A new end-to-end roasting solution for coffee shops and cafes made a surprising appearance this Spring. Currently called simply Roastery, the system is centered around a ventless, electric, countertop-friendly roasting machine with a clean, streamlined aesthetic that links to proprietary software that can automate the roasting action while providing a portal to green coffee resources.
The system is designed to allow coffee shops to begin to easily roast their own coffees, without extensive specialized training, significant modifications to building infrastructure or additional permitting.
Roastery’s emergence was one of the bigger surprises at this year’s SCA Expo, where the company’s booth and product appeared unannounced after the Roastery team snagged an available booth from the wait list at the last minute. Development started about one year ago, and the company — which owns the roastery.com domain — now has a full-time staff of 10, according to representatives at the show.
The green coffees provided through Roastery’s upcoming sourcing program will include a professionally developed profile ready to be executed at the tap of an icon. Users can stick with those programmed profiles or, depending on their experience level, manipulate them, or start from scratch with any coffee they want.
On a fundamental level, the Roastery system shares a lot in common with another high-tech newcomer in the shop roaster category, the Bellwether Coffee system that also made waves at this year’s SCA Expo. Yet neither product was developed overnight.
In the case of Roastery, CEO Dylan Bird is the hardware guy with a background in engineering high-precision, diagnostic medical instrumentation. Roastery Co-Founder Zach Heineman is the primary software guy, with experience as one of the early product designers behind Pinterest, in addition to having a degree in architecture. And the coffee expert in the crew is the inimitable John Laird, managing director and head roaster of AKA Coffee.
“What this roaster is letting us do is develop coffees with body development at the early stages of the roast, so I can bring that coffee into the dry phase quickly, get the browning reactions to start early, create a great platform without damaging the coffee, without scorching it, without overheating it, to invite it into a real nice finish where we can maintain the sweetness, the clarity, get the fruits and the acids coming through,” Laird told Daily Coffee News. “It’s a super stable platform. We’re having fun, getting a lot of great results from it.”
Though the company considers itself to be more of a B2B solutions provider than simply an equipment manufacturer, the “convection-style” Roastery machine is of its own design. The machine weighs about 110 pounds, turns out a max of roughly 1.5 pounds of roasted coffee at a time and uses hot air to agitate and to heat the beans, although as to whether it’s a straightforward fluid-bed machine, CEO Dylan Bird would only go so far as to say that it’s “in that camp,” opting not to delve too specifically. Said Bird, “We haven’t really talked about our core technology just yet.”
Laird knows a thing or two about ventless, automated roasting machinery, as he was one of the engineers of the mechanical design of the Fresh Roast system in the late ‘90s. From there he moved on to roast on Diedrich machines, and then Probat, and now roasts for AKA Coffee on a Loring.
“I get all geeky about the coffee stuff, but that’s been my role — to be hyper-analytical about it and really understand what’s going on in the coffee, and I’m excited,” said Laird. “I’m excited to be here and excited to see what happens over the course of this year.”
The green coffee program will strive for transparency, making as much information as possible available through the app. Coffees will be labeled with a special barcode that instructs the internet-connected tablet to retrieve that coffee’s specific profile and info, and the machine takes it from there.
The one key moment in the process that was preserved intentionally by the designers for manual execution by the user was to pull a lever to drop the charge into the roasting chamber when the designated drop-temp is achieved.
“We wanted it to be a fun moment of interaction,” said Bird. “Our main motivation is to make roasting more accessible to people and more fun, so you don’t have to be a pro. And if you are a pro, and you’re hoping to spend more time on sourcing or cupping or whatever it is, this could be a tool to help you automate some of those processes you need to do.”
Bird said the company has five pre-production Roastery machines in its office in the Mission District of San Francisco, where they continue putting both the hardware and the software to the test. The company is taking pre-orders for the first 100 units, with an official launch of services and sales slated for early 2019. Bird said the anticipated price of the machine is somewhere under $20,000.
A tiny walk-up cafe called The Rabbit Hole located on 14th Street in San Francisco is planning to provide testing ground for the Roastery system, with some pop-up roasting-on-demand events also in planning for the near future. The company also hopes for additional feedback from professional roasters.
“In the moving forward stages, we’d like to invite other participants,” said Laird. “We hope to engage with some key opinion leaders, give them access to the machine, the full development platform, run it through its paces and at this early stage develop a validating process, and we’ll see where it takes us.”