For Renata, the ease of use is a major advantage of their fluid-bed roaster. ‘The operation is a lot more user friendly,’ she says. ‘With a drum roaster, you only have the trier to tell you how the roast is developing, while with our fluid-bed roaster you can see and smell the changes. I can look out for the fresh popcorn smell of the drying phase, the colour changes in the Maillard process — and how high the beans loft, because as the roast develops they become less dense…. With more-enclosed roasters, I have no idea what’s happening in there.’
The relative simplicity of the fluid-bed machine, despite its image as a high-tech roasting solution, has made it easier to pass roasting skills on to Cxffeeblack’s interns, Renata says.
The ease of use was also a major reason that Talor opted for the Loring roasters — especially considering the level of automation that the machines allow. Automation is easier in air roasters, she points out, because the roasters don’t rely on residual heat in the drum.
Because it handles many of the repetitive tasks involved in roasting, automation allows just two employees at Talormade to roast 45 tonnes of coffee a year, she says. ‘Humans have value in things that are not repetitive,’ Talor says. ‘It really changed the way we staff the business; we can focus more on the person…. I’m able to bring people into the industry that are not typical specialty people.’
Automation doesn’t completely eliminate the roaster’s job, however. ‘It would be foolish at this time to put all your faith in a machine,’ Talor cautions. ‘You should be very much aware that you’re still in the driver’s seat.’
As well as being easy to use, air roasters can also be more accessible in terms of price, Bartholomew points out: ‘Access to capital is a challenge for a lot of Black-owned businesses here in the States.