Ask the Alchemist #73


What do you think about the Cocoatown Roaster? Why don’t you sell them? Well, I make it a point to answer questions truthfully. That can be tricky to do with tact when there isn’t much good to say. But I will try. I have some very definitive opinions about roasting and what makes a good roaster based on over a decade of roasting, and having personally built 7 different roasters....some that worked and some that didn't and I learned from. These all resemble the later.

I don’t like the Cocoatown roasters from what I have seen of them. This is from seeing them operate a couple times at various chocolate events. And from what I can gather from their website. My biggest issue is that the basic model is iso-thermal. This means it ‘roasts’ at one temperature setting, that is not controllable by the user. Basically, that is no way to roast. That is a way to heat beans. That is a way to bake beans. Those are radically different things.

And I have a pretty big problem that it doesn’t allow any control (except when to stop the roast) at all. Cocoa beans and how people roast are just too varied to make that even close to feasible.

They do have a larger Commercial roaster that in theory roasts 30 lbs of beans and has temperature control. But really all that is is a thermostat setting a maximum temperature. Much like a standard oven. Sure, I suggest you roast small batches in an oven…but that is so you can get an introduction to roasting. To my mind, that rudimentary control is embarrassing in a professional roaster that is nearly $5000. To my mind, any good roaster should have variable power control.  You don't drive a car by only having the option of flooring it or coasting.  You should be able to 'give it gas' and 'tap the brakes'.  And flooring it with a maximum speed limiter is not control. Next is the power requirements and capacity. For the standard model they list 12 amps at 110 v for 4-6 lbs. Yeah, right. Maybe if you don’t mind baked beans. My personal sample roaster is 20 amps 110v and roasts 5 lbs in 15-18 minutes. You can do the math. Either their roasts are nearly twice as long or the batch size is exaggerated.

Side note: Most of the same points above go for the cocoa Cucina roaster. It lists this as a capacity.

Capacity: 15 kgs/30 lbs per batch (allow 45 minutes to 1+ hour for cycle, depending on bean/roast)

Excuse me? 45 minutes to an hour to roast a batch of beans? Maybe there are some people that want that kind of ‘roast’ but in my experience that is far and few between. To my mind, if you can’t get a roast done in 20 minutes (or extend if you want to 45 minutes) then it just isn’t suitable.

Back to the Cocoatown Commercial roaster. It also lists a 30 lb batch, but does not give any roast times and has a power requirement of 220v 3 phase….but they don’t list a load. That is a crazy amount of power. Maybe it roasts ok, but propane or NG would be so much better at that level. Regardless, I really can’t speak to how it roasts or the roast times, but there is little to give me hope it is going to be different than their small models....and still no control.

A couple of last items.

When I saw these operate, they rotated VERY slowly and in a direction that takes the beans away from the heating elements. Even with token convection from a fan, this is a great way to have a roaster that is sluggish and slow (hrm…45 minute roast time you say?). In my experience you need those beans close to the elements to take advantage of radiant heat and you need them moving fast enough to loft the beans so you don’t scorch them. Neither of these do either.

Finally, in regards to both, but especially the larger roaster I find it….silly? dangerous? awkward? I’m not sure what word I want. How about I find it ‘interesting’ that you are required to hand load and unload the beans. I do this with my 5 lb roaster…and have the burns to prove how well that works (note, this is my personal roaster, not for sale, and I accept the risks, but would never expect any one else to take them). For 30 lbs? No.

That’s what I think. These are basically glorified rotisserie ovens. Ok if you are making your own, but certainly not what is appropriate for supplying to the consumer to my mind. And not even ok when you have no control at all.

Oh, as for why I don’t sell these or any other cocoatown product…let’s just say we don’t see eye to eye on many items and leave it at that, shall we?

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