I was asked in an email recently how our North Coffee Equipment Company roasters, manufactured in Shenzen China, compare to US made roasters. The question is a tough one because a) I don’t have all that much experience with other roasters and b) I’m not entirely certain of my objectivity. These things are built the way I like, but we don’t all value the same things equally.
This was my response:
I’m loathe to make direct comparisons for fear something may be construed as disparaging. I design and manufacture equipment of similar construction for a living. I’m intimately familiar with all of the factors that impact the decision making process that goes into the production of just about everything and I seldom criticize anything that appears to be competently thought out.
To be slightly less weaselly, our roasters stack up very well initially and probably better over time.
When I opened my first crate, my initial inclination was to pick apart the details. Paint defects, sharp edges, less than cosmetically perfect welds.
As I disassembled the first machine, I was shocked. Something like 3/8″ plate steel construction, electrical wiring so good I have a standing offer to sponsor their electrical tech for immigration, nice polished stainless screws, good insulation, etc.
Better yet, the design itself is simply brilliant in terms of efficiency and serviceability. It roasts and cools as well as any roaster you can shake a stick at and It’s set up “smart” enough that it’s easier to figure out how to roast on than most.
If the question is components, the short answer is all of that stuff comes from China now anyway. You’ll get a Taiwanese Fotek PID controller that you’ll program in about 7 steps. On a US made roaster, you’ll probably get a much more capable Watlow SD-31 (for about $300 more) and do the same programming in 31 steps, but it won’t do anything different. -for the record, I buy Watlow controllers for the machines we produce in Minnesota for national and international distribution, but it’s the only 1/32 din controller with a built in timer. You can spend the money and stick one in a roaster, but you only use about 1/10 of what it’s capable of.
Speaking of Watlow, let me give you an example. Before I got involved here in the US, North shipped an electric TJ-067 to a coffee shop in Missouri. They called me yesterday for a replacement heating element. It’s a standard 800 watt copper/steel heating element; pretty much what you’d find in an electric oven. I spoke to Watlow, Durex, and Tempco, The least expensive price I got was $93. I ordered 4 of them from Tim shipped via DHL for $72. Go figure.
You can see from the pics on the website, the burner manifold is solid tig welded stainless steel and the diffusers are solid cast iron.
What you can’t see is the ignition module is a standard rectification flame sensing Sunsrays module. It will shut the gas off if it doesn’t register a flame. I don’t know for sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised to hear they make the circuit boards for White-Rodgers and Honeywell and everybody else.
Again, the point being, one of the ways North cuts costs is eschewing the use of US branded components in favor of their Chinese and Taiwanese produced counterparts. I know first hand that China is still in the “wild west” stage of their economic development, but I’m pretty sure immolating your customers is not a successful brand building strategy anywhere.
More to the point, the equipment is built and certified to IEC spec. This is the international equivalent of UL.
I had a North roaster in my house for 4 months before I needed to open another warehouse space. I didn’t lose any sleep. That said, I never strayed far when it was running and I make it a point to always cut gas and electric whenever I shut down. I also have a couple of fire extinguishers handy. My opinion is that the act of roasting coffee is far more hazardous than the equipment. I am highly redundant in my degree of caution.
My opinion is these roasters are the best value for a commercial roaster available in the US. We give people the opportunity to roast bigger batches better for fun and profit without requiring a second mortgage or signing a personal guarantee.
Simply put, we lower the barriers to entry for start-up commercial coffee roasters to begin doing business. They get to walk before they have to run. As a serial entrepreneur of 30+ years experience and an advanced degree from the school of hard knocks, I genuinely began this thing to help people realize their passion the same way I have for these many years. I am abundantly and exceedingly blessed for the things I have learned and the people I have met and the opportunities I have had. My sincere desire is to give something back.
To be sure, I wouldn’t mind actually making some money too. At this point we’re probably losing a little on everything with the hope we squeak by on volume. The good news is it’s cheaper than a girlfriend (according to my wife) and less boring than golf.
I hope this long and rambling missive provides the answers you were looking for. If not, call me. I think I’m getting writers cramp.