I stumbled upon Coffeegeek while researching an espresso machine, and discovered some serious collective wisdom. I hope to contribute just a bit more by sharing my i-Roast impressions.
Some years ago, my FreshRoast gave up the ghost after pulling daily duty for at least two years. The poor thing just began shedding big hunks of itself into the hot air stream. Realizing that I needed a bit more capacity to save wear on the machine, I moved to the AlpenRost, which worked wonderfully. Or it worked not at all. After Alp #3 went South, I was prepared to pony up for the HotTop. It was just about then that the i-Roast hit the market.
For convenience, and to maintain a relatively consistent ambient temperature, I roast (no pun intended) in my kitchen. That would be my not-so-big galley kitchen with limited storage and counter space. The FreshRoast, I stored in the cabinet above the vent hood; the AlpenRost just barely fit on a shelf in the pantry. For the HotTop, I was going to have to either displace a lot of cookware, or resign myself to lugging it back and forth to the garage. And, oh yes, spend about $600.
So, the i-Roast appealed. It offered less capacity than the AlpenRost, but more than the FreshRoast. At about 1/3 of the price of the HotTop and 2/3 of the Alp; it was worth pursuing.
I ordered it from SweetMarias. It was top dollar at the time, but as with all of the roasters that they sell, it arrived with a nice variety of 1/2lb bags of beans. Itís a handsome little machine, as coffee roasters go. Though it does remind me of a Weeble (which would wobble, but not fall down). With a footprint not terribly larger than the Freshroast, and significantly better lines, I opted to leave it out on the counter next to the stove. Very convenient. It seems to be sturdy enough, though I do have some minor concerns about the metal inner-chamber. I suspect that careless cleaning might lead to bending of the spindles that hold it together.
Itís much more fun to watch it work than either of the previous machines Iíve used. The AlpenRost offered no real show except, perhaps, the end-of-roast hopper dump (assuming you lifted the lid to watch, of course). Like the FreshRoast, and some other air roasters, the i-Roast has a glass chamber. Unlike the FR, the iR has a cylindrical metal inner chamber open at the bottom, and topped by a downward pointing conical ďdiverterĒ (for lack of a better word). During the roast and cooling cycles, the beans move up the inside of the inner chamber, cascade over the edge towards the glass walls of the main chamber (the conical thing keeps them from bouncing off the top), and then work their way back down to the bottom, into the inner chamber and around again. The i-Roast has a two speed blower, and alternates speed during the roast. I'm honestly not sure what governs the switch from high to low-- time, the stage, temperature? The constant rotation insures an even roast. Overfilling the chamber will cause the beans to ďstallĒ in their steady path up and over, and you will end up with an uneven roast.
Iíve settled on 145 grams ideal batch size. Less than 145 is fine, but too small a batch for me. More than 150, and I find that Iím pushing the machineís ability to keep the beans briskly rotating. Tom, of SweetMarias, almost always has tip sheets for the products they sell, and Iíve found they save me quite a bit of trial and error . He suggests between 130 and 150 grams. The manufacturer recommends a level cup (and provides a Ĺ cup measure), which they say equals roughly 150g. Obviously, smaller batches will call for adjustments downward in time, temperature or both.
There are two preset roast profiles. Each profile has three stages. Each stage has a preset time and temperature. I understand that the preset profiles changed in late 2004. Here (cribbed from Tomís tip sheet) are the current settings for preset #1:
ē Stage 1: 385 F/ 3:00 min
ē Stage 2: 425 F/ 4:00 min
ē Stage 3: 455 F/ 2:00 min
I canít say how the current presets perform, although I could program them (more on that later) and find out. I suspect that they would work fine, as their total time is significantly shorter than my machine's. The older presets run for a total of 11 minutes (#1) and 11:30 (#2) at various temperatures. For my purposes, they are either hotter or longer than I like. My results ranged from a too-dark roast to just plain burnt. Fortunately, the roast can be stopped at any time simply by pressing the ďcoolĒ button. This turns off the heat, puts the two stage blower into high, and rotates the beans for five minutes. For those moving from a FreshRoast, or the like, the digital timing on this machine is far more useful and precise than mechanical countdown timers. The machine is fairly noisy, but with reasonably careful attention you can hear the onset of first and second cracks, and certainly observe the bean color. Should you discover that you like everything about one of the presets except the time, you have the option of deleting as much as two minutes from the final stage. This can be done at any time during the roast. The new time will be saved *for as long as you keep the machine plugged in*.
Which leads me to the programmability. It is a simple matter to create your own profile. For each stage, you can select a temperature between 320 and 485 F, in 5 degree increments. Stages can be between 0 to 15 minutes. The entire profile (all three stages combined) cannot be longer than 15 minutes. This process is fun, and you will probably discover a few profiles that work best for different roast and bean types. **It is very important to record your profile on paper.** The i-Roast will store user programs for only as long as the machine is plugged in. Each time it is unplugged, it resets to the factory defaults.
A while back, I had a 350 cfm vent hood installed above the stove. Itís a small kitchen, so the fan is more than adequate for removing smoke-- even the AlpenRost ran using just the directional exhaust cap. (I was stunned one day when I popped outside to collect the newspaper during the cooling cycle. The coffee roasting aroma was much stronger outside than in my kitchen.) Consequently, I canít say whether smoke is more or less of an issue with the i-Roast, than it is with other roasters. It does come with a handy adapter for hook up to a dryer hose. Likewise, as an indoor-only roaster, I can't speak to how well the i-Roast handles significant temperature and humidity swings.
When the cooling cycle ends, the lid assembly of the chamber (where the chaff collector lives) is still pretty hot. Itís easy enough to remove the chamber and lid (together) from the base, as the handle stays comfortable. I would advise waiting just a minute before grabbing and removing the lid from the chamber. Itís not dangerously hot at the end of the cooling cycle, but it is uncomfortably hot. The chaff collector does a great job. My wife has commented on the marked reduction in stray chaff floating around the kitchen. The lid is made up of a disc shaped screen with a handle at the top, a locking ring immediately below, and a straight sided metal dish within. Take the whole affair to the sink or garbage, disassemble, brush, blow wipe, and the chaff is neatly disposed of.
Keeping the lid clean is really important. If the screen is not completely clear at the beginning of the roast, any sort of programming youíve done will be compromised by the reduction in air flow. So, brush out the locking ring thoroughly. Otherwise stray chaff fragments will clog the screen early in the roast. Another cleaning note: **keep the chamber super clean**. Unlike the FreshRoast chamber, which I cleaned only when the view began to become obscured; or the AlpenRost chamber, which might have even benefited from a bit of seasoning; the i-Roast chamber needs to stay very clean. Iíve found that oils, either on the glass or the interior metal components, will cause the beans to slow in their circular journey through the roast chamber. This will result in an uneven roast. In fact, if you like to roast your beans oily, you might consider smaller than recommended batches. A big batch of oily beans will get bogged down in the chamber and runs the risk of spot burning.
I don't generally roast multiple batches, so I haven't had to worry about starting with a warm machine. No doubt this would require monitoring to achieve consistent results. The warning mentioned in another review (don't exceed 7 times a week or two batches at a time) is a bit curious. I expect the weekly limit is "normal use" for warranty purposes. Perhaps "two batches at a time" really means two batches back to back, or in a day, or...? Other than that bit of inscrutability, the manual is pretty straightforward and easy to understand.
The i-Roast is an experimenterís delight. It allows you to tune and tweak the roast of batches up to 150g, and (assuming you keep the thing clean and start from cold) reliably repeats the results. Perhaps this goes without saying, but this is not a "set it and go" machine. You can expect consistency, but you can also expect the unexpected. Stick by your roaster until at least the cooling cycle!