| Some of my readers are aware that I have a long history with Hottop USA and Chung Yue Industrial (the manufacturer of the Hottop roaster). For the sake of the chronology I will retell the story from the start.
Long ago, high on a mountain, in a small village, in the abode of a home coffee roaster, far, far away...
I am not sure of the exact dates, but in either very late 2001 or early 2002 I was contacted by a European coffee lover and fan of “Espresso! My Espresso!” who told me of a new coffee roaster that was coming to market. My website was only a bit more than a year old at the time, but that did not stop me from contacting Chung Yue, and I did so with great enthusiasm along with a bit of bravado as to the popularity of my website and early reviews I had written. Not long after exchanging messages with them I received the first Hottop roaster sent to the United States! It was a pre-production KN-8828 which was so new that the main chip on the back of the control panel had a hand written identification sticker for its programmed code.
I dug through my CD/DVD archives to find this photo. This is that very same, first in the US Hottop I received in early 2002. This preproduction unit did not have the 'hooks' for the heat guard grills nor did it have a cooling fan for the beans. There was an extra plastic, removable 'plate' under the cooling tray to catch the stray bits of beans and chaff. The first production models did away with that and added a bean cooling fan under the metal tray in the base. You can see where I punched out the sticker of the control panel so that the LEDs could be more easily distinguished when they were illuminated.
When the preproduction roaster arrived I took it apart and took photos of the entire roaster and wrote a huge review detailing how it worked. I contacted Chung Yue to share my excitement and sent them a link to the review, and was almost immediately asked to take it down as I was (in their words) giving away their secrets. I did just that. I guess they had not filed patents yet on their designs. But none of that dampened my excitement concerning this roaster.
Going from a Hearthware Precision air roaster to a 'real' drum roaster was the sort of thing of which dreams are made. The KN-8828 was about as basic as such a roaster could possibly have been in terms of operator control over the roasting curve in that it had virtually none. Still, it was miles ahead in terms of coffee quality to any of the air roasters of the time.
The process was to start the roaster and add the beans when the roaster beeped. At that point it merely goes through its one(!) preprogrammed roasting curve. It had four user possible “controls” over the roast:
Increase or decrease the recommended mass of beans being roasted
Wait a bit to charge the beans after it signaled for a higher charge temperature
Add time at the end of the roast with the “PLUS” button
Stop the roast any time you wished by pressing the eject button
That was it. No time display, no temperature display, no temperature control, no real bean cooling. And beyond that, the roasting curve was far too long.
Because of numerous computer crashes over the years I do not have copies of the old emails and just a few photos that went along with much of the above, so much of the rest of the middle of this story is from memory, and some of it may not be in chronological order. Blame that on my seven decades of earthly survial.
Some time after I received the preproduction model I attended my very first SCAA exhibition. It was in 2002 in Anaheim, California. For historical reference, the exhibition took place about eight months after the “Malabar Gold Incident” which all the old 'Alties' from alt.coffee on Usenet will well remember (possibly all to well).
After I checked in and received my press credentials I entered the exhibition hall. It took a few minutes to soak it all in, but I was presented with aisle after aisle, the full length of the exhibition hall, filled with hundreds of exhibitors. Where to start?
There were two or three booths that I had listed on my PDA. For my younger readers, that was a lot like a cell phone but had no phone capability. First stop was at the Josuma Coffee Company's booth being manned by Dr. Joseph John himself. My history with the good doctor is well known with the alt.coffee folks but this was my first opportunity to meet the doctor, and it was an enjoyable experience. He personally pulled a shot of his famous Malabar Gold Espresso and I eagerly consumed it, and was informed that I got to keep the glass! I had been espresso-less for about three days at this point, so the shot, the glass, and Dr. John's conversation were all so very welcomed.
My next stop at the show was at the Cheng Yue booth where the Hottop folks were demonstrating the Hottop Bean Roaster. I finally got to meet Shelly, the woman with whom I have been communicating on a regular basis, she being my contact throughout my original testing of the Hottop. We had a very nice talk concerning the roaster. Near the end of the day, just before closing, I returned to the Hottop booth where Shelly introduced me to some of the visitors to the booth and had me answering questions as I was 'an experienced user of the Hottop.' It had been some time since I had the opportunity to ply my salesman's abilities and it was a lot of fun. Shelly giggled and said that it seemed I knew as much about the roaster as she did! Who would have guessed that in a few years they would be a client?
One of the early faults of the Hottop was the single program. I discussed this with Hottop Taiwan over and over, telling them that the roasting profile took far too long. From memory, using the full time and adding a bit more, to get to an active second it took about 19 to 21 minutes. It wasn't until 2005 at the Seattle SCAA exhibition that an SCAA member told them and they finally realized (and told me) I was right all along. To be fair, I think that it was partly because they were using only the beans that were consumed in Taiwan, or maybe because of the local tastes at the time, the coffee was acceptable to them.
But whatever the situation, I considered the KN-8828 to be the first “second wave” drum coffee roaster of its type that was affordable and aimed at the home market. Home roasting appliances were around for over a hundred years previous to this, but nothing this sophisticated had previously existed.
I have no record when the next events occurred, but some time later, when Hottop began producing the roaster and had found a commercial distribution company for the Hottop in the USA, I was able to sell some Hottops to many of the alt.coffee folks. These were the very first Hottops sold in the USA! I think I made about $30 per roaster I sold, but that is another guess on my part. I might have sold about a dozen of them, but as soon as a retail seller was found I stopped selling them.
A few years after that I became further involved with Hottop USA. I produced all but the very first Hottop owner's manuals, I created the entire Hottop USA website including every photo and all the repair procedures, text, photos, videos, and HTML layout! I then became the Hottop USA customer service agent taking care of nearly 100% of that portion of the business for a few years. I also attended four or five SCAA exhibitions working at the Hottop booth.
In sometime around 2016 (I guess), my relationship with Hottop USA ended. At the end of 2018 we lost our home in the “Camp Fire” which also took the Town of Paradise. We are doing fine now, but for the purpose of this story, one of the items I lost was that original preproduction Hottop KN-8828.
Fast forward to November 2021 when I was contacted by “Hottop Americas,” the new representative in the States. Michael Chiang had retired as the representative and repair center of “Hottop USA,” and now “Hottop Americas” needed a customer support agent to handle the technical side of things. They contacted Joe Behm whom they had known for years, and Joe kindly recommend me (thank you, again, Joe!). Since November of 2021, if you contacted Hottop for technical support of any sort you most likely were communicating with me!
As the support messages came in and we developed our support plans, one of the things we decided was that rather have customers try to update or resurrect their old roaster or to attempt an upgrade kit, we would prefer they buy into the newer technology. Part of that is based on the fact that the new machines have a number of added or updated safety features as well as performance improvements. Beyond that, the factory no longer supplies the earlier control panels (there are no P, P-K, B, or D panels) as well as some other parts for the older roasters. There have been no KN-8828 or KN-8828D control panels available for many years.
As my Hottop Support services developed with Hottop Americas and I was helping more and more customers, I kept thinking about trying to find one of those early KN-8828 roasters; not to do any roasting, but for display purposes as well as sentimental reasons. When I first acquired Hottop USA as a client (I was working as an independent contractor), and I announced that business relationship on one of the coffee forums for the purposes of transparency, the retained Lawyer for the SCAA said words to the effect of, 'It's about time they hired you. If it wasn't for you they would not be in business in the USA.' A bit of an overstatement, but my ego did not mind. After being retained by the new representatives for Hottop, considering all my history with the company, I really wanted one of the originals roasters back.
On April 11, 2022 a Hottop owner contacted me through our customer support portal concerning a problem he was having with his KN-8828. We communicated, I assisted him with his problem, and after a bit we connected 'off the record,' by phone. Our conversation centered around his KN-8828 and my desire to own it. He mentioned that he was interested in a new machine. I offered him a price if he decided to buy a new roaster, and we agreed on that price. But the conversation did not end there.
The phone conversation ended abruptly because his phone's battery died. He later shared with me that it had never happened to him before and that it was the longest conversation he had ever had on a phone!
As it turned out, he was an old alt.coffee participant! We reminisced about those times, and what times they were! We discussed years and dates, and Greg Scace, Mark Prince, and Silvia and Rocky, and so much more. I inquired about how long he had owned the Hottop KN-8828 and he verified that he was the original owner. And although he could not precisely remember the purchase date, he did remember who he did not nuy it from. With all the facts assembled, I concluded that I had sold him this very roaster! It was one of those first dozen or so roasters I had sold to the alt.coffee enthusiasts before a retail reseller was found!
So as this story ends, a Hottop roaster comes full circle, headed back home to California into the hands of the person who first sold Hottop Coffee Roasters in the United States. While it cannot replace the preproduction roaster I had (which I had considered a museum piece for its originality, age, and significance in coffee history), this KN-8828 now has a special place in my home, a signpost of when and where home coffee roasting was experiencing a rebirth; a moment in time in which I had played a small part.
Here it is, on the day I completed the restoration; one of the very first Hottops sold in the USA
My new clients at Hottop Americas have been so impressed with my services and knowledge, they have dubbed me “Obi-Wan of Hottop.” A bit over the top, but when some spare time presents itself I never pass up an opportunity to keep my graphic arts skills honed, so I present...
The story begins on the planet Arabica, where high on a mountaintop, the keeper of the beans is summoned..