As a consultant, roaster, and trainer, I’ve supported many third wave coffee shops here in the Philippines through this transition. Today, I’m going to share with you the same advice I give them. Let’s get started!
Make the Best Use of Your Space
You need to be practical: do you have enough room for the roaster and everything else that comes with it (coffee bags, sealable plastic buckets, green beans, roasted beans, a fire extinguisher, staff operating the roaster…) without making your coffee shop feel cramped?
If yes, that’s great. If no, can you create room by moving things around in the shop? If you still can’t create the room, then are you willing to move premises?
Let’s assume you answered “yes” to at least one of those questions: now, it’s time to work out your new shop layout. It all starts with your imagination and some pen-and-paper sketching.
In my opinion, the best option is to have a well-positioned room with framed glass walls so that customers can see the roasting taking place. Showcase your roaster; make it an attraction that will pull customers into your shop. Use it to interact with them and explain how your roast methods bring out the best in their coffee and embody your brand.
If there is no room on the coffee shop floor, a good compromise is to have the roaster nearby, or adjacent to, your café. You can call this your roasting lab.
Of course, some roasters are bigger than others—which brings me to my next point.
Choose the Right Roaster For Your Coffee Shop
When purchasing a roaster, there are two factors you need to consider: size and capabilities.
How many kilos of roasted beans do you expect to need? To work this out, ask other café-roasteries for advice. Decide how much time you will be able to spend roasting each week and how much room you have for the green and roasted beans.
It’s often good to start small, with just a one-kilo roaster. If your calculations indicate that you need to start with a five-kilo machine, that’s fabulous!
In my experience, most shop roasters are drums with the energy source underneath it. But do you want an electric or gas-powered roaster?
When you start viewing roasters, ask yourself the following:
- What is the build quality?
- Is it powerful enough to evenly distribute heat to the beans? I’ve come across roasters that are hotter at one end than the other; this isn’t acceptable in a specialty roastery.
- Does it offer variable airflow control? This is desirable.
- Does it have an airflow pressure gauge?
- What about an exhaust temperature probe?
Another element you shouldn’t overlook is a cooling tray with strong cooling suction. You want the beans to have cooled within three to four minutes—because until they’ve cooled, they’re still roasting.
Oh, and don’t forget to consider the company behind the roaster. Will they give you adequate support? Be available by phone? Quickly repair and replace parts?
Install Piping and Check Electrical/Gas Connections
Properly designed and installed galvanized or steel exhaust piping is a good investment. I’ve seen roasting labs that are in use but don’t have adequate ductin—and that impaired the company’s ability to consistently roast.
Another time, I saw how a flexible aluminum pipe had too many curves and movements, which then affected the airflow and flue pressure of the roaster. Sharp bends in the piping should be avoided.
Stainless steel piping would look fantastic, but it’s not necessary. However, sectioning the piping to permit easy access for internal cleaning is vital; otherwise, you risk build-ups and clogging. It doesn’t have to be a fancy system: as long as you can open up the clamps or bolts and screws, you can get inside to clean.
Ensure that appropriate gas regulators/pressure gauges are in place. Even if you’re using bottled propane gas for your roaster, you want to make sure you have a gauge and regulator because you want a monitored and consistent flow into your roaster’s burner.
Additionally, make sure these are easy to access and read; this will help you ensure a consistent BTU power. Most machines have a recommended gas pressure and this must be followed strictly. It could damage your roaster or the quality of your roasting otherwise.
Installing an exhaust filter would also be a good idea; it would lead to a cleaner environment and prevents you having complaints from the authorities and your neighbors.
You should also consult an accredited electrician to set up a power line suitable for your roaster’s specifications. An emergency breaker is a must. Oh, and don’t forget to place a fire extinguisher within reach of the roaster.
Make sure to also check local health and safety regulations for your business. You may need to follow additional guidelines. While you should observe all the above recommendations, they are no substitute for advice from someone who knows the local laws.
Study, Study, and Study Some More
Of course, it’s no use having a great roasting lab if you don’t know how to use it! Learning as much as you can about this craft is critical to your success.
A hands-on course will help you have a real understanding of what is going on during coffee roasting. During that time, make sure to use all your senses: hearing, smelling, and watching the roast development will help you become a better roaster.
Make notes on temperature rise and coffee color changes. I recommend practicing manually logging roast data first, before moving to software-based roast loggers. Compare ground roasted beans side by side to check you have even roasting and good development; you don’t want the beans to be lighter on the inside.
If you have a friend who got into roasting before you, try roasting with them – you’ll learn from their expertise.
Schedule Regular Cleaning and Maintenance
Once you start roasting, you need to have a consistent cleaning and preventative maintenance schedule—I suggest doing it weekly. It may not be fun but it’s key to good roaster performance. It’s also best to form the habit early on, rather than waiting for problems to start.
Your regular cleaning should include:
- The flue exhaust piping and cooling piping
- The cooling tray and the underneath of it
- The fans – remember, accumulated dust and sticky chaff lessens the suction capacity
- The roasting chamber and its burner
- Lubricating bearings and gearboxes
- Eventually, ignition plug replacement
Listen to Your Roaster
As you become busy and your roasting frequency increases, don’t just roast and roast and roast. Pay attention to your machine and how it’s responding. Look out for strange squeaks or rubbing sounds—and take quick action when you hear them.
If you’re not sure what’s causing a particular noise or behavior, consult your supplier or have a more experienced roaster friend look at it. Whatever you do, don’t just ignore this or postpone it “until later.” Look after your roaster to keep it operating well over the long term.
Be Mindful of Your Green Sourcing
Ever heard the saying “garbage in, garbage out?” There’s only so much a good roaster and a good machine can do if the green beans are not of a good standard. At best, undesirable qualities can be muted or obscured, but that’s still not the kind of coffee you want to sell and serve.
Try as many coffees as you can from your green supplier. Try tweaking the water and extraction methods. If you have the chance (especially if, like me, you’re in a producing country), visit the farm. Learn how to recognise old, faded, past-crop flavors. Try beans from across Africa, Latin America, and Asia. Sample different processing methods. Learn about green grading standards (specialty roasters should be following the SCA’s guidelines).
Take notes, compare, and evaluate. Over time, you’ll come to recognise the types of green beans you want to be serving.
Use Your Roaster For Education and Marketing
So, you have a roaster in your shop. Take advantage of it! Hold regular cuppings and coffee 101 courses for your staff and members of the public.
Learning how to cup is invaluable for roast evaluation. As your team assess the fragrance, aroma, acidity, body, aftertaste, sweetness and balance of the coffees you have roasted, they’ll improve.
And it will also introduce your customers to the wonderful complexities of specialty coffee, improving their passion for our favorite beverage as well as their brand loyalty. (Plus, you get insight into their thoughts on your coffees – both the roasting and the beans.)
From cuppings (encourage attendees to use the Coffee Taster’s Wheel, too), you can move onto manual brewing, espresso-making, and more.
Adding a roaster to a coffee shop is a big step. It represents an investment of time, resources, and training. It’s costly and it will take a while to pay off.
But it also opens the door to creating your own brand of roasted coffee, attracting new customers, and furthering your “coffee mission.” When done well, it can be an excellent move for a new coffee shop. And in time, perhaps you’ll even find yourself upgrading to a bigger roaster or selling to other coffee shops.
So, you want my advice? Go for it!
Photos by Ros Juan and Lyndon Joseph Realubit