Today I had a very long and detailed conversation with Kyra Kennedy
regarding the state of the HotTop Roaster and plans for importing it into
the US in a few months.
First, I gotta clarify something here. I have no financial involvement with
the hottop roaster, or Baratza over this roaster. I think a few folks have
that impression, at least from some of the email queries I have been
getting. Nothing wrong with the assumption per se, I'm not uppity about it
:) just that I do want to clarify that I am not financially involved.
However, I am passionate about home roasting, about "keeping it alive", and
when the HWP went this year, I was mightily depressed. As soon as word
about the HT came down the pipe, I started talking to a few folks behind
the scenes about it, pursued a few leads, and talked to many business
owners about possibly importing it, My first choice was the best though - I
managed to get a very reluctant Baratza to consider this roaster for
importation. They did begin discussions with the Taiwanese, but prior to
SCAA they placed a helluva lot of faith in my friendship with them and my
advice to consider the roaster as a product they could import... I know it
was touch and go for a while.
I got a roaster a day before the Baratza folks did, and put it through some
initial paces. They got it and again it was touch and go for them (though
Josie thought it was "da bomb", Kyle was really reluctant). They were a bit
dismayed at some initial comments from other people who's opinion they
trust (like Tom) who commented that they did not think the roaster would
even work, handling all those beans and the 110 power limitations, etc etc
(Tom made a post to the group back in April, before he received his test
At SCAA, Baratza saw the great amount of interest in the product, and kind
of came around, and realised that it could be a good product to import. I
pulled a bit of a trick on Shelley at the show, and her prior resistance to
"dealing" with the cooling issue evaporated somewhat. We also fed them
ideas about the cooling issue, and we picked the brains of a lot of
knowledgeable people in the roasting (and home roasting) biz. The Taiwanese
went back and came up with a solution. Kyle Anderson also flew over there
for a long meeting, and I think that convinced them that Baratza was
serious... if the cooling issue was resolved.
Okay, that's a bit more background than I wanted to type. Let me move
forward to today (or yesterday now). First, Kyra is amazed, and maybe even
overwhelmed somewhat by the responses, the passion shown, and the feedback
provided by the 15 initial testers. One fellow has done some serious
datalogging that is proving invaluable to Baratza. (Kyra being amazed and
overwhelmed is a good thing though - nothing negative in it).
One thought I had while talking with her was this - I thought the feedback
was awesome as well, but I kinda wished people would wait until they had
three or four roasts, or maybe a few days with the roaster under their belt
before sending off the commentary. A lot can change once you've used it a
bit. I now have almost 100 roasts on my HotTop with it's two revisions, and
I can tell you I feel a lot different about the roaster now than I did with
the first few roasts. (it's all good, though).
Other topics today included the plus issue, the 250 vs 275 vs 300 gram
issue, UL, CSA, legal issues, numbers for initial importation, etc etc.
Kyra is relying on me for a fair amount of consultation on the device, and
while I wonder if I'm truly qualified to do so, I've tried my best.
I think this machine is a 275 gram capable unit. I've done 275 grams in
previous versions of the microchip to full city and beyond, with no real
problems. This gives you just over a pound (230 or so grams) roasted. I
think that's a huge selling point, but the current implementation of the
roast profile with the restrictive plus button takes that away. 300 grams
is pushing it, but still capable. 250 grams is nice, but doesn't give
enough of an "edge" over the Alp to make it a selling point.
Several suggestions on the plus, from changing it to 10, 15, or more, to
making it one press puts it in "manual override", where you have to hit the
eject button, to making each "plus" press 30 seconds, 40 seconds, etc have
been made. Whatever it takes. This is not a product that some joe who buys
his triple fat tall latte at $tarbucks is going to buy. Serious home
roasters, serious professional roasters are going to buy it. They aren't
going to like being limited. I'm pushing hard to get this restriction
eliminated. One suggestion from Shelley was that the plus limits are there
so people won't burn the house down. Well, if you put 150 grams in this
thing and roast at 7, you'll achieve the same thing - fire. So to me, that
argument is moot.
Another suggestion is on temperature readouts. A great idea, and it was
suggested early on by guys like HV and Randy G to HT. For me, it's a bit of
window dressing, but I wouldn't mind seeing it, it would be a nice
ancillary addition to the machine. But before that, I'd love to see a
redesign of the control panel that more accurately displays what each roast
profile button will achieve with a 250 (or 275!) gram batch - something as
close to agtron colours for a "typical" or "average" bean as possible.
Lastly on the burns issue. First, I really was sympathetic and worried
about the health of the people who did burn their forearms and fingers - it
was terrible. But I'm worried this will be nail in the coffin for the
roaster as well - all it takes is one person to use this device in a
careless manner, then launch a massive lawsuit (anyone remember the 3mil
the woman got when she burned herself at $tarbucks recently on a test
Barista machine?), and my very good friends at Baratza would be out of
business.... and all because back in April of 2K2, they placed enough faith
in me and my opinions to first consider importing this device. :(
In fact, I dunno what to say about this. Common sense dictates: it's a
roaster. Roasters get up to 450F. It has a metal skin. Metal conducts heat
REALLY well. Don't touch, don't go close, don't even breathe on it. But
accidents happen, and down the road, no doubt, carelessness will happen.
What solutions could Baratza (not the Taiwanese) take to prevent this?
Massive stickers all over the device, like how this keyboard I'm typing on
has big ass carpel tunnel warning stickers on the front and back?
The Taiwanese could redesign the roaster, designing a double wall for the
main drum area, baffling, and insulation to keep the outer surface cool.
But that costs major $$$ at this point, and may kill the project. To them,
it was a non issue because, (it was assumed by Kyra and I today during our
call) they didn't take into account the litigation situation in the US.
It's a roaster. It gets hot. Don't touch. Treat with respect. That kind of
Anyway, I'm rambling, but since the HT is a major source of discussion on
the mail list, I did want to pass on the word that Baratza is really amazed
at the feedback, impressed by it, even overwhelmed by it, but in the end,
it's all good, because they do want the product to succeed and they value
all the feedback. It's literally priceless.
Oh, one more thought. Most of you with the new shiny roaster never saw it
with the old "passive" cooling system... the change from the old to new was
so amazing, that after my first roast, I posted about it everywhere, called
Kyle and Kyra up, ranted and raved... it was like this big time revelation.
I think I even did a jig. :) The Alp's a great roaster too, but cooling is
it's major downfall... the HT has that so beat now, it's not funny.
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