HotTop Programmable Coffee Roaster:
First Look

The programmable HotTop has been out for a bit, and we have been slow to offer it simply because of the high price. But the fact is, it is a fine machine with an excellent user interface.

  • The machine prices a bit under $1000, and that has provided a bit of a mental block for me. But I realised that, putting price aside, this machine has the best user-interface of any roaster.

  • The screen is big, easy to read, intuitive to use. The alarm tells you when the roaster starts, when to dump the green coffee in, when it nears the end of the roast (so you can make any adjustments), when it starts to cool, and when it shuts itself down. So while you should always attend to a roaster in use, the programmable HotTop doesn't keep you on a short leash.

The HotTop Digital on my testing table

Great visibility of the coffee in the roast. Beans seem to "stall in front of the glass view window, but do not seem to get trapped there for any consequential amount of time.
pictures coming: interface during user-programmable roast cycle

Here are some assorted screen shots of the automatic roast process. Unfortunately my Olympus camera battery went kaput and as of yet I have failed to re-shoot the interface during the user-controlled roast. The screen is big - I can read it from 6-10 feet away to see the elapsed time on the roast, and temperature. The buttons work well. As I said, I feel this is the best of the programmable user interfaces of all home roasters, though I do still like the simple Genecafe controls (2 knobs for time and for temperature). Using the preset programs on this machine, the display gives you tons of information about temperature and time remaining so you know exactly where you are in the roast at all times.

I can't blame HotTop for this, but one annoying thing is limited back-to-back roasting. While it takes the machine a moderate amount of time to heat up to temperature (you get an audible alarm to put the coffee in when pre-heating is done), it takes a LONG time for the roaster to cool down to temperature after doing one batch, so you can start a second batch. While it is good that the HotTop always starts the roast at the same temperature, it does mean you need to do something else for a while (like 20 minutes) while the roaster cools down after doing your first batch. Ultimately, this is for your own good: all roasters should be cooled between batches because it means consistent safe roasting, and a longer lasting machine.

The cup results have been consistently good from the HotTop, whether we are discussing the analog, digital or this new programmable model. The one aspect that continues to distinguish the HotTop from the others is the fact that the roast cools outside the drum. I cannot stress how important rapid, effective cooling is to roast quality. Cooling inside the drum is a design problem with other machines, one you can circumvent by overriding the roaster to stop the drum rotation, and manually remove the coffee. Ouch - those metals/glass parts are hot. This is not an issue with air roasters that have a rapid air movement, but it is with the Genecafe.

HotTop has continued to improve all their roasters, analog, digital and now the programmable, in an admirable way and it is a very solid machine. Another absolute plus for the HotTop roasters is the excellent customer support you get through both the website and in person from Michael who does their product support. Parts like spare motors, fans, etc are available for the machines so you can keep the roaster running a long time.

I suppose the biggest question is whether or not you need the programmable machine. It is expensive, and you can probably get the same cup results from the older analog HotTop as the new programmable one.

Below is Hot Top USA's generic yet informative review of their machine. You see this reproduced on other people's pages that offer this machine.

New Model Coffee Roaster Now Available

Programmable model offers new levels of control!

      Hottop USA is proud to announce their most advanced home coffee roaster is now available. With its roots firmly established in the dependability and solid design of the original KN-8828 analog-display, pre-programmed model, and with its predecessor the KN-8828D digital-display model, the new "KN-8828P Programmable" is a fully programmable roaster giving the user the ability to create and modify roast programs to suit their needs, satisfy their personal taste, or best match their preferred coffee origin and brewing method.

      To achieve this we have redesigned the entire control board as well as the main circuit board. The KN-8828P is available as a complete roaster, but Hottop has gone to great lengths in the design of this new model to be sure that current owners of a Hottop coffee roaster will be able to upgrade their roasters to the "P" model by replacing the control panel and the main board, both of which will are available as an upgrade "kit" for purchase. Complete instructions for the replacement procedure are available in PDF format HERE on the Hottop USA website.

      The control panel has been totally redesigned, now sporting an advanced LCD display which serves as the programming interface as well as giving the user full telemetry readout during the roasting process. For those just learning about roasting coffee there is an "Auto" mode that roasts the coffee much like the previous models have, but the KN-8828P also alows the user to store up to nine additional roasting profiles. The first is pre-programmed by the factory and the remaining nine profiles can be programmed by the user and saved for use at a future time in non-volatile memory.

      Program "0" is set from the factory and cannot be changed, but the consumer can program up to nine of their own profiles offering the ability to create coffee just the way they like it as never before. Each of the nine programs can have up to 8 roasting segments, and each of those segments can be individually programmed for time and temperature as well as fan speed. Additionally, the user can easily modify any single portion of a program they have already created without having to re-enter the entire profile or segment.

      With the ability to create that many custom roasting profiles, the KN-8828P can be set up to cover just about any roasting need. Use program 1 for espresso, program 2 for the Colombian that Mom loves so much, Program 3 for a dark roast for Dad, and six more to make the machine work just the way you want. It is also easy to keep track of the various profiles because the user can add their own, unique three-character, alpha-numeric designation for each.

      To further assist the user, animations have been added to the control panel. In the lower left-hand corner (4 in the display image shown above), various animations remind the user of tasks that need to be completed. Prompts include emptying the chaff tray (shown here) adding beans, or eject and cool-down mode is in progress. When an alarm goes off a quick glance at the display lets the user know what to do.
      Among various safety features is the fact that the chaff tray needs to be removed from the machine for emptying or the next roast cannot begin, even if the machine has been unplugged.

Screen animation on LCD reminds user that chaff tray needs to be emptied before roast can begin.

      Besides the animations on the message center, the lighting on the LCD screen changes depending on which mode or function is in use to alert the user.

roast temperature comparison

      This Graph created from data gathered during an actual roast compares the temperature reported by the KN-8828P's LCD display to the actual bean temperature taken with a separate probe inserted into the roasting chamber.

      Another safety feature helps keep the user from ruining a roast. When bean temperature reaches 414 F, the machine will signal the user by beeping for thirty seconds. This warns the user that the beans are approaching the point where they may be burnt or even ignite. During this thirty-second warning period the user MUST press the "Enter" button. If the button is not pressed the machine will automatically eject the beans into the cooling tray.

[NOTE: This is an enhanced image of a prototype panel taken during pre-production testing showing the factory "Program 0" in operation. Production model will be more clear and easier to read.]

1 - Countdown timer to show total amount of time left in the current roasting process.
2 - Current roasting chamber temperature.
3 - Fan state and relative speed (fan is off in this picture)
4 - Current state (Roasting, Plus Time, Cooling, etc.).
5 - Eight programmable roasting segments will be available to be programmed. These bars show the portion of the programmed temperature which has been achieved for the programmed temperature for that segment.
6 - In the same way the vertical bar shows temperature progress, these four squares show how the programmed time for the current segment is progressing. Each one indicates 25% of the time for that particular segment. Here you see that this segment is at about 50% of the programmed time.
7 - This time display shows the amount of time left for the active segment.
8 - This bar represents the user's programmed temperature for that segment.

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