Fresh Roast Plus Coffee Roaster

DIY coffee bean toasting

I started roasting coffee beans at home a few months ago and the results have far exceeded my expectations. Freshly roasted coffee tastes great; the basic process is very simple; and with the Fresh Roast Plus, it’s easy to get great, very satisfying results right from the very first batch. The FRP is basically a blow-drier in a can controlled by a simple analog timer dial. Hot air blows up into the glass basket that holds the beans — heating and agitating them — and then carries the chaff up through a trap before exiting the top. In five or six minutes, it roasts enough coffee to get me going for two mornings.

The heat gun/dog bowl method, which requires a tool that is essentially a hair dryer, in combination with a blend might provide more bang for the buck (if the goal is nothing more than a good cup of coffee), but this cheap roaster is a good tool for learning about roasting. The FRP allows me to hear, smell and see the beans during the roasting process, and the simple timer control permits ending the roast manually at any given moment. Still, this not a “set and forget” process. The roaster’s timer is more about preventing fires than ensuring any particular result. It seems to me it was designed assuming that the user would monitor the roasting process and choose to stop at any given moment, but the house wouldn’t burn down if the machine were neglected and the max time ran out.

Note: one part cracked about six weeks after I got it. However, the manufacturer sent me a replacement at no charge after a quick phone call. For longevity, I’ve learned, it’s important to let the roaster cool between uses. This, coupled with the roaster’s small batch size, might limit the roaster to one or two-drinker households.

I bought mine from Sweet Maria’s along with an 8-variety assortment of single-origin beans (plus a pound of SM’s French Roast blend), which meant I could plug and play. Fooling around with different roasts of single-origin coffees is great fun. Run a lighter roast and a darker roast of the same bean, taste them apart, then combine them in various proportions. Here the small-batch capacity of the FRP is not a liability, and every roast turns out a bit different even when you’re trying to duplicate a previous roast. The FRP runs really quick as roasters go, and 15 seconds (or increasing/decreasing the amount of beans) can make a huge difference in the result.

That said, I’m still very new to this. When I started, I was getting great results with everything but the blend (first try was sour, second tasted burnt). I sent an email to Sweet Maria’s, got a reply right away, and sorted it out. I really recommend purchasing beans from them. They sell coffee beans from all the major growing regions; many of their offerings originate from individual farms the proprietor has visited; and If you take advantage of their very deep website and buy a variety of beans, you can learns a lot about coffee such as where and how it’s grown, how it’s processed, and how it’s bought and sold. As time goes by, I expect one can learn to appreciate “vintages” and how the coffee from a particular farm varies from year to year. Thanks to the variety of cultivars, climates and processing methods and the hundreds of flavor-influencing compounds present in each bean, not to mention the various ways of preparing coffee, it’s quite a complex beverage. Roasting my own beans with the FRP adds another level to that complexity, as does knowing sometimes quite specifically about where, when and by whom they were grown. And I think there will always be more to learn.

I’d been thinking about roasting my own for some time and finally decided to start roasting when my local roaster raised the price of a pound of French Roast from $11.50 to $13.50. Most of the green beans I’ve bought were five to six dollars a pound. I think a pound of green beans yields about 14 oz of roasted coffee. Since switching to the Fresh Roast Plus, my electric bill has gone up three or four dollars a month (I’m roasting about six pounds per month, but had been buying three), but I think the roaster will pay for itself in less than a year. Bottom line: low initial investment, great early results, limitless potential for learning and surprises.

-- Alan Murdock 05/4/07

(Sweet Maria's has published a fantastic guide on using this roaster. -- SL — editors)

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