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Man or Machine:
Who’s the Better Roastmaster?

(continued)
Regarding general trends in the industry vis-à-vis its approach to roasting, Diedrich also offered his perspective. “We’re seeing more of the large commercial roasters getting more heavily involved in the specialty coffee marketplace. We’re seeing the big commercial roasters who are doing large batch roasting, getting into smaller batch roasting and a wider selection of coffee. Our large commercial roasters were designed for customers that started off with the smaller in-store Diedrich roasters and then grew in size and because of the differences in the Diedrich roaster and our roasting medium and the variables that you can control with the Diedrich roasters, we’re finding more of the big roasters now that are looking for the kind of quality that you can achieve with the smaller in-store roasters.”

Cal Amodeo, president;
Coffee Brothers, Inc.; Ontario, California:

Amodeo and the wood-burning Balestra roasters may represent a “retro’” trend in roasting outside of the two approach model outlined earlier. Then again, a wood burning system might simply be called an “alternative technology.”

“We have equipment that’s built from a company [Balestra] in the southern parts of Italy, from Naples. They basically make state-of-the-art equipment and also make all the coffee roasters. We have three roasters from them and they are in different sizes. Basically they have a wood burning oven instead of gas. It’s an organic way of roasting coffee. The coffee bean at the molecular level is like wood, basically. We feel that certain woods enhance the flavor of particular coffees and other woods do the same for others. We are just trying to find better or more natural ways to produce coffee that tastes interesting and basically you have a better cup of coffee in the end.

“One of our roasters has a dual burning capability. Using both techniques of roasting, we find that the coffee that comes out when we’re roasting with wood, using the same dynamics as far as bringing the temperatures with these certain times, the end result is a little different. The wood roasted coffee has a little mellower taste and it has kind of a scent. It’s not a scent from the wood itself because you cannot smell a particular wood, but you have a subtle scent when you smell the coffee and you drink the coffee. And it’s not there in the same coffee roasted by gas.” Balestra, according to Amodeo, is no novice to building roasters. “Balestra’s been making coffee roasters for over 50 years and they are the only coffee roasting factory in the southern parts of Italy; they make roasters the old fashioned way.”

Trends in the development of coffee roasters, according to Amodeo, focus on the method of heating, “The American coffee roaster manufacturers, many of them, basically stayed with the infrared technology where they apply infrared heating elements on the bottom of the drum while it’s turning and that has it’s own qualities. I personally prefer the hot air going through.” Amodeo takes a dimmer view, however, of anything new in the industry, “Basically we are seeing the same regurgitation with different names.”

Paul Leighton, president; Cape Horn Coffee
in Eugene, Oregon (and a past president of the Specialty Coffee Association of America):

“I think if you ask a lot of people who are the serious roasters, some of the people who have been the foundation to the real quality aspect of the SCAA, they would just as soon go backwards rather than forwards. If you have them an opportunity to buy an old cast iron Probat or a Gothot from the 1950s and 1960s, they would rather have that. There’s just some wonderful things about the cast iron versus sheet steel in the way it works and in the way it holds its heat. You’ve got an even distribution of heat, no hot spots. They were simple. A lot of people really liked that and from the standpoint of artisan roasting, they’d rather go back.”

Summing up the state of the coffee roasting industry, Leighton finds little heat to detect at the present time, “In terms of selling roasters, there isn’t that big of an aggressive market. Coffee growth, to a certain extent, is a little bit flat. From the standpoint of the structure of coffee, that really hasn’t changed. Our goals and our desire, as an industry, to produce consistent quality or consistent flavor performance have led people to work with sophisticated electronic devices. A lot of the new technology in measuring the roasting process is really cool. A lot of people are retrofitting their roasters that can really upgrade their performance.

With regard to the home roasting sector, Leighton also weighed in, “In the home roasting arena, there’s a new Hearthware, a roaster that is roughly twice the size of the original Hearthware. Hearthware has probably been the leading selling home roaster on the market for the last couple of years. They are coming out with a new one that is basically twice the capacity, which is something they needed from the beginning. So that’s going to be a real improvement in that market. The commercial world will find a use for that too in a lot of small sample roastings.”

Leighton speaks of his own roasters with what some might even see as a troubling attachment, “I personally use a San Franciscan and a Probat [sample roaster] and I just sold a 1956 three barrel Gothot. The minute I sold it, I regretted it, but I have visitation privileges.”

Carl Staub, president;
Agtron, Inc.; Reno, Nevada:

Over the past decade, Staub has made a disproportionately high contribution to the coffee industry’s increased understanding of the roasting process. His company produces several devices for measuring the degree of roast degree and for measuring temperature during the roasting process. Staub also conducts a roasting school, “I don’t know how many students have come through the Academy of Coffee Science that we teach, but I think we’ve had almost a thousand now since we started that school in 1991. In 1991, we were teaching basically computer control for the roaster, controlling the temperature of the environment and how to set up profiles for bean temperature and environment temperature and we sort of evolved from there.” Since 1991 things have changed a bit and Staub encapsulated those changes this way, “I see a lot of PLC-based time temperature control, they call it profile roasting. We stopped doing that about four years ago; we were on to something called kinetic function roasting. The thing that makes that unusual is that it’s interactive with the coffee. The roaster sort of programs the system’s perimeters to get the disposition in the coffee that he wants and then the computer works interactively with the coffee to make changes along the way to sort of accomplish a certain character of coffee. I look at the coffee now because it’s so complex, like children, you have two kids from the same family and they are completely different and coffee is just like that. What it takes to motivate one child might be

completely different than what it takes to motivate the other, so that’s how we look at coffee. So we let the coffee actually be an interactive part in the roasting process, the batch of coffee.” Currently, Staub sees the rest of the roasting industry pursuing the “profile” method, “Pretty much I’m seeing the same thing presented a lot of different ways - the profile roasting - a lot of fancy computer screens and stuff but really no change in the technologies.”

Staub sees a great deal more advancement to come as the coffee industry and its understanding of the roasting process continues to evolve, “The machinery itself hasn’t changed a lot. We’re learning a lot about more advance control for cooling cycles and we’re learning a lot about applying energy to the coffee more effectively. In the future you’ll see changes in efficiency in the roasting cycle and better control for the roaster over a lot more of the perimeters that are essential, which we’re starting to identify. I think over the next five to ten years we’ll see manufactures of roasting equipment supplying the machines with more control as a standard feature. It won’t be considered an option anymore, it will be considered a necessity. Because people learn that the more you can control, the better job you can do.”

Perhaps the most hopeful sign that the industry offers is that through the establishment of the Roaster’s Guild, an association of roasters formed under the auspices of the SCAA. The Roaster’s Guild is giving craft roasters, the passionate few, an organization within which the can exchange ideas, knowledge and skill sets in an effort to get the most out of the coffees that their members roast. After all, knowledge and understanding of the roasting process, are probably more important than the particular piece of equipment used to do it do the roasting. Danny O’Neil, current president of the SCAA said, “The most exciting thing happening as it relates to roasting is with our Roaster’s Guild. As you probably know, this has really taken off and we are now developing programs to, among other things, certify freshness in terms of roasted coffee. It is an extremely vibrant organization that you will be hearing much, much more about.” This year’s annual meeting of the Guild will be in August. Like last year, it is expected to be fully attended.

Timothy J. Castle is the president of Castle Communications, a company specializing in marketing and public relations for the coffee and tea industries. He is also the co-author (with Joan Nielsen) of The Great Coffee Book, recently published by Ten Speed Press, and the author of The Perfect Cup (Perseus Books). He may be reached at (310) 479-7370 or via e-mail at: qahwah@aol.com.


Tea & Coffee - June/July 2002
Tea Fair - China

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