Ever find yourself adrift in the woods -not lost or desperate, but unsure of who or what came before you on your ‘path’ of choice? And the Imp in you starts to pile smooth rocks of tapering dimension on top of each other, several footfalls apart -creating an eerie fingerprint for those who follow behind seasons later. Was it aliens? Cultists? New Age healers? Does this place have powers beyond articulation and the edge of science’s explanation? If not, then I’ve obviously over shared. Anyway, lately we’ve been on a serious and disciplined search for a new roaster and it feels every bit all parts of the above -adrift, signs and markings of others to be interpreted, and alien.
When there are multiple items that are somewhat alike I like to break them down into the equivalent of a venn diagram. So without actually drawing overlapping circles here’s what I’ve discovered along the path thus far.
A. Vintage vs. New (i.e., build today and to order, or found and reconditioned)
B. Cast Iron vs. Stainless steel/carbon composite. (Even heating, heat retention, rate of heat loss -think rates of heating and cooling and even heat distribution)
C. Activated/fluid air bed vs. Drum (go with what you know, dare to be strange, evenness of the roast)
D. Atmospheric burners vs. IR burners vs. Combustion chamber vs. Air (flavor, energy costs, HEAT)
E. Continental Europe vs. New World American vs Turkish vs Pacific Rim manufacturer
F. Green vs. Not so green (Energetics, Carbon Footprint, Good Global Citizen)
Everyone who makes a roaster does so for one of two primary reasons (in my opinion): (a) some type of market failure, a segment is not met; perhaps based on cost, all the roasters are up market and no one is servicing the entry level or the lower end, missing solutions in your market/country; and/or (b) they have arrived at a solution no one else has, which they believe makes a difference -faster roast time, cleaner cups, more fuel efficiency, more even roasts, etc.
At this point I’d like to echo those philosophers who suggest that all of philosophy is a direct response to Plato/Socrates, when I say that all roasters are a direct response to some vintage model manufactured by Probat. So yes, I said it, Probat is to coffee roasting as Plato/Socrates is to philosophy.
A handful of additional observations/caveats include, (i) don’t expect a machine soon -wait times ‘may’ be as short as 8 weeks, but will typically be as long as 3 to 6 months (or longer), (ii) don’t expect anyone to get back to you based on a single inbound call to them (manufacturing wait times are long because they’re busy and as such do not need to chase you -they have plenty of business right now) -so steel yourself to feeling not special despite the fact you may have $40K to $50K in your pocket ready to go; (iii) always expect pushback and be ready to open your wallet wide if you might request or dare think about requesting anything custom or outside the machine as they have configured it; (iv) since some of these roasting machines are as rare as a chupacabra don’t expect to get a satisfactory test drive on a machine until you actually buy one; (v) most people who roast on a particular machine will swear by it -meaning it’s the best one and as such the one you should buy (especially true if they themselves paid for it); and (vi) you will never have enough information or all the information you need before you purchase your roaster.
So what have we concluded? What are we buying? The jury is still out. Waiting for the SCAA in April. I guess. We can suggest what would be the idea candidate; essentially a transformer that will allow us all the roast solutions of all of A through F variants, it would be the one that allows the most control over the roast process, the one that produces the cleanest cup, the one that uses energy the most efficiently (and cleanly), the one that captures every aspect of data from the roast in a nice exportable file -data capture along the scale of how the NSA captures data, the one with the most up time, the one that allows the most freedom for exploration and innovation (guard rails when you need it, and a parents’ free weekend when you’re ready), consistent and repeatable roasts once a curve is set, the easiest to clean and least maintenance, and the kindest on the wallet. What kind of rune stones will resolve this quest?