When you’re a coffee buyer, sample roast quality and consistency are key. As a green coffee sourcing and trading company, we roast a ton of samples and make major decisions based on the results. I talked with Global Lab Manager and veteran roaster Joel Edwards about our recent switch from Ikawa sample roasters to Roest machines, which we started using in August. Here’s the scoop from Joel on our sample roasting evolution, why we made the switch to Roest, and what we see in the future.
Staying agile means exploring
When Red Fox first launched, we were roasting on a Probat BRZ sample roaster and managing each batch manually. We loved the profile that comes with drum roasters, but we needed more consistency than we could get with our senses alone.
We started using Ikawas in early 2016. They were a great choice at the time and revolutionized our sample roasting protocols. Ikawas let users program roast curves through an iPad and run them automatically. They’re light enough to move around the lab and carry on a plane and into the field. They gave us more consistency to make good buying decisions than traditional drum sample roasters combined with a shorter learning curve for bringing on new lab team members—critical in a company that roasts and cups dozens of samples per day across three labs.
As we’ve continued to grow over the years, the design of the Ikawas just can’t keep up with the sheer amount we need to roast, so we looked at our options and found Roest. “Ikawas are great for roasters that sample roast for their own selection,” says Joel. “Ideal for 20-30 roasts per machine per month, not 20-30 a day per machine.” When we’re mid-season and buried under samples, we need a roaster that can go all day and stay consistent. So far, Roests have been sturdy enough to handle our operations while offering a ton of additional functionality.
We’re now 100% switched over in Berkeley, Joel tells me. In Lima we have one Roest, so the team there is currently roasting on both types of machine. We’re also bringing one down to Oaxaca in January as we start sampling for the upcoming season.
Adjust as you go
Whereas Ikawas roast primarily by convective heat, Roasts add a bit more conductive heat into the mix, more closely replicating traditional drum roasters in flavor profile. We’ve found so far that they stick closer to preset profiles while allowing us to adjust profile mid-roast when needed.
In terms of functionality, Roest machines have crack detection and allow us to adjust from there if the roast cracks earlier or later than we want. “On Ikawa we would throw a time-temp curve at a coffee based on moisture and water activity and hope it cracks where it should and finishes where we want,” says Joel. “You can’t change the roast trajectory once it’s begun on an Ikawa.”
On Roest machines, “you can add development time, let it out manually, let it out early, whatever you need,” says Joel, who spent years as a production roaster and highly values the degree of control. He’s been using the development time feature heavily. “It’s been helpful in making sure we’re getting consistent results on the cupping table,” he says, “plus it feels like I’m actually roasting again.”
In terms of batch size, the shift to Roest has been helpful to us, especially cupping in the post-Covid world. Roests roast 100 grams, and the shift to larger sample sizes has been welcome. (Ikawa also makes a 100 gram model, but we had worked with a slate of 50 gram models.)
“The 100g charge works well for three cuppers who each have their own cups, or for signal detection cuppings which use three cups and still have coffee left over,” says Joel. This helps when our team finds something we want to taste again without having to re-roast. “Age, for instance, can present more intensely further off roast,” he says.
An abundance of intel
Instead of an iPad, Roests have a large LCD screen for in-roast reading and adjustment. “You can login and download any profile from the Roest website,” says Joel. “On your laptop you can access all the real-time data you need: time-temp curve, rate of rise, inlet temp, outlet temp, air speed, drum speed, all of which are adjustable. You can set profiles onto the machine on the website and download them onto the roaster.”
Right now, we’re using a fairly standard profile and dialing in from there. We can still share profiles with friends and customers.
In terms of lab logistics, we love that we can roast and cool batches simultaneously on Roests, whereas on Ikawas we have to wait until a finished batch cools to charge the next sample.
While they’re not the most portable (50 lb and about twice the size of an Ikawa), another cool feature is that Roests are very easy to convert from 110 to 220 volts. “We got a 110 into the lab and it’s just a matter of swapping the heating element and a fuse,” he says. “It took maybe 25 minutes, and now it’s a 220 in Lima.” As a company with three labs, even if we’re not traveling with Roests, it’s nice to be able to shift around what goes where.
Ikawas: still great for travel
Ikawa continues to rule on portability, so they’re still a part of our repertoire. “Honestly, having brought a Roest down to Lima, it works better to keep it in one place,” says Joel. “We’ll still use the Ikawas for roasting outside our labs, whether conducting quality competitions to find the best coffees or supporting our increasingly important mobile buying teams.”
Ikawas are also still a great match for many of our customers, especially those on the smaller side.
The latest & greatest
We’re still learning about the functionality we get with Roest, and we’re happy to be on the journey. If you’re on an Ikawa and hitting capacity or on a drum sample roaster and looking for more consistency, feel free to get in touch about what it’s been like making the switch. For us, shifting to Roest has been incredibly beneficial so far, and we’re looking forward to seeing everything we can do with them. Do you use a Roest and have experiences you’d like to share? If so, hit up Joel.
|Interested in sourcing coffee with us? Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about our work, check out our journal and follow us on Instagram @redfoxcoffeemerchants, Twitter @redfoxcoffee, Spotify, and YouTube.