Gourmet, Precision, AlpenRost, FreshRoast Plus 8, Poppers
Not the upgrade I had hoped for from Hearthware.
Positive Product Points
Programmable, with each programmed profile having three segments wherein you can control the time and the temp. Can roast slightly more than HWP or Gourmet models did.
Negative Product Points
Inadequate chaff collection system - clogs up and then runs hot. When trying to start it, my machine stutters and then you have to re-program (I may have to repeat this numerous times-very frustrating). Pre-programmed roasts result in black charcoal if you don't end it about four minutes early.
I've been home roasting for almost ten years and have been through numerous roasters including poppers, the Hearthware Gourmet (three of them), the Hearthware Precision, an AlpenRost, and a FreshRoast Plus 8. I had been very happy with my earlier Hearthware products and was excited about the prospect of a programable machine from this company. In the past, they had been very good with customer service and the improvement from the Gourmet to the Precision model led me to believe that the I-Roast would be a giant step forward for us long-suffering home roasters. I was wrong and very disappointed.
The first thing I noticed was the smaller chaff collection setup. The actual screens for the air to be vented out of are very small and, when using a dry-processed or other high chaff bean, these become clogged/blocked rapidly. When this happens, the agitation of the beans is reduced and you get a much too hot & uneven (read rapid and burnt) roast. If you open the top to get some airflow, you get chaff flying all over the place, but at least you save your roast. The chaff collection system on this machine is terrible and a major disappointment.
The next thing I noticed was the two pre-programmed roasts are both poor, in my opinion. They both result in charcoal if you don't end them really early (as in leaving out the final third segment of the roast) which leaves one to wonder what help the profile really was.
Next, don't plan on roasting as much as is advertised. You can roast more than the HWP or Gourmet, but not much more.
About 6 months into using this machine it began stuttering when I pushed the Roast button. It would just sort of "cough" and then die. Unfortunately, when this would happen it would lose whatever profile I had just programmed into it (which is a somewhat awkward process as well). If I leave the machine plugged in all of the time, I can avoid this some of the time, but I'm not sure that is to wise either (at least my fire-fighter friends don't recommend leaving such an appliance plugged in all of the time). When I e-mailed Hearthware about it I got no response. When I phoned them they told me there was nothing wrong with the machine and that these machines do this if it is less than 70 degrees in the area the machine is being used and stored. When I explained I keep the machine indoors in my utility room and that I don't think the ambient temperature is a problem, they asked me to e-mail them my information. So I am now waiting for their response. I'll try to give a 3 month update to let you know how they did.
At this point, unless I can find a HWP to buy, I'm probably going back to poppers.
SweetMarias is an excellent supplier. They ship well, they are professional, and Tom knows his stuff. I view him as a very honest, hard-working, knowlegeable, and dedicated vendor.
Three Month Followup
Update 7/1/05: At the time of my original review I was having chaff collection problems (screen getting blocked, restricting airflow) and had contacted customer service regarding my machine stuttering on start-up (having difficulting getting started, losing the programming).
Hearthware's customer service did an admirable job. The lid to the top also cracked and they promptly sent me out a replacement. The new lid fit better than the previous one. After some research on this site and elsewhere I had discovered the method of wrapping a washer with tin foil to keep the chaff collector in place so not so much chaff made it to the screen lid. The machine (except the stutturing) had been roasting really nicely after that modification. I still think a machine should not require the consumer to do internet searches to find modifications to make it work and that this should not have been a problem Hearthware overlooked. At any rate, the new lid they sent fit better and did not require the washer/tin foil modification (but this one pops off in the middle of the roast so I'll have to search to find the fix to this problem).
Hearthware customer service did agree to have me send in my base for repair under warranty. One month later I e-mailed them to ask about progress as I still did not have a machine. The replied promptly to that email stating they would send me out a new base if I paid $9.99 shipping, so I did that. The new base got here and did not get hot enough to roast coffee. I again e-mailed Hearthware Customer Service and they sent out another base with a UPS return ticket for the defective one.
I have only roasted three times with the new base, but it is one with the 2nd generation firmware (my original was the 1st firmware version). I liked the first version better as the temperature was at least partially controlled by fan speed. With this new version the fan slows and does not vary once into the second and third segments of the roast cycle. As a result, I don't think it roasts quite as much coffee, has poorer chaff separation, and does not roast as evenly as the first version.
In summary, this is not a bad roaster but it could be so much better. I will still recommend it to people who want to get into roasting, in part because there are very few other good roasters out there. Hearthware's customer service did a good job (except for not responding for a month) and covered every problem without too much resistance.
I'll up my overall rating to a 5 or 6 because the machine (first firmware version) was roasting well once I got the lid modification in place. Now, with this new firmware and the new lid coming off, I'll need to do some research to see how to get the best out of this version. In the future, I hope Hearthware releases a product that does not require customer mods and internet research to find out how to make it work well. I hope not too many new home roasters have been turned off of home roasting by getting a roaster that did not work well right out of the box.