Monday, April 17, 2017

Behmor 1600 Plus and Should You Roast at Home?

Home roasting is a trend that seems to pick up more steam every year. For some, it's the science that draws them. For others, it's the creative nuance. For most, I would venture it's (initially) to save some money on their overall coffee consumption (which does not always hold true, but we can get to that later). Whatever the reason, home roasting is certainly a hobby that isn't going anywhere.

Yet if there's anything hobbies have taught me, it's that spending the money for the right tools makes the hobby a whole lot more enjoyable. When I first began dabbling in home roasting early in my coffee fanaticism, I used only a gas oven, a wooden spoon and a cookie tray. Sure, it allowed a lot of experimentation and no real upfront costs, but at best my roasts were inconsistent, and my results were nearly impossible to duplicate. Some years later, after a hiatus in roasting due to several factors (mainly how time-consuming and unpredictable oven roasting is), I have come to champion the basic premise that if someone is going to embrace home roasting, it's so very essential to obtain a good coffee roasting machine.

So what to get? There are a lot of options depending on what one seeks. Some go with smaller-capacity roasters, roasting in 1/4 lb batches (like a Nesco) and other folks opt for more expensive drum roasters that can do 2 lbs (like a Bullet or a small Diedrich). But if I had to pinpoint a consistent middle ground, I would point to the counter-friendly Behmor, roasting around a pound per batch and having a fairly general admiration among home roasting enthusiasts. Looking to try out their 1600 Plus model at home, I cracked open a box at my laboratory and tried roasting a few batches to test the hearsay.

After a quick read through the directions and a brief exploration of the components, I felt fairly comfortable with the system. The interior has a removable, wire mesh drum mounted in front of an internal heating element and it sits atop a detachable chaff collector. Like a home appliance, the unit has a digital display that holds preprogrammed roast profiles (preconceived combinations of heat and time) as well as several options for advanced customization.

Getting to work, I went with the 1/4 lb batches of a green Ethiopian picked up from Royal Mile Coffee. To keep it simple, I stuck with the preprogrammed profiles and the basic settings, aspiring only to produce a light or light-medium roasted coffee.

Aside from some slight user errors, things went fairly well. The main constraint I found was the limitation of on-the-go changes once the cycle started, especially at the end of the cycle when I realized I needed another two minutes (there was little I could do). The main area I had to get accustomed to was planning ahead, as the cooling process is gradual and hence roasting continues for a bit after the cooling button is hit. All in all, I produced a variety of results ranging from under-roasted, barely-first-crack beans to slightly over-roasted well-into-second-crack coffee. Fortunately, I felt fairly acclimated after the initial first couple of roasts, and the Behmor has made some stellar batches since then.

Things I liked: fairly easy to use, large body of experience to pull from on the internet, small footprint, roasts up to a pound of coffee at a time, not a lot of smoke.

Things I think could be improved: few official Behmor resources for first time roasters (especially lacking are tips from veteran users and/or coffee industry pros who have used it for samples or recreationally), a little complex if you want something beyond the basics.

Overall, I liked the Behmor 1600. I think what it brings to the table in capabilities and convenience makes it a great tool for a dedicated hobbyist.

That brings me to the initial question: should you, my dear reader, roast at home? To that query I would offer a few observations discovered in my few years roasting as well as points highlighted in talking with coffee professionals.

Take up roasting if you:
  • Like having control over the roast profile of your coffee
  • Enjoy experimentation 
  • Don't mind throwing out some coffee when you botch a batch
  • Have realistic expectations 
  • Want to learn more about the roasting process and coffee science

Avoid coffee roasting if:
  • Failure is not acceptable 
  • Saving money is the only reason you're interested
  • You think it will be easy and you'll be a pro in no time flat
  • Learning and experimentation take too much time
  • Cutting corners is something you often do
  • You're looking to get rich off of roasting coffee
  • Time is not on your side

One more final note which applies to most home roasting machines: please do not expect to have the same range of nuance as a commercial, large volume drum roaster. Not only do commercial roasters have more customizable features and tweak-able elements, but the professional human roaster working the machine (usually) has some serious knowledge under his/her belt. Thus if you seek to push out consistent, high-quality batches of coffee one day in the future, consider a home roaster (like a Behmor) a first step on the journey towards reaching true roasting excellence, but please do not look to compete with a quality coffee establishment using only a 1 lb home roaster and some sass (though several have tried).

Head over to your licensed reseller for a Behmor 1600 Plus if you seek a small home roaster rich in features and roast customizability.

note: roaster and coffee was provided free of charge and the above review is objective feedback.


Cactus Jake said...

Love it, Bill! Love the Behmor and the company behind it. But you're right- you can learn more from great posts like this and Sweet Maria's than from Behmor themselves. Still a great roaster, I think, and your review does the 1600 justice. Thank you!

Shabbir said...

I agree with Jake - most of the time, instruction manuals are rather useless and the only way to start roasting properly is to copy someone else who has gotten it right! Great review :)