Roasting Plant’s fresh perspective

MyCoffeeWorld Founder Pascal Schlittler has an eye for innovation. From how coffee is traded to how it is consumed, MyCoffeeWorld supports and invests in companies helping revolutionise the coffee industry. One company that has captured Schlittler’s attention is Roasting Plant. Using its patented Javabot system, Roasting Plant is the first multi-unit coffee operation to efficiently roast in every store. “Roasting Plant is a premium coffee shop that perfectly encapsulates the third wave of coffee’s focus on quality and freshness,” Schlittler says. “Javabot is a masterpiece of engineering. It provides an automated, consistent, and scalable way to roast a huge number of combinations of high-quality coffee on demand, which is absolutely unique.” Roasting Plant is the brainchild of Mike Caswell. With a background in industrial and manufacturing engineering as well as management consultancy, and an early stint at the seminal Coffee Connection in Boston, Caswell became a coffee industry executive when Starbucks recruited him as Director of Profit Improvement. In this role, Caswell reported directly to the Chief Financial Officer and analysed all aspects of Starbucks’ business profile to find ways of making it more efficient while also maintaining the brand. “I had an amazing experience working for Starbucks and it has done great things for the industry. Over time though, as an engineer, I grew a little frustrated following a retail model that hasn’t changed in decades, and I knew that there must be a better way,” Caswell says. He set out on a personal mission to see if he could re-engineer the retail coffee model to be more than just an Americanisation of the Italian coffee house. “The challenge I gave myself was to see if I could find a way to offer high-quality, freshly roasted coffee with a choice of beans, and do it in a way that was easy and efficient for customers. Javabot was born out of this challenge and it allows us to offer just-roasted coffee in every store all the time,” he says. Roasting Plant assembled a team of experts including software and hardware engineers, to bring Caswell’s vision to life. Of course, its process begins with sourcing the best possible specialty coffee beans. The company’s Roast Master works directly with farmers to ensure the careful and sustainable selection and sourcing of coffee from the producers. The Roast Master then defines the best possible roast profiles used across each Roasting Plant café. Once imported, green beans are held in a series of nine storage towers, and can be automatically transferred via pneumatics as needed for roasting. The beans travel from the towers to the roaster through a series of clear tubes visible overhead by customers. The Javabot roasts in micro batches according to the Roast Master’s precise profiles, automatically accounting for changing ambient environmental conditions such as temperature and humidity. Roasted beans are used within seven days to ensure maximum taste and freshness. “While we are huge advocates of fresh coffee, we also understand that coffee is not at its peak of flavour immediately out of the roaster. We let the coffee to rest before we brew it, so we’re always roasting ahead of demand by somewhere from 12 to 48 hours,” Caswell says. When a customer has selected their beverage, Javabot sends the exact amount of roasted beans needed to the barista to prepare the drink. This allows Roasting Plant to customise orders and post-blend on demand to suit individual customers’ tastes. “Regular customers become more curious as they hear beans fly through the tubes. As they ask more questions, the baristas might recommend a single origin bean or blend of up to four that they think the customer might like based on their tastes,” Caswell says. “We use four different categories based on how the coffee tastes, kind of like wine – strong and bold, aromatic and complex, mild and smooth, and sweet and delicate – to make it easy for the customer to make a selection.” Once satisfied with the consistency and quality of the Javabot, Caswell set out to create an identity and concept around the use of the technology. “We debuted and tested the Roasting Plant model in New York, in a small store on what was at the time a side street. We kept the venue under the radar as we worked out the kinks,” he says. “We went from New York to Detroit, Michigan where we developed our first fully branded flagship store. From there, Roasting Plant spread to Minneapolis, Denver, and San Francisco.” Chief Marketing Officer Tom Hartocollis says Roasting Plant is able to enact a business model previously thought of as impractical, if not impossible. “There have been small mom-and-pop roasters who started [roasting in each venue] but as they open more stores, they find the expertise required is too great. They begin distributing from their initial store and before you know it, they start distributing coffee beans to multiple stores and it becomes very challenging to maintain a fresh supply,” Hartocollis says. “Javabot is more than just a roaster. It allows us to ship green beans to the store, pour them into the system through an automated entry point, and deliver on demand to a roaster, and finally to the brewers and baristas in the exact quantity required by the cup.” Hartocollis says the most important aspect of Roasting Plant’s business model is its emphasis on freshness and its role in coffee quality. “Alfred Peet, the founder of Peet’s Coffee, said in 1966 his philosophy was that there should be the shortest time possible between the roaster and the customer, to taste the full flavour and aroma of the coffee. He was fixated on this idea that people are missing out because coffee stales quickly,” he says. “The importance of freshness was always subjectively known, but a lot of research has since validated that concept. The latest clear documentation that’s available is the Specialty Coffee Association and Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW)’s The Coffee Freshness Handbook published in April 2018. It’s an exhaustive analysis of coffee freshness and various methods for trying to preserve roasted beans.” According to the handbook, roasted coffee beans are highly volatile, and rapidly oxidise and stale. Beans maintain their peak aroma and flavour for only seven to 10 days after roasting. After that the coffee also acquires “off-tastes” as the oils become rancid. ZHAW Coffee Excellence Center Head Dr Chahan Yeretzian identifies three attributes that ultimately determine cup quality: freshness, customisation, and consistency. “Freshness means getting the best out of our beans. It is at the heart of what we value within the speciality coffee community and can mean the difference between a truly unique experience versus a mediocre one,” he says. “Customisation begins with listening to the customers, and offering opportunities to find their very personal preferences. Then, consistency reflects the skills and training of those involved in preparing the customer’s individual cup.” Hartocollis says these three concepts are at the centre of Roasting Plant’s philosophy. “The parameters we use for roasting and brewing are tightly controlled and reflect the freshness philosophy in the book,” he says. “There’s always been an understanding that fresh is better, but the industry concluded that doing that in a decentralised way is too difficult and costly. The research is just now coming out that suggests preserving coffee can only take you so far. Once a preserved bag of de-gassed coffee is opened, it stales rapidly.” Roasting Plant’s US success has provided the company with the means to expand even further, establishing its first international location in London, England in January. Less than a month after opening, Hartocollis says Roasting Plant UK has been well received by the community. “Initial performance is way ahead of where we thought we’d be right now. Three weeks in, we are hitting numbers we thought we’d be at by the end of the first quarter,” he says. “The feedback has been positive, with people saying it is the best coffee they’ve ever had. They are really impressed when they try the coffee, and even more so once they understand that the smoothness, full flavour and aroma are attributes of freshly roasted coffee beans.” In the near future, Roasting Plant intends to strengthen its presence in its current markets, while steadily introducing the concept to new areas. Schlittler and his team are currently focusing on defining market strategies for the European market. “We always act with the customer in mind, and what’s best for them varies from market to market, so we want to make sure we land the retail experience correctly,” Hartocollis says. “We’re trying to improve the coffee-lovers experience and are mindful not to do things just because it’s the way things have always been done.” MYCOFFEEWORLD.COM – is an initiative & investment vehicle around Pascal Schlittler.
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