The first thing I asked myself when getting into home roasting was, how much will it cost me. I found out that’s it’s a bit like asking how much a car costs – the answer is always – it depends. There are a limited amount of coffee roasters in the $150 price point which will give you enough control over the roast can produce good results consistently. Here are a couple of really good value options that are time tested and well loved by coffee roasters.
I’m not including pan roasters in this article because it’s difficult to develop a consistent roast with pan roaster. So, I’ve only included roasters that have some sort of control and a proven track record. I was only able to find two roasters in this price bracket. Both roaster options are hot air roasters. Here’s a my research into the best roasters under $150 that will produce good, repeatable results. If your budget is a bit higher you might be interested in these articles which review roasters in two higher price brackets:
- Can You Find Good Coffee Roasters Under $300? – We Found Two
- 3 Great Coffee Roasters Under $550 – and Why They’re the Best
What we Reviewed
There aren’t a lot of options at this price point but there are two well regarded roasters available. These are the FRESH ROAST SR340 and the NESCO CR-1010-PR. The reason I chose these two out of the myriad of options available below $150 is that these are complete roasting solutions with an acceptable level of control over the roast cycle. Also, they have both been on the market for a while so they have been tested by a lot of buyers so there is feedback about reliability, use and most importantly, the quality of the roast.
The SR340 is a simple, reliable and low cost fluid bed roaster that produces reliable and good flavored roasted beans. It has good reviews from users and has a very reasonable price.
The SR340 has a few minor negatives but as a whole, at this price point it is the best available and reliable option if you stay within the roasting parameters.
Roaster Type: Fluid Bed | Heater: Electric/hot air | Capacity: 120g (¼ lb) | Smoke suppression: None
What I liked
- Build quality and design
- Ease of use
- Compact size
- Ability to fine tune roast without interruption
What I didn’t like:
- Timer controls not intuitive
- No controls for fan speed
- Difficult to duplicate roast
- No separate heat control
- Limited roast capacity
The French Roast SR340 is the lowest cost fluid bed coffee roaster available on the market that will produce consistent, controllable results. It will reach temperatures needed to produce dark roasts.
Build and Design
The unit has a simple design which like most fluid bed roasters is vertical. Coffee is held in a heat resistant glass tube with a perforated metal bottom which allows the heated air to roast and circulate the coffee beans. You simply fill the container with green beans place it in the unit and turn it on.
Being a fluid bed roaster, the SR340 makes use of a fan to drive the heat produced by an electrical heating element. Also it’s quite a small unit being less than 13 in. high so it doesn’t take too much space on the kitchen counter and can easily be carried outside if that’s where you prefer to roast. There is a removable chaff collector screen in the unit too.
This is a well built unit but does have a moulded plastic case with a glass roasting chamber. It’s a consumer product so the proper care should be taken not to knock it hard.
Controls are simple on this roaster. There is a rotary dial to control fan speed , a digital timer readout with up down membrane buttons for adjustments and an on-off switch for the heat. Maximum roasting time 9.9 minutes. Temperature is controlled by fan speed – more air flow equals lower temperature. The fan speed knob gives immediate feedback and is quite usable but not marked with numbers. Roasting time is controlled with the up and a down buttons underneath the readout.
With each click you add or subtract 6 seconds from the timer. There is also a Cool button which immediately starts a 3 minute cooling cycle and will turn terminate the roasting cycle if presses during the roast. The fan speed is a welcome addition to this model which was lacking on the older version, the SR300 which had a preset fan speed. At the start of the roast cycle, when the beans are heavy, the fan speed should be turned up to circulate the heavy beans. When they roast a bit and lighten it can be adjusted down to maintain the correct arc or “rise” of the beans.
Like many lower cost roasters, this unit doesn’t have any smoke control or fume filtering options. I found it not to be a problem because it doesn’t roast a lot of coffee in each batch and if you don’t roast very dark roasts the smoke should manageable with basic ventilation.
I liked roasting with the French Roast SR340 and the results were consistent and found it was also easy to adjust the fan and the timer during the roasting process. As mentioned before, control is a bit basic but usable.
If you’re looking to fine tune your roast and experiment this roaster may not be ideal for you. Also it’s difficult hear first and second crack above the fan and bean noise. This is something that’s common to most fluid bed or forced hot air roasters.
Fluid bed roasters are closed system by design and while you can smell the roast, the beans are enclosed until the end of the roast (even during cooling) and the fan noise can make the crack difficult to hear. But get your roast dialled right and this roasting machine can produce really very good results. And, being a fluid bed, it can do it quickly and without fuss.
(The Model SR500 is a slightly more expensive version which may be worth considering because it has heat controls as well. There is also a Model SR700 available which adds the ability to control the unit with a laptop. It’s quite a bit more expensive and I think there are better options that give better value for the money. We looked at roasters in the $300 price range here.
For this price this is a well designed and built unit. It can produce well developed flavours in roasts ranging from light to dark with little fuss.
If you are roasting to improve your coffee quality and are serious about your coffee but not into roasting as a pastime, this roaster is a good low cost choice that is durable and will produce results for a few years.
Height: 12 7/8″
Width: 6 3/4″
Weight: 4 pounds
Power Supply: 120V
Warranty: 1 year manufacturer’s
Roaster Type: Fluid Bed/auger driven | Heater: Electric/hot air | Capacity: 115g (¼ lb) | Smoke suppression: Catalytic converter
What I liked:
- Mostly dishwasher safe
- Consistent roasts with complex flavors
- Low price
- Simple design
What I didn’t like:
- Longer roasting time tends to bake not roast
- Cooling system inefficient
- Complicated mechanical design, too many parts
- Roast chamber inaccessible during roasting
The Nesco CR 1010 is similar but not exactly a fluid bed roaster. It does use heated air to roast the beans but it relies on an auger system to circulate the beans. It consists of an auger inside a heat resistant glass tube through which the hot air is blown. The auger helps to circulate the beans. A chaff collector is at the top of the roasting chamber.
The unique feature of the Nesco is that it has a catalytic smoke reduction unit which recycles the exhausted hot air. The manufacturer claims that this makes the unit almost smoke free in operation. When I tried it I did find it reduced the smoke a bit but it was certainly not close to smoke-free. All this added technology come at some cost however.
Build and Design
The Nesco CR-1010 is a well built machine again for the price point with quite good fit and finish. The strengths of this machine are the unique design innovations of the auger and the catalytic smoke reducer. It’s marketed as a “Professional” roaster but it’s really a distinctly consumer grade machine. It’s a lot of machine at this price point but is certainly not professional grade. If you only roast a few times a week, it should be plenty for your needs.
While the added features of the auger and the smoke control enhance the operation, sadly they also introduce limitations. An engineer friend of mine once told me that you pay for each part you introduce into a design. It’s about cost vs. benefit.
The auger while it improves and regulates the bean movement, also is an obstruction to the air flow. The fan doesn’t have to be powerful enough to circulate the green beans. I wondered if a more powerful fan would have been a better choice instead of the added mechanics of the auger.
The catalytic converter, like most smoke filtering systems also hinders air flow and results in much longer cooling cycle times. This slowing of the cooling cycle can result in the beans baking while they cool too slowly. Not a good thing for the final coffee flavor.
Be sure when roasting with this roaster to fill the beans to the appropriate line depending on light or dark roast. Beans expand as they roast and dark roasted beans take more space. The “dark roast” fill line allows about 115 grams (1/4 lb).
If you like to see your beans while roasting this is difficult in the Nesco as the Chaff collector on the top makes it difficult to see the beans.
Like the auger and the filter, the horizontal configuration of the machine requires the hot air to turn corners as it vents. This adds a lot of resistance to the air flow and is much less efficient than a classical upright air roaster.
I read some reviews from users who complained about the mechanical reliability of this unit. I suspect they may have pushed the roaster hard and possibly beyond the limits of its design. Other owners said that if you don’t intend to roast too dark and stay within certain parameters that the unit is reliable and will last well.
I suppose that if you don’t roast too much and not too dark you should be OK.
There is a simple touch control panel at the base of the machine which I found to be quiet intuitive. There is a RECALL button that remembers the previous roast settings, START to begin the roast, COOL to begin the cooling cycle, UP/DOWN arrows to increase/decrease roasting/cooling times, an LCD which reads the time and LEDs to indicate the Start and Cool modes.
After loading the green beans into the roast chamber depending on the roast required. There is a Dark Roast and LIght Roast lin on the glass. Close the machine and set the time.
Nesco recommends these roast times:
Light Roast: 20-22 minutes
Medium Roast: 23-26 minutes
Dark Roast: 27-30+ minutes
Be aware that the room temperature and the actual power voltage can affect these times. Once you start the machine it’s easy and the 5 minute cooling cycle starts at the end of the roasting. It’s recommended you let the beans cool for an additional 10 minutes before you take them out.
It turns out that the Nesco is not too noisy and doesn’t produce too much if you are not producing a very dark roast. If you are indoors, a smoke hood still helps reduce the bit of smoke it produces.
Avoid long roast times
If there is one thing I can point to as a potential problem with the Nesco is the long roast times. The French roast reviewed above roasts in about 9.5 minutes. The 20 minute plus roast times can tend to “bake” the beans, especially on the darker roast settings. This I believe is due to the obstructions introduced into the hot air roasting and cooling path by the auger and the catalytic converter.
Even with this, the Nesco still managed to produce good results and roasted some of the city roasts very well. It produced a surprisingly fine flavour and seemed to retain the nuances of the beans quite well. I didn’t try a very dark roast.
If you are prepared to work within the limitations of this roaster you can produce fine coffees and if you stay away from the dark roasts you will avoid most of the negatives of this machine.
Weight: 12 pounds
Power Supply: 120V
Warranty: 6 months
Coffee Roasters under $150 – Comparison
|Roaster||Warranty||Roast Quality||Smoke Suppression||Capacity||Reliability||CBR Rating|
|Fresh Roast SR340||12 Months||Good||No||120g||4/5||4/5|
|Nesco CR-1010||6 Months||Good
(less for dark roast)