Simple to use, requires a lot of cleaning and maintenance. Parts are rather costly. Some beans work better than others - Kona and any type of decaf should be avoided.
Positive Product Points
Unbelievably easy to operate
Full roast and cool down cycle - takes about 20 minutes per batch, varying on level of roast
Wonderful, toasty aroma and dancing beans really draws attention
Negative Product Points
Parts require periodic replacement and are somewhat costly
Chaff collection needs work
Some beans seem to work better in the system than others. Kona is a no-no. Any decaf will give poor results
Generally high maintenance
This roaster gives a consistent, even roast every time, doing justice to the fluid-bed method. For the size and capacity, I can't imagine an easier machine to operate. The toasty aroma is vented to the outside which creates a natural draw to passing foot traffic. The glass roasting chamber is cool to watch! Overall, I'm pleased with the resulting coffee.
There is little to complain about, but if I were on the design team I would consider a better method for chaff collection. Different beans create differing amounts of chaff. When there is a LOT of chaff, some of that falls back on the beans - after the roast - when the chaff/roasting chamber assembly is removed (they are stacked together). My solution is simple - I purchased a small shop vac with crevice tool which I use only for the roaster. Once I take apart the cylinder, I set the chaff collector aside. I pass the crevice tool above the beans to collect loose chaff. Then I proceed to vaccuum clean the chaff collector assembly.
It is well-built and looks as if it will last forever if cared for properly. No doubt, I will buy at least one more in the near future, with additional units should my business grow.
Monster Coffee is now the exclusive distributor in North America. They are friendly and supportive and very prompt with shipping. It is rare to find someone who will go over the top to help - take advantage of it! Service and product are great. My only negative feedback is that their website could use a little work - it's a little too much like an infomercial. But I will continue to do business with them. Sonofresco (formerly Coffee Kenetics), the manufacturer, is very helpful and patient when it comes to questions. It's reassuring to know there is plenty of support for the product!
Three Month Followup
Learn to protect your roasting chamber. I broke mine and it cost a bunch to replace it. The controller board fritzed out and Monster Coffee replaced it free, since it was under warranty.
Decaf and small-sized green coffee don't work well. There are work-arounds, but the results with these coffees are disappointing.
As my company grows, I realize I could do well with a 5lb roaster, but the Coffee Kinetics roaster holds its own - we keep the roaster going and it continues to produce excellent coffee.
One Year Followup
Ease of operation vs. high maintenance...what a trade-off! The cost to replace parts periodically adds up. That's the major drawback of this roaster. I'm on my third screen cover (fits over the chaff collector) in one year. The screen is difficult to clean without wearing it out. If the roaster is in constant use then this part will need constant cleaning and periodic replacement. Currently our Sonofresco roaster (formerly Coffee Kinetics) only roasts a few pounds a week. I mostly use it as a sample roaster to evaluate new shipments. Occasionally I'll crank it up to roast a pound for personal consumption.
Months ago we had to replace the controller board. Since that time our roaster has never worked quite the same. We've totally cleaned and replaced parts, but still no improvement. Now the roaster is out of warranty, so to replace the part again would be too costly.
A roaster fire IS possible in a fluid-bed roaster! Once we were roasting coffee and the roasting chamber did not seat properly in its lip - this resulted in a disrupted air flow that caused the sensor to mis-read the temperature. The result: we had to replace the sensor probe, the roasting chamber and the screen. The roasting chamber was so hot that it burned the countertop when we removed it from the roaster! I mention this because it is VERY easy to overlook this simple point given the design of the roaster.
The only other drawback to this roaster is that it only roasts one pound per batch. For a busy coffee shop, this means the roaster will stay busy and that means a lot of time cleaning and maintaining the roaster. We ended up buying a 2K (5lb/batch) roaster and it was a good move. Now we roast 4 times the amount of coffee per batch and the cleaning and maintenance is a fraction of the time and cost. Considering the price of the 2K drum roaster is not much more than the Sonofresco, it makes sense to buy the drum roaster.
I would say this roaster is fine for circumstances where a traditional roaster might not work - especially in a confined space. But in that situation, I'd wonder if having a roaster is a very smart move anyway. Also remember, if you choose a propane version, the tank must be outside of your building -- this might impact your planning. Using this roaster in a mobile environment is okay, but not recommended as the roaster MUST be level during operation and vented properly.
You will also need to experiment with different varieties of green coffee. Some work better than others, and decaf beans don't work very well at all. The Sonofresco web site has some suggestions on how to work around roasting decaf beans.