Neuhaus Neotec’s mission to get the best out of the bean

When prospective customers come to Neuhaus Neotec’s Marketing Manager Andreas Juerss, they typically ask one question over all others: why choose an air roaster over a drum roaster?
The list of reasons, Juerss tells them, is long. “So if we start with the unique technical features of our Rotational Flexible Batch (RFB) Hot Air Roaster, then I’d say that firstly, and perhaps most obviously given the name, the beans are moved by jets of air during the roasting and cooling processes, and that means significantly less breakage, greater flexibility in terms of batch sizes, and evenness in roasting and cooling,” he says. Secondly, he says, the RFB empties the roasting and cooling chambers using gravity, which makes for a safe and rapid process. “Thirdly, the RFB employs direct bean temperature measurement, and only supplies water to the cooling chamber if necessary,” he says. “Additionally, there’s no delay when changing from short-term to long-term roasting, and vice versa.” But perhaps the most significant advantage, he says, is the flexibility inherent to the air-roasting process. “Our machines are able to guarantee a wide range of roasting profiles that are needed for different kinds of coffees, for different products and for different markets,” he says. “So let’s say you want Italian-style for espresso, or perhaps you want to produce coffee for capsules or for filter coffee, or maybe you need it for instant coffee – our air-roast machines can meet all of those demands.” Decades of technik
Neuhaus Neotec was the product of a 1980s merger between two German companies. Both were active in the coffee industry; the merger saw Neotec’s RFB process benefit from Neuhaus’s economic clout. Today, it is one of the world’s largest vendors of coffee-roasting machines, and has as its clients some of the biggest names in coffee, including Nestlé, Jacobs Douwe Egberts, the Massimo Zanetti Group (owner of the Segafredo brand) and Tchibo, to name just a few. Many smaller speciality roasters are also on its books, and the firm sells its machines around the world, from Europe to the United States, Asia to Australia. The key to the company’s success, says Juerss, was its idea three decades ago “to roast coffee in a different way”. Up to that point, he explains, most firms used drum-roasting, a process in which beans are fed into a pre-heated rotating drum, where they are baked for between 12 and 15 minutes. In that process, the drum is then emptied, and the beans placed on a cooling tray before being packaged. His company’s engineers felt air-roasting would work better, both in terms of the quality of the end-product and in terms of the process itself. Why? “Because the air-roasting method means the beans do not have contact with the machine itself – unlike with a heated drum – and that makes for a very smooth roasting process,” he says. “The beans look very good after roasting, you don’t have breakage and you don’t have burning. So this is important in terms of cost-savings too.” Air-roasting has other advantages too, particularly for big industrial roasters. “One advantage is that there are no paddles and very few moving parts,” he says. “Indeed, with the exception of blowers and flaps, there are no mechanically moving parts in the RFB system.” Flexibility plus
The lack of moving parts means not only fewer breakages and greater reliability, it means the machines are easy to handle and to operate. “Perhaps our biggest advantage is the flexibility that comes with the air-roasting process – it’s an important selling point,” says Juerss. “It provides the possibility of a production system that can run 24 hours a day, or for a week at a time or for a month without significant downtime.” Juerss stresses that flexibility – a crucial factor for roasters – is something the RFB series machines are ideally suited to deliver. “That is because the small amount of stored heat capacity allows a very quick adaptation of the heat quantity,” he says. “The roasting process of all our roasters is controlled by the adjustable roasting air volume flow and bean temperature, and this ensures both flexibility and complete reproducibility.” The result is homogenous roasted beans from batch to batch, and the ability to change quickly between recipes, from one batch to the next. “And beyond that, our technique is able to produce a wide variety of coffees – different kinds of coffees – so an RFB machine can work just as well with lower quality coffee and with specialty coffee,” Juerss says. “For a producer, this means you need only one machine for different kinds of coffee.” Neo-Gourmet
Technology like this, however, doesn’t come cheap: Neuhaus Neotec’s RFB machines are in the upper price segment, depending on which customisation options the client selects, which puts them out of reach of many smaller roasters. However, that is set to change: at October’s Host exhibition in Milan, the company unveiled a prototype air-roaster that uses the same techniques, but that is simpler design-wise and will cost less. It is scheduled to launch in 2018. “What we exhibited is a new, compact roaster called Neo-Gourmet that is targeting companies looking for lower capacity – so that’s small specialty roasters, gourmet roasters and start-ups, as well as larger established roasters who want to enter the gourmet segment with smaller production volumes,” he says. “The people at Milan were excited about it – after all, new techniques and new designs are always interesting for people in the roasting business.” The Neo-Gourmet will bring the same advantages as the bigger RFB and RG machines: no water in the roasting system, which means no cleaning due to dirt and clogging; no periodic heating and cooling of the roasting chamber; no material stress; shorter cycle times; few moving parts; the ability to roast with unique profiles, and no loss of flavour. Juerss says the industry has long sought an alternative to traditional roasting systems, particularly when it comes to the specialty segment. “We can see this, for example, in the long tradition of hot air-roasting especially in the United States,” he says. “Roasters have been looking for a ‘precision instrument’ to roast specialty coffees with more control, along with the ability to define their roasting profiles to the most exacting standards of quality and reproducibility.” Neuhaus Neotec is confident its compact Neo-Gourmet machine will broaden its customer base. But doing so will still require answering the same question that bigger roasters ask: why choose an air roaster over a drum roaster? “That really depends on what the customer wants: what do they want to produce, what kind of coffee, what amounts? That is the first point of discussion. Once I know those needs, then I’m able to find a solution,” he says. So will air-roasting, with its inherent advantages, drive drum-roasting into extinction? That’s unlikely, says Juerss. “Looking at the coming decade it’s difficult to say what the next innovation on the roasting side will be,” he says. “There are some interesting ideas out there, but I don’t think they will scale – and so I believe that air roasting and drum roasting will remain the key coffee-roasting techniques for the next 20 years, and beyond.”
Instead, Juerss predicts refinements to the existing techniques. “I think control of the machines will become increasingly important,” he says. “And of course environmental issues such as energy saving are important today and will be more so in the future. Also, different manufacturers are working on ways to get more information from their machines and use that information in interesting ways – I can see that continuing too.”
What won’t change, Juerss says, is the guiding principle behind the company’s work: “Simply put, how can we help our customers to get the best out of the bean?”  GCR

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