i-Roast Coffee Roaster Product Spotlight
Anyone who knows coffee knows that freshly roasted beans are a key factor in producing a fabulous cup, but what’s the best way to ensure the beans you’re brewing with are fresh? Roast them yourself. The i-Roast from Hearthware allows you to do just that and with its small size, you won’t have to convert your garage to a roastery. With an LCD display and several programming features, it’s obvious that the i-Roast’s relatively tiny package is not the only thing that sets it apart from other home roasters.
When you first pull the i-Roast out of the box, you will find several parts that need to be assembled in order to roast with the machine. It is fairly easy to figure out how the glass roasting pot connects to the power base, but this can be a little difficult. To attach it, you will need to press down on the pot and firmly turn it clockwise. This is the point of the assembly process that you would add beans to the roasting pot if you were going to roast. You would then continue with the roasting pot cover, which attaches to the top of the roasting pot and has a hole in the center of it. This cover is simple to identify because it is shaped like the mouth of the roasting pot. The chaff collector, a cylindrical metal screen that has a circular indentation on the closed end, is added next. This piece should be placed on the roasting pot cover, open end down, and then topped with the center section of the roasting pot cover; a part that has two mesh screens. Once this is done, you are left with the vent pipe attachment: a metal cylinder with four prongs sticking out of it. The vent pipe attachment isn’t even listed in the "parts description" section of the instruction manual, so don’t get discouraged if it takes you a minute to realize what it is. The roasting process does create some smoke and related fumes, so this attachment has been provided in order for you to hook up a 4-inch flexible aluminum pipe to the top of the machine for venting purposes. The prongs on the vent attachment fit into the center section of the roasting pot cover and the pipe can be attached directly to this piece.
The i-Roast is a hot air or fluid bed roaster, constantly circulating beans through its glass roasting chamber using hot air. Beans fall into the bottom of the roasting chamber and are pushed back up through the middle by the air, which is forced through the system at both low and high fan speeds. This movement throughout the roasting chamber is to promote an even roast between all of the beans, but achieving an even roast largely depends upon the amount of beans you’re using and their specific density. Although the i-Roast is capable of roasting up to 1 cup of green coffee beans at a time, the directions state that using a denser bean may result in an uneven roast. To remedy this, Hearthware recommends using fewer beans. A trial and error process will work to determine the "right" amount of each type of beans you use, so be prepared to sacrifice some beans on your quest for the best. As an alternative aid, you may also want to purchase a small scale to determine the maximum weight of the beans that will produce an even roast. It is also very helpful to document every roast that you complete. Writing down the type of bean you used, how much was roasted, the roasting cycles you used, and the results, will only help you with future roasts.
The amount of beans you use will also have an effect on your choice of roasting temperatures and times. Obviously, the fewer beans you use, the more quickly they will roast, so adjustments will have to be made to reflect this as well as the type of roast you are trying to achieve. There are two programmed roast cycles already included with the Hearthware i-Roast. Both presets roast in three stages, each stage having a unique temperature and cycle length. After the three stages are completed, a 4-minute cooling cycle will automatically begin. Once the i-Roast is powered on, you can begin roasting with one of these presets by simply pressing the "Preset 1" or "Preset 2" button, followed by the "Roast/Temp" button. The presets will produce a very dark roast, and Hearthware cautions that these are best used as guidelines. You can decrease the amount of total roasting time for the preset cycles in two ways: prior to pressing "Roast/Temp", by pressing the down arrow button until your desired roast length appears on the LCD screen, or during the third cycle of the roasting process by pressing "Cool/Time."
Instead of altering the presets, you can also easily program your own three stage roasting cycles. The cycles you program are not saved into the machine and will have to be re-entered for additional roasts, which is another reason that documenting everything about your roasts will prove to be helpful. Pressing "Roast/Temp" and "Cool/Time" simultaneously will bring you to the programming options, indicated by the appearance of "Prog" on the LCD display. Push "Roast/Temp" again, and "St1" comes up on the screen, letting you know that you can program the roasting temperature for stage 1. By using the up and down arrows, you can program the temperature for each stage anywhere between 320°F and 485°F. When you’ve reached the temperature you’d like, press "Cool/Time" to bring "St1" back to the display and program your desired cycle length. Each stage can be programmed for up to 15 minutes, however the sum of the 3 stages cannot exceed 15 minutes. When you press "Roast/Temp" again after entering a Stage 1 time, "St2" will appear on the display, but if the roasting time for Stage 1 was 15 minutes, the display will say "Full" and it will not let you program a time for Stage 2. If you entered a roasting time less than 15 minutes for Stage 1, you can follow the same procedure to program the temperature and time for Stages 2 and 3. There is no need to program the cooling cycle, as it will automatically run for 4 minutes when your roasting cycles are completed.
To keep you informed throughout the roasting process, the LCD display on the power base of the i-Roast gives you all the information you’ll need. Three dots on the bottom of the display lets you know which of the three stages is currently running, the first dot indicating the first stage, and so on. You can also view the roasting time count down, by pressing the "Roast/Temp" button during the roasting cycle; the current roasting temperature, by pressing "Roast/Temp" during the roasting time count down display. A cooling countdown will automatically be displayed during the cooling cycle,. The LCD display is very helpful in programming and in monitoring your roasting cycles, however it is flat against the front of the machine, so you will probably need to crouch down to view it.
Even though you can fully customize your roasts, it’s still highly recommended that you watch the entire roasting process for the best results. This is because every batch of beans is different and the length of time that produced a superb roast for one type of bean may not be ideal for another. It’s also good to keep in mind that the roasted beans will darken even after the cooling cycle has begun, so you may want to end the roasting process a shade lighter than your desired roast. Once your beans have completed the roasting process, you will want to let them sit for at least 24 hours to release carbon dioxide. The important thing is to not brew with them until you’ve let them degas. This can be even more critical depending on the brewing method you’re going to use. For a process such as French Press, you may even want to wait 2 to 3 days before brewing to avoid the brown, sudsy-looking "bloom" that makes plunging the brew more difficult.
Cleaning up the i-Roast after use is not a large task. Right after the roasting process is completed, you will want to remove the chaff collector and clean it thoroughly of the thin, papery chaff that is emitted from the beans during roasting. Hearthware provides a cleaning brush that helps you to remove all of the chaff from the chaff collector and wire mesh screens from the lid. This is a very important step because if the wire mesh does become clogged, it will prevent airflow through the i-Roast during your next roasting session. The chaff collector and glass roasting pot should also be rinsed in warm, soapy water to remove coffee residue and oils that may be clinging to them. Before using the i-Roast again, Hearthware instructs you to let the machine sit for a full half an hour to improve temperature stability. To increase the longevity of the machine, they also recommend limiting your usage of the i-Roast to a maximum of 7 times a week.
The Hearthware i-Roast does have some minor idiosyncrasies, and barring a few minor omissions from the user manual, it is extremely user friendly. The programmability setting options really give the i-Roast an edge over other home roasters, but they do not change the fact that home roasting is an intensive process. You can’t have the "set it and forget it" mentality with the i-Roast or any other machine in its league. Each batch must be monitored for the home roaster to gain a concept of how they’re getting the current results and what they can change to achieve better ones. However, the i-Roast makes it extremely easy to tweak when necessary and will help you immensely on your journey to java nirvana.