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Choosing A Roasting Machine?
The Experts Speak


Danny O’ Neill, president of The Roasterie, Inc. in Kansas City uses Sivetz roasters and also has some Lilla equipment in his plant. He took some time to explain why he purchased what he did and to talk about his experience. “What we have on the roaster side, we have three of them. We have a 12 lbs. little tiny baby that I started off with in my basement. We still have it and still use it. Then we have a Sivetz 48 pounder and then a Sivetz 154 pounder. Probably one percent of the people out there using a Sivetz, I don’t know what the percentage is, but it’s not very high, so we’re unique.

O' Neill talked about what he liked about his Sivetz roasters. “On the Sivetz, we absolutely love the taste; we love the cup. We love the clean cup that comes out of the Sivetz. For us, the affinity is better, the cup is cleaner. We love the absolute preciseness of it and what we can do with the Sivetz is we trial and error new coffee.” The Roasterie will roast a batch at one temperature and then another and another. After it has been tasted, they lock in the ‘recipe.’ When they are ready to roast that bean again, then they punch in the ‘recipe’ and when the bean hits the specific programmed temperature, the roaster shuts off and it starts to cool off. “Real quality is just a lack of variability,” O' Neill said. “And that’s what I love about the Sivetz. Individually, each bean within the batch gets absolutely perfect treatment. Every bean is roasted exactly the same. I love that about the Sivetz.”

While O' Neill was out of town recently a bearing went out on one of their roasters. “And that was the first problem we’ve had with that machine in, like, 4,500 roasts,” O' Neill recalled. “It’s unbelievably dependable. Some folks make fun of those because they are put together with office store parts and I say, ‘Absolutely more power to them.’ If there’s a motor that goes out on that, I can go to a local store and get motor. That’s great. But the reason we got it was in the cup.”

While O' Neill has purchased some coffee roasting equipment from Lilla, The Roasterie is looking into potentially buying a Lilla roaster in the future. “We’re looking at Lilla right now, we just about almost bought [a roaster] in August, but we’re really going into our busy season right now and we did not want to be shut down during our busy season in any way, so it’s on hold. We really like the new Lilla roaster. We’ve done a lot of different taste tests with it and we really like it.”

Jay Endres, director of CoffeeTec Roastery Development on the San Francisco Peninsula relates that he has spent 30 years developing, selling, importing and supplying machinery within the gourmet side of the coffee industry. When beginning the roaster selection process with a customer, Endres says that many questions need to be answered, such as ‘What is the end product going to be?” and ‘Where is the customer doing their roasting - warehouse, retail store, garage?’ By asking about the finished product, it then helps us make sure that what the customer wants (or thinks they want) is a realistic size, method or style to fit the finished goal. In other words, we need to answer like an engineer and not like a machine salesperson.”

The next question Endres asks is about pollution requirements. “Almost immediately, we need to establish if the customer is in an area that will need to comply with some sort of pollution requirement, as that may make a real difference in what machine or brand of machine is to be recommended. We have supplied people out in the ‘outback’ or deep in the hills somewhere that simply blows the chaff outside and doesn't even bother with a chaff collector. But, on the other hand, we have supplied one machine into the basement of a house, with an afterburner and even had to poke a hole through the ceiling into the space under the owner’s king size bed, in order to get enough clearance for the loader of the roasting machine. Now it made no sense to me to install a roaster in the basement of a residence, but this guy built quite a business there until the neighbors stopped him because of the huge delivery trucks bringing green coffee to the house. They didn't mind too much about the UPS guy there every afternoon for pick-ups, but the twice weekly an 18 Wheeler on a residential street became a little too much.”

The next big question for Endres involves utilities and whether or not the customer has single phase or 3-phase power. Things like whether the roaster is looking for natural gas, propane or electrical heat are taken into consideration. “No matter how modern we get, you still have to get some sort of vent to the outside world,” Endres continued. “With the advent of the latest in pollution incineration, it is possible to go out sidewalls where in past years we were limited solely to chimneys clear to the roof. We have had installations where the piping for the roaster actually cost more than the roaster. Such is the price for roasting in the center of the big city. Those times are changing, but only on specialized equipment. Much of the machinery still requires rooftop or nothing.”

“Size is really important and far too many people have bought 5 kilo machines because they were cheap and because they were just starting out and needed something small,” Endres explained. But the problem with that approach is that within months, roastmasters are roasting nine hours a day and wonder why they weren’t told that the machine was going to be too small to do retail and wholesale and that they’d be spending too much time and money on labor to be competitive. “Here is the rule of thumb that works best: take the total pounds you believe you want in a week and divide it by two days per week, then divide that by three hours per those two days. That will give you the size machine that you need to start. As you grow, you add on two more half days and then maybe two more half days, then go out and buy a bigger machine.”

Now that the basics are taken care of, Endres needs to know about the customer’s desire of method of operation. “If it is a retail setting, then the customer needs a really quiet machine and one that lets the on-lookers see as much of the operation as possible,” he said. “If the public is going to gather around like in a classroom and learn the fine points of roasting, then the machine in question must be really safe to touch, not have any mechanical areas that would break a wrist or grab your tie. Some machines in our roasting history are so loud you wear gun earmuffs to ward off the sound (especially the fluidized bed machines), while others are quiet. You have to look at the computer control panel just to see that it is running. Once we know just how the machine is going to be used, and the capabilities of the person running it, and the location from which it will be run, all we need to do now is determine the output or size of the machine.”

Endres explained more about why the placement of the roaster is important for retailers. “Here is a design tip for retailers: don’t put your machine in the window unless you have a lot of windows. People driving down the street probably wouldn't know a roaster from a shoe repair machine. Pasta machines at least make something you can see coming out of the machine all the time, but coffee dumps into a small cooler and the action of that is not really visible from the street. So the best thing to see in your window is people, and more people drinking coffee and socializing and standing in line to buy coffee by the pound. People activity in the window always makes me look inside to see what they are standing in line for and why. That is a signal of a successful store. I won't eat in a restaurant that has no people inside. Case closed!”

“History shows us a lot,” Endres began when changing directions to talk about specific roaster equipment companies. “The big three - Probat, Gothot and Barth represent the standard of which most roasting throughout the world gets their start. Remember, the European influence on the gourmet trade is radically important. Most all the machines built in Italy, Turkey, South America the U.S. or even Japan and France all work in one form or another after our German Fathers of Probat, Gothot and Barth. And as far as ruggedness of construction, it might be Barth Gothot and Probat, but since Probat has the big bucks and the great engineering and research lab they become buyers of whole companies rather than marketers winning sales. Probat now owns Gothot and the American Jabez Burns groups as well. If you don't beat 'em, buy 'em. Mike Sivetz (retired General Foods Chemist) made a huge contribution to demonstrate you can roast in small batches with hand made simple heating and ventilating parts that can make better coffee than his ex-employer General Foods, and he was right. Mike proved that fluidized roasting could make it so simple that anybody could learn to roast and roast great quality. Neotec in Germany was on the same page and they proved you could use this same fluidized process to go for really big poundage and do it with repeated control so the industry began changing. The real happening was the gourmet people were able to get into the picture and where people could buy from the big guys if they wanted or they could buy from their corner roaster much like they bought cheese from the local cheese shop instead of having only to rely on the plastic wrapped stuff in the major supermarkets.”

“Today, even if we find one of the great deals on a ‘big 3’ roaster, the problem of pollution control leads us to get into the afterburner business no matter if we want to or not. Fortunately, there are answers coming to us in 2003 that answer every one of the common complaints. Smokeless roasters have now come into the marketplace that are quiet, rugged, fast, efficient and even computer controlled so that an 11 year old can roast. The talent and the art must start with the buying of the green. The roasting machinery can only give the operator advantages of control, repeatability, time management and environmentally fantastic. Once the customer can see their space, their time, their talent and the general visual and audio appeal - if they can see it in their mind - our job is done. I must get them to the point where they can walk through the process of their roasting responsibilities step by step before making a purchase.”

Endres makes sure that his company provides roastmasters with exactly what they need “by spending enough time with them to really understand their total needs - not just what they made the phone call about.” Endres wants to see a passion for coffee in his customers eyes. “Now, if someone doesn't get into coffee when buying a roaster, then I really don't want the sale. I want them back to provide the rest of their equipment. I want them to join the SCAA [Specialty Coffee Association of America]. I want them to go to cupping seminars. I get tough with people who just ‘want to take their broker's word’ for cup quality. No way! What the customer needs to know is that they are buying from a company that knows coffee, from the inside out, buying from people who know the insides of the roaster and not the pretty outsides. Pin-striping has never made a better cup of coffee. When people talk about machinery that will not scorch or tip the bean, I need to know from cupping table experience what they are talking about. Time spent with customers on cup quality helps sell machines. Customers send me monthly samples of coffee for testing so that I can see if they are baking their beans or roasting them. After-care is totally important.”

Endres offered some closing thoughts and predictions for the future on the subject of roasting equipment. “We are just now turning the corner where the gourmet industry has learned there is more to the process than meets the eye. Europe has been light years ahead of us. The way they store their beans, their use of silos and moisture control of the beans before blending or roasting is just now catching on in the U.S. For the first time we are seeing people really excited about cupping classes. Now we are seeing people committed to quality of machinery more than any other time in our coffee history. We have seen the biggest move into quality coffee roasters, grinders and conveying systems in the last 30 years. The year 2003 will likely be the brightest year ever in coffee machinery. Quality sells. Cheap is cheap. Clone roasters never equal the roaster they are cloning. Third world construction may save a lot of money up front (for the importer and the customer) but they will spend it down the line. I know, I have been one of the ring leaders of imports that cost less. They are handmade and thus every one of them is a little different and that difference is always in the wrong place at the wrong time. One thing the German roaster manufacturers have taught us: quality pays in the long run. Does that mean Probat is the best roaster? Certainly not. But there is a lot to said about precision engineering and listening to the needs of the actual users. It is also exciting to be in a position of listening to the little guy and not focus entirely on the big guys. The real work and change and style happens with the independent, the truly gourmet, the ‘mom and pop’ who roast from their heart and not their pocket.”

In case it’s not already apparent, the above interviews barely scratched the surface with regard to available opinion on the selection of roasting equipment. Knowing that great coffee and a profitable operation are the goals helps, but not much. Rather, it just starts the process rolling. It’s a given that the options are virtually endless, but having a keen sense of priorities and limits helps narrow things down rapidly. A growing roaster might decide that great coffee produced reliably and consistently at reasonable expense is the goal for instance. Limiting factors might be budgetary, architectural, availability of personnel, even the length of one’s lease, for starters. Accommodating the existing limits while keeping the priorities in mind might be said to be the art of selecting a roaster, if not the art of something a lot bigger than that!

Tea & Coffee - November/December 2002


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