April 5, 2019

How to Design Your Coffee Roastery for Maximum Efficiency


Consider roastery efficiency: does your coffee roastery make good use of space and allow you to work without obstacles? Perhaps you’re just planning out your new roasting area and not sure how best to organise your space.

Whether you’re an established roaster or just starting out, there are some ways you can arrange your work space that will result in more efficient operations and less stress. Read on for some practical tips.

You may also like A Guide to Achieving Consistency in Coffee Roasting

Clean and well-maintained roasters are key to efficiency

Empty roaster. Credit: Miguel Regalado

Workflow Drives Efficiency

A well-thought-out use of space and logical layout is critical to an efficient roastery. The goal is to increase productivity in each stage of your operations. So, how do you do that?

The first step is ensuring that each of the different stages has a defined space. Green coffee storage, the roasting area, packing area, and roasted bean storage should each be clearly defined and flow in a logical order to create efficiency in a production line.

Francesco Impallomeni is co-founder and roastmaster at Nordhavn Coffee Roasters in Copenhagen, Denmark. He says, “The workflow needs a clear direction so overlap and turnarounds are eliminated.”

“A proper division of tasks prevents workers from stepping on each others’ feet and keeps control of the different production inputs more easily.”

“There should be a smooth flow of product in and out of the building,” says Andy Sprenger, founder of Sweet Bloom coffee roasters in Lakewood, Colorado. “This ensures that each step in the process occurs without interfering with another.”

Freshly roasted beans ready to cool down. Credit: Neil Soque

Plan Your Time

Make a work plan or schedule to avoid wasted time and improve efficiency. Lukasz Jura is the owner of Coffee Proficiency, a green and roasted bean supplier in Krakow, Poland. He tells me, “Once you plan your day properly, you can maximise your effectiveness.

“When we started, roasting six batches was a seven-hour challenge. Now, we work much faster. Once you don’t have to focus on the simple things, you can use your time on really important things. We try to maximise automation, so we don’t have to spend energy on unnecessary things.”

Consider making a day plan with dedicated time for each task. At the end of the day, evaluate how close to plan you worked and what changed. Did the packing take 15 minutes longer than you expected? Did a delivery throw off the schedule?

Revise your schedule each day until you get it close to accurate. This will help you plan ahead and reveal any patterns. If one task seems to be holding you up more than other ones, consider if it can be automated or if there’s a tool you can invest in to make it faster.

Using roasting software will help to improve efficiency

Roaster working with a roasting software at a roastery. Credit: Devon Barker

Choose a Big Enough Space

When you’re first starting out, it can seem logical to set up in the cheapest space available. But be careful of choosing somewhere too small or poorly laid out for your needs. You could be making your process less efficient or limiting growth.

“Operating in a well-designed work space should be considered a priority no matter the scale of the business,” says Francesco.  “A well-designed roastery simplifies daily operations even for microroasters and can help them save square metres, reducing the cost of rent.”

If your staff members get in each other’s way or you need to move boxes to make room for packing, you may be losing more money through inefficiency than if you’d moved into a bigger, more expensive space.

“If you want to fully focus on your job, you need a lot of space around you at your roastery,” Lukasz says.

Empty roastery. Credit: Devon Barker

Even if your aims are small, be aware of potential growth. Does your space have room to store more beans if you get a large order? If you get sudden publicity, can you increase production easily and with efficiency?

“One thing to consider is whether there is enough space to accommodate growth,” Andy says. “Also, are you setting up your first roaster in a way that adding a second or third can be done easily? Obviously, we can’t see into the future, but plan the buildout and space with the future in mind.”

Lucasz says that optimising the design of the roastery becomes essential at a bigger scale. “At higher volumes, every useless step or mistake is a cost in terms of energy, time, and money,” he tells me.

Adequate space will improve workflow and efficiency

Nordhavn Coffee Roasters in Copenhagen. Credit: Francesco Impallomeni

Set Up Appropriate Storage

It’s important to have enough storage and that this space is well organised. Store green and roasted beans close to the roasting area to avoid wasting time. But because temperatures and humidity can fluctuate lots in a roastery, try to set up a separate, cool, dark area to ensure quality doesn’t drop.

“We are a relatively small roastery, so our storage space is limited,” Lucasz tells me. “We work with producers and importers who can deliver part of the contract at a time, so we don’t have to rent additional storage [but still get bulk prices].

“The coffees that we use more often are next to the roaster on plastic pallets, and we keep our handy storage full, so we don’t have to stop production to bring more coffee bags in. Both storage and roastery have air conditioning and there’s no sunlight in the room, so our coffees are secure in a controlled environment.”

“Storage is very roastery-specific and depends on the scale of the business,” Francesco says. “At Nordhavn, we store green beans in a cooler warehouse separate from where we roast. So far, roasted coffee storage has not been an issue since we mostly dispatch coffee a few days from the roast date.”

Bags of green coffee in a roastery, ready to be roasted.

Select The Right Equipment

If you buy a roaster that is too big, it can be a waste of energy and prove expensive. But one that’s too small can be less efficient. Before buying a roaster, do your research and create a business plan with projected production volumes. And keep in mind that a large roaster can be used under-capacity, but that you can’t overfill a small roaster.

“It’s wise for production roasteries to buy machines with capacity that exceeds the initial need,” Francesco says. “This extra investment in fixed capital allows fast-growing start-ups to scale up quickly and accommodate increasing demand.”

Andy says to plan for growth and to consider what would happen if your roaster breaks. “We chose San Franciscan Roasters, because that was the type of machine I learned on. The fact that the machines are made in the USA, the parts are all here, and technical service is readily available also played a role in our choice.”

Replacement parts and access to service should not be overlooked. If your roaster is out of use, you’re losing money. “In case of an emergency, you will have to find a professional who can help,” Lucasz says. “Two days of malfunction can really kill your schedule for the next two weeks.”

So, look into the cost of replacement parts and whether there is technical support in your area before buying a roaster.

Roastery sign.

In addition to the roaster, there are other machines that can impact efficiency. For example, if you’re producing large volumes or want to automate as much as possible, you may want a packaging line. This is a complete system that fills and seals packaging.

Lucasz says, “If you produce less than 3,000 kg per month, you can easily go the manual route. But if your production is bigger, you might want to consider additional packaging machinery.

“Also, remember that if you have neighbours, you should think about an afterburner,” he adds. Afterburners are machines that reduce emissions and odours. If you’re close to other businesses, you’ll likely need one.

Additionally, you should keep track of quality to avoid waste or cancelled orders. “If you have a coffee shop, you can get your feedback from there,” Lucasz says. “Otherwise, you have to buy equipment [to measure quality]. Devices for measuring humidity and the colour of the coffee are recommended.”

Learn more in How Can Roasters Ensure Quality – In The Roastery & In The Café?

Freshly roasted beans cooling down. Credit: Pete Willis

Learn About Business & Finance

The efficiency of a roastery doesn’t just depend on its physical layout, but also on the way the business is set up. Create a business plan that includes projected production amounts. Knowing how much you’re producing can help you decide what is a good amount of green beans to buy, how much packaging to order, and how much to invest in equipment and staffing.

Francesco says, “A better understanding of revenue streams and expenditures, including fixed and variable costs, will make a business more likely to survive in the first years.”

He tells me that when he started Nordhavn he focused on keeping fixed costs as low as possible. “Variable costs, though less predictable, are by definition variable with the level of output, so they pay for themselves. It was only when we entered the consolidation phase that our roastery started to use the economy of scale to reduce the cost per unit of output, increasing the overall efficiency of the roastery,” he says.

Cup filled with roasted beans.

Lucasz advises new roasters to stick to what they really need. “You have to invest a lot, but don’t focus on the interior. You don’t need an Italian chandelier above your cooling tray. Invest in people and equipment,” he says.

“Once you start, you won’t earn anything for a while and you still have to pay the rent, electricity, gas, workers, deliveries, and additional storage if you are small… You should be ready to pay all this for a few months without any profit. The most important thing is to set a real goal and plan how you’re going to achieve it,” Lucasz tells me.

Good workflow is key to efficiency in a roastery

Roasters working at a roastery in Colorado. Credit: Devon Barker

Designing a roastery to operate at maximum efficiency takes careful planning, as well as more than a little time, effort, and money. But by considering the layout, your future goals, and where to invest, you have a better chance of making your roastery efficient and profitable.

Enjoyed this? Check out Roasters, Should You Expand Into Equipment Sales?

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