The thought has crossed the mind of every serious coffee nerd: Can I roast my own coffee? We’ve debated it enough times that when we first stumbled upon a picture of the Huky 500, we were infatuated. The device looked like something between a hotrod and a spaceship – a vehicle to a new world of coffee knowledge and experience. When we found out roasting guru Joe Marrocco owns and endorses the Huky 500, we didn’t need anymore incentive to empty our piggy banks and place the order.
The Huky 500 is fabricated by Kuanho Li in Taiwan. Mr. Li does not have a website, just an email address. Judging by the serial number on our Huky, that email address has been passed around a lot. We found Mr. Li to be very prompt in responding to our emails and we had our roaster within 10 days of purchasing.
More than a few of our Instagram and Twitter followers have asked us our opinion about the Huky 500, and we’ve always deferred, promising a full length review. Six months and hundreds of batches later, we feel like we finally have a few opinions worth sharing.
Full disclaimer: I work for a well-regarded specialty coffee roaster, but I have never roasted coffee for them – not so much as a sample batch. So although I am a coffee professional, when it comes to roasting I’m a rank amateur. Thankfully, I’m an amateur with a handful of close friends with years of roasting experience. Over the last six months I’ve dragged those friends to the garage which houses our Huky and sneaked our roasts onto many a cupping table. Armed with their insight, a dog-eared copy of Scott Rao’s A Coffee Roaster’s Companion, and RoastWatch on my phone – I’ve enjoyed learning how to roast coffee.
The Huky 500 is a beautiful piece of equipment. The polished chrome and wood trim are reminiscent of a classic muscle car, and it’s every bit as powerful. What’s most appealing about the Huky is that the design is less like a conventional sample roaster and more like a miniature drum roaster. While most home roasters function like a high tech toaster oven, the Huky 500 utilizes a modular system. The roaster, the heat source, and the fan are all different units. The roaster comes in solid or perforated drum (for even development, choose solid), which is rotated by a small motor in the back. For the heat source, Mr. Li offers an infrared burner, but the Huky could be used with any industrial strength burner. We’ve even seen one Huky owner use it with a gas oven. We ordered the stock infrared burner and hooked it up to a propane tank.
The fan, coupled with a mesh strainer, acts as both airflow and cooling tray. The transition from airflow to cooling tray can be a touch awkward, especially considering it comes at the most pivotal point in the roast. I would recommend buying an extra strainer and fan so you don’t have to worry about making the transition.
When the airflow is going full blast, we find several grams of coffee ends up being sucked in the the air duct. While some Huky owners are frustrated about the prospect of losing 3-5 grams of coffee every time they roast, we don’t think it’s a major issue.
On the bright side, the high powered fan is extremely effective at cooling the coffee once it’s been dropped. Many roasters account for additional development in the cooling tray, but with the Huky 500 that is not necessary. After a few seconds the coffee is cool enough to touch with your hand or even pop in your mouth (a time-honored Compass tradition).
Like any roaster, the air duct should be cleaned often, as chaff accumulates inside of it. A good shop vac is a mandatory accessory for any home roaster.
The Huky 500 comes fitted with two thermometers: an analog thermometer attached to the drum and a second probe which hooks to a Center 301 digital thermometer (perfect for data logging software). It comes to temperature fairly quickly and has incredible heat retention. We have no way of measuring its thermal mass, but we would bet large amounts of money it’s better than other home roasters on the market.
The Huky 500 boasts being able to roast 500 grams, but like all coffee roasters it’s most effective below capacity. We find 330 grams of green coffee to be a perfect batch size. This gives us the roast times we are looking for without any danger of stalling the roast.
We have experienced some frustration with the stock infrared burner. The burner offers three basic settings, with slight adjustments between settings. Unfortunately, this doesn’t offer a lot of control over the heat. As a result, we’ve found that adjusting the batch size can be the most effective way of adjusting the roast profile. We plan to purchase a gas burner and compare the results.
We love our Huky 500. The device is not perfect, but we’ve been able to roast coffee with it we consider as good if not better than specialty coffee roasted by leading craft roasters. The Huky 500 is perfect for home roasters who want to roast larger batches or even small coffee companies looking for an affordable sample roaster.