Technology is evolving rapidly, and automation is becoming more ubiquitous in every business. Over the past couple of years, there have been a few automated coffee-roasting machines that would make it possible for anyone to roast their own coffee without any specific knowledge of how to roast. What a fantastic and novel idea.
Ikawa’s personal roasting machine
Apple brought the power of computers into the average person’s home and empowered them with the strength and capability of the internet and complex computing systems without needing to be a genius. Today, companies like Bellwether and Ikawa have created personal roasting appliances that can automate the roasting process with the ease of operating a laundry dryer. This has a lot of people wondering, should I roast?
For restaurants, the short answer is No! I’m not trying to be a nay-sayer. However, the benefits of roasting your own coffee do not outweigh the benefits of working with a roasting partner as a vendor. Roasting is a skill and discipline in its own right that requires technical knowledge, sensory skills and a point of view. These automated machines may have simplified the operation and created a system that roasts coffee for you; however, they cannot replace a craftsperson with the same level of quality. Chefs know that just because you push the beef button on your microwave doesn’t mean your steak will come out as it would at Peter Luger’s.
Purchasing green is an additional process and skill that must be learned and is not automated. It takes time and experience to know and understand the flavor and qualities to expect from each origin, how to blend those flavors harmoniously and then determine the roast degree that will express those flavors to their pinnacle. Since coffee is an agricultural product, those profiles change every season and every year, just enough that adjustments must be made regularly.
Beyond the craft, quality, and final product of coffee, your roasting partner brings a lot of additional value to the relationship. Your coffee roaster is usually your source of brewing equipment, and technical service to maintain that equipment and staff training. Again, these are each separate skills and practices. Managing your own equipment-technical assistance as a restauranteur would not be enjoyable.
When working in wholesale, I often got calls late on a Friday during heavy service with complaints that an espresso machine was broken. I would arrive within an hour and often solve the issue or bring a technician to replace the machine with a loaner if we needed to work on a more significant problem. Dinner service did not skip a beat, and the staff did not even have to let it distract them.
Restaurants are notorious for high turnover rates, meaning staff needs regular training. Coffee companies provide training because they care about how their product is served and represented. For a restaurant to add a team member who is highly skilled in barista craft and education so they can provide high-level training to staff on an ongoing basis is a cost and distraction that most restaurants would not see as part of their core activities.
I could continue on the plethora of reasons why a restaurant should not undertake the liability and responsibility of roasting their coffee; however, the above reasons are strong enough. The only exception to this advice is if it is a true passion of the people responsible for the restaurant and its unique point of view. If roasting coffee was part of the purpose and passion while working in concert with the food to provide a specific experience to guests, then it may be worth all the fuss.