Alpenrost - Home Coffee Roaster

Alpenrost – Home Coffee Roaster

Background

The older model Alpenrost has been replaced by a newer version called the “Bravi”.

The major design changes for the Bravi appear to include Teflon coatings on some interior surfaces, a new drive sprocket design, better cooling design, a new safety interlock switch and a new roast chamber thermistor to presumably send internal temperature feedback to the built-in factory roast profile and cooling cycle.

This, however is not a review of the Bravi....

In the meantime, there are still many thousands of dedicated Alpenrost users around the world and we have decided to take a detailed look at this venerable coffee roaster and see if the coffeecrew can extract the very best performance from this machine.

Description

The Alpenrost is a drum/radiant heat design roaster. It roasts 8 oz (227g) of green beans at a time which places it close to the top end (in capacity) of the various home roasters on the market. In comparison, the i-Roast roasts 5.3 oz (150g) and other home roasters roast far less. Only the much more expensive Hottop roaster can roast a slightly larger amount (9 oz) of green beans.

The Alpenrost uses a perforated stainless steel drum heated by an electrical element. The heating element is heavy duty and would not look out of place in a kitchen oven. A drive sprocket rotates the drum anti-clockwise during the roasting stage and clockwise during the dumping stage. The heating element is located directly underneath the drum.

Controls

There is a Start button, a Cool button and a digital LED display . There is an “up arrow” button and a “down arrow” button to adjust the roast times anywhere from “1” to “15”. A graphic indicates that a reading of “8” is a medium roasted bean, a “1” is a light roast and “15” is a dark roasted bean.

As we shall see, these readings are approximations only and can be way off.

Operation

The power cord is short – only a few feet long, so you will have to be close to an electrical outlet.

When you plug in the roaster the digital display defaults to an “8” which is supposed to give you a medium roast.

Dump in 8 oz (227g) of green beans into the drum, place the drum into the roaster and you are set to go. Just make sure that the sprocket gear is engaged properly to the drum.
You can check this by gently jiggling the drum very slightly back and forth until it is seated correctly onto the sprocket and the idler wheels. If done correctly, the drum won't be able to turn. This sounds more complicated than it really is. Just make sure the drum is in correctly and hit the start button.

The drum has a number of internal vanes that tumble the beans as the drum rotates. You will get used to the hypnotic swish-swishing sounds as the beans go 'round and round. Note that swishing bean sound become more muted during the roast as the beans become softer and less glassine as they are roasted.

The digital display that one can set from “1” to “15” adjusts only roast times. A setting of “1” sets a roasting time of 16.25 minutes and a “15” sets a time of 19.55 minutes. Each step increases the roasting time incrementally by 15 seconds.

The digits are only roasting times. They do not control the temperature in any way other than varying the length of the roast.

When the programmed time elapses, the roaster stops heating, opens up the vent doors and goes into cooling mode. After the cooling cycle is complete, the drum then reverses direction and the beans are dumped automatically and the unit switches itself off. .

When you open up the lid and remove the drum (be careful - it still can be a little hot), you will find some burnt chaff and charred undersized beans that have fallen into the chaff tray. Any chaff that falls directly onto the heating element during the roast has been turned into a slight dusting of white ash. Most of the chaff is blown out and collected into the removable exhaust vent/snout/chaff collector.

In the unit we reviewed, even the lowest setting of “1” would have burned the roast as first crack was less than 11 minutes and second was just a couple minutes after that. It was necessary to hit the cool button to interrupt the roast. This is not bad news at all, as it is very easy to listen for the cracks and hit the cool button whenever you want – standard fare for an experienced roaster.

It was apparent right off the bat that this machine was running “hot”.

There are complaints here and there about the Alpenrost running too cool and yet other reports that it is running too hot and is scorching or “tipping” the beans.

According to Craig Andrews, former Alpenrost repair tech and now a well known green coffee bean vendor, the fix is relatively simple. The Alpenrost's heating element is fully adjustable and can be made hotter or cooler by making an internal adjustment. All you have to do is adjust a trim pot and dial it up or down.

First Observations

Initially, I was quite alarmed at the heat exhaust coming out of the machine. It was not that hot compared to my old Hearthware Precision and I thought something was amiss.

There was no need to worry as this is perfectly normal for the Alpenrost. The exhaust air is cooled by the intake air that is drawn through the double walled lid. Due to this design, no exterior part of the Alpenrost, gets too hot too touch. Most of the heat is concentrated where it's needed – in the roasting chamber.

The Alpenrost is a lot quieter than fluid bed type of roasters and cracks are quite easy to hear. The price you pay for roasting larger quantities of beans is smoke – lots of smoke. More beans equals more smoke and once the vent doors snap open when the roaster goes into cool mode, there will be dense plumes of smoke. You need a pretty good stove hood fan to deal with all the smoke, so you may want to roast in a garage ( with the door open) or roast outside.

One of the disappointments with this machine was with the effectiveness of the cooling cycle. The beans still remain very hot at the end of the cooling cycle so you will want to to remove them as soon as possible to a colander or strainer.

Now that you are roasting larger 8 oz batches you'll be surprised how difficult it is to cool the beans down to ambient temperature. If you are an experienced roaster, you will already be well versed in the art of winnowing (separating the beans from the chaff).

Cleaning

Chaff, chaff, chaff! Chaff everywhere! In the chaff tray, underneath the chaff tray, underneath the element, in the fan cowling and in the chaff collector. You will develop additional lung power huffing, puffing and blowing chaff out from all kinds of nooks and crannies. If you use a lot of dry process beans, a small handful of chaff may also remain in the drum. This has to be shaken out along with any beans that did not get dumped out. You will also likely find a few badly charred beans that are stuck in the drum perforations. To get rid of them, break these off and push them back into the drum with your thumb. And no, you do not want to mix these lumps of charcoal with your good beans!

Unfortunately, you are not finished yet. When you have gotten rid of all the chaff, you have to clean off the sticky coffee grunge from the reflective stainless steel surfaces of the roasting chamber paying close attention to the inner upper lid and especially, the vent doors. Push on the top vent door ( a half moon shape) so you can fold the doors down for easier cleaning. The leading edges of both doors get especially dirty and sticky.

You will need to use dish detergent or a specialty cleaner to remove the coffee smoke residues.

Pros and Cons

PROS:

It roasts 8 oz of green!
Adds extra body to roasts
Wind does not seem to affect roast performance
Very good cold weather performance
Exterior surfaces of the roaster remain relatively cool.

CONS:

Insufficient cooling
Requires fastidious cleaning
Some say that it mutes “tones” of bright beans
No roast profiles
Perforated holes in the drum could be a bit smaller
Aluminum drive sprocket “teeth” appear to be wearing quickly
No repair/spare parts
No warranty


Tips and Techniques

1.When you load that drum up with green beans, give the drum a vigorous shake for a minute or so. Most of the broken and undersized beans and other foreign matter (including small bits of gravel etc) should fall out through the holes in the drum.

2.The manufacturer says you can do back-to-back roasts. Sort of. The manual says to allow at least 30 minutes between roasts. Can't wait 30 minutes? Craig Andrews offers this tip: Hit the start button and then immediately hit the cool button to initiate another cooling cycle. When the cycle completes, you can start roasting another batch.

3.For consistent roast times, you will want to get a good quality scale that can measure to at least 250 grams.

4.Buy a spare grinder brush in order to help sweep all that chaff into the chaff tray after each roast.

5.When removing the drum from the machine, lift the drum up from the vent door side to avoid damaging the drive sprocket teeth..

6.Place the roaster on a level surface as this will help roast the beans evenly and assist in the dumping process.

7.Keep it clean! For best performance, you need to keep those reflective stainless steel surfaces bright and shiny.

Drum roast versus Fluid Air

There is no doubt that the Alpenrost is far quieter than a fluid air roaster. First and second cracks can be heard distinctly.

Keep in mind that the Alpenrost is a drum roaster. The metal drum has heat momentum due to its mass, so when you hit the cool switch, the roast can continue for up to a minute afterwards. Make sure you compensate accordingly otherwise your roast can run away on you.. A fluid air machine stops roasting far quicker when you hit the cool button.

Beans tend to roast more evenly in a fluid air machine and chaff collection is more efficient. Cooling is far more efficient as well.

Summary and Conclusions

The biggest advantage of the Alpenrost is that it roasts 227g (8 oz) of green beans. A couple of back-to-back roasts [with a cooling cycle “rest” in between] supplies enough finished product for our household for a week. I have roasted up to 250g per batch without any ill effects.

Yes, you can do two roasts in a row without cleaning it in between.

The adjustable roast times, like most other roasters, have limited usefulness. The best way is to roast is by ear and hit the cool switch to manually stop the roast.

There are some complaints and minor quibbles; the cooling cycle doesn't cool very well, the bean cup is too small, etc.

All in all, the roaster does the job and if you have to misfortune of getting a roaster that is too hot or too cold, those problems can be corrected.

If this review sounds like a positive review, it could of been except for one big glaring flaw, something vitally important – Customer Service.

When I brought the issue of the defective drive sprocket to Swissmar's (distributor for both the Alpenrost and Bravi) attention, they said that no repair parts are available and if the unit is under warranty, return it to the retailer!?

[No, the retailer is not taking it back!]

The Alpenrost is no longer in production, there are no spare parts, there is no repair depot and in my case, Swissmar does not appear to be honoring their warranty. Even if you find a new Alpenrost languishing on some retailer's backshelf, it would not be prudent to buy one. Therefore, the coffeecrew can not recommend this machine.

Conclusion: NOT RECOMMENDED

Price: $300 CDN (approx $250 US)

UPDATE: There are some reports the new Bravi is having some problems. The complaints range from build quality issues, too high pricing, reports that some units are running way too cool and lack of warranty service. Swissmar are replacing the defective units on an ad hoc basis...
After some discussion, Swissmar they did eventually offer me a new Bravi. I did not take them up on their offer.