
1. How Often Do You Plan to Roast Coffee?
Consider your coffee consumption habits and how frequently you'll use the roaster. If you're an occasional coffee drinker, a small-capacity, easy-to-use fluid-air bed roaster may work just fine. If you're a daily coffee enthusiast or plan to roast for others, investing in a larger-capacity drum roaster with advanced features could be more beneficial in the long run. It allows for larger, more consistent batches.
2. How Important Is Ease of Use and Maintenance?
Determine your comfort level with operating and maintaining a home coffee roaster. Fluid-air bed roasters are, in general, easier to use and clean. They are more beginner-friendly and a great starting point for many people. Drum roasters offer finite control and customization but require more skill, time to master fully, and sometimes even a gas burner. Additionally, consider the ease of finding replacement parts and cleaning supplies locally or online, as regular maintenance is one of the key factors to keeping your roaster in prime working condition.
3. How Much Space Do You Have for a Coffee Roaster?
Evaluate the available area in your home or garage for a coffee roaster. Fluid-air bed roasters tend to be smaller and more compact, fitting easily on a kitchen counter inside your house. On the other hand, drum roasters normally are bulkier, requiring more dedicated space. Choosing a roaster that fits comfortably into your home and lifestyle is best.
4. How Much Should a Home Coffee Roaster Cost?
The cost of a home coffee roaster varies depending on features, capacity, and build quality. However, here are some common price points and what you can expect:
- Under $100: Basic roasters with limited control and smaller capacities or hand-operated ideas.
- $100-$500: Mid-range fluid-air bed and entry-level drum roasters with better temperature control and larger batch sizes.
- $500-$1000+: High-end drum roasters with advanced controls, features, and larger capacities for the serious home roaster.
Consider your needs, budget, and desired features when selecting a roaster at an appropriate price point.
What Are the Different Kinds of Home Coffee Roasters?
As an expert coffee roaster, I will break down the two main types of home coffee roasters for you.
1. Fluid-Air Bed Roasters
Like popcorn makers, fluid-air bed roasters use hot air to roast the coffee beans. The beans are placed in a roasting chamber where heated air circulates, agitating and evenly roasting the beans. Air roasters are great starting points for beginners because they're more affordable, easy to use, and provide quick and consistent results. However, their capacity is normally smaller, making them most suitable for small-batch roasting.
- Easy to clean: With fewer parts and a simple design, maintaining these roasters is a breeze.
- Visible roasting process: You can easily monitor the beans' color change, enabling you to track between drying, Maillard, and development phases of a roast, just like watching a popcorn popper.
- Faster roasting time: Get your beans roasted in just a few minutes, perfect for busy home baristas.
- Keep in Mind
- Limited control: Less customizable roast profiles compared to drum roasters.
- Smaller batch sizes: Not ideal for those who consume large amounts of coffee or want to roast for friends and family.
- Noise: The air circulation can be quite loud, making it less suitable for quiet environments.
2. Drum Roasters
These roasters use a rotating drum to roast the green coffee beans. The drum, heated by direct or indirect heat, tumbles the beans while roasting. The constant agitation ensures even heat distribution. Drum roasters offer more manual control over the roasting process, with some having both gas and airflow controls. As a result, they can handle larger batches of beans but typically have a steeper learning curve and are more expensive. Nevertheless, they're ideal for coffee enthusiasts who want to experiment with various roast profiles and achieve a more artisanal result.
- Advanced control: Experiment with various roast levels and temperature settings for a truly personalized profile.
- Larger capacity: Perfect for coffee aficionados who want to roast in larger batch sizes and share their creations.
- Better heat retention: Drum roasters tend to maintain heat more effectively, leading to a more consistent roast but taking longer to bring to temperature.
- Keep in Mind
- Steeper learning curve: Mastering drum roasters take more practice and patience to craft your skill.
- Longer roasting times: Be prepared to spend a decent bit of time roasting compared to fluid-air bed roasters.
- Higher cost: Drum roasters are, in general, more expensive, making them a bigger investment for the home user.
When choosing between the two, consider how much you want to spend, your average desired batch size, your space dimensions, and the level of control you want over the roasting process overall.
Features to Look for in a Coffee Roaster
As an experienced roaster, I recommend keeping an eye peeled for these features and technologies when selecting a home roaster:
- Temperature Control: Precise control over-roasting temperature is crucial for achieving consistent results and desired roast profiles. Consistency is the name of the game with roasting and quality drinks in general. Look for roasters with digital controls, adjustable heat settings, and real-time temperature feedback. This level of control allows you to experiment with various roast profiles and fine-tune your coffee to your desired roast level.
- Roasting Time Control: The ability to modify the roasting time gives you more flexibility in achieving your overall roast level. Some roasters come with pre-programmed roast profiles for different roast levels, while others let you set custom timers. Opt for a roaster that offers the level of control you're comfortable with.
- Smoke Suppression: Roasting coffee produces smoke, which can be a concern in a home setting. Some roasters have built-in smoke suppression systems or catalytic converters to reduce overall smoke emissions. This feature can be a game changer, especially if you have limited ventilation or smoke alarms near the roaster.
- Cooling System: Properly cooling your beans after roasting is essential to prevent over-roasting and preserve flavor. It is the same concept as flash-cooling pasta. Some roasters have integrated cooling systems or cooling trays that quickly reduce heat. A good cooling system ensures your beans stop roasting at the right time, locking in the desired flavor.
- Chaff Collection: During roasting, coffee beans shed their outer skin or chaff, creating a mess and even a fire hazard. Roasters with built-in chaff collectors make cleanup easier and reduce the risk of chaff affecting the roast by trapping it in a removable compartment. This collector should be emptied after each use.
- Noise Level: Some roasters can be quite loud due to the heating mechanism or the sound created by bean agitation. If you're sensitive to noise or live in close quarters, consider a roaster with a reputation for being quieter.
- Durability and Build Quality: A well-built coffee roaster with quality materials can ensure long-lasting performance with minimal maintenance. Look for roasters with sturdy construction, solid components, and a reputable manufacturer's warranty. Investing in a durable roaster will provide you with years of freshly roasted coffee and fewer headaches.
Understanding how each feature impacts the roasting process will help you choose a home coffee roaster that best suits your needs, preferences, and lifestyle.
Tips for First-Time Home Roasters
I'm excited to share some tips to help you embark on your home coffee roasting journey. Let's dive into some essential advice to get you started on the right foot. 1. Understanding Roast Levels: Familiarize yourself with different roast levels, ranging from light to dark. Each roast level has distinct characteristics and flavor profiles: 1. Light Roast: Higher acidity, bright flavors, and more pronounced fruit or floral notes. The densest bean overall and the hardest to grind consistently. 2. Medium Roast: Balanced flavor, acidity, and body, showcasing the coffee's inherent characteristics. 3. Dark Roast: Bold, smoky flavors with lower acidity and a heavier body, often featuring caramel or chocolate notes. Least dense bean but tends to be oily and can cause issues with certain grinders. 2. Sourcing Quality Green Beans: The quality of your green beans plays a significant role in the final coffee taste. Look for reputable suppliers who offer a variety of single-origin beans or blends. Once you trust the recommendations of an import company, it becomes easier to trust their ratings of certain greens. Experiment with beans from different elevations and processing methods to discover what you like best. 3. Experimenting with Roast Profiles: Don't be afraid to explore and modify your roasting process. Varying temperatures, roasting time, and bean agitation can impact the final product dramatically. Keep notes on all of your roasting sessions, detailing the beans used, including lot number, roast level achieved in temperature and color, and your impressions of the taste. Over time, you'll refine your technique and develop your signature flavors. 4. Practicing Safety: Roasting coffee at home can be a fun and rewarding hobby, but being safe is essential. Follow these guidelines to ensure you have a good time roasting again and again: - Use your roaster in a well-ventilated area to prevent any smoke buildup. - Keep a fire extinguisher nearby at all times in case of emergencies. - Always watch the entire roasting process to avoid over-roasting or burning the beans. - Use heat-resistant gloves or utensils when handling any hot components. - Allow the roaster and beans to cool to the recommended level before cleaning or transferring the beans.
By understanding different roast levels, sourcing quality beans, experimenting with roast profiles, and doing it all safely, you'll be well on your way to becoming a home coffee roaster. So enjoy the journey, and savor the satisfaction of crafting your perfect cup of coffee!
To help clarify what type of roaster might best suit your needs, I’ve created some hypothetical situations that encompass a good portion of the people looking into home coffee roasters.
Hilary has worked as a barista for years and is passionate about the artisan aspects of creating her coffee. She loves the intricacies of making her morning drinks and wants to extend that into creating her own roasts at home. Hilary really has no intention of making large batches but only intends to make small amounts for herself.
What Hilary should look for: A smaller convection-based machine would be best to get her feet wet in the world of home roasting.
Coffee roaster example: Fresh Roast SR800
Marina has been in the coffee business for years and is considering supplying her own coffee. She has played around with the idea of jumping in head first and getting a commercial machine but isn’t quite sure about the investment.
What Marina should look for: A larger machine that can produce batches to try all the methods of coffee production out with any given roast. For example, a drum machine will do a pound per roast.
Coffee roaster example: Behmor 2000AB Plus
Lewis has seen his coffee business expand and has fully committed to becoming a coffee roaster. He has purchased a full-size commercial machine but only is familiar with a few types of green coffee and not many coffee growers from different regions. He doesn’t want to commit to big purchases of many beans that he may regret.
What Lewis should look for: Something to be able to roast multiple gram-sized small batch roasting in a controlled manner will be key to good results.
Coffee roaster example: A roaster like the Ikawa Home Roasting System is my top choice. It is ideal for small batches that need high levels of accuracy and real-time control in the roasts.
The ability to create your own flavors by taking a green coffee bean and roasting it to perfection is a great feeling. It’s another way for coffee lovers to expand their craft; you know you will always have the freshest coffee. With a little practice, the right machine and guidance from an Expert here on Curated, the greatest lattes you have ever had could come from the beans you create at home.