HomeRoast Digest

Topic: HotTop vs Gene Cafe (15 msgs / 615 lines)
1) From: Maureen Azcoitia
We are thinking of getting a new roaster and need some
advice from you experts out there.  All we have used
so far is an unmodified popper.  We are getting tired
of only being able to do 80g batches at a time.  We
are trying to decide between the HotTop and the Gene
Cafe.  What are the advantages and disadvantages of
each?  We have read Tom's comparison and still can't
decide.  So any help would be greatly appreciated.

2) From: Steven Van Dyke
I can't tell you the HotTop side but I do have a still shiny new GeneCafe.
I've posted about it a few times but it's worth doing again.
The GeneCafe gives you a 250(ish) gram load.  You can probably do a bit more
but it's a size that suits me.  That's 8.87 ounces according to my scale,
Total roast time is running about 15 - 16 minutes roast + 10 - 11 minutes
cooling.  I pay attention during the roast but not during the cool.
There's no pre-heat on the GeneCafe - I know the HotTop you have to add the
beans at a certain point.  With the GeneCafe you set the drum on its stand
(the bottom not's flat so you have to use the stand) open the lid and pour
in the measured beans.  Close the lid and slide the drum back into place.
Close the safety cover (clear plastic).  Hit the Blue button to turn the
machine on, turn the knobs to your starting numbers (I use 18 min and 482
degrees) and push the Red button to start the roast.  The drum starts
turning, sloshing and tumbling the beans while the fan gently whirrs.  Since
the air is just for heat it's extremely quiet - the noise of the beans is
louder than the fan.  I have to listen down near the opening at the bottom
of the safety cover to hear cracks over the clicking of the tumbling beans
but my hearing's half shot by years of loud music and several years in the
1980's sitting next to screaming dot-matrix printers.  The GeneCafe has the
best visibility of any roaster I've ever seen - it's darn near a plain glass
cylinder with just the central divider blocking your view.  The displays
show you time left and an alternating display of your set temperature and
the current exit air temperature.   Bean temperature lags the exit air
temperature but the beans eventually catch up.  You can change your settings
at any time during the roast and you can abort a roast at any point.  You
can abort the cooling too - either a 'stop early' cooling abort or a 'stop
right now' cooling abort.
One drawback to the GeneCafe is that the cooling isn't as rapid as it could
be.  They'd have to add some way to boost the fan speed quite a bit to get
it to cool faster.  They do provide the 'abort the cooling' option if you
have a separate bean cooler but make sure you've got some oven mitts for
handling that hot drum if you do.  If you use the roaster's cooling you have
to stop it just a bit before the point you want because it will coast a bit
further.  Takes a few roasts to get the hang of it.
The 'profile' I've been using is to set to 18 minutes / 482 degrees.  I
think I'm going to switch to 20 minutes just to make it easier to figure
time passed from the time left.  I keep an eye on things, watching the beans
color and the exit air temp.  When I see the exit air temp pass 400 and the
beans passing the straw color stage I start listening down near the gap at
the bottom of the clear safety cover.  When I hear the first snap of first
crack I dial the temperature down to 456 which is the final temp I want.  I
start at 482 because I agree with Tom - the faster I get to my target range
the better and once the machine sees the exit air at your set point it
starts turning the heat off and on to hold it near there.  Once I've dialed
the temp down I start watching the exhaust plume coming out of the chaff
collector.  A good flashlight is a help here.  What I'm looking for is that
first puff of smoke you get as you enter the gap between first and second
crack.  As soon as I see any smoke I hit the Red button again to start
cooling.  Based on getting the flavors Tom describes for Full City / Full
City + I think I am, in fact, getting it to go right there.  I've just
gotten smart and started flipping the safety cover open during cooling -
part of what it does is help hold in the heat around the drum which is good
during roasting but bad during cooling.  There are ways to speed cooling
others have reported, including using a shop vac to suck on the chaff
collector.  That pulls air through the system at a  much higher rate and
greatly speeds cooling.  The standard cooling stop point is 140 degrees so
the beans are still a bit warm.  I follow Tom's advice and dump into a big
mesh strainer that I then stir in front of a running fan to finish the
cooling.  Warning: some coffees, like the Dry Processed Ethiopian Ghimbi I
roasted recently have chaff that sticks to the beans which then results in a
chaff storm when you stir the beans in front of a running fan.
So that's the GeneCafe perspective: Extremely quiet, extremely even roast,
great visibility, good audiblity, easy to watch / smell for smoke, somewhat
slow cooling.  I'm sure a HotTop user will give you that side.
Steve :->

3) From: Jim Mitchell

4) From: Jim De Hoog
  If you are wanting to really increase your batch size, don't forget about the RK Drum & a gas BBQ grill.  You are able to roast a 1/2 pound to 4 pounds with the RKdrum.  You can also build your own drum for under $200.  I have built my Ice bucket roaster for under $50.  I have been able to roast 1 pound of beans and think that it will roast at least 2 pounds.
  Jim De Hoog

5) From: French Lewis
Hi Maureen,
I have a Hot Top (non-digital) and am pretty happy
with it.   I roast 250g at a time, which is a huge
upgrade from the 64g I was roasting in my FreshRoast.
The main disadvantage of the Hot Top is there is no
way to control the profile.   What was programmed at
the factory is what you get (unless you want to get
into some serious modifying, but I'm not brave enough
-- at least until my waranty expires).   I find the
unit is pretty quiet, it is easy for me to hear 1st
and 2nd cracks, but I could hear them in the
FreshRoast as well.
As far as roast quality, the drum roast will be
different from the hot air fluid bed roast you are
currently using.   When I was using the FreshRoast,
there were differences in the coffess, but they all
had a 'similarity' to them.   I could only tell things
apart that were very different (like a kenya and a
colombian).   When I started with the Hot Top, I
learned what bright meant (all the FR roasts were
fairly bright), and discovered some of the subtle
differences between varietals.   It is a whole new
learning experience, but that is part of what I like
about coffee roasting.
I do like my Hot Top, the roasts take about 15-18
minutes plus the 5 minute cooling cycle.   I have a
thermocouple that I insert into the roast chamber to
track temperature, but I find roasting by sound &
smell to be very reliable.   I always use the longest
setting and stop the roast manually when I reach the
right level.
I'm sorry for a long answer that didn't touch on the
Gene Cafe.   
--- Maureen Azcoitia  wrote:
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6) From: HailSeeszer
I cannot speak for the HotTop, but I am thoroughly enjoying the Gene =
Café.  It is an awesome 1/2 roaster.  Easy to operate, great user =
control of time and temperature DURING the roast, amazingly easy =
cleanup, back to back roasts (once unit cools below 140 degrees).  =
Coffees taste great!  Decafs are easy, easy, easy to roast!
I would highly recommend the Gene Café!

7) From: HailSeeszer
DITTO!  But I am having great success with 300 grams in both decaf and

8) From: Jeremy DeFranco
On Tuesday, May 23, 2006 11:45 PM "Maureen Azcoitia" 
 -We are thinking of getting a new roaster and need some advice from you
experts out there.  All we have used so far is an unmodified popper.  We ar=
getting tired
 of only being able to do 80g batches at a time.  We are trying to decide
between the HotTop and the GeneCafe.  What are the advantages and
disadvantages of
 each?  We have read Tom's comparison and still can't decide.  So any help
would be greatly appreciated.
-     Bottom line- either wait until new Hottop comes on the market or buy =
GeneCafe. Personally, I see no point in buying a Hottop now, when a new one
will be released in 5 months (and unlike the digital, you can NOT upgrade
from a previous model). The GeneCafe has everything the digital Hottop has,
and more as far as features goes. Since the roast medium is both air and
drum, you get more of a vibrant roast than in a Hottop. But if you don't
want that, you do have the option of lowering the temp. to create a more
fuller bodied roast. So basically you can do everything the Hottop can do
and more with the GeneCafe. The one great thing the Hottop has going for it
is that it is sturdy as a tank (the jury is still out on durability and
quality of customer service for GeneCafe), and you don't have to fool aroun=
to cool the beans (right now I run the cool cycle on the GeneCafe for 2-3
minutes, then I stop the cool cycle, dump the beans, and water quench in a
colander- although if Tom says that there is no need for this, I'm sure
there isn't; you could probably just get by with hitting cool, and then
pulling the chaff collector to speed up cycle).
     Now if you wait for the new Hottop, you won't be dissapointed-
everything (minus data collector and graph generator (although this MAY be
included, and of course minus the ability to change temps on the fly (major
bummer!)) you could realistically want in a Hottop. BUT this is not to say
it is better than GeneCafe. GeneCafe is a solid contender. Although you
can't set profiles ahead of the roast, you can change temps and time on the
fly. Plus, well the new Hottop will probably cost around $900, while
GeneCafe rings up at about $500.
     Then comes the question-what do you want from a roaster? Taste is a
mute point, you get great taste from either (but you DO have more control
over taste with a GeneCafe). How bout' style? The Hottop is awesome, becaus=
it's like having a professional roaster in your own home, but then the Gene
Cafe has a tripped out roast chamber design. Hard choice. Do you want less
noise? Both are quiet. Do you want Controllability- get the GeneCafe. Or do
want consistancy without all the hassel of following the roast with a
magnifying glass until you find the proper profile that works for you,
because there is no real factory tested preset- then get the Hottop; only
caveat is that the factory set preset is the ONLY profile you get (unless
you wait for the new Hottop). Durability? well the Hottop is a tank. That i=
probably where most of the extra $200 comes in. But the GeneCafe will bode
just fine if you treat it as a delicate little princess. It is surprisingly
durable, though.
     We are all buying new roasters at exactly the wrong time in the world
of roasterdom. Give it 2-5 years, and I bet that your choice would not be s=
tough. Although I think you will be satisfied and amazed by any purchase yo=
make, you would be even more so 5 years from now. But we all do need
something to get us to that  2-5 year mark. So I would go with whatever
moves you the most, considering everything I just said. I did recommend tha=
you go with the GeneCafe or wait, but really you can't go wrong between any
of the three models. If you really get bogged down, stop. Write down what
you want first, then rate each desire 1-5 how important each is. Then
compare to the specs for each model. Remember you are not choosing between
roasters, you are choosing between a Hottop and a GeneCafe- two separate
individuals with their own unique idiosynchrasies. Personallly, I have a
GeneCafe, but I plan to check out the Hottop in a year or two (or any other
comparable roaster on the market). Buying a roaster is like choosing a mate=
you can't get everything you want unless you choose em all (theoretically o=
course). Word of advice, if you do get the GeneCafe (this is what I have)
roast in 250-260g batches for most even roast (book says 280g), although
some beans may take well to larger batches (some people roast 300g batches)
if you desire. I did try the larger batches, though, and for beans with lot=
of chaff, there were some slight uneveness to the roast (not so at smaller
batches or with beans with minimal chaff).  Best Wishes, Jeremy

9) From: Derek Bradford
Hi All,
A terrible thing has happened to me.  I've moved to an apartment
without gas.  I want to keep roasting indoors, so that means no more
butane wonders on the roof.  As the subject suggests, I'm toying with
the idea of a Hottop or Gene Cafe.  Specifically, a digital Hottop,
and an analogue Gene Cafe.
What does everyone think about both roasters?  I'm looking for pros
and cons those of you who own one have noticed.  Help me spend my
The Uglyroast 3! Coffee Roaster.  ...Now 85% less ugly!http://uglyroast.atspace.com

10) From: miKe mcKoffee

11) From: Frank Parth
Hi, Derek,
I asked this question several weeks ago as I was getting ready to upgrade from my Z&D.
The net result of the discussion ended up being: The analog Gene Cafe has the benefit of being able to change temperatures during the roast itself, so you can fine tune it based on what you're hearing, seeing, and smelling. The HotTop has the advantage of having a fast dump at the end of the roast so the beans can cool down quickly, a big advantage according to some.
After all the e-mails I finally decided to go with the Gene Cafe. The benefits of being able to change temps duringthe roast outweighed the benefit of the fast cool down for me.
I had planned on being in San Francisco this week and was going to stop by Sweet Marias in Oakland and picking one up. But my travel plans changed and I won't be there until September at the earliest. I may just have to mail order it when I return from traveling.
Hope this helps.
Frank Parth

12) From: Derek Bradford
It does help, sort of.  I guess that's pretty much the conclusion I'd
come to as well.  I was really hoping someone would pipe up and tell
me that all roaster X's fail, and all roaster Y's work perfectly
forever.  Perhaps I should lower my expectations...
I'm still wondering about a HG/DB, though I'm quite concerned about
evenness in the roasts.  I roast almost exclusively for espresso, and
I drink a lot of straight shots...I really notice roast imperfections.
 I think I'll start a new thread on that, actually.
On 7/13/06, Frank Parth  wrote:
The Uglyroast 3! Coffee Roaster.  ...Now 85% less ugly!http://uglyroast.atspace.com

13) From: Tom & Maria - Sweet Maria's Coffee
I agree with Frank as to the key difference. Hottop has that funny, 
anachronistic "commerical" look, a "shrinky dink commerical roaster" 
if you will. The Gene Cafe has the glass roast chamber so you can see 
the roast easily, great chaff collection, bean agitation, and the 
flexibility of time/temp control. But that slow cooling is a weakness 
- I pull off the chaff collector with (careful, it is hot) when the 
cooling starts to help increase air flow. I have also, after about 2 
min. stopped the rotation, then removed the coffee to cool more 
rapidly in a colander. But if I do this, I always replace the drum 
and continue the cooling cycle so the machine can cool itself down. 
It's an option, but also an inconvenience. Maybe someone can come up 
with a Gene Cafe mod to step up the fan speed during cooling.
Also, HotTop does have a "programmable" model coming, but it is 
basically just a control board replacement, not a full-on redesign. 
As I write in the Gene Cafe comments, I have some doubts about the 
ability of a roaster design to have a user-friendly programmable 
interface. I feel that you literally need a laptop wired to the 
roaster to do pre-programming. From feedback I get on the iRoast 2, 
many find the programming hard to use (hold this button, push that 
button, push both, go to step 2, repeat 4 more times, etc) and end up 
using default roast profiles, which is exactly what I do too! (Not 
such a bad thing, because iRoast changed their defaults to match my 
published custom roast curves!) Anyway, the new control board should 
be retroactive and work with older hot-tops as a separate add on. 
We'll see how functional it really is... Thats why I feel the 2 knob 
Gene Cafe makes so much more sense in terms of user-control, and I 
think from feedback I get people agree.
                   "Great coffee comes from tiny roasters"
            Sweet Maria's Home Coffee Roasting  -  Tom & Maria
                      http://www.sweetmarias.com                Thompson Owen george_at_sweetmarias.com
     Sweet Maria's Coffee - 1115 21st Street, Oakland, CA 94607 - USA
             phone/fax: 888 876 5917 - tom_at_sweetmarias.com

14) From: Derek Bradford
Thanks Tom.
It's funny that there hasn't been a move to computer-driven roasting
control (you mentioned a necessary laptop interface for roast
preprogramming).  It's not so much that we really need it, but moreso
that roasting seems to be driven by a fairly geeky crowd, and I'm
surprised we haven't come up with that functionality.  Personally, I'd
love to see some computer manipulatable/pre/reprogrammable roast
information.  A simple USB interface would do the trick.  That's a lot
of R&D though, and I understand there are bigger problems to solve.
On 7/15/06, Tom & Maria - Sweet Maria's Coffee
The Uglyroast 3! Coffee Roaster.  ...Now 85% less ugly!http://uglyroast.atspace.com

15) From: Michael Wade
Derek, it's been done.  Jeffrey Pawlan has developed the software and 
modifications to control a Hottop and sells it for commercial sample 
roasting.  For home use, I've never heard the price, but it probably falls 
under "if you have to ask, you can't afford it".
My dream machine is (at the moment) a Deidrich sample roaster with Jeffrey's 
CCR system installed.  I'd probably be better off with a Hottop, but the 
Deidrich is just "way cool", to quote my grandson...http://www.sweetmarias.com/bayarea_homeroasters/bayarea_homeroasters.htmlMichael

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