Has anyone had anything to do with the Sonofresco Roaster. What has been your experience. I realize there a varying points of view on air roasting vs drum roasting. Other than its capacity what is your opinion?
I purchased one years back as a sample roaster and for small batch roasting. It worked great for about six months, then I started having problems. Now it is a rather expensive door stop in the basement.
I'll be the first to swear that air roasting does NOT in any way bring out the depth of flavor that a tradition drum roaster will give you. But it isn't awful coffee, either and you would have to be a true, long time coffee connoisseur to spit it out and refuse to drink it. Topher is the only one I've met so far in that category. Nuff said on that - moving on...
The Sonofresco concept is great, but the design is really bad. Originally conceived by Michael Sivitz, Sonofresco was the first to attempt a Henry Ford approach to cranking out fluid bed roasters. But again, their design is bad and I could see many things they could do better after only a few months of using it.
First, the temp probe is very sensitive and is exposed in the exhaust vent at the top of the roaster. This location allows oils and debris from the beans to coat the probe and throw off the temperature readings. So, periodically this must be cleaned - but it is so sensitive that it is VERY easy to break without knowing that you've broken it. Replacing the probe is somewhat difficult if you aren't handy with tools, and it is expensive to keep replacing it, which you will have to do.
Next is the Watlow controller board. Built by a reputable company in St. Louis, MO, these are used in a variety of industrial applications. But in this roaster, these boards have a tendency to get fried. To replace it require opening the roaster cabinet and compromising the rubber seal that is crucial to air flow. Even then, If you get it reassembled correctly and the seal is tight, you're still going to have issues with the new controller and the roasting temps will never quite be the same.
At some point in the owner's frustration and after repeated calls to Sonofresco, the company will suggest shipping it back to them for overhaul. This is also very costly and two or three owners have told me it was worthless - the roaster returns still in a state of disrepair or not functioning as it did when it was new. Why? Apparently the folks who own/run the company now did not design or engineer the roaster, so their knowledge of repair is not much better than my own. I haven't talked to the company in a couple of years, so I have no idea what is going on there anymore.
I did get a call a few months back from a Sonofresco owner who spent an hour on the phone sharing her horror story with me and she concluded it was time for legal action against the Sonofresco company. I'd love to hear how things turned out for her, but I am pretty sure that if she is still in business she isn't using their roaster any more. And therein is the real issue with the roaster - the time and money she had spent trying to get the machine to work had nearly cost her the company. There is not a huge profit margin in coffee, so spending thousands upon thousands of dollars to get a 1lb roaster to work is throwing good money after bad.
This is my firsthand experience and I have heard these same issues from many other Sonofresco owners. I can honestly tell you that it is a road you do not want to go down. Even to buy a used one is inheriting someone else's expensive problems and you would be far better off spending a little more for a conventional drum roaster.
I've even considered starting up a Sonofresco repair company and attempting some of my own modifications to see if I can redesign the dang thing to work better. But, it would probably be about like opening a very exclusive YUGO car shop - what's the point?
I am always open to questions or comments - pm me or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to pursue it. Then, if you feel you just have to own one of these, I have a used one I can sell you real cheap!