Cheap Chinese Steel & Other Myths

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A funny thing happened on the way to our becoming the best-selling roaster manufacturer in US history.

Suddenly we’re accused of building with “cheap Chinese steel.”

After spending close to 40 years manufacturing stuff for a living, this is the dumbest sh-t I’ve ever heard.

Like the 6000+ people earning a living with our roasters aren’t proof we’ve got this figured out?

Not good enough? Fine. Let’s talk about it

I’ve been interested in metals for as long as I can remember and I know a lot about steel.

My dad was a blacksmith and I vividly remember reading his books about the properties of steel, its crystalline structures and colors and strengths at various temperatures.

Over the years, I’ve learned to fuse metal together with stick, Mig, Tig and spot welders. If you look closely at the coffee tat on my left forearm, you’ll notice that it imperfectly covers a faint pattern of visible scars whether from forge spatter and/or trying to weld upside down I don’t remember.

I’ll admit that I’ve spent most of my professional life at a desk in an office with a shop floor on the other side of the wall. Although I’ve never worked at it enough to claim to be a good welder, in a pinch I’ll get ‘er done. If I can step across it, I can weld it. If I can chuck it up, I can mill, drill, turn, cut, or bend it.

I’ve got a literal lifetime of experience bullying recalcitrant metals into useful things by every metal working process known to mankind.

So aside from being professionally conversant with the roughly 3500 types of commercially available steel, I’ve personally worked with hundreds of them.

Some steels are easier to work than others, but anyone who tells you they can’t weld or work steel because it’s imported is a buffoon.

Okay Steve, so what does this have to do with roasters?

 Two things

    • First, steel is an engineered product and no matter where it’s from, quality always costs more. Anyone babbling about the relative inferiority of Chinese steel is falsely comparing the cheapest thing to the most expensive thing. You are never told that their stories always start with a butt-hurt buyer who thought they were getting a deal and instead received an education.
    • Second, talking about “US Made” steel points to a distinct poverty of intellect, character, and imagination. Folks like this aren’t busting their hump every day trying to build better stuff. They’re just phoning it in hoping to spook you into overlooking the obvious.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, we didn’t get here by doing things the least expensive way and we seldom buy the least expensive things.

All of our roaster chassis are monolithic fully gusseted double-walled weldments fabricated of Chinese sourced 1018 cold rolled plate. That 1018 plate can range from 3mm to 8 mm depending on the size of the roaster. We’re not using this steel for its load characteristics. We’re using it for thermal mass. It’s simply an efficient place to store energy for bigger batches of better coffee.

It may be cheaper by the pound than metallurgically identical US-made 1018, but we make up for that by using a lot more of it.

Our inner wall drums are also monolithic weldments of 4mm to 8mm food-safe 430 stainless also chosen for its thermal characteristics. It’s very similar to cast iron in the way it absorbs and releases energy with marginally lower heat expansion than other food-safe steels of similar density.

430 is more expensive than mild steel and much tougher to work. However, if there is an ideal drum material for defect-free conductive heat transfer to green coffee, 430 is where it’s at.

The drum shaft, outer drum, face plate, hopper, and cooling tray are all similarly certified food-safe 304 stainless, equally generously proportioned, and more durable than the usual amateurish effort that passes as coffee industry standard.

The construction of our drums makes them effectively indestructible. Our roasters shrug off drum fires and other thermal events that would warp San Fran, Diedrich, or Probat drums to scrap.

If you are worried about materials or build quality, you should know that CSA conducts on-site inspections of our facility in Shenzhen quarterly. They review engineering documents and vendor-provided food safety certifications. They verify specs and procedures. They test components and assemblies. They ensure the machines are constructed and assembled according to their CSA 1.8 design requirements.

In case you are wondering, we’re also visited by UL in Minneapolis on a similar schedule for NSF and electrical certifications.

We’re total pros and we build nice stuff, but we’re building high-performance specialty coffee production systems, not sculpture.

We’re designing for better coffee, greater “uptime”, and greater profitability.

If you’re only buying with your eyes, there are a bunch of companies that put the bulk of their efforts into cosmetics and gimmickry to justify their existence.

If you’re buying with your head and looking for a roaster with better guts, we’ll be waiting.

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