A quality machine offering total control of the roasting process, with excellent results in the cup.
Positive Product Points
• The most important thing: the coffee comes out great! • Quiet (I felt like a virgin when I heard second crack during my first roast on the HotTop—I had no idea what I'd been missing!) • Should last a very long time due to the solid build quality combined with easy user repairs (virtually all parts are available on the manufacturer's website, along with detailed repair instructions.) • Complete control of the heating element and fan. • The cooling tray and automatic cooling cycle are superb.
Negative Product Points
Nothing significant. Minor gripes:
• I could be wrong, but I think the same quality product could probably be offered for more like $500. It's easily worth $1000 to me, however, so I'm still a happy customer. • One of the safety features is that you have to remove the chaff tray after every roast. This is reasonable, but I normally clean the chaff tray (and the rest of the machine) when the unit is unplugged, which means it doesn't know I've done it, so it always prompts me to do it again when I plug it in the next time. I think I just need to get in the habit of pulling out the tray as soon as the cooling cycle starts; the machine will probably cool off quicker this way, anyway.
I have the "Basic" model (KN-8828B), which offers complete control over the roasting process.
The defaults for target time (18 minutes) and target temperature (420° F) are more than you're likely to need, and it's easy to adjust either during the roasting cycle, so it's brain-dead easy to get started—just press the Start button three times and the machine will start preheating. The machine will signal when it's time to add the beans, and then the timer will start counting down. From here on, it's simple to adjust the heating element or fan speed. The targets for time and temperature are just safety mechanisms—the beans will be dumped if either is reached. If you're approaching 18:00 and need more time, just scroll to the target time and press Up to add time (the maximum is 25:00). I really can't imagine you'd want the chamber temperature to get any higher than 420°, so you shouldn't need to increase that (the maximum is 428°).
The machine is incredibly quiet (especially compared to my old i-Roast 2), so it's a extremely easy to hear first and second crack. When you've reached your target roast, just press the eject button, and the beans will all be dumped into the cooling tray in a matter of seconds. The tray is so wide that the beans are spread only about 2 beans deep. The tray has an arm that agitates the beans while a fan blows from underneath. This is extremely effective—the beans start cooling immediately (you don't have to anticipate further development and stop early), are easy to touch in about two minutes, are merely warm after four minutes, and by the time the five-minute cooling cycle is done, they're room temperature and ready to be stored.
My first two batches were amazing, way better than anything I got out of my i-Roast. With the control over the heating element and fan, I'm looking forward to experimenting with different profiles: controlling the drying time, slowing things down after first crack, etc. The HotTop USA website now has a great article on profiling like this.
For reference, here's what the automatic profile does on my machine: 00:00 Heat 100% Fan 0% 02:12 Fan 75% 02:42 Fan 0% 05:26 Heat 80% 08:02 Heat 100% 10:02 Fan 25% 13:02 Heat 60% Fan 50%
Sweet Maria's has always been a stellar dealer to do business with.