I really enjoy the consistency the Hearthware Gourmet coffee roaster affords to darker roasts — those that live somewhere on the other side of second crack. I have, however, been underwhelmed by its performance on the lighter side of the roast spectrum — time and again my City roasts –more specifically, everything on the near side of second crack — have cupped with muted flavors, even the brightest of coffees [yeah, even Kenyans] show very little liveliness in the cup, especially when compared to the very bright flavors brought out by the Freshroast roaster.

These two roasters, the Hearthware Gourmet and the Freshbeans Freshroast, each go about their business in a decidedly different manner. Sure, they’re both hot-air roasters. But their methods are very different. Today we’ll examine the Freshbeans Freshroast in some depth…

The Freshroast employs a fairly simple glass cylinder as a roast chamber. Hot air is jetted up from the bottom of the chamber, and the green coffee burbles up and tumbles down inside that narrow glass chimney. As any given bean roasts it becomes drier, and lighter, and so it rises up the column while greener and more dense beans fall.

This method has some inherent issues. The roast chamber is far warmer at the bottom, where the air jets in. It’s possible for beans to become trapped at the bottom of the cylinder –exposed to direct heat– so the temperature has to be strictly managed… especially given the very small roast chamber. Perhaps to compensate, the Freshroast is designed to shut off its heating element at 450 degrees F, restoring the heat again only when the temperature falls below 425 degrees F.

This results in a rather odd-looking temperature profile: a fairly linear temperature progression from room-temperature to 450 degrees F, and then a wavy line that can swell as much as 50 degrees between 400 F and 450 F, depending on the temperature of the bean mass itself. This, as you might imagine, can play havoc with your coffee beans. Those beans just on the cusp of releasing their heat energy in the burst that signals first crack suddenly lose momentum –they won’t go exothermic until the next upswing in the temperature.

The net effect: first crack [and second, for that matter] is inconsistent, both in terms of onset and duration — it may begin as soon as 90 seconds into the roast, and may continue for another three minutes!

Happily enough, it works. And it may be precisely because of the peculiar manner in which it works that coffee roasted in the Freshroast finishes with a particularly complex flavor — a single roast yields a wide range of individually roasted beans, from those that just hit first crack, to those that are nearing second.

Stay tuned… we’ll look at the Gourmet next.

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