Have you found yourself looking for a home coffee roaster? Maybe it began with an overwhelming desire to recreate that perfect coffee house aroma. Or, maybe you’ve become frustrated with the cost of really good coffee. No matter the reason, I’m happy to welcome you to the wonderful world of coffee snobbery. After having spent over 6,000 hours roasting, brewing, crafting and generally obsessing over all things coffee, I myself am proud to be called a coffee snob.
No matter how you got here, it’s time to decide which coffee roaster is right for you. Just like beer enthusiasts can turn to this WalletPath article for Today’s Best Kegerators, I aim to give you all the knowledge you need to make the best decision for your expertise and needs.
The Top Home Coffee Roasters For The Perfect Roast
The Best Coffee Roaster Machine: The Behmor 5400 1600 Plus
The difference between pre-ground staleness and custom roasted goodness is the difference between driving a Pinto and a Porsche. There is no comparison. Roasting coffee can be as simple as throwing beans in a skillet and seeing where you land. Or it can be as complicated as pouring a carefully measured dose into a gas powered drum coffee roaster and lovingly babying the beans into perfection.
The Behmor does a little of both. It provides the traditional drum roasting experience of a commercial coffee house roaster, without the hassle of using a gas source. Buttons galore on the front keypad may overwhelm you at first. But hang in there – the machine is a lot less complicated than you may think.
The Behmor is an electric coffee roaster, so operation begins with a simple plug-in. Open the door, add your beans, push some buttons, and you’re on your way to roasted bean perfection. Unlike many drum roasters, Behmor factors in preheat time, so you don’t need to stand and wait around before adding the beans.
However, you will still have to stand and wait for the beans to roast. Like all coffee roasting machines, Behmor does not like you leaving the machine unattended. To help prevent that, they’ve programmed in a couple of “hey are you still there” features to get your attention. Ignore the beeps, and the machine turns off. Getting comfortable with any coffee roaster and walking away is natural, so the Behmor helps keep you honest.
When the beans are done, the heating element shuts off, and the drum keeps rotating to cool the beans. You’ll never experience the hot bean dance because the Behmor doesn’t shut off completely until the bean drum is cool enough for you to remove safely.
The Behmor gets an A+ for design, not because it’s pretty and pleasing to the eye. It’s not. The high score is because the design is incredibly simple. It actually looks like a toaster oven (I suspect that’s where the creators got their inspiration). There’s an easy open front door to completely remove the roast drum and chaff tray.
Cleaning is by far the easiest compared to every other roaster I’ve used. Chaff, that messy outer skin that flakes off the bean during the roast, collects into a tray that covers the bottom surface of the roasting compartment. Any additional chaff in the compartment can be sucked out with a vacuum hose or wiped down with a damp cloth.
What Makes This Coffee Roaster So Special?
If you’ve been full-on coffee snobbing for some time now, you’ll know. Or if you’re still getting your feet wet in the wonderful world of coffee bean cultivation, you’re well on your way to knowing. Coffee beans vary immensely in flavor profile, hardness, size, and quality. This depends on the region in which it’s grown, the methods used to grow it, and the processing method.
The folks at Behmor have thought about this. They built in different roasting profiles, depending on the origin of the bean. This is one user manual you’ll want to keep. Within it is a guide that teaches what profile button is best used with which type of bean.
This may be overwhelming at first but you’ll probably start leaning towards one particular type of coffee bean you love. You’ll roast with the same setting for that every time. For me, it’s a Dry-Processed Ethiopian Yirgacheffe. I set my profile for that bean, sit back, and enjoy watching it roasted to perfection.
Best Coffee Roaster Runner-Up: The Kaldi Wide Home Coffee Roaster
Drum roll, please…yes, another drum coffee roaster takes second place in my top three coffee roaster line up.
The only reason this home coffee roaster is second and not first is the amount of involvement required for this machine. You’ll get commercial roaster quality beans from this, but it’s operation is not quite as simple as the Behmor.
To begin roasting you’ll need the Kaldi coffee roaster, a gas stove, and a ventilated tray for bean cooling. If you want to cool efficiently you may need to have a small fan handy.
You’ll need to turn the machine on, let the coffee roaster get up to temperature (somewhere between 385 and 400°F), then slowly dump the beans into the removable hopper. Once you’ve got the beans in, you can replace the hopper with the cap to keep the heat in. Now the rest of the roast is completely up to you.
This is where knowledge about coffee roasting kicks in. Knowing when to pull the coffee is as much dependent on personal preference as it is trial and error. Just make sure that at the very minimum, the coffee beans have gone through “the first crack”. This is a process similar to the sound of toothpicks breaking that indicates the beans have begun to caramelize.
This 13-pound stainless steel machine is essentially what you’d get if you sprinkled shrinking powder over a commercial drum coffee roaster. Almost everything a commercial coffee roaster has – bean hopper, bean probe, roasting drum, temperature gauge, and chaff collector – the Kaldi home roaster has. And it works much in the same way.
Unlike a commercial coffee roaster though, the Kaldi does not come with an infrared burner. You’ll supply the gas and the burner. A Coleman camping stove will do just fine. Or you if you’re lucky enough to cook on a gas range at home, you can just sit the roaster right on top.
What Makes This Coffee Roaster So Special?
The Kaldi mimics a commercial drum coffee roaster so much, I couldn’t find any difference in roasting profile and flavor between this roaster and the coffee house roaster. With the bean probe, you can watch the color transformation of your beans from golden yellow to deep chocolate brown. You get to decide exactly when to pull the beans instead of the machine deciding for you.
And the Bronze Medal Goes To: The Fresh Roast SR500
The Fresh Roast is by far the most convenient, easy to use coffee roaster with the smallest footprint. You may want to consider working in the garage, or with a decent exhaust fan nearby for the other machines. But the Fresh Roast can roast discreetly on your kitchen counter right next to your favorite coffee brewer.
The Fresh Roast coffee roaster is vertical in design, and has a small footprint. It almost resembles a coffee grinder, so don’t get confused when you stumble into the kitchen in the wee hours of the morning. It’s an attractive little machine, so it will fit right in with any aesthetically choosy kitchen. No eyesores here.
This is an air roaster, so its operation is very different than what you’ll find with the more traditional drum coffee roasters. The coffee chamber consists of a heat-safe glass cylinder placed on top of a heat blower. There are adjustable knobs for heat and fan and a button to start the roast and begin the cool cycle.
Roasting is as easy as filling the chamber with about a ¼ lb of beans, pushing the ON button, and letting it go. You can play with the heat and fan a bit to get the beans dancing at just the right tempo. Optimally you’ll want the beans to dance around a bit. But don’t let them dance too energetically or you won’t get the magical thermal transfer between beans that is necessary for a quality roast.
What Makes This Coffee Roaster So Special?
The wonderful thing about the Fresh Roast is the degree of quality in bean roast compared to the machines small size and simple design. The tradeoff though is capacity. Ideally, only about a ¼ lb of beans should be roasted in this machine at a time. But, if you’re only roasting for yourself, this shouldn’t be a problem. And, since you can keep it in the kitchen, you can get a great roast in 7 minutes while you’re busy cooking dinner or doing a little kitchen clean up.
Honorable Mention: The Nuvo Eco Ceramic Handy Coffee Bean Roaster
Handy is right. We give this coffee roaster an honorable mention just for the sheer practicality of it. You can literally take the home out of this home coffee roaster, and out on your next camping trip with you. Just don’t forget your camping grinder when you go.
The Nuvo Eco Ceramic Coffee Roaster is basic in design. Made of ceramic wrapped in a genuine cowhide sleeve, you can comfortably keep this handheld roaster moving for the few minutes required to get the roast you want over an open flame. It’s quite an attractive little device too, harkening back to the essential beauty found in the simple process of roasting coffee. The rounded edges and subdued color bring focus less to the device, and more to the art of roasting.
This handheld coffee roasting machine is less machine and more tool. It is the simplest way to roast a small batch of coffee…period. Just pour a handful of your favorite beans in, hold over a gas flame or campfire and shake in a circular motion. In less then five minutes, you’ll have roasted beans. You’ll know they’re done when you’ve heard both cracks, seen the color of the beans, and sensed the changing aroma.
This roaster won’t provide as a consistent roast as other roasters, but for a handheld, it does a pretty good job. You may need to wear a heat protective glove while roasting though. Be sure if you want to go dark in the roast to keep the exhaust fan on or roast outside.
What Makes This Coffee Roaster So Special?
The origins of coffee can be found in Ethiopia, where to this day roasting coffee over an open fire in an elaborate ceremony is a part of welcoming any new guest to the home. The Nuvo Eco ceramic replicates a portion of that experience in its simple way of slowing life down for a few minutes, causing you to fully focus on the simple art of craft roasting.
What Makes A Coffee Roaster Worth Buying?
If you feel like you’re reinventing the wheel every time you roast, then the coffee roaster is just not worth the price. Home coffee roasting equipment should be nothing more than a vehicle you can use to put your roasting knowledge behind the wheel. The ride to roasted coffee should be fast and smooth.
Too much fluctuation in temperature will leave your beans with a one-dimensional flavor profile. Too much time to get from bean to roast will dry out your beans. Just the right amount of both will give you an even colored, consistent roast with a full flavor profile.
You need to be able to figure your machine out fairly easily and look forward to using it each time. If the manual reads like stereo instructions, run away. Unless you’re using your mom’s old popcorn machine to roast, there should be at least a small learning curve on each of these coffee roasting machines. After all, roasting coffee is an art that takes some perfecting, no matter your level of experience, or the machine you use.
The best home coffee roasting machines should be straightforward and easy to use once these factors are taken into consideration. Roasting coffee should take no more than twenty minutes from start to finish. Yes, you will need to be with the roaster the entire time since max roasting temperatures can reach between 420 and 440°F. But there shouldn’t be too much you need to do besides making minor adjustments to either temperature, airflow, time, or all three.
Coffee roasting mechanics are simple. Even machines that have some programming component are usually pretty basic. Any coffee roaster should be built with a fairly high tolerance for chaff and carbon collection – an unavoidable part of the roasting process.
The roasting chamber and accessory components should be fairly accessible for occasional cleaning beyond the routine chaff removal and oil wipe down. The Behmor, the Kaldi, and the Fresh Roast all have removable, easy to clean components.
The price you’ll pay for a coffee roaster will increase as it approaches commercial roaster styling and capability. However, higher price doesn’t necessarily mean better quality. I’ve paid over $1,000 dollars on good home roasters that I’ve ended up having to order a lot of replacement parts for.
So, although cost is something to take into consideration, its better to consider what you’re looking for in a home coffee roaster. If you just want a nice, convenient little coffee roaster that you can use here and there, the Fresh Roast is an incredible deal. If you want to more closely mimic a commercial drum roaster, and you’ve come armed with coffee roasting knowledge, definitely look at the Kaldi at about $400 more. But if you’re looking for the best of both worlds, convenient profile buttons, and a drum style roast, the Behmor will not disappoint.
A lot of home roasting has to do with someone’s obsession with quality coffee. But a component of roasting is about savings too. You may be like me, someone who feels very strongly about paying coffee farmers in developing countries fairly for their crop.
Many large roasting companies don’t take the farmer into consideration. Other smaller roasting companies have to charge very high prices to cover the cost of ethically sourced beans. Purchasing a roaster, although a considerable up-front cost at first, allows you to purchase green beans at a fraction of the price they would come roasted. The price savings gives you more flexibility to buy ethically sourced beans. It is a worthy investment.
Comparison of Specs For Each Coffee Roaster
|Behmor 5400 1600 Plus||KALDI Wide||Fresh Roast SR500||Nuvo Eco Ceramic|
|Average Roast Time||<20 min.||<10 min.||<10 min.||<5 min.|
|Max Batch Size||453g||300g||120g||70g|
|Heat Source||Electric||Gas||Electric||Gas/Open Fire|
|Dimensions||9 x 9 x 15.2 in.||18 x 6.7 x 14.6 in.||6 x 6 x 13 in.||9.5 X 5 x 1.3 in.|
|Material||Metal||Stainless Steel||Glass, Metal, Plastic||Ceramic, Leather|
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How do I know when my beans have finished roasting?
A: First ask yourself how dark you like your coffee? To achieve the maximum flavor, you’ll want to stop the roast somewhere right before or right after the second crack. Beans go through two stages called cracks. They make a cracking sound similar to snapping plastic forks or toothpicks.
If you’re working with a roaster where you can see the beans easily, listen for the first crack. It should be somewhere in the general ballpark of the 400°F mark. Once you’ve passed the first crack, keep an eye on those beans. Some people prefer the flavor profile of a light roast (not letting your beans hit the second crack). Some prefer a medium roast (just at the second crack). And some prefer a darker roast (just after the second crack).
What you don’t want to do is go dark on any home roasting machine. Anytime your beans get oily, you’re destroying its flavor profile, and essentially wasting your money on the roaster and the beans. You could easily grab a bag of whole beans at your local grocer to achieve the same taste.
Q: How do I know what roast is best for the region my beans come from?
A: Most of the time, green bean suppliers will offer suggestions for roast levels based on individual coffee farms, processing methods, and growing regions. Though as a general rule of thumb, the lighter the roast, the brighter the flavor – the darker the roast the more caramelization is brought into the flavor of the cup.
Q: Should I be roasting indoors?
A: Well, it depends on how much you like the smell of roasting. If you’re using a Behmor or Kaldi, you can absolutely roast indoors. But I recommend you use it near a running overhead exhaust fan, such as on the stove.
The lighter your roast, the less smoke you’ll notice. The aroma can be pungent as its going through the process, so on nice days, you may choose to roast in the garage or outside. I do all my roasting in the basement. The aroma wafts upstairs but never permeates the house for long. If you’re using the Fresh Roast coffee roaster, roasting in the kitchen is perfectly fine without need for a fan.
Coffee roasting is a little bit of science and a whole lot of art. Home coffee roasting is a fun and cost-effective way of enjoying high-quality specialty beans from all over the world – without paying premium prices. Any of the top home coffee roasters listed here will give you exactly what you’re looking for: a rich, lively, deeply satisfying cup of joe.