This machine is a great improvement over the discontinued Fresh Roast +8. There are a few things I wish were different about this roasters, but in the end it’s a good, economical choice if you're willing to pay attention to a few details. I posted a pictorial guide to using the roaster below, and some videos too.
I like the upward facing controls but not the heat switch. I think it would be better as a knob with 4 positions but maybe that will change with future iterations. Temperature settings for the three settings:
The manufacturer lists the batch size at 120 grams - but I feel 90g (about 1/3 a cup) is more likely the best batch size. To have a nice slow warm-up I used the highest possible air flow. I used both medium and low heat settings throughout the roast.
The cooling cycle blows some pretty hot air, but it’s good enough. Ideally it would be best to cool outside the roast chamber - in a tray or collander. The motor is quiet so hearing the cracks is no problem.
Be very careful about carrying the roaster while it's assembled. The glass roasting chamber isn't held firmly by the base, so it can easily fall out. (I broke one chamber that way.) The housing for the chaff collector is made of a heat-resistant plastic and may break if you drop it (I broke one of these, as well).
Start off with 1/2 cup of coffee. Over a few uses, I found that using 1/3 cup gave me a more even roast so I prefer that batch size. Because the machine uses the mass of beans to block the hot air and promote roasting, it is important to measure the batch by volume, not just weight. Heavier beans will agitate less well, so you may need to adjust for that. Add the coffee to the roaster before turning it on.
Turn the roaster on. The SR500 has a preset roast time of 5.9 minutes which you can change by pressing the UP and DOWN buttons.
The coffee will progress from green to yellow to brown. Check out our Pictorial Guide to the Roast Process for detailed pictures and descriptions of the stages of roast.
The roast will end when the timer has counted down or when you press the "cool" button. The cooling cycle lasts about three minutes, and works by turning off the heating element and running the fan. The air will be quite hot at first, so your roast may "coast" a bit after you start the cooling cycle; you should start cooling just shy of how dark you actually want the roast to be. Some folks like to pour the coffee out into a homemade cooling tray (usually a seive placed over a fan) --- the choice is yours, but be careful if you go this route: the parts are hot!
The SR500 does a good job at creating even roasts. Older FreshRoast models struggled at this and at mid-roast, allowed some beans to burn while others remained green.
If you are running into this problem, you may have voltage issues, it could be a very cold day or maybe you have an older machine. Here’s a few methods we used in the past to even out our roasts:
This is the safest modified way to use the machine. Run it for 1 minute with beans, then hit the COOL button. After 30 seconds, turn the machine back on to finish the roast. With very dense beans, use the COOL cycle twice during the roast sequence. You'll know that the beans are more dense by the way they are moving (or not moving). You will have to start the time again after hitting cool.
METHOD # 2
Stir the beans for the first two minutes of the roast. Remove the chaff collector (careful, it can get hot). Take a long-handled spoon (the spoon in the image is a little shorter than I'd like), and stir occasionally, making sure to get all the way to the bottom of the chamber and to get around the sides.
There shouldn't be any chaff at this stage of the roast, so you don't have to worry about making a mess. Maybe you lose a bit of heat this way, but it is better than a wildly uneven roast. Be sure to replace the cap once the beans start to move on their own.
METHOD # 3
Another technique is to remove the roast chamber, and shake it two or three times during the roast, especially early on when the beans are heavier. The handle of the roast chamber remains cool enough to touch throughout the roast. The chaff collector gets hot, but so use a hot mitt to remove and reposition the chaff collector.