Roasting coffee at home can understandably spark a desire to begin roasting at a professional level.
However, while you might be able to regularly roast high-quality beans that impress your friends and family, becoming a professional roaster and entering the sector in a more formal capacity is no small task.
To learn more, I spoke to Chris Kornman, Royal Coffee’s Director of Education at The Crown, a dedicated coffee lab and tasting room. He told me what it takes to switch from being a home roaster to a full-scale production set-up. Read on to find out more.
You might also like our article on shared roasting spaces.
When is it time to start roasting professionally?
There are a number of benefits to roasting coffee at home. First, you can make sure that each batch you brew is fresh to taste, and you can experiment with a range of different profiles and techniques.
Roasting at home also gives you more control over the coffee you drink while helping you hone a skill. And it’s not just you who benefits, either – friends, family, colleagues, and other local coffee enthusiasts may well end up benefitting from the beans you roast.
But how do you know when it’s time to take that next step?
Chris tells me more about some of the signs he can see which indicate that it’s time to start roasting at a professional scale.
“It depends on the amount of time you want to spend roasting,” he says. “If you’re happy roasting in small batches, home roasters make excellent roasting tools.
“However, when you go professional, the larger roasters offer a better economy of scale and efficiency if you plan to roast a lot and want consistency. If you’re doing more than 5 to 10lbs a week, it might be time to think about investing.”
Even though home roasters can produce consistently high-quality batches of coffee, there are drawbacks when roasting at greater scale. While a small capacity is an obvious restriction, many home roasters also have lengthy cooling periods, and internal mechanisms that simply aren’t built to withstand that kind of workload.
However, upgrading to a professional roaster is by no means an easy decision. Especially for hobbyists, even low-end professional roasters will require a significant investment.
“Business-wise, you’ll want to compare your costs, volumes, and profits,” Chris says. “If you’re only interested in the craft of professional roasting and not in building a business, you’ll have to ask yourself if you can justify the cost of the machine to satisfy your curiosity.”
What else should aspiring production roasters consider?
Beyond simply investing in the machine, however, there are other factors that home roasters looking to make the switch should consider.
Read on to find out what they are.
Your roasting space
Unless you happen to have been using your small home roaster in an empty warehouse with plenty of spare space, you will likely struggle to use a larger machine in a home setup.
Space is important. As you scale up your roasting operations, you will need to make sure there’s enough square footage not just for the roaster itself, but also for the increased quantity of green coffee you’re buying, other equipment, packaging, and so on.
“When looking for space for green coffee storage, think about three to six months ahead,” Chris says. “Beyond that, you’ll need space to package, grind, and ship as needed. A couple of hundred square feet, minimum, with room to expand, is a good place to start.
“You’ll quickly find yourself strapped for space if you’re trying to operate out of a storage shed, garage, or porch.”
He also notes that the new space you require may well cost as much – if not more – than a new roaster.
However, there are other, more flexible options that can be more cost-effective. Shared roasting spaces have become more popular in recent times, with multiple roasters sharing premises to minimise individual outgoings.
“Co-operative and shared roasting spaces are incredible resources for new and up-and-coming roasting operations,” Chris says. “You’ll have the ability to explore and rent space/time in a professional-grade facility (plus store your products) without needing to invest a tonne of time, money, and equipment upfront.
“You can learn what you like, what you’d change, and generally be better informed and experienced when you’re ready to build out your own space.”
Choosing the right roaster for your needs will understandably be essential, but price is by no means the only factor to consider.
Capacity is key, too. It can be a simple, expensive mistake for new professional roasters to over or underestimate the capacity they need for their new venture.
Chris says: “Roasters look for around a 5kg machine capacity minimum for starters, but even these machines can be quickly outgrown.
“If you plan to expand, offer wholesale or start a café, a 15kg capacity machine will offer you greater flexibility. Many of these can also roast as little as 5kg or less per batch as needed with good profiling protocol.”
Medium-capacity machines offer a great balance: they can help you fulfil varying order sizes while still delivering high-quality results. While different capacities will understandably require a different approach to profiling, they still give you the ability to roast for much larger orders if demand changes.
However, along with capacity comes another issue: sourcing green coffee. While this might seem obvious on paper, thinking about how much you need to buy to keep up with demand can be a difficult formula.
Beyond that, you’ll need to think about which beans your customers enjoy. Trying out different coffees is a great way to test their tastes and experiment.
This is why green coffee suppliers often offer smaller bags of coffee that allow roasters to roast different beans without committing to a large minimum order size. For example, Royal Coffee have a “Crown Jewels” range: a select catalogue of high-quality green beans sourced from around the globe, sold in 1lb and 22lb bags.
However, Chris says that volume can be adjusted for better value once roasters feel comfortable working with a new chosen origin.
“There’s a significant economy of scale when buying in bulk,” he says. “A full-size 60kg bag or pallet (usually 10-12 bags) are good starting points if you want to improve your margins when buying green.
“If you’re not ready for whole bags, even just a 10kg Crown Jewel or our forthcoming larger boxes of coffee are great options to get started that will offer you better deals than buying in small portions.”
Education and experience
When moving up to a larger capacity roaster, it’s incredibly likely that you’ll have to “re-learn” some of your old skills on the new machine.
However, beyond that, experience and education lends itself to a number of other areas. This includes working with data at a larger scale and implementing quality control measures.
“It’s a big change,” Chris says. “If you’re using Artisan or Cropster for data logging, you’ll have some ability to transfer pieces of data, but the inability to truly manipulate your environmental temperature with good heating elements can be a steep learning curve, especially if scaling up from a simple home roaster.
“Beyond data logging and heat & time metrics, you’ll also need to familiarise yourself with an entirely new set of equipment, maintenance, and cleaning protocols.”
By minimising the amount of time you take getting to grips with these processes, you’ll be able to roast higher-quality coffee more consistently and at a much faster rate than if you just learn on the job.
Using a shared workspace with other roasters is a great way to learn, but if you have set up your own space, it’s worth looking for external expertise. Chris tells me that Royal Coffee offers a number of resources to this end – including The Crown, a coffee lab and tasting room.
“You can check the Royal Coffee blog, webinar, and on-demand archives, or sign up for one of our online or in-person roasting courses,” he explains.
“If you’re not active in a home roaster forum, these can be good community resources as well. However, that said, there’s really no substitute for hands-on experience.”
Transitioning from home to production roasting is no easy feat. From finding the right roaster to match your demand to learning the ropes with QC, inventory management, and even shipping – there is understandably a lot to take in.
Don’t be afraid to speak to more experienced roasting professionals. Find a space that suits you, look for educational resources, and check in with the online roasting community if you’re not sure about something. Once you do start to learn, however, you may find you’re able to consistently produce delicious roasted coffee in no time at all.
Enjoyed this? Then try our article on roasting for filter & espresso at home.
Photo credits: Evan Gilman
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