The toaster-oven dimensions would remain… that was a reasonable kitchen-counter footprint. The heating element would need to be positioned optimally for tumbling beans, and a cylinder designed to keep the beans near the heat. Then there’s the issue of collecting chaff — the papery stuff that flies off coffee while it’s roasting — and, of course, the big one. Smoke.

Make no mistake about it… a coffee roaster aggressively attacks coffee beans with heat, and lots of it. At the beginning of a roast cycle beans are introduced into an environment where temperatures quickly ramp past 400 °F. and over the course of a roast cycle those temperatures will reach more than 450 °F. Beans (rather violently) vent their free moisture in the form of steam. Then the silvery chaff begins to fly, and it can scorch and burn if it touches heating elements in the roaster. But the real culprit — the real cause of smokey roasts — are the oils that migrate to the surface of the bean in latter stages of the roast, and the complex sugars that caramelize. And at temperatures of 450 °F, these components smoke. Liberally.

If I roast coffee in my kitchen and my wife comes home an hour later, she doesn’t know I’ve been roasting coffee. — Joe Behm

“I wouldn’t say there’s no smoke at all,” says Joe… “and we don’t market it as smokeless. If you want to roast a pound of coffee and plan to explore the dark side, there’s going to be smoke. But with the smoke abatement system I’ve designed it’s manageable… especially if you’ve got a vent hood.”

James Vaughn at The Coffee Project agrees. He’s been testing the Behmor 1600, and reports that at payloads of 1/4 to 1/2 pounds the system is “virtually smokeless,” and adds, “If you tend to roast on the light side you will be able to roast a whole pound right in your kitchen.”

In the course of eight years of development, the feature list of the Behmor has grown. Manual controls turned into electronic controls with a number of options for roast profiling, as well as a quick-start feature and a self-cleaning cycle. A simple drive motor became a multi-stage affair to better accommodate its cooling cycle. An interior light was added to provide a better view on roasting beans. And not so long ago, Joe Behm got himself a partner…

“One day the phone rings, and it’s Ronco. They were calling to maybe pick up the coffee roasting adapter I’d designed for the Showtime Rotisserie. And I said, ‘That old thing? How about a complete home coffee roasting system, instead?'”

The last few months have been a whirlwind. Finalizing designs, tweaking the code, working out the details of the Ronco agreement. And trying to keep the project under wraps as much as possible until all the details were finalized, the last no small feat in a market where home-roasting enthusiasts are voracious consumers of not only coffee, but information… much of it shared far and wide on Web forums and Usenet newsgroups.

Today, however, the wraps are off. Production should begin in the next week or two, and the first machines off the line should be available at home-roasting retailers within 45 days. If the requests for pre-production test units is any indication (Joe reports a figure of 1000 requests or more) there’s a ready market for a kitchen-friendly, one pound coffee roaster that retails for less than $400.

And maybe come next winter I’ll get my hands of one of these roasters, myself. It gets cold out there, ya know.

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