Note: Fresh content brewed up at the bottom of this review, don't miss it!
Ken Davids notes that he has "tasted superb coffees roasted quickly on fluid-bed machines [like iRoast 2], and slowly on drum roasters." That being said, all that's left is choosing which camp you fall into. After considerable research via Sweet Maria's and Ken David's excellent book, Home Coffee Roasting, I decided on a fluid bed roaster over a drum roaster and am pleased with my purchase. Not to mention the price tag: it was easier to part with $160 versus $600. I enjoy the sparkle and spunk of a high-toned cup and found the iRoast 2 perfect for not only delicate, bright Guats and Costas, but was also quite impressed with the pungency and depth the roaster brought to Indonesians and Brazilian Cerrados as well.
The pros say that the drum roaster lends more layered complexitiy to the cup--probably true, but not a issue for me. I've roasted over 15 origins to speak of so far and each has lived up to its namesake. Sweet Maria's has proved invaluable to my home roasting quest. By all means check out the iRoast 2 tip sheet: chock full of brilliant nuggets on making the iRoast 2 all it can be. Not to mention that their green beans are truly exceptional!
As far as roasting curves go, I've found that SM's "Cupping Profile" and their "Brazilian/Espresso Profile" have yielded excellent results in the cup. Give 'em a try; they both include an initial lower temperature ramp-up which sort of "primes the pump" so to say. I've also experimented with the factory preset #1. Whatever you choose, stick to your cycles so you get to know the profile. Things happen throughout the roast at similar times and it pays to stay attentive.
Of course the roaster is loud, its a hot air roaster! I can handle the noise and have grown used to listenlng carefully for the cracks. Once you find a few roast curves you enjoy and decide to stick with them, you'll notice that you really get to know the telltale roasting sights, sounds, and smells and will be able to reproduce them without fail.
Its true: bigger roasters can handle more beans. Not a problem for me--I enjoy roasting a batch or two daily, every other day or so--but then it matters how much java you consume. I've found that each 150 gram batch yields around 19-20 standard coffee scoops of roasted bean. Good to keep in mind when trying to calculate how often you'll be roasting.
The chaff collection is pretty good, as is the internal cooling cycle. While some origins, such as East Africans, may not appear evenly roasted, don't blame the iRoast 2, that's just the nature of the bean. The truth lies in cup. I've also noticed that the ideal roast batch is 140-150 grams and is just right for proper agitation and heat distribution. It you roast too much or too little the machine won't work to its full potential.
Rest that roast! I've found at 24-72 hours makes the world of difference. The body develops wonderfully and the flavor rounds admirably.
Construction-wise, its built to perform but not be abused. Sure, you've got to wait at least two hours between roasts, so just plan ahead. Once you get a few days out, you'll be drinking perfectly rested cups, and roasting for 2 days down the road. If this doesn't appeal to you, maybe a bigger machine or a quick visit to Intelligentsia's online store for some pre-roasted, top-notch beans might be the way to go. Simply put, you've got to enjoy the hands-on experience, relish the moment, and saveur the cup! I sure do.
Of course nothings perfect. What do you expect for under $200? The Hot Top won't be perfect either. Just different. You could even shell out thousands for a San Franciscan test roaster and probably have issues. Does the iRoast 2 do a good job? Yes. Is there an art the roast? Yes. Can you simply press "roast" and come back later? No. Should you buy the iRoast 2? Yep.
I wholeheartedly recommend the iRoast 2. It does what it is supposed to do and the proof is in the brew. Good Luck to you!
HOT OFF THE PRESS!
After reading my own review, I realized that my review needed a re-infusion of fresh fact:
- A) Poor packaging descriptions. The iR2 shipped in the original iR box with the iR directions to boot! WHAT! Hearthware does include an iR2 insert although it only refers to model numbers, so I had to check my invoice to make sure that I purchased the correct model. Slack, to say the least.
- B)Let's not forget that nowhere in the instruction manual does it mention that factory preset #1 is 450F for 10 minutes. Hmmn, important detail anyone? Remember to supplement the factory presets with Sweet Maria's excellent roast profiles. Don't jump around, pick a few and get to know 'em well.
- While a bit fuzzy at first (think VCR programming or IKEA furniture assembly), the custom programming became easier each time I punched in a new roast curve. Over all not bad. What I'd expect for under $200.
- The machine is built to acceptable standards--it's neither heavyweight nor feather...I recommend a gentle touch when attaching the glass roasting chamber to the roasting base. Fit and finish-wise: a little jiggle in the buttons, good secure base to chamber seal, chaff collection works well with little chaff floating out of the machine and through the air, although some settling on your range or countertop. Not a big deal.
- TIP OF THE DAY: After around 20 batches or so, I came to realize that one need not remove the glass roasting chamber from the roasting base after the beans finish their cycle. Simply remove the top/chaff collector, unplug the unit, and dump the beans into your colander for further cooling. Why bother trying to get a relatively hot roast chamber off the base? The glass roast chamber fits the base using a spring loaded lock and I could see it eventually wearing down or breaking from a heavy hand or too hard a twist on or off. It's much wiser to eliminate the possibility of this even happening! Trust me on this one fellow roasters!
- Clean up is a cinch. Wait til yer unit cools, brush out the glass chamber, disassemble the top (quite easy to do), dump the chaff into your compost bucket, and brush out the rest. Why bother with soap too often? Unless of course you prefer a Vienna roast or darker, then I'm sure that oil will build up quickly. The iR2 doesn't get that dirty.
- Roast patterns during the preset cycles are predicable and results are uniform--assuming you roast the same quantity each time!
- Noise? Yes. Earplugs? Not yet. I prefer to use selective hearing and zone in on the beans fountaining out from the central thermoflector and back down into the hot air stream. Hearing the 1st and 2nd cracks proves to be slightly challenging at first, although as you get used to your iR2 it becomes quite easy and you start to understand what's happening and when.
- Smoke-wise, the iR2 does perfume the house with an invisible roasty-scent, but its nothing to gripe about. No smoke alarms have gone off, guests compliment me on the great scent although it does get a bit old on the olfactory after a while, so open those windows for a quaffing breeze...
- Roast quality is great: Fragrance, aroma, acidity, body, flavor, finish--they're all there; of course depending on your attentive roasting capability. With this in mind, you can roast a great batch or one that you throw in the compost bin, i.e. my fourth batch, an attempt at a Full City+ Sumatra Mandheling. BUT...even this "charbonic heap of coal" proved informative and amusing. Why? Its all in your attitude towards the experience. Not every batch will yield your intended desire--it takes a few rounds to fine tune each origin and your degree of roast preference. Yoda says: Knowing what not to do helps understand what to do.
- Be ye a tinkerer! Enjoy the journey, sip the results, and fine tune those roasts. Become a jedi master and get to know your little roasty droid. It helps to buy a digital scale and bypass the dry scoop. The Bakers Catalog sells good quailty Escali Digitals for under 30 bucks. Check it out and get precise.
- More on: Cup Quality...If you keep things light, in the City range, you'll probably notice high-tones ringing throughout your brew whether you like it or not. Tweak the roasting times and rest longer to "embiggen" the body (to quote Simpson's town founder Jebediah Springfield), and mellow those treble notes.
- After three months with the iR2, I've found that it performs quite well across the arabica spectrum and your ability to coax out latent flavor counts the most. Don't give up, just perfect your skills. I've noticed that during my various roasting cycles, the roast moves quickly after the beans hit the Full City stage approaching the 2nd crack so stay extra vigilant and make sure to stop your roast cycle BEFORE they're roasted to your tastes because they'll continue to roast during the cool down.
- Some have griped about the iR2. I got a good one. No evidence why you won't either. FYI: everyone raves about the Solis Maestro yet I had to return a faulty one, so nothing's perfect.
If you like the cut of my gib, I'll write some follow-ups, so make sure to rate this review!