Becoming a Coffee Roaster
Becoming a Coffee Roaster
When I first decided I wanted to get into roasting many years beforehand I was lost so put it into the too hard basket. How I could get into the industry? There was no Polytechnic course or school in which you could learn to roast. In the States, Europe and possibly other places there are a few private institutions that do offer education in coffee roasting but cost big $$$. It was unrealistic to travel to these countries to take a course in something I wasn’t 100% sure I was going to pursue.
To become a coffee roaster in this part of the world New Zealand there are only a few options that one can take. All in which are not easy and take a tremendous amount of time. Bellow are two journeys one can take to become a coffee roaster. I am sure there are many other ways but here in NZ these would be most common from my experience.
WORK INTO IT .. Fluffer… Barista… Roaster Hand… Head Roaster
This story might not happen to you but is very common from other baristas turned roaster I have spoken to.
Step 1: Gain a job in a reputable cafe/coffee roastery as floor staff as most places are regularly looking for fluffers (Fluffer = People that run coffee and food, clean tables, don't get it confused with another definition ). It's going to be low paid most likely minimum wage and the hours are going to be annoying. You better like drinking coffee otherwise your wasting your own time as you will never reach your full potential
Step 2: do this for a year or so and work hard show interest in coffee. Ask the Barista questions … many many questions about what he/she is doing to make an excellent cup of coffee. Most baristas that know what they are doing are more than happy to explain.
Step 3: Communicate with the barista that you would like to learn to be a barista. he/she will most likely be your key to convincing the boss to give you a chance on the coffee machine. Hospitality is an ever-changing game, staff call in sick all the time see this as your opportunity to put your hand up to help the barista.
Step 4: You are now a shot slinger grind coffee tamping and brewin coffee. You're basically gonna be the head baristas bitch for a while. Depends on how fast you pick it up and how fast you learn to steam milk and throw down some latte art.
Step 5: 1 year or so later you're the head barista the other guy pissed off to Melbourne or another city… very common for NZ baristas.
Step 6: You have now fine-tuned your ability to taste coffee what's good and what isn't. The roastery hopefully is growing and becoming busier or the roastery hand has left the job or has upgraded to become head roaster leaving another opportunity for the boss to hire internally.
Step 7: Hopefully at this stage, the boss likes you enough to get you into the roastery parttime or fulltime helping out. These tasks normally are bagging coffee, dispatching coffee, carrying 60kg+ coffee sacks, calling customers for orders and many more things.
Step 8: This is now your chance to look over the roasters shoulder and start asking questions about what's going on. It may take a while for him to trust you and open up some roasters can be quite protective of their jobs.
Step 9: Could be another year or so later the roaster has decided to move on. Open up their own coffee roastery or move overseas roast in another country both very common here in NZ. Time for you to put your hand up once again and be trained officially to take over the companies roasting.
Step 10: Don’t screw it up. Be honest always with the owner if your roast doesn't go to plan just come clean don’t hide it. Any good roastery will accept a certain level of mistake roasts just don’t do it with a “Gesha”. (Expensive As F Coffee) your boss will castrate you.
Journey 2 :
Buy a small coffee roaster 100g to 2kg size to learn in your own time
This option requires money, you might have savings or a family member who is able to invest in your venture. Don’t get a loan bad idea, don’t expect it to make you money in the beginning.
I have read on website/forums that other roasters don’t agree with buying a roaster that is smaller than 5kg as long term you can not achieve a profit, I don’t agree entirely. Yes you may not get rich or be able to quit your day job on a small roaster but… you will learn and have fun. A smaller roaster equals more opportunity to practice roasting in smaller quantities and waste less coffee. Please remember as you grow don’t sell your little roaster it can then become your sample roaster once you get a bigger roaster. If you are looking for a job as a roaster your boss will think you are pretty badass since you have your own roaster at home. In the early days when you are on your own, you will learn the most by the number of roasting opportunities you will get. Plus it's not a big risk if it doesn't work out for you, just sell it... somebody for sure will buy it.
Buying a coffee roaster isn't cheap but it has the potential to pay back very quickly, look at it as an investment. All up my 2kg roaster cost me close to 6k shipped to NZ. It was not perfect at all and needed some modifications to make it the roaster it is now. (Will discuss in another blog post). If your looking at a 5kg to 12 kg roaster your look at a big chunk of change $30k to $100k NZD (good quality) plus most require a three-phase power source high amp rating, HVAC ducting installed by a professional to vent exhaust and plumbed in gas. A small home roaster can run off a BBQ LPG bottle and a normal 10 amp power socket and you can just vent it out the window of your garage. Some other home roasters are electric that makes it even more accessible. I haven't personally had experience with an electric coffee roaster but the principles will be the same.
I have recently seen a cool little coffee roaster called the IKAWA smart home roaster which can be used inside your home. ( https://www.ikawacoffee.com/pro-v3/ ) This is also another good option for someone that wants to learn to roast as it is affordable and portable. You will get the opportunity roast many times as I think the batch size is around 100g don't hold me to that. Screw up a roast it's not going to cost you a lot. This coffee roaster is controlled by an app that you can load on your tablet or smartphone. Most people have one these days so you don’t need to invest in additional roasting software or a thermocouple setup (will discuss in another blog post). If it doesn't work out you can on sell it I assume it would hold its value very well as many coffee roasting companies and green bean suppliers now carry them as their portable sample roaster.
The IKAWA looks great but it won’t teach you the full picture. It lacks the dynamics of roasting on a drum roaster with a larger bean pile mass to work with. Roasting small amounts of coffee can be very sensitive to variable changes where a larger roaster with a larger bean pile mass will be somewhat more “stable”. There are many other small roasters on the market that also have a good reputation such as Mill City Roasters ( https://millcityroasters.com/ ) in the USA which are manufactured in China very similar to the one I purchased. I hear now that Mill City has involved Scott Rao in the future designs of there machines so you can be sure you will get a good product for a fair price. The guys at Mill City are onto a good thing follow them on Youtube they have very informative content.
Another small coffee roaster that caught my eye was the Aillio Bullet (https://aillio.com/). This wee guy is a drum roaster that comes plug and play with a thermocouple setup so you're almost going to get that larger drum roaster experience and will be easier to translate your skills from this machine to any other drum roaster. It can roast up to 1kg so a good middle ground between the IKAWA and a Mill City Roaster. Again this can be set up in your kitchen or garage as it has an inbuilt smoke filter. I haven't personally used one but from all the content they have marketed on their roaster, it seems they are doing a great job.
So you’ve done your research and decided what you can afford and what works for your situation. Time to setup and start roasting … now the hard work begins.. And fun.
Do some reading:
Buy Scott Rao’s book “The Coffee Roasters companion” and maybe Rob Hoos “Modulating Flavor profile of coffee”, join the “coffee roasters forum” on facebook join the community of like-minded people learn from others struggles. Buy the book the “world coffee atlas” by James Hoffmann learn about coffee origins, processing and varietals. Don’t expect to absorb it all straight away you may read over these books numerous times. Don’t take everything as gospel either some things may work for you some may not but these are the best resources a beginner roaster can have at this time.
Buy Some Green Coffee:
Here lies a small challenge sourcing green coffee in very small quantities is difficult. All the major green bean suppliers only sell you green coffee by the sack full. This can range from 30kg sack to 70kg sack. Some high end specialty coffee can come packaged in vacuum packs around the 24kg mark but they tend to be very pricey and not a good way to go in the beginning. If you want to purchase coffee in small amounts less than a sack you may be best approaching existing coffee roasters locally and ask if they would sell you green coffee in small amounts. Most will be ok with this. If you can’t do this you can purchase small amounts of green coffee from this website in NZ https://www.greenbeanhouse.co.nz . In other countries, I am not sure you will have to investigate.
I got burnt early on when I decided to buy a larger roaster and yezz it cost me. 1 year after buying the small 2kg roaster I outgrew my production capabilities and went on the hunt for a 10-12kg roaster. I ended up buying a second hand Toper Branded coffee roaster that was meant to roast 10 kg of coffee from Auckland from another roaster it was advertised on Trademe. It was around $15k at the time and had to ship it down to Invercargill. The moral of the story is you get what you pay for (Almost Always) and don’t buy a Toper roaster that is manufactured in Turkey. Go a little further don’t buy a second-hand roaster that you are not completely confident it's a good build. I will go into more detail why these roasters are not good and what to look for when purchasing a roaster in another blog. The subject of this story will be burner power, drum material, cooling tray power, true KG capacity and airflow control. So please don’t be tempted to buy a cheap coffee roaster you see for sale it’ll bite you in the ass. I no longer own this roaster its roasting peanuts now for some peanut butter company in Dunedin ( Probably the only thing a toper is good for). The biggest flaw this roaster had was that it could only roast maximum 4kg of coffee without scorching the outside of the coffee... yea no fun when you think you can roast 10kg.
( Sorry Toper…, Not Sorry )