All of the new crop of small home roasting devices incorporate built-in timing switches that trigger an automatic cooling cycle, making them all easy to use. These timers are important because, as most visitors to this site know, the length of time coffee is roasted largely determines the taste the roast imparts to the beans.
A relatively short roast time will bring beans to a medium brown color, imparting a dry yet sweetly tart taste coffee professionals call "acidy.". Longer roast times will produce roasts ranging from moderately dark brown (sweet, round and balanced in flavor) through dark brown (roasty and round), to black-brown (burned and sharp tasting). After a little experiment, the timing dials on home roasting machines will produce consistent roast color on a set-it-and-walk-away basis, although home roasters who want to achieve precision in roast will need to stand over the machine, observe the changing color of the beans, XXX and trigger the cooling cycle manually.
The easiest entry into home roasting is afforded by small devices called "fluidized bed" machines that roast about three to five ounces of coffee in anywhere from three to eight minutes, using a powerful current of hot air that roars up through the beans, simultaneously roasting and agitating them. All of these little devices incorporate a timing switch, and all permit you to watch the beans while they roast to gauge their changing color. At around $60 the Fresh Roast is the least expensive and the fastest roasting. The Brightway Caffe Arosto and the Hearthware Gourmet cost a bit more, are a bit sturdier, and take more time to roast somewhat more beans per batch. All produce a relatively high-toned, lively cup.
The unusual Zach & Dani’s Gourmet Coffee Roaster roasts three to five ounces of beans per batch, agitating them by means of a screw in the middle of the roasting chamber, and controls roasting smoke with a built-in catalytic converter. It roasts beans quite slowly, producing a lower-toned, heavier bodied coffee than the faster roasting fluidized bed machines. It also costs a bit more than the fluidized bed devices.
Finally, the serious home roaster may want to spend more money for a machine that will roast eight to nine ounces of beans per batch. The HotTop works almost exactly like a full-sized professional drum-style roasting machines and costs about $600. The Swissmar Alpenrost costs less (around $300) than the HotTop, roasts slightly less coffee, and, does not allow the user to observe the color of the beans as they roast. The Alpenrost produces a somewhat heavier bodied, less lively tasting coffee than the HotTop.