Commercial Coffee Roasters

For most people, purchasing a commercial coffee roaster is a big decision. Prospective buyers are faced with a myriad of choices between a variety of domestic and international manufacturers as well as several different competing technologies. Electric vs gas, infrared vs direct flame, data logging, automation, drum material and construction. Nearly everyone has an opinion as to what constitutes the “best” choice, but what’s best for you is often unclear.

Capacity vs Price

Up until a couple of years ago, most first time buyers purchased on credit. This meant being locked into 48-72 months of payment on a new roaster installation that depreciated by 10-20% the moment the crate was opened. Buyers often found themselves married to their first roaster without the benefit of a pre-nuptial agreement. Although it was easier to succeed with the lower debt burden of a smaller roaster, quickly outgrowing a smaller machine meant either being forced to roast for many long hours to meet demand or taking the financial hit of buying out the lease or paying out of pocket to cover depreciation. This is the basis of many experienced and well-meaning roastmasters wise counsel to always purchase the largest machine possible. Fortunately for many, the high quality and affordable offerings from Mill City Roasters has changed that equation.

New vs Used

Why buy new when used will do? Usually price, but you do generally do get what you pay for. First, used roasters are often poorly maintained and parts, service, and support can be expensive at best and impossible to find at worst. A commercial coffee roaster is the core of any coffee roasting business. You’ll discover that making sure you stay in business is as much a priority for us as selling you a machine. The only time we’re successful is when you’re successful.

Drum vs Fluid Bed

For most, a commercial coffee roaster is a drum roaster. While other technologies can produce excellent results, most people opt for the control and flexibility of a drum. In capable hands, drum roasters are capable of being configured to produce well developed light roasts characteristic of the best air roasters as well as being configured on the very next roast for dark, sweet, and syrupy Italian roasts. Simply put and generally speaking, drum roasters can do what the others can do and drum roasters can do what the others can’t.

Gas vs Electric

For maximum control, liquid propane or natural gas are the fuels of choice. Electric heating elements are often heavy and slow to heat and cool making delicate “on the fly” profile adjustments awkward. Electric heaters can produce excellent results, but gas provides an additional level of responsiveness.

Direct Flame vs Infrared

Drum roaster operate primarily by pulling heated air through the mass of beans inside the drum. Whatever the heat source, the primary operation of the burners or elements is to heat air, not the beans directly. While infrared burners are more efficient, they operate in only a narrow band of output. This means their output is generally limited to a high or low setting. Similar to electric heat and although capable of producing excellent results, infrared limits control. If your vision is to artisian roast for the very best of any given bean, you’ll need the precise heat control that direct flame offers.

Stainless vs Cast Iron

This is a very misunderstood area as many drums that are identified as “cast” are actually mill finished welded steel and many drums identified as stainless are actually sophisticated and expensive alloys with very high thermal conductivity and very low expansion characteristics very much more akin to cast than not. Much of what passes for informed opinion is entirely anecdotal and/or simply a good marketing pitch. Drum roasters are systems where materials selection and burner configuration and air paths all intersect to produce an intended result. No matter what anyone tells you to the contrary nor how loudly they make that argument, most manufacturers produce slightly differing, but successful designs where the quality of any given roast is more of a product of the skill of the operator, not minor differences in construction.

Automated vs Manual Control

Most people find controlling a commercial drum roaster fairly easy. Automation can be very convenient, but generally will not be capable of the fine control that craft roasters aspire to. Note that the digital PID temperature control on most commercial coffee roasters is a fail safe only and generally set at only a maximum on/off temperature. It is not a computer, it doesn’t control the profile, and is nearly always set at a temperature higher than will ever be reached while actually roasting coffee. Similarly, data logging capability is only recording temperature change over time, not computer control over the roast. This makes accuracy claims disingenuous at best and completely ignorant at worst. Computerized control of the roast required a modulating gas valve, power supply, and at minimum a sophisticated PID controller with a sequential ramp/soak capability. It will also control air flow and may incorporate a sophisticated learning function. This is simple technology, but generally less than convenient to set up scrolling through hundreds of steps on a 4 or 5 button control on a 5 square inch screen. Automated touchscreen interfaces are generally more intuitive, but much more expensive.


Price vs Quality

Mill City Roasters has proved that you can purchase one of the very best commercial coffee roasters available at what may be the lowest prices in the industry, but we’re not selling price. We’re selling quality, performance, service, and value. We’re trying to change the industry by empowering regular people with the ability to crack the pro-roaster code without breaking the bank. We think more people creating wealth and opportunity for themselves by roasting smaller batches of better coffee for profit and fun is better for the coffee growers that produce the greens and the Chinese craftsmen that produce our machines. These are regular guys that honor their trade with their best efforts every day. We’re honoring their efforts with ours and yours. That’s what we’re thinking about when we say “Making the world a better place one cup at a time.”


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