My wife and I are in the process of starting a small business in the roasting arena. Initially, we plan on something like 50lbs per month. Do you guys have any recommendation for small-scale/semi-commercial roasting machine that wont break the bank?
I suppose that it is possible you can start with a sample roaster today, but considering the cost difference, you may to look at something that will accommodate your projected sales volumes in the next 3 years. If you were to purchase something in a 3 kilo range for example, you may find it inadequate for your use 12 months from now. I suppose the question is: what do you intend to do with the business and how much are you investing in it to make it grow?
There are some companies that deal in the 2nd hand trade of roasters, but I suggest that you may want to contact your preferred roaster manufacturer and ask if they have any machines that are being traded up from a customer. Be aware that local service of these machines is critical unless you have some experience servicing them yourself.
You can find tiny commercial roasters in the one pound to 6 pounds range. The smallest one pound ones are usually used for sample roasting or profile development, smallest production roaster is about 6 pounds a batch, although Diedrich is coming out with a 2 pounder. So let's breakdown the numbers to see if this is practical for you. Let's say you get the 2 pound roaster, you will need 27 batches to get about 50 pounds roasted coffee. Each batch takes about 15 minutes, so your total roasting time is about 7 hours. That means other than 7 hours a month your roaster is not being used, hardly a good investment. I would think 50 pounds a month is too little to justify the expenditure of even the smallest commercial roaster. However, if you can get to 100 pounds a week then you might want to consider a 3kg/6 pound roaster.
Here are some from small roasters from different commercial roaster makers
As an alternative you might want to consider a Behmor 1600 or a Hottop. They are designed for home roasting, but if you are not too demanding on your roasting requirement, they are a heck of a lot less.