How Will a Sample Roaster Help my Business?

expat

New member
May 1, 2012
430
0
Ireland
Over and over I read forum members suggesting that home roasters who want to become professional roasters get a sample roaster -- a 1 or 2 kg machine, instead of making a bigger leap. Personally I've looked at buying a sample roaster myself to try small batches of various beans. But then I always had something else to spend $3,000 or so on. So how exactly will a sample roaster help me?

Our business so far has been doing a lot of research on blends, getting roasted samples from our bean suppliers, and then once we're satisfied with the blend roasting large batches of those beans in our 10kg roaster and then tweaking the blend to taste. The same goes for single origins, we just keep tweaking our roast till we get it like we want it. Admittedly this has cost us a few batches of beans but in the big picture it really wasn't that much. In 3 years of roasting we've probably spent less than 10% of the price of a sample roaster on beans that went into the trash and pretty much that was a lot more weighted toward the beginning of our roasting journey and now not much waste at all, if any.

One thing that makes us different from a lot of forum members is that we sell almost exclusively through retail outlets so once we get something perfected we don't change it. We sell our mocha-java blend year-round. Ditto for our Ethiopian, Colombian, all day blend, and never sleep again blend. When customers come to the store and they've been buying Buzz Bomb for instance, they want another bag of Buzz Bomb, not a new PNG or Malawi single origin (the retail buyer seems to be much more a creature of habit than the buyer of coffee shop roasted beans). If we had a coffee shop and roasted for the shop I'm sure we'd be trying all kinds of different beans, and I could see justifying the price of a sample roaster, maybe, but that's not our business model.

That said, we operate a coffee club where we bring in micro-lot beans just for club members. And we like it too because we get some variety. Still, we just do big roasts of those special beans. Right now I've got a Guatemala La Providencia Huehuetenango and a Chinese Yunan Katima where we started roasting 10kg batches right off the bat and they have been great. Of course The Lovely & Talented Roast Mistresses skills have grown immensely since we started. I doubt if we brought in these special beans three years ago she'd have had the confidence to do what she's doing now.

So, that's our story. I can't really see how a sample roaster would help us -- especially since my bean suppliers will sample roast for us (is that just a European thing, do US bean suppliers provide roasted samples?) -- but certainly I could be missing out so please, if you've found that a sample roaster really benefits you I'd love to be enlightened on the merits of owning one. And would you say it is a 'must have' or a 'nice to have' or 'you don't need one'?
 
Last edited:

chast

New member
Jul 30, 2006
659
0
MA
I have a USRC sample roaster and it comes in handy. I could only get green samples so it was mostly used for that purpose of try before buy. On the other hand if I wanted a small amount of beans to take with me or give a sample to a customer it served its purpose.
JMO
 

slurp

New member
Jun 24, 2014
382
0
Hollywood Fl
Nice topic Expat!

I do not have a sample roaster either, funny for the same exact reason of always something else to spend the $$ on. The main use they do have is being able to test small samples something I can not do currently.
 

ellatas

New member
Jul 17, 2014
46
0
Most Roasters use a Sample Roaster to verify that a particular green coffee lot does not have any off flavour notes. The typical Sample Roaster will not roast the same way as your main roaster and the expectation should not be that they have "profile roasting" capabilities; only that they validate a particular green bean lot is ok.
For your business, it appears that you are accepting the risk of bad coffee from your broker (either based on the roasted samples provided by the broker or since your volumes are not large) and your economic analysis showing there isn't enough justification for a Sample Roaster is appropriate.
On the other hand, your smaller volume blends may justify smaller roaster such as a 1kg roaster. While these have more capability to do profile roasting and more likely to mimic the roasts from your 10kg Roaster, they are more expensive than a Sample Roaster. You could utilize your same economic logic on the smaller volume blends to determine whether it can be justified. One point to note is that drum roasters of this size are high demand, so they should retain their value quite well.
 

seeingcoffee

New member
Dec 18, 2014
48
0
In my opinion, a sample roaster is useful if you are grading coffee. If the green coffee is roasted to SCAA specifications and is cupped and scored according the protocols, it will give you a very good idea of what characteristics/notes the coffee will have when roasted for retail sale. To us, this determines how much we can sell the coffee for. Our roasts for retail sale always differ from the sample roaster; so there should be no expectation the sample roaster can or should emulate the coffee that will end up in your customer's cup.

One more thing... Not only is the roast coming from the sample roaster different from how your retail offerings will be roasted, the grind and brewing protocol used for analysis differs as well. None of your customers are going to grind the coffee coarsely, measure 8.25 grams per 150 ml of water, place the grinds into a "bowl", pour hot water over it, skim the top, slurp the coffee with a soup spoon, and spit it out. :)
 

chast

New member
Jul 30, 2006
659
0
MA
Actually who decided to call a 1-2lb roaster a sample roaster and only good for grading and cupping? There are a lot of people who have these just to roast there own beans for themselves and they produce a nice cup of coffee. I have 4 customers who come in on weekend for decafe and I am not going to roast up 5lbs so the sample roaster is also used for that purpose. Never had a complaint about taste. I have seen some at Farmer's Markets and even in small coffee shops. In this business there is always something to purchase if you wish to spend the money. Not always a matter of needing to justify the purchase. As I agree with all of the opinions posted, it's a matter of what you want to do. Anyone here own a Clover? 11K french Press!!
 

ellatas

New member
Jul 17, 2014
46
0
Sample Roasters, as supplied by manufacturers such as Probat, have batches in the range of 100g. While there is manual adjustment of heat, there is no bean temperature readout during the roast. Consequently the ability to profile roast is limited.
On the other hand, a 1kg Roaster, such as a Probatino or Diedrich IR-1, has adjustment of heat input as well as a bean temperature display. This can be leveraged to create different time/temperature profiles to bring out the desired flavour characteristics of each of your blends. Time/temperature profiles can also be used to develop more detailed operating metrics to ensure repeatable roasts...which is useful when attempting to mimic a roast profile from a 10kg roaster.
 

chast

New member
Jul 30, 2006
659
0
MA
My US Roaster sample has a bean probe and air temp, Watlow Controller and pretty much looks like a mini roaster. Does 1 lb. I can control fan speed and flame with the burner adjustment
sampleroaster2.jpg
 

ellatas

New member
Jul 17, 2014
46
0
Thank you for the correction and nice photo of your roaster. The Probat Sample Roaster has a temperature probe and display as well, so my statement above was incorrect. Are these temperature probes sufficiently measuring bean temperature for profile roasting though?
 

ellatas

New member
Jul 17, 2014
46
0
And looking at your sample roaster from US Roaster, it appears to operate much more like a larger roaster than a traditional sample roaster. It appears that the temperature probe is in the 'bean pile' and would provide an accurate measurement of the bean temperature during a roast...and consequently good profile roasting capability. On traditional sample roasters, such as the Probat PRG-1Z, the temperature probe is not touching the beans and is measuring the exhaust temperature and/or drum temperature. It would not directly reflect the bean temperature as the well as your US Roaster.
 

peterjschmidt

New member
Oct 10, 2013
1,158
0
Milwaukee, WI
There may be some confusion in the terms... many will hear 'sample roaster' and to them it means the barrel roaster, like a Jabez Burns. Then you have several manufacturers of larger commercial drum roasters building/selling scaled down versions that can be used to not only roast samples, but also create profiles and extrapolate them to a larger roaster, and some will hear 'sample roaster' and to them it means the latter.

I have a great working relationship with a handful of importers who will steer me away from older-crop coffees and their 'dogs'. But I will still request green samples and roast/cup/review 99% of the coffees I buy. It's not a matter of trust, but my tastes may differ and I want to have control of the coffees I sell.

Expat, you're lucky to have a source that you can trust with their sample roasting, and I'm sure you feel that if you like their roasts, the Lovely and Talented Roast Mistress can improve the end results even more.
 

mjs

New member
Jan 5, 2015
7
0
Pittsburgh
expat - Thanks for starting this thread. Very good information here for people at my stage of the game (trying to determine a roaster size and whether an additional 1kg is worth the extra money).
 

chast

New member
Jul 30, 2006
659
0
MA
Thank you for the correction and nice photo of your roaster. The Probat Sample Roaster has a temperature probe and display as well, so my statement above was incorrect. Are these temperature probes sufficiently measuring bean temperature for profile roasting though?

yes they are. This is a great roaster either for sampling or doing a small batch of beans when you don't want to fire up the big guy
 

CoffeeJunky

New member
Dec 7, 2012
1,802
0
Michigan, US
I am kinda puzzled about sample roaster issue.
Most of the people who has sample roasters have very large 20 kg + size.
Even at 15kg roasters, you can also roast 1 pound of beans if you can be little careful. So I thought most of the people who has sample roasters are not really sample roaster but they grew out of the smaller 1-2 kg roaster and kept them for sample roasting. I do not know too many roasters with 5-15kg raoster purchased 1# sample roaster for the purpose of sample roasting.
 

Music_Geek

New member
Apr 17, 2013
24
0
There may be some confusion in the terms... many will hear 'sample roaster' and to them it means the barrel roaster, like a Jabez Burns. Then you have several manufacturers of larger commercial drum roasters building/selling scaled down versions that can be used to not only roast samples, but also create profiles and extrapolate them to a larger roaster, and some will hear 'sample roaster' and to them it means the latter.

This is what I was thinking. There's a weird market segment where many of us reside... that "1-2lb" segment which is big enough to supply a farmer's market stand but not really easy to turn a profit on. Many folks call these sample roasters (including some manufacturers) where many of us think of sample roasters as the little babies that are made to roast only enough for cupping, and have really no other purpose.

I know one of the most well respected roasters in town swears by that little Quest M3 for dialing in flavors... figuring out "what's there" in their beans. Then they scale up to one of 3 Sivetz roasters. I think smaller quantity, micro-level control is the value to these things... certainly NOT automation and all of that. I suspect that after you profile a bean, you're still going to do battle getting those same tastes out of larger batches, a bit... but I would bet anyone who knows his/her machines well enough... maybe not so much. I think it's likely a necessity if you're roasting commercially on machines that CAN NOT reasonably scale down to batches you're comfortable wasting. I wouldn't want to keep practicing 8lbs at a time, etc. Still, might be cost effective for a LONG TIME to do that...
 

Latest posts

Top