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Roastery Planning and Pitfalls Part 2: The Space

coffee roasting

At the Salt Spring Coffee Roastery in Richmond, B.C. Photo by Kris Krüg.

As mentioned in the first part of this series, anyone endeavoring to carve out a corner of the growing worldwide craft coffee market will need to take more than a cursory glance at their future enterprise, and it’s a path that may seem daunting at first. Whether just setting up for the first time or venturing to expand an existing operation, it can either be a slew of small errors or one gargantuan one that puts a serious dent — financially, practically or both — into your initiative.

In Part 1 of this four-part series titled “Roastery Planning and Pitfalls” we discussed some of the variables involved in roasting equipment selection. Today we tackle space planning, a generally less exciting aspect but one that will greatly affect operational flow and safety. While thoughtful equipment purchasing will allow you to build into your dream, an equally good job of space planning will allow that equipment to work as it should, in concert with your personnel and the space itself, from the moment green coffee goes in to the moment roasted coffee goes out.

Receiving Green

When green coffee arrives, your trucking company or your own delivery van has two options: Unload onto a loading dock, or unload onto the ground. When using a last mile service, you will be charged additional fees for utilizing a truck with a lift gate. These can run in excess of $100 per delivery. When using your own vehicle these costs are alleviated, but one must plan how to unload coffee and consider the labor costs associated with it.

If a loading dock is unavailable, bay doors with a planned space for a truck to back into can keep your coffee dry during wet weather and alleviate the issues of off-loading bags onto the ground and wheeling them into your facility. For roaster/retailers performing “on stage” in an active café, this can be problematic. The only solution may be a back entrance, which you may consider widening from the outset. In any case, ample clearance for pallets to move in and out will always save you money, time and labor.

Green Coffee Storage

Once your green coffee is under your roof it must be stored properly. In an ideal situation, your high-volume, most-frequently-roasted coffees should be placed near your roaster to increase efficiency and minimize the shuffling of bags around your warehouse. Organizing your space into long-term and short-term storage areas will aid you with rotating your goods effectively and keeping tabs on what coffees need to be reordered.

Shelving can maximize the storage capacity of space, especially for large green purchases and long-term storage. It’s also a safe and secure alternative to stacking pallets. However, this does also add forklifting into the mix, for which training and certification is mandatory. Forklift operators must be able to maneuver supplies without crushing packages, shelves, or worse yet, people. Ample floor space is therefore a major consideration for any warehouse with stacked shelves, to allow for the safest and most efficient forklift operation. Forklifts can ram destoners, run over feet, break through walls or worse as operators attempt to maneuver a pallet off a shelf and around a minefield of equipment.

Flooring

Jennifer House of Flat Black Coffee in Boston is not alone in having faced an unfortunate flooring dilemma. Says House, simply, “Your floor may not be able to support the weight of the coffee roaster.” Warehouses in older cities and districts may not have been designed or renovated to support the weight of your major equipment. Don’t be drawn in a by beautiful old-growth wooden floor surface only to gnarl it into an eyesore you’re stuck with for a five-year lease. Even concrete flooring is susceptible to cracking and settling. If leasing, request publicly available building permits and consult the landlord or structural engineers before you sign. This may be an important step in keeping your weigh-and-fill machine from plunging onto a subway line.

Walls and Ceilings

Though walls and ceilings beg the same load-bearing questions as the floor, the special requirements roasters bring with them often leave contractors scratching their heads. An oft-overlooked problem is the location for exhaust venting. Will it pass through a wall? Must it go through the ceiling? Most importantly, does your landlord or permitting agency allow you to poke holes in the structure?

This is a primary concern in the selection the best spot for your roaster within a given space. Do not install your roaster first and then try to figure out a suitable route for the ductwork. Bends in ductwork — especially of the 45 and 90-degree variety — affect airflow and increase the chances of a fire. Try to keep bends to a minimum, and select ducting and pipes that are easy to disassemble and clean on a regular basis.

Around the Roaster

Roaster installations are complicated endeavors requiring exhaust systems, electrical work, a secure and level base, gas lines and (sometimes) water lines. Every roaster has manufacturer guidelines for electrical requirements, water column, and other typical connections. These must be understood and made absolutely clear to industrial designers, landlords, and certified technicians, be they roaster installation specialists or contractors. In this realm, it is often best to enlist the help of an installer recommended by your manufacturer. “Most roasting machine manufacturers with representation in the US will offer free consulting on your equipment setup,” says Will Frith from the Modbar company. “And did I mention planning? Plan, plan, and plan.”

In active cafés, you will want to install a barrier to allow customers safe viewing and your roastmaster safe roasting. At Redeye Roasters in Hingham, Mass., this was achieved by a waist-high wall thick enough to allow a customer to set a coffee down, lean on, and chat with the roaster without fear. At Elm Coffee Roasters in Seattle, a wall topped with glass viewing windows allows customers to watch the roaster in action yet cuts down on noise from the roasting process.

In both small and large operations, you may be tempted to squeeze a roaster into a smaller space, either for cost savings or maximizing production output. Rob Stephen of Olam Specialty Coffee suggests that you “always think in terms of clearance. How will I work around the roaster? What will I lose, and who might I lose, if my roaster catches on fire?” Receiving a “did not pass” or “this must be addressed” on an inspection report after a completed install can be frustrating and financially destructive. If your roastmaster bangs her head on shelving too often while ducking in and around your machine, you may find that your turnover is higher than anticipated.

Production

Once the coffee is roasted it needs to be stored, degassed, bagged, and sent off to the final destination. This is especially difficult in small operations looking to roast in their current café. Since your roasted coffee is now a consumable product, special health and safety requirements come into play, such as storage height off the floor, where unbagged vs. bagged coffee can be kept, and if the entire area needs to be separated by a barrier or wall.

Michael McIntyre of Catalyst Coffee Consulting approaches production spaces in the same manner as a coffee bar, saying, “All usable items being available within a step or two offers the opportunity to operate solo in an efficient manner. Multitasking is an important part of the roasting process and particularly for budget-conscious small companies.”

A properly planned, ergonomically-minded space affords safe and efficient multitasking. Your production area should be positioned to receive coffee from the roaster and store the final product conducive to an easy pickup. Do not place the production area where, if busy, it has the potential to become a barrier to deliveries or pickups.

Sending Coffee Out

Your coffee will leave the same door through which it entered, via a loading dock or off the floor. The pathway from your production area to this location should be clear of obstacles and employees should be encouraged not to “temporarily” store items in this corridor. In active cafés, a short walk to the bar may be all that is needed. Keeping your customers’ space separated by a short wall, potted plants, or another item can create a sort of ersatz hallway for staff to move back and forth unhindered.

Use Backward Planning

If your goal is to have your operation ready in six months, you will need a working roaster. In order to have a working roaster you need electrical and gas. In order to get electrical and gas you need licensed contractors. This kind of backward planning method will prove helpful come inspection time, when the inspectors will inevitably want to review every detail you have, on paper.

Stay tuned for Part 3 in our series when we specifically address inspections planning.

Read it again: Roastery Planning and Pitfalls Part One: Equipment

Comment

1 Comment

Jul

Interesting article, though to me lacking one important point to most people considering to start a roastery: how much space do I need?? Is there some rule of thumb linking the envisioned production volume with the room needed to make this happen? I know it’s a complex question, probably not solved through a straightforward mathematic formula. However I trust most of newcomers would welcome some guidance on that critical item.

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