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The scoop on small capacity roasters.

One of the most frequently asked questions I hear from neophytes in the specialty coffee business is "What kind of roaster should I buy?" The answer I most frequently offer, and the one I am most comfortable with is, "It's all subjective." The fact of the matter is that every roaster has both fan clubs and detractors, and every manufacturer is able to point you in the direction of someone who is using his machine and loving it.

During the course of helping Timothy J. Castle with his book The Perfect Cup, I had the unique opportunity to interview approximately fifty roaster/retailers across the United States. These roasters used a variety of machines from different manufacturers, in sizes from five kilos to sixty kilos and up. Not only did each of them have a unique philosophy on roasting, they each had a unique relationship with their equipment. I can only liken it to the relationships that most people have with their automobiles. There isn't a right or a wrong car to buy per se, but there are cars that somehow fit your philosophy and style. There is also the fact that as people grow and change, so do businesses, and it doesn't seem that unlikely a scenario that one could start out with a sporty 5-kilo, candy-apple-red roaster and eventually find circumstances moving them into a staid Country Squire station wagon model which roasts 25-kilos or more.

While this report is by no means an exhaustive list (and I apologize now to any manufacturers I failed to contact), it should provide a guide of sorts as to what is available for the gourmet coffee store that wants to move into roasting. There are some very reputable manufacturers who are not included simply because the range of machines they produce are larger than what I considered appropriate for a first-time buyer with a retail establishment. Therefore, the concentration here is in the five to twenty-five kilo range.

Probat, Inc.

Burlingame, CA

Probat is quite simply the roasting machine manufacturer to the world. For over 100 years, this German company has been manufacturing coffee roasting equipment. This year marks the company's 125th anniversary. Their Probat L12 (for 12 kilos) is the most popular model of anybody's, anywhere. The L12 machine is capable of roasting 26 pounds per roast, and you can do four roasts per hour on the unit. The most significant feature of Probats, according to the roasters who use them is their uniformity. They provide an extremely consistent roast.

Secondly, these units are very durable. As anyone in the market for a used machine will no doubt have experienced, there are not a lot of used Probats out there. Many of the first wave specialty coffee roasters who bought these machines thirty years ago are still roasting on them. Gordon McNeil of Equip for Coffee, sales representative for Probat related to me that on a recent trip he ran across a 1916 unit that was still being used on a daily basis in a Northern California town called Calistoga.

There are other important things to take into consideration when looking at Probat. The L12 roaster usually requires no additional pollution control. In some of the most stringent air pollution control areas of the nation, Orange County and Los Angeles, there are L12 roasters operating with no additional pollution controls. This is an important consideration in keeping costs down and saving floor space in a retail situation.

Both the L5 and L12 are listed with ETL as a whole roaster. This means that the entire unit, as opposed to simply the components of the unit, are ETL listed. (ETL is an independent testing lab that most cities recognize when giving out licenses to operate.) Finally, since Probat does have the majority of the market, they are able to manufacture machines prior to receiving orders. This means quick shipment, usually two to five weeks.

The cost range for an L12 roaster is from $14,700 to $19,000.

The high end of this scale represents the application of custom colors and brass trim, a nice touch if the roaster will be on display in a retail environment. Cost includes a one-year warranty, out of San Francisco or out of Memphis, Tennessee. Training is included in the price of the machine, and takes place at the Probat headquarters in South San Francisco. A quick sideline, Probat offers an impressive series of coffee workshops that are open to anybody in the industry, whether they roast or not.

Gayla Moore of Hestia House in Santa Barbara operates her roaster in the midst of her retail establishment. Her reasons for choosing Probat include both the technical and the aesthetic. "Maintenance on the machine is very easy. I know practically every part of the machine and my relationship with it is very reciprocal. I take care of the machine and it takes care of me." On the flip side, "The L12 is a very substantial piece of equipment. Customers are somewhat awed by it, and it lends a real presence to the store. I think that it's important to have the machine where people can see it. Having the roaster in there makes customers realize that we take our coffee very seriously. I don't take my passion for coffee lightly and the roaster reinforces this. Customers love to experience for themselves the whole gamut from green coffee to roasted. It also underlines the whole concept of fresh-roasted."

Sivetz Coffee, Inc.

Corvallis, OR

The Sivetz roasters are based on a U.S. Patent, and feature an entirely different method from conventional drum roasters. Referred to as fluid spouting bed roasters, the Sivetz machines emerged from Mike Sivetz's quest to build a better kind of roasting machine.

The fluid bed principle allows for accurate and reproducible bean temperature measurements, which, according to Sivetz, means the roaster doesn't have to be an artist or a master. Further, the design of the machine keeps fresh hot air circulating constantly through the beans. This "once-through" air flow removes dust and chaff immediately preventing any smoke and odor in the roasting chamber. The most important and unique feature of the Sivetz roasters is that their heat transfer rates are much higher than in conventional drum roasters, so that 520 [degrees] F inlet air instead of 800 [degrees] F air is sufficient to achieve a roasted bean in 7.5 minutes, half the usual roasting time.

Another feature on Sivetz roasters is the thermocouple feature that relates degree of bean roast to bean temperature. No cylindrical roaster has this capacity. With this kind of accurate and reproducible control, Sivetz can make a roast master of anyone.

Sivetz machines have been built in Corvallis, Oregon for the past 18 years and benefit from the on-site testing that is available through the Sivetz retail location. The retail establishment also has the added benefit of keeping Mr. Sivetz in touch with trends and developments in the gourmet trade. In addition, classes on numerous aspects of the coffee trade are available from Sivetz.

Since the Sivetz operation began as a "garage industry" the initial pricing was low. Today, keeping the machines an affordable investment for the new roaster retailer remains an important aspect of the business. The base price for the 15-kilo Sivetz roaster is $13,500.

Because Mark Overly of Kaladi Brothers in Anchorage, Alaska, was a self-described "young kid" when he began his coffee business, he did a lot of studying of coffee technology. The advantage of this as he puts it was, "I didn't have a lot of preconceived notions. I didn't have any romantic visions of what roasters should look like, I was only interested in achieving this elusive final result." Kaladi Bros. ended up with a Sivetz roaster because in their opinion, "it produced the most intense full-flavored coffee. There was a greater intensity of aromatics, better bean development, and better volatization of the moisture."

Because of this difference, Overly claims he wouldn't use anything else. In an interesting take on fresh-roasted, Kaladi Bros. currently operates an eight pound Sivetz behind the counter of one of their retail stores. As Overly points out, "It stops any argument of freshness when you hand them the beans out of the roaster. Every ten minutes there is a new batch of coffee coming out. We do about twenty roasts a day, and there is a designated roaster/seller who can explain the different coffees." Kaladi also operates a 75 pound roaster for wholesale orders.

Diedrich Mfg. Inc.

Sandpoint, ID

Carl Diedrich, a coffee grower in Guatemala, first started experimenting with different roasting concepts in the 1970's. His experiments eventually led to the design of the Diedrich Coffee Roaster, the goal of which is to give the person roasting the flexibility to adapt the machine to the bean, instead of the other way around.

To achieve this kind of versatility, the Diedrich Coffee Roaster uses infra-red gas burners. The burners are remarkable because of their efficiency and their clean combustion. The NOX (oxides of nitrogen) produced by the combustion process are 10% that of a conventional gas burner. In the efficiency arena, infra-red burners lose only 15-20% of their input energy to convection. This means that more heat actually makes it to the heat exchanger and the roasting drum.

With easily controlled airflow velocities, the person roasting can start a new batch of coffee while the previous batch is cooling down. Combined with the well-regulated heat source, the Diedrich can roast as little as a half-pound of coffee all the way up to the maximum capacity. For those retailers wishing to offer a large variety of fresh roasted coffees or who wish to roast samples, this is a very important feature.

Another selling point of these roasters is the actual design of the machinery. The roaster has large access doors which make servicing and cleaning a breeze. On the whole, these machines were originally designed with the retail operation in mind, and it shows. They are quiet enough that I know one operation that roasts in the middle of a busy restaurant with no complaints from customers. And like most of the other manufacturers, the machines can be customized to match company logos or store design.

The Diedrich roasters are manufacturered in Sandpoint, Idaho, and the company is still family owned and operated. Base cost for a 12 kilo roaster is $16,400.

James Marcotte of City Bean in Westwood, CA roasts on a 12 kilo Diedrich roaster. While the roaster is not on premises, he was quick to comment on the fact that it easily fits into a retail establishment. While the roaster operates in one of the strictest areas of the nation as far as air quality control, the Diedrich he uses doesn't utilize an afterburner. Among the compelling reasons for choosing a Diedrich, James listed the following, "One of the most remarkable things about the machine is the ease with which it can be cleaned and serviced. Every part of the machine is easily accessible." The local nature of the company was also important, since service is literally only a phone call away. Perhaps most important though is the flexibility the machine offers, "The way heat is applied to the drum allows greater control in the roast." For the small roaster, especially one just entering the trade, this flexibility offers a chance to experiment and find that perfect signature roast every specialty coffee retailer seeks.

Coffee Per

San Francisco, CA

A 25 pound batch roaster, the San Franciscan is what many would consider the all-American coffee roaster (for starters you can note that they measure the roaster in pounds, not kilos). Key in its marketing is the fact that it is 100% American made. A continuous roaster, the San Franciscan allows the retailer to roast and cool coffee at the same time.

The machine can be bought with or without an incinerator, but the unique and wonderful thing about this particular incinerator is that it is part of the unit more than an add-on. Like any afterburner, the San Franciscan's incinerator burns off the smoke and odor that is a natural consequence of roasting coffee. It is an important concern for many fledgling roaster/retailers because the Environmental Protection Agency is starting to step up its enforcement of these units, wanting to include them as standard equipment on smaller batch roasters. The San Franciscan units are designed so that the incinerator not only is made to match, but it is tied in with the roaster and operated off a timer. The incinerator then is in sequence with the main gas valve and only operates during the actual time that the coffee is smoking, usually 6-7 minutes into the roast. This makes for a more energy efficient machine all around.

Another important and American aspect is the fact that, unlike European manufactured machines, the San Franciscan utilizes Standard measurements as opposed to metric. The machine can utilize a UL approved class A final exhaust stack when its being installed. Parts and service for the machine are easily available across the United States. This is a point easily driven home for those of you who have driven foreign sports cars and had to conduct long convoluted phone searches for strange little parts.

The price for the San Franciscan is $18,500, with the afterburner it comes to $25,000.

Gary Rulli, who owns an Italian pastry shop in a Northern California town called Larkspur runs the San Franciscan in his store, Pasticceria Rulli to create really authentic espresso and fresh house blends. He chose the San Francisco because it was made in the U.S. by a local company. "I thought it was about time to spend some money in this country. I think that if someone is taking the time and effort to create a real quality piece of equipment, you need to support that. It also happens to be the most beautiful machine on the market."

Because the store is located in a residential area, the afterburner that comes with it was also very important, "I didn't want to have my roasting hours limited because of complaints. The San Franciscan really seemed the perfect choice because the afterburner was designed to work with the machine. It really is the perfect set up for the small roaster because the cost of the afterburner was not an exorbitant amount on top of the machine." It also really works well according to Gary because, as he notes, "I never have any complaints, even during a french roast. In fact, even the neighbors next door don't have a problem with it."

Wendy Rasmussen Moore works with Castle Communications, a public relations and marketing firm based in Santa Monica, CA.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:part 1; coffee roaster manufacturers
Author:Moore, Wendy Rasmussen
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Jul 1, 1993
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