Choosing your roasting machine depends on what kind of roasting you plan on doing, and how much of it.
Most experts recommend that you consider the future when investing in your roasting machine; give yourself some room to grow without investing more money than you can afford in the first place. In other words, plan for your business to improve and grow, and therefore for your roasting volume to grow as well.
You want to know how much you can afford, minimum to maximum. You also want to know what your space is going to look like and what will fit comfortably into that space. If you are working with a stable location, you’ll definitely want to consider investing in a larger roasting machine than you may need at first, because it could be difficult to bring in a larger machine at a later date.
The general range of commercial roasters is a little over $2,000 for a small roaster, this is less than 3 kilos. 3 kilos will run you around $14,000 depending on its quality (which you definitely want to investigate). 10 kilos start at about $25,000, and the minimum for 25 kilos tends to be around $58,000.
So the first thing you want to consider is volume. This is based on your business goals, the span of your reach (are you just selling locally, or will you ship nationally or internationally)?
Going big is a good idea so that you don’t stress your roasters out when business gets booming, but a gigantic machine for a too-small batch can result in unpredictable and uneven roasts. I would personally recommend going two sizes above what you’re actual volume is predicted to be when you start out. Ask your friends in the business, however, for the roasting machine journey and experience. The benefit of networking is that you can learn from other people’s mistakes, and their successes.
Going to your friends and peers in the business is also my advice for deciding which brand you want to invest in. There aren’t a lot of resources online comparing roasting equipment and reall the best way to know how well something works is to, well, know how it works.
Find out what other people are roasting with, especially if they are running the type of roastery you want to open or become. Some people may be protective of their “secrets,” but my experience in the coffee world is that coffee people love coffee and they love people who love coffee. They tend to be welcoming and accommodating and I’m sure you can find plenty to let you try out or observe their machines at work so that you can compare and determine the one that is right for you.
One of the top brands I’ve seen is Probat Burns. Their machine volumes start at 8.8 pounds and go all the way up to 11,000 pounds.
Based on their website, I would recommend checking out Mill City Roasters. Their focus is on small-batch coffee, with their machines only going up to a 30 kg capacity, but they include a ton of information on their machines on their site (whereas Probat requires you to submit personal information to get a quote and further information about each machine). They also seem to be people who love coffee, which means that their machines will love coffee as well. The boast prices that are comparable to used models, without actually being used, and they offer a lot of information about what you should look for in a roasting machine. They also supply green coffee, which is a good connect for any new roasting business.
Again, based on their impressive, aesthetically pleasing and just plain cool website, I’ll also shout out Diedrich Roasters. I go for good websites because, to me, that means the business has invested their time and money into branding and marketing themselves and that they pay attention to details. It also tells me that they are probably run by Millennials or the generation just before (X, Y, Me, Indigo??) which means that they’re likely on the cusp of innovation and advancement in all things coffee. I trust a good website. Diedrich’s has a rustic appeal, with artistic, sketch-style renderings of their machines; this tells me that they love what they do (versus Probat, again, which came off very corporate). They also offer something unique in my research, the ability to customize your roasting machine. You can choose the details from color to automation and more, which could give you more control over what you’re getting. Diedrich also offers roasting training for their products, which you may not need, but could be beneficial if investing in their specific products. That also tells me that they know what they’re doing enough to share that knowledge confidently; these machines aren’t just collages of metal to them.
Whatever you decide to do, I recommend having a pretty strong idea of what you’re looking for in a roaster so that you aren’t caught off guard and pressured into a rash decision. This is your business, we’re talking about, it’s like deciding to have a baby, except possibly harder work, and more moving parts. Don’t be afraid to ask the people you know, and do some research; don’t be afraid to go with what you can afford versus the fancy looking option. And don’t forget that you’re going to rise to the top like the perfect espresso crema, so plan for more volume in the future!