Bellwether Coffee breaks barriers with instore coffee roaster

Why don’t more people roast their own coffee?”

This was the first question wine and tech entrepreneur Ricardo Lopez asked when he turned his attention to the coffee industry in 2013. In answering it, he discovered the many barriers to starting a roastery, from the costs of space, equipment, and permits, to the high level of knowledge and skill required.

To address these factors, Lopez decided to build a compact and easy-to-use roaster so more people could enter the world of coffee roasting. He achieved this with the Bellwether Coffee commercial coffee roaster.

Operators can load batches of green coffee up to three kilograms at a time into the roaster’s hopper. The coffee is roasted in a drum – with a glass window providing an unobstructed view – for nine to 12 minutes. Afterwards, the coffee is sent to an enclosed cooling tray, preventing unnecessary emissions, before dropping into the bucket below.

An iPad on the front of the unit provides access to roast profiles, inventory management, and Bellwether Coffee’s curated green coffee marketplace. It allows for easy operation of the machine.

Bellwether Coffee Regional Sales Manager Liz Pachaud tells Global Coffee Report the commercial coffee roaster – at roughly the size and shape of a home refrigerator – makes it possible for any café, grocery store, or coffee retailer to roast inhouse.

“It frees you from the bottleneck of having to babysit the roaster to get your coffee roasted to the right specs,” Pachaud says.

“I’m a roaster of 15 years, and in my company, I was the bottleneck. I had a specific way that I roasted, a thumbprint I wanted on every bag of coffee, and I was the only person who knew how to coax those profiles out of the roaster. That really limited the amount of other business that I could do.”

She says the Bellwether Coffee roaster makes it possible to save profiles and allow any staff member to roast coffee to set specifications.

“We see Bellwether as a tool to liberate roasters and café owners from the parts of roasting that are prohibitive to the efficiency of a workday and allow them to focus exclusively on the parts of roasting that a machine can’t do,” Pachaud says. “The craft of roasting is 10 per cent creativity and 90 per cent managing failure points. A machine is not going to know why your profile looks the way it does, or why for a certain coffee you want to roast it a certain way, but it’s absolutely possible to hand over some of the drudgery of that management to the machine itself.”

This functionality also reduces the amount of work it takes to roast a batch of coffee.

“On passive labour, you can roast a significant volume of coffee in a day. A barista can walk over to the machine and queue up a roast in about the time it takes to brew a batch of coffee,” Pachaud says.

“But for users who want a more customised experience, there’s the ability to add your own green coffees to your inventory, create your own roast profiles, and alter the profiles we’ve supplied.”

Bellwether’s preset profiles are designed for coffees purchasable through its green coffee marketplace, where customers can order boxes of green coffee the company has carefully curated for quality and sustainability.

“If you’re buying roasted coffee, you should be able to buy green coffee. But the way green coffee is currently bought in our industry is not very accessible. Not everybody has the skills or desire to learn the complex nature of coffee contracts and cupping,” Pachaud says.

“We also co-pack coffee from big burlap sacks into smaller boxes, so they can be shipped through the mail, stacked, and put away easily. When I first started my own roasting operation, one 60-kilogram bag of coffee at a time was too much. It would have changed the game for me at the time if I could spend just $50 on what I needed instead of $500 on huge bag. We’re finding that’s true for other cafés as well.”

Accessibility was not Bellwether Coffee’s only consideration in the development of its commercial coffee roaster. Sustainability was also front of mind. The system is emissions-free thanks to an internal afterburner that combusts the volatile organic compounds present in coffee smoke. In combination with filtration, this ensures only clean air leaves the machine.

“Not a lot of people know that coffee roasting can be pretty dirty. As an industry, we have latched onto the concept of sustainability but have made farmers and café owners the most responsible for its enactment. Both are misplaced,” Pachaud says.

“Farmers are drowning in the problem. They’re fleeing their land, their trees are suffering from climate-related diseases, and fermentation temperatures are changing drastically. The assumption they owe us something about sustainability before we buy their product is wrong.”

She adds café owners are largely disempowered because when the coffee arrives at their café, the vast majority of its carbon footprint is already behind it.

“By the time a product reaches the end of its lifecycle, it’s already too late to start talking about major gains in sustainability,” Pachaud says. “Roasters, with the only machine in the world that can turn this inedible cash crop into the most consumed beverage in the world, need to look inward at how they can be more sustainable. It was very important for us to change the roaster’s responsibility and to highlight the obligation we all have to make coffee more sustainable.”

Roasting instore also allows cafés to improve their quality and sustainability thanks to the freshness of the coffee.

“In order to be fresh and shelf stable for long enough to travel from a roaster to a café or grocery store – and then to someone’s home – you need to make sure your coffee is the freshest it can be. This requires packaging of a certain calibre so that your coffee doesn’t lose freshness in transit,” Pachaud says.

“That means we end up with a lot of coffee packaging that’s not recyclable, compostable, or reusable. As more people adopt Bellwether and roast onsite, we’re seeing it eliminate the need for such non-sustainable packaging. It’s also much easier to roast on demand in small quantities, instead of bulking up on roasts, which depletes freshness over time.”

With its improvements to usability and sustainability, Pachaud says Bellwether Coffee is succeeding in opening the doors for anyone to enter the roasting industry.

“Some people want to roast because the romance of roasting is alive. Others want to roast because as café owners, they realise buying and reselling roasted coffee is a very small-margin way of conducting their main business,” Pachaud says.

“The number of people who would like to be coffee entrepreneurs is so much greater than the coffee industry believes exists.”

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