The right roaster for today, what would you have changed when you started?

Discuss roast levels and profiles for espresso, equipment for roasting coffee.
Milligan

#1: Post by Milligan »

I've been preparing for the last year to start a small, local roasting business in my vastly underserved area. I sold my previous business last year so I've had a lot of time to figure out the nuts and bolts of starting this one. It is time for me to make a choice and order the roasting equipment but I'm torn between two possibilities and wanted to reach out to see what other roasters would recommend upon reflecting back on their beginnings.

There seems to be two distinct paths that roasting is going these days. On one hand there are wonderful options for the venerable drum and gas style roasters with mostly manual controls. These seem to be reasonably priced and offer high capacity. However, they require a skilled and very consistent operator (which will be me at the beginning.) Going this route would force me to become a great roast operator and very knowledgeable of the roasting process with a great grasp on air flow, gas flow, drum speed, and all the tactile/olfactory senses required to put out a great tasting roast. This seems like the right approach to a respectable roasting business where I become a roast master in a sense. It would require more startup time, more "learning" bean batches that are likely to be discarded, and perhaps much frustration. In the end, it would likely be more rewarding.

But there is another path that seems to be very popular these days which is the technology path with automation, shared roast profiles, digital controls, and various other roasting aids. Roasting machines such as the Aillio Bullet (and soon to be release AIO), Mill City digital editions, Bellwether, and others are beginning to or are currently offering machines where the operator isn't turning dials manually but adjusting a roasting curve digitally during development and then playing it over during production. This approach seems great for hiring less skilled operators, providing for more consistency, and is likely the way most larger roasters go in production eventually with very high end machines.

Part of me wants to buy the Bullet to develop several roast offerings and then be able to produce batches with it until the AIO comes out to scale up. But part of me wants to get something like a BC2 or 3.5 and learn "the old way" then perhaps move up to an automated Mill City in the future.

I do know I'm not building the business to give myself a job of roasting. I will eventually hire that out and oversee if I'm fortunate enough to achieve that success so automation will likely be in the future at some point.

So my question that I've been struggling with is should I skip the manual drum roaster and go straight to an automation-capable machine or do I risk losing some type of important knowledge base that can only be found through the tactile feel of learning to roast manually? If you had to do over again in today's world, which way would you lean?

Thanks!

Nunas
Supporter ♡

#2: Post by Nunas »

I don't know the answer to your question. But, I do know that there are commercial small-scale roasters using the Bullet. There's a Facebook page here, https://www.facebook.com/groups/415675012835088/ if you're into Facebook. Also, I saw a photo of a commercial roaster with a whole bank of Bullets, but can't for the life of me remember where. I think If I were going to be hands-off, hiring students and the like to run things, I'd be tempted to go the automated route, possibly with Bullets.

aabud

#3: Post by aabud »

What sort of scale (pounds per week) does your business plan require... say at 6 months, then at 18 months from launch?

Milligan (original poster)

#4: Post by Milligan (original poster) replying to aabud »

First phase target is roughly 250lbs of greens per week. I'd be feeling good if we reach phase one within 18 months of opening. The first 6 months will be mostly friends, family, and direct face-to-face at farmers markets and such to build awareness and dial in our profiles for the area so large capacity shouldn't be needed. I'd call that the development phase of the business where we are open for business but still developing the offerings. So I don't think a large unit would be needed. It would be nice to have a small unit to start with the option to move up in size while staying in the same family of roasting machine so the transition would be smooth. Then keep the smaller unit for development/small batches. I have no issue moving up sizing in equipment as demands increases.

aabud

#5: Post by aabud »

It sounds like you're pretty much the exact intended audience for the Aio ( https://aillio.com/?page_id=31830 )... so maybe you start with a Bullet and then if you can get acceptable quality at the skill level you anticipate your staff having... you know you can scale up to the Aio when needed, or add more Bullet's if that fit your growth curve better.

I've not used either (and I'm still just friends and family), but I'm more in the max quality/high skill corner of the matrix, and in that corner, I'd want a gas drum (something like a BC-5).

dyno

#6: Post by dyno »

These guys use a bank of Bullets. https://www.prototypecoffee.ca/about

aabud

#7: Post by aabud »

FYI - daily output of a V1 Bullet is listed as 3kg...
V2 Bullet specs shows similar - 100kg/month = 3.3kg/day

Seems kinda low, but maybe it's just a realistic expectation regarding maintenance/durability/etc.

So it would take 5 Bullets at the advertised capacity to get your 250 pounds per week, by my calcs...

Milligan (original poster)

#8: Post by Milligan (original poster) »

aabud wrote:It sounds like you're pretty much the exact intended audience for the Aio ( https://aillio.com/?page_id=31830 )... so maybe you start with a Bullet and then if you can get acceptable quality at the skill level you anticipate your staff having... you know you can scale up to the Aio when needed, or add more Bullet's if that fit your growth curve better.

I've not used either (and I'm still just friends and family), but I'm more in the max quality/high skill corner of the matrix, and in that corner, I'd want a gas drum (something like a BC-5).
The long term intentions for the business is to lean more toward the wholesale and volume market such as supplying coffee shops, weddings, specialty stores, and direct to consumer as well. I don't currently have plans to run a cafe or serve coffee for any other reason than to give samples to move bags. Of course this is subject to change depending on where the business naturally grows. So it is important than whatever "eco system" I choose to invest in can scale up. The AIO is very interesting and it seems like Aillio is moving upmarket which can be a great thing in the future. The bullet has me interested especially for the price compared to an entry level Mill City.

It has me thinking that it may be better to think of it as two directions for me. What machine is best for the business and what machine may be best to park in my garage to tinker on. A BC2 would be fantastic for me to personally own at my house to experiment with to expand my knowledge in my free time, but choose an automation route for the business.

Coffee-Tech has a nice line up as well. The Solar looks like a good place to start with plenty of ways to move up in their company.
dyno wrote:These guys use a bank of Bullets. https://www.prototypecoffee.ca/about
I saw that recently! Such a neat idea.

Milligan (original poster)

#9: Post by Milligan (original poster) »

aabud wrote:FYI - daily output of a V1 Bullet is listed as 3kg...
V2 Bullet specs shows similar - 100kg/month = 3.3kg/day

Seems kinda low, but maybe it's just a realistic expectation regarding maintenance/durability/etc.

So it would take 5 Bullets at the advertised capacity to get your 250 pounds per week, by my calcs...
Yes, I wouldn't try to hit those kind of numbers on a consumer focused bullet. 100+ batches a week even if I did work it above and beyond its rated work capabilities wouldn't be realistic. I'd want to move to the AIO which is a 2kg/4.4lb machine if I went that route to hit those numbers. Then its roughly 18lbs per hour of roasting from their literature or about 14 hours a week of automated roasting. Not even a full time employee on it at that point. It is somewhat pricey for a 2kg machine at $15000+, but around the price of the Mill City 2kg automated machine.

pcofftenyo
Supporter ♡

#10: Post by pcofftenyo »

I know I'm a bit late here but the bullet capacity is 1kg/roast and am pretty sure that it can do more than 3 roasts/day.

That said, I have one and much prefer roasts out of my Huky.

A used Dietrich 3kg can be had for appx 6-7K usd which will roast all day long.

Honestly they're not that hard to learn. To master is another story but to produce marketable coffee isn't that tough.