Compared to the Freshbeans Freshroast, the Hearthware Gourmet is, by just about any measure, a cut above. Its larger capacity, its method of roasting, and its chaff collection system are superior. So why have I found it so onerous to get good results?

The Gourmet’s roast chamber is a glass globe mated to a perforated, Teflon-coated metal plate. The hot air jetted through these perforations propels the roasting coffee beans in a swirling, counter-clockwise rotation around the bottom of the roast chamber. This cyclonic action causes the roasting beans to fluidly move around the base plate, creating real roast consistency from bean to bean. The still swirling jet of air then carries the chaff that blows off the roasting beans to a stainless chaff-collector mounted to the top of the globe.

The Gourmet has a comfortably linear roast temperature profile, moving smoothly from room temperature to roasting range, and then continuing to build slowly as the bean mass heats. Unlike the Freshroast, the roast chamber temperature never drops, so roast momentum is maintained, and its power is more than adequate to bring the hardest, most dense beans to second crack and far beyond with little effort.

That power comes at a price, however… and in this case, the cost is noise. It takes a lot of wind to loft a half cup of beans, and an apparently industrial-type blower, with accompanying industrial-type volume levels. It’s a two-stage blower — the second, more powerful stage cycles in at roasting temperatures, whirling even the most stubborn beans around the globe in pulses that last about two seconds. This second stage also aids the cooling cycle, dropping the temperature of the bean mass and roast chamber in nearly the same amount of time as the Freshroast, which has far less mass to cool.

All that remains, then, is the question of why I’ve found it so challenging to achieve roasts that I like –especially those bright, full-flavored City roasts– with the Gourmet? The only answer I can offer is that my experience roasting with the Freshroast colored my expectations. I had become accustomed to the smell of the roast on the cusp of second, the color of the beans, and in particular I grew accustomed to the Freshroast’s comparatively slow conversion during first crack –as much as three minutes– and tried to apply that to the Gourmet. The smell of the roasting beans in the Gourmet is uniformly different, however, and a given bean seems to roast a bit darker [perhaps both due to the comparatively large metal base-plate].

It was only when I added a thermometer to the roasting process that I was able to better discern what was happening in each roast chamber –in particular, to note that the Gourmet’s first crack conversion takes no more than one minute, and often significantly less– and then to adjust my methods accordingly. I still try to judge as much as I can by nose, but increasingly I appreciate being able to verify by both time and temperature.

To tell the truth, the Freshroast still sits on my kitchen counter, side by side with the Gourmet. On especially tricky beans [Moka, Harar and other dry-processed, spendy African beans] I still rely on the smaller roaster — and my nose.

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