A while back I actually tried to run a coffee roasting business, the Moscow Bean Company, which ultimately failed for a few reasons (got busy with school, was not profitable, and the roaster died). But I very quickly developed quite a love for roasting my own coffee.
If you drink quite a bit of coffee (and you should, see "Coffee: The Greatest Addiction Ever"), it is cost effective. I can go through a pound in less than a week; a few days if I share with the girlfriend or coworkers. Consider that good, locally-roasted beans easily run $12 - $22 a pound... this gets to be a bit ridiculous, no? My favorite beans, the Ethiopia Dry Process Grade 1 Yirga Cheffe Konga, are $6.85 per (green, unroasted) pound. Granted, some of the weight will be lost to evaporation from the roasting process, but it is still much less expensive.
The only problem with buying green coffee beans is that you need some proper equipment. First and foremost, that pretty shade of green has to be turned to a delectable brown hue. The cheapest way to do this is a DIY method using an air-popcorn popper (see the Westbend Air Crazy, $30); but in my opinion this is a tiresome and annoying route. Since it is not meant to roast coffee, if you want to adjust your roast's temperature (and you do), you will need to move the roaster to a hotter or colder room, or use an extension cord or less used circuit. Some people like this seat-of-the-pants roasting, but the lack of control kills it for me.
A slight upgrade from the repurposed popcorn machines is an air coffee roaster, such as the FreshRoast SR500, $169. Again, this was not my choice. It certainly is a good fit for some people, and has more control than the prior option, but it is only capable of the smallest batches (say a third cup), and lacks any sort of temperature profiles. Not my cup of tea, ahem, coffee.
The coffee roaster I purchased is the Behmor 1600, $299, with which I have had prior experience thanks to the aforementioned Moscow Bean Company. I mentioned the company's roaster died; please do not take that as any indication of this roaster's quality. In fact, it should be a testament to its durability. While running the company, this 1 pound drum home, not commercial, roaster endured hundreds of full pound roasts on the highest heat setting one after the other, all of which is heavily advised against in its detailed manual.
In fact, this new roaster incorporates a few updates: the outer casing is a matte black instead of shiny metal (prone to collecting grease/oil from fingers and beans); the drum is now latch-less (no more cut fingers when shaking out the chaff) with a smaller diamond grid pattern, for better accommodation of smaller beans; and the chaff collection tray is now "low profile" which seems to enable it to catch more of the chaff.
Honestly, the best bit about this roaster is that it has internal sensors with four pre-programmed roast times and five roast heat curve programs (which properly first ramps the heat, then maintains a steady roast temperature, and then is followed by the automatic or manually initiated cooling cycle), a design which we mimicked in our Arduino-powered home-brewed five pound drum roaster. Coupled with the ability to add and subtract roast time (up to a maximum, to prevent fires), and enter the cooling cycle at any point, this is one powerful roaster.
Since receiving it last Wednesday, I have roasted several quarter pound batches, all of which have turned out fantastic (more details to follow). One thing to note is that the safest place to roast is in an open area where the machine has clearance on all sides, but this is liable to set off the fire-alarm (even with the built-in "smoke suppression technology") in both of my apartments. Many people recommend roasting under the stove's fume hood, but I dislike this because it takes up stove space, sets your roaster on top of burners, and still does not prevent my fire alarm from activating. I have the good fortune of being able to roast on my patio, which is lovely to do on a sunny day, keeps the fire alarm (and roast smell) from annoying the neighbors, and makes cleaning up the chaff mess as easy as sweeping it off the porch.
As it is getting late, I will follow up with my recommended grinders and brewing methods, as well as more detailed roast results. Thanks for reading!