What’s The Deal With Fluid Bed Roasters?

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An article about why Fluid Bed Roasters are superior to the average drum roaster.

Image Courtesy of MassLive

So when it comes to roasting coffee I think we can mostly all agree that we don’t know everything. If that’s the case with you also then bear with me as I try to explain why the roaster that we choose to use at Monsoon Roastery is, in our opinion, superior to the typical drum roaster. 

I would venture to say that coffee is something that most people don’t think about too much; they just drink it. Most people wake up and drink a cup of black stuff with cream in it so that they don’t fall asleep driving to work or while they sit at their desk and type away. They might have one or two cups at their house before they leave or they might just stop at Starbucks on their way in and grab a Venti Low-Fat Caramel Latte with Soy Milk and Caramel Drizzle… or something like that. The point is, the average person doesn’t even know or care about the roast of the coffee that they are drinking. Okay so why are you writing this article? You might ask yourself this question, but I think you already know the answer. 

The truth is that within the last 5-10 years, coffee has gone mainstream. Internet trained, home brewing baristas have become the new trend and everyone is starting to actually value quality coffee for what it is instead of just drinking black stuff that wakes them up. The best part about this is that people are actually looking into what makes coffee good and why they shouldn’t just be buying the big-brand-rip-off-coffee anymore. Specialty coffee has become an art-form. Roasting coffee is interesting to people now because it shows the truth about whether a company has desire for quality and whether or not they care about the product they make and the people that consume it.

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The Basics of Coffee Roasting

Image courtesy of Home Roasters Forum

Roasting coffee has long been a profession that brings caffeinated beverages to millions of people all over the world. But what’s the big deal? Why are there different kinds? Different brands, different sizes, etc? Just like sports equipment or shoe brands or clothing brands, there is always a different company marketing a different approach to something that makes their brand or product superior; it’s competition.

Competition is good. Competition shows that people are paying attention and realize that there can always be improvements on something that has been the standard for a while. Within coffee roasting, the competition range is a very large scale that ranges from multi billion dollar franchises to home roasters in garages. With that being said, let’s talk about what difference the roaster makes. 

Roasting the bean is where you get the different characteristics of the coffee; whether or not it’s bold, how fruity it is, how light or dark it is, how rich it is. The way your coffee tastes is mostly a  direct product of how it was roasted. (Although there are some other variables that can be discussed later). Essentially, there are a few variables that result in a great tasting cup of coffee after roasting. These might consist of: quality of bean, quality of equipment, roasting environment, quality control, expertise of the person roasting. All of these are very important factors to look at when drinking coffee; however, I would venture to say that one of the most important would be that the person roasting the coffee actually knows what he or she is doing. 

You could have top of the line equipment in the best lab ever with great product but if you don’t have a person that understands and cares about the coffee they will be roasting, its a bust. Luckily Tim definitely knows what he is doing after years of study and practice. Secondly, I would say that the beans are also very important. I you are using low quality product it will surely end up in a low quality taste. 

Getting to the Point 

So now that we’ve learned that the roast of the coffee is very important to what it tastes like and that people are interested in knowing what they are drinking lets get to the point and talk about why fluid bed roasters are better than the average drum roaster. 

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Getting to the Point

Since the 1800’s, when commercial coffee roasting products hit the market, the drum roaster has remained king because of it’s classic and rudimentary design. However, over the years with technology improvements and desire for efficiency and better quality, people have begun to brainstorm and try to figure out how to improve upon how we roast coffee.  

In the 60’s a man named Mike Sivetz worked in a polyurethane plant and noticed something about his work that could transfer into how coffee can be roasted. See, the way that roasting coffee actually works is by the airflow that passes through the beans, heating them which caramelizes the sugars and changes the chemical components which result in a change in taste, for the better of course. The way that drum roasters do this is by heating a large metal drum which then transfers heat to the bean via conduction. However, convection (air flow) is still used within the drum to create a temperature change which roasts the beans. Within Sivetz’ work he noticed that with the proper amount of air flow he could make the object float and therefore getting an extremely even temperature modulation and control. 

So Sivetz took this to the coffee world by creating a system that, instead of heating metal to heat air which heats the coffee; now the hot air just heats the coffee. It’s almost eliminating the middle-man if you will. There’s more to the science behind the heat transfer of course but I’m sure if you were more interested in that part of things then you’d already be doing your own research. With this breakthrough in understanding a new way of being able to roast the coffee, Sivetz was able to create a machine capable of doing it which we now call a Fluid Bed Roaster. Essentially, hot air is carried by a blower to the coffee beans with enough force to lift the beans into the air which causes a heat transfer that evenly roasts the beans to perfection. 

So why doesn’t everyone switch to this new technology instead of sticking with the old ways? Well the answer is the same as why some people never switch to a chainsaw from a hand saw; some people just do it the way they do it and how it works for them. And like I said earlier, the quality of the roast really is up to the person who is in charge of it anyway, I’m just here to tell you that fluid bed roasters are the future of quality, specialty coffee. 

There are some downsides to drum roasters as well, including tar. What? Tar? What does that mean? Okay so you know when you go to the doctors office and have a cup of coffee in the waiting room but then spit it right back into the cup after the first sip because it tastes like a cigarette? Yeah, I know the feeling. So that is most likely because the coffee you are drinking is from a large corporation that doesn’t care about the quality of roast as long as it’s consistent. 

You know the easiest way to get a consistent roast without taking time to monitor and have quality control? Burn it. Yup, and this is very easy to do in a drum roaster which most of these large corporations use on massive scales. Tar becomes the coating on the bean when the chaff that falls off is singed and the smoke covers the roasting bean. It’s an oily coating that tastes burnt and bitter. This is very easy to achieve in a drum roaster because the drum roaster relies on using the heated metal sides of the drum to cause the heat transfer which results in uneven roast, especially when the person roasting has no real care for the greatest possible quality.  

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Why choose Monsoon Roastery?

At Monsoon Roastery, we use the highest quality beans we can get our hands on and still deliver it to you at an affordable and realistic price. We have great quality control with our roaster system that allows us to monitor our roast each time. And above all, as I stated earlier, we have a fantastic and knowledgable person behind the roaster! 

The key to quality roasting is consistency. And with a fluid bed roaster, consistency is very easy to achieve because of it’s simplicity. We believe that quality coffee should be roasted right and delivered at a quality price that reflects how it was made. We take pride in our roasts because we know that what we have to offer is special. 

In closing, I think that the most important thing about roasting coffee is whether or not it tastes good because at the end of the day, coffee is a beverage that we all enjoy drinking! 

If you are interested in more of the science behind fluid bed roasters I would encourage you to look at this link as they provide great information about them. 

Overall, I don’t think that we should be too caught up in the details of things, but sometimes it is good to know some information about what you are putting in your body every morning and how you can change that by investing in a small scale, quality specialty roaster like Monsoon Roastery! 

Gavin BerkeleyComment