Neuhaus Neotec gives the full picture

Although roast and ground is a familiar term in the market of at-home coffee retailing, an increase in specialty coffee trends might soon see that segment on the decline. This is certainly the case in Germany, where retail sales of whole bean coffee has grown at 11 per cent a year for the past three years, to 62,000 tonnes in 2013. Ariane Toenjes works in the Research and Technology Department for Germany-based coffee roasting machine manufacturers Neuhaus Neotec. She’s witnessing this trend first hand, as consumers are keen to replicate their coffee shop experience at home. “It’s become more trendy to prepare a specialty coffee at home,” says Toenjes. “From what you see in coffee shops, to American television, people want to be able to enjoy different types of coffee, a latte, a cappuccino, or more. It’s become something really special, especially for the younger generation.” From a coffee roaster’s perspective, Toenjes says they have two different markets to target their retail whole bean coffee to: those using fully automatic machines at home, and those using traditional domestic espresso machines. While these segments have different demands on coffee, they have one common characteristic: both want top quality coffee with a good flavour at a reasonable price. Importantly, from a roasting machine manufacturer’s perspective, Toenjes says the rise of whole bean coffee sales means that customers are now judging coffee beans for themselves. From identifying broken beans, to looking at the colour, consumers of whole bean coffee are evaluating dimensions that simply weren’t applicable with roast and ground. “Consumers today want a much better quality product. They want a more uniform roast, and you can’t have any broken beans,” she says. “It’s like anything else, the product has to be nice when you open the package.” Fortunately, technology has kept up with modern demands, to give coffee roasters the tools to improve the appearance and quality of their product. Neuhaus Neotec’s Rotating Fluidised Bed (RFB) roaster is one such innovation. Toenjes explains that RFB should be seen as different to hot air roasting, using a carefully measured air to bean ratio. The coffee beans aren’t moved mechanically, as they are roasted only through contact with heated air. “When people think of hot air, they think of 400 – 500° Celsius temperatures needed to roast the coffee. This is different than that,” says Toenjes. The new RFB roaster uses the lowest air temperature of any technology available. She explains how the carefully designed shape of the chamber ensures gentle roasting via an optimum flow of hot air through the coffee product. As the name of the technology implies, uniform fluidisation is key to ensuring the best possible mixing of beans and gentle heat transfer throughout the roasting process. Because the heat is transferred to the beans via convection (versus the contact process of drum roasters), there are considerably less hot spots in the coffee. “This is particularly important when roasted coffee is to be used as whole beans,” Toenjes notes. Another stand out element of RFB technology is that the cooling process takes place in an identically designed, but separate, cooling chamber. The discharge gate is located at the bottom of the roasting chamber, meaning that gravity alone helps discharge the entire roasted coffee batch within five seconds into the cooler. By separating the cooling process, the machine cools the temperature of the coffee beans quickly and effectively. Because of this ingenious design, Toenjes says coffee roasters have an unprecedented level of control over their product. The RFB system can constantly produce a high quality product thanks to a precise temperature control system. The computerised system helps the roaster visualise every step of the process. Programs such as profile and copy roasting allow precise and flexible control over individual flavour profiles. This flexibility offers a major advantage in making it easier for roasters to blend after roasting. Roasters can better achieve optimum profiles of each type of bean by roasting in single-origin batches first, then blending after the roast. Toenjes explains how artisanal roasters appreciate the flexibility of the RFB system to help them in the process, because of the roaster’s ability to quickly change between recipes. “When you’re able to roast each origin separately, you can program a recipe that’s special for the needs of that bean,” she says. “Coffee roasters know that Robusta needs a higher temperature than a Colombian or a Kenyan bean. If you put them together, it can be challenging to get the best characteristics out of each.” That being said, the scale of some operations – and space and time constraints – can make it impractical for roasters to blend after roast. “Blending after roasting can require a greater expenditure, and more energy. You also need more silo space,” explains Toenjes.  In this case, she says the RFB technology has many advantages over traditional drum roasters because of the direct transfer of heat from the air to the bean. “The key is to get the best out of each bean, in flavour and aroma with the right roast profile, or recipe,” she says. Quality aside, from an operations perspective, Toenjes says the technology offers multiple benefits. Without any movable parts – as all coffee is transported via gravity or air – the system is much safer for the operator. This is complimented by a full range of safety switches, sensors, and detectors, so that the system is protected even against operator errors. “Safety has to be a major point here. These systems have come a long way over the years,” says Toenjes. The technology is also set up in a way to be highly efficient for high-capacity operations. The roasting gas required for the roasting process is recirculated, bypassing the roasting chamber during the filling and discharge process. A fan produces the pressure level required for the roasting level and for fluidisation, while a burner generates the necessary temperature. The burner is so efficient, that the plant is heated up 20 minutes after the start, and can switch to automatic operation.   The nature of this technology also lends itself well to limiting energy consumption and emissions. The cooler exhaust is cleaned catalytically, where precious metals break down the emissions. Heat from the exhaust system is used to preheat the beans, which further helps reduce roasting time and maximises energy use. Thanks to technology like this, Toenjes says coffee roasters can embrace increased demand for whole bean coffee, with the confidence that their beans will hold up to new scrutiny. “Your advantage as a customer lies in the fact that you can judge the coffee beans yourself,” she says. “Quality criteria such as colour, appearance of the bean, fraction of broken beans, and flavour will become increasingly important.” 

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