Why do commercial coffee roasters cost so much?
Most of the companies building coffee roasters in the US are producing machines in very limited volumes. I know from experience that in the 50-500 unit range, there’s no way to realize the kind of efficiencies of scale you’d see in a mass manufactured product. In other words, there’s no assembly line, per say. They may batch produce a couple at a time, but they’re essentially hand built.
Then too, there’s an issue where most of their buyers are purchasing on an equipment financing lease. Simply stated, they’re buying payment with the total expense a secondary consideration. This is a big reason for the relatively large number of used machines in the 5-25 kg range. Successful roasting companies outgrow their machines quickly. Unsuccessful ones give up a disproportionately large machines in bankruptcy. This may be sad, but it’s true.
The North machines have a couple of advantages, first and most obviously, they are made in China. North is Taiwanese owned, but the parent company located their manufacturing facility in China to take advantage of lower costs. Second, the coffee roasting market in China is dominated by individual producers. Nearly every coffee shop has their own, relatively small, roaster. This means that 1-3 kg machines are ubiquitous. The net effect is a more competitive small machine environment with lots of producers and lower prices. Besides the parent company servicing China, North also sells machines internationally, with only half of their sales in the US and Canada. This means, for example, that North will probably produce more 1 kg roasters this year than the total output of the 3 or 4 largest US roaster manufacturers combined. Simply put, besides an advantageous cost basis, they actually do have the potential to realize economies of scale.
With regard to quality: the North built machines will perform equally well as any roaster available anywhere and surprisingly better than many. They are designed and built well. More importantly, they are set up correctly. This means good heat, good drum speed, good exhaust and cooling characteristics. They are thermally stable enough to easily control and responsive enough to recover quickly when you screw up. Basically, they’re “sweet” roasters.
There’s plenty of very good roasters to choose from and it’s actually sort of hard to get a “bad” one. We offer a guy the chance to pay off a 6 kg roaster by about 2500 lbs of coffee. That’s about 48 hours of roasting. I remember the technical term I learned in business school was “no brainer.”
There’s no free lunch here. Even at the prices we offer, these are still expensive machines. We don’t take much for granted and we’re genuinely grateful for the opportunity to work with you. Whatever it takes, we try hard to take care of our “peeps.”
Thanks for giving us a shot.