HotTop Coffee Roaster Review
October 2, 2005
There comes a time when you get serious about coffee roasting… Or more accurately, there came a time when I got serious about my coffee roasting.
The Hearthware i-Roast was a lot of fun, and did a nice job, but it had a couple of critical limits. First, it could only roast a small amount of coffee at a time (about five ounces, if I pushed the limits a little), and it has to be allowed to cool for a good long time (ideally, several hours) before roasting again.
Since I like playing with different blends, and occasionally roast coffee to give away to friends as well as for myself, these limits got fairly annoying.
So a few months ago, I bought one of the “big boys” — the HotTop Coffee Roaster. Whereas the i-Roast is basically a modification of the venerable hot-air popcorn popper style roasters, the HotTop is essentially a downsized version of a commercial drum roaster. It can roast 9 – 10.5 ounces (250 – 300 grams) at a time, and is ready to roast again in 20 minutes (you can actually cut this down considerably).
Being a drum roaster relying on radiant heat, it is a slower roaster than a hot-air roaster — where 9 – 10 minutes in the i-Roast will take you to a pretty dark roast, the same roast can take 21 – 23 minutes in the HotTop. As a result, there are some subtle flavor changes; roasts take on a bit more body, and lose some brightness. This isn’t a terribly bad trade off, and you can largely compensate by changing your roast levels a little.
The HotTop is also quite a bit larger; 19″ x 14″ high, by 10″ deep — roughly the size of a small sewing machine. Since more coffee equals more smoke during the roasting process, this means that you’ve either got to fit the entire thing under your cooktop’s vent hood (assuming it works well and vents to the outside), or take it outdoors to roast.
The controls couldn’t be much simpler — you can select the “roast level” (which means roast time, from 17 – 21 minutes), and you can add 30 seconds to the end of the roast up to 5 times by pressing the “plus” button. Outside of that, the only controls are “power” and “eject”, which ejects the roast when you’ve decided it’s complete, or when it times out (whichever comes first.)
When the roast is ejected, it goes into a round perforated cooling tray, where a little rod stirs the red-hot beans back and forth across a fan for about five minutes.
The chaf (mostly) collects in a chaf tray under the drum, which has to be emptied after each roast. I’ve found that a fair amount ends up remaining under the drum, and I usually use a narrow edge cleaning attachment on a shop vac to get this remaining chaf out after each roast.
There is also a paper & carbon air filter on the back of the roaster that is supposed to be replaced after every 10 roasts (I’ve been known to stretch this a bit.)
To speed up the cycle time, I’ve had good luck by removing the chaf drawer and bean cover (where you insert the green beans) immediately when it goes into the cooling cycle, and lifting the air filter out. I don’t suggest you do this, because the manufacturer doesn’t suggest it, and because these surfaces are mind-bogglingly hot at the end of the roast — if you burn yourself, break your roaster or start a fire, don’t blame me.
Likewise, I don’t suggest you start a new roast and then hit eject immediately after the cooling cycle completes to run it through a second cooling cycle, but I’ve found that this cools my roaster sufficiently to start a new roast immediately after the second cooling cycle completes.
My only minor gripe with the HotTop is that 23 1/2 minutes (the longest roast time, plus pressing the “plus” button 5 times for an extra 2 1/2 minutes) will only get you so dark of a roast on some beans, with 250 grams in the roaster. With 300, forget it. If you like particularly dark roasts, you may end up going to 225 or even 200 grams to be able to get a Starbucks-esque char on your beans.