July 9, 2020

Equipping Your Coffee Roastery: Where To Start

People start coffee roasteries for a number of different reasons, but there tends to be a common goal that unites specialty roasters: bringing quality coffee to their area. To deliver on that goal, roasters need the right equipment.

After all the location scouting, brand designing, and bean sourcing, the next step is outfitting the roastery. We spoke to some experts, and came up with just a few of the pieces of equipment that they discussed with us. 

Read on to learn more about some of the equipment used in coffee roasteries across the world.

Your Equipment

There are a lot of different types of equipment out there for you to consider. This includes everything from basic tools, such as scoops, through to complex quality measurement instruments, like refractometers. 

You’ll also have to ask yourself what your goals are, and what you need to buy in order to best meet those. A certain piece of equipment that suits one roaster may not necessarily suit another.

You might also like: Sample Roasting: What You Should Be Looking For

The Roaster

When buying a roaster, there are dozens of different attributes to consider, including manufacturer, cost, and roasting style. Choosing a machine that some of your favourite roasters use might be a good place to start. 

Capacity is also something to consider. A small batch roaster will allow you to tweak your technique without too much wastage, but it may also limit your ability to grow and scale up in the long term.

The amount of maintenance a roaster will need is also a factor. While you can call out professionals to clean and maintain a more complex machine, this can be costly. According to Bill Kennedy, CEO of The San Franciscan Roaster Co., the best way forward is carrying out your own maintenance, which often just means a regular cleaning schedule.

“Most of the issues that people have are related primarily to just cleaning the roaster,” Bill says. “Clean roasters are happy roasters. They provide better airflow and more clarity to a coffee.”

Lee este artículo en español Equipar tu Tostaduría de Café: ¿Por Dónde Comenzar?

Scales

Scales come in all shapes and sizes. As a roaster, you have to consider the amounts you’ll be weighing before you invest in a set. Scales that are popular for brewing coffee might look less industrial, but often have a maximum capacity of two kilograms.

It may be worth investing in a larger set of scales, as this will help in the long term when you scale up your operation.

If you need floor scales to weigh how much coffee is left in a coffee sack, buying commercial-grade equipment is a must. A coffee roastery is essentially a manufacturing plant and warehouse in one, so you can often find more suitable equipment by looking at manufacturers who provide industrial machinery.

Scoops

In roasteries, scoops are used to transport beans from the roaster into buckets, then onto scales and into bags. 

The importance of a versatile, well-built coffee scoop cannot be overstated. Even for roasters who use weigh fillers or bean dosers to measure and transport beans, a quality coffee scoop can be invaluable in the event of a power outage or machine failure.

Quality Control and Testing

Cupping bowls and spoons are just one of the many ways to test your coffee. Not only do they allow you to evaluate the characteristics of your coffee, they also enable you to set your roastery up for tastings and other events.

It’s also important to invest in a suitable grinder, especially if you’re serving your coffee to prospective customers. A high-quality grinder will allow you to break your beans down into particles of a uniform size. A consistent grind is easiest to achieve with a burr grinder, as opposed to a blade grinder.

Other items to consider are a temperature-controlled kettle – which ensures water is heated to a precise temperature – and a good-quality espresso machine if your roastery is hosting more visitors.

Filip Akerblom, of Lilla Kafferosteriet in Sweden, explains that he’s recently invested in some more advanced equipment, such as a water activity meter, which allows him to measure moisture more accurately. While this is by no means essential, it does allow for more complex evaluation.

“Moisture analysers, density metres, colour trackers; this kind of equipment is relevant,” Filip says. “Especially in the beginning, so you can understand and learn the value of the product you’re working with.” 

Maintenance

Machine maintenance will help you to extend the lifespan of your equipment. Having an extensive toolkit, complete with a range of allen keys, wrenches, screwdrivers, and pliers, will make your life considerably easier.

As Bill said, maintenance and cleaning are often the same thing. Having scouring pads for your bean cooler and a powerful vacuum cleaner will mean you can keep your space and your machinery tidy.

The Long Term: How Equipment Affects Your Growth

Filip started small when he founded Lilla Kafferosteriet. He opened the roastery-cafe fifteen years ago with a modest five-kilogram roaster; today, Lilla roasts more than 50 tonnes of coffee a year.

He says that using a low-capacity machine helped him to gain a much deeper understanding of the roasting process. By starting small, he was able to perfect the art of roasting before scaling up.

As Lilla’s reputation started to grow, Filip made a few more investments in equipment to keep up with his increased workload. 

“You’re doing a lot of things manually,” He explains. “When you increase the volume, it can get hard for your back. So you think: how can I transport the coffee instead of using a ladder? 

“Using a weigh filler or transporter helps. I see people today using 30 kilogram roasters and they’re still adding the green coffee by hand. For me, it’s such a small investment, and it makes things easier and more efficient.”

How Much Does It Cost?

Coffee roasting expert Scott Rao said in a recent blog post that setting up a roastery with everything you need can cost anywhere from US$30,000 to US$128,000.

Setting up a roastery is a long process that requires a great deal of planning and a significant financial investment. That said, there will always be the opportunity to buy second hand, so keep an eye out for a good deal on the right piece of pre owned equipment.

But whether it’s second hand or new, the equipment you choose will shape your roastery. You need to make sure that the devices you buy will be able to sustain a rigorous workload, and you should also invest in machinery that you feel comfortable with. 

When it comes to larger purchases, it might be worth finding another roastery that’s already using the equipment you’re considering, and asking to watch it in action before you go shopping for yourself.

Both Bill and Filip, however, stressed the importance of doing things your own way. According to them, you have to do what suits your roastery – and that includes choosing your equipment.

“There’s a lot of mythology out there,” Bill says, “There are a lot of opinions, and you have to remember that, when it comes to roasting coffee and the coffee industry in general, there’s a lot of art and there’s a lot of craft. Everybody says you have to do it this way; you have to do a light roast, you have to do a dark roast. You have to do all these other sorts of things. But you don’t have to do anything. 

“All you have to do is, in the end, make sure you have a cup of coffee that you enjoy drinking. And also have a cup of coffee that your customers enjoy drinking. That’s the thing that you’re going to strive for: your customers enjoying your coffee.”

Filip’s beliefs are similar. “People try to copy other roasters that they think look successful, before they understand what it is or how to achieve that level. If you only copy what other people are doing, and don’t understand the actual process of roasting coffee, you never end up finding a product you’re satisfied with.

“I think if you want to run a successful business, you need to listen to your customers. If you only do what you think is fun, and don’t sell any coffee, I don’t think it’s a successful business. Because everybody can do that. Only roast what you like. It’s quite easy.”

At the end of the day, your choices will depend entirely on your objectives and how quickly you plan to scale up. Choosing equipment that you are able to build on, maintain easily, and use effectively will help you achieve your goals as a roaster.

Enjoyed this? Then read How To Clean & Maintain Your Coffee Roastery

Photo credits: San Franciscan Roasters, Lilla Kafferotereit, Scott Rao, Ana Valencia, Miguel Regalado

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