Bellwether Coffee has developed an emissions-free roaster that makes coffee roasting possible for almost any café or business.
Running a café, or simply working behind an espresso machine, has stoked the flame of many people who dream of owning their own coffee brand. However, coffee roasting has been an elusive and exclusive art known only to a small few. Until now.
After several years of development, Bellwether Coffee made waves at last year’s 2019 Specialty Coffee Expo in the United States, where its commercial coffee roaster was recognised in the Best New Product awards.
The roaster is roughly the size of a refrigerator and, running on electricity, can be installed in a café or similar venue. Bellwether Coffee CEO Nathan Gilliland tells BeanScene the roaster caters to pent-up demand for a “more distributed” method of roasting coffee.
“Coffee was headed in a super-premium direction, like wine, beer, and most other beverage categories,” Nathan says.
“To really enable that, we had to create a much fresher product, which meant roasting near the point of consumption. Whether that’s in a café, restaurant, or hotel, being able to roast and serve super fresh coffee was the pathway to a more premium product.”
Sustainability was front of mind when developing the roaster. The system is emissions-free thanks to an internal afterburner that combusts the volatile organic compounds present in coffee smoke. In combination with filtration, this ensures only clean air leaves the machine.
“Coffee is one of the higher carbon footprint beverages that people consume, and many don’t really know that. Often, 12 pounds of CO2 are emitted for every pound of coffee that’s consumed. That’s way too high,” Nathan says. “Being able to shorten the supply chain, run it on electricity instead of natural gas, and clean off those pollutants while we’re roasting was core to the business from day one.
“People around the world have become more aware and active regarding climate change, and we want to do our part to try and fix this situation.”
Accessibility was just as important so the machine could provide a wide entryway into roasting for its users. The entire system is controlled with a touchscreen tablet attached to the machine where operators can select, edit, and create roast profiles.
“If we wanted this thing to be accessible, it had to be easy to use and intuitive. It couldn’t require specialised labour, where you had to be a 10-year roasting veteran to know how to roast coffee,” Nathan says. “Usability is one of the bigger differentiators of what we do. It’s a fun and easy to use machine compared to the old school technology that traditional roasting is all about.”
Even procuring green coffee is made easy through Bellwether Coffee’s Marketplace, accessed through the touchscreen, which features coffees curated by Bellwether.
“To really make it easy and accessible for our customers, they needed the ability to source green coffee, which is not a simple process. On top of that, we want to help people buy coffee that is more sustainable, highlight the farms themselves, and make sure they are earning the costs of a sustainable product,” Nathan says.
“You can sort coffee by continents and origins. If you’re interested in gender initiatives, you can buy coffee from female cooperatives. If you’re more worried about environmental sustainability, you can buy coffees that are Rainforest Alliance endorsed.”
Nathan says the majority of Bellwether’s customers buy green coffee through the Marketplace, which includes information on the coffee, pictures and videos of the farm, and the producer’s story. Bellwether also develops recommended roast profiles for its green coffees that customers can follow or adapt.
However, customers are also encouraged to explore their own preferences, and can create roast profiles by simply drawing them on the touchscreen.
“People who own a café or really care about coffee want to understand where it comes from and more about the product. Actually roasting it yourself, building roast profiles, and creating the exact coffee you want to serve to your customers is something that our customers have really engaged with,” Nathan says.
“Similarly, they can roast and sell it under their own brand now, which builds their brand and allows them to tell their own coffee story.”
So far, Bellwether Coffee’s main clientele has been independent cafés looking to strike out with their own coffee brand. Others include grocers, hotels, restaurants, corporate campuses, and larger chains.
“Our early customers were industry influencing cafés that others looked up to, and we targeted them for that reason. It was people who wanted to offer a cool customer experience: to see a coffee roaster, to watch coffee being roasted through the glass front, and to bring the coffee front and centre,” Nathan says.
“Besides fresher coffee and the customer experience, there is consistency. Being technologically advanced and controllable, you get perfectly consistent coffee every time. It’s not like older machines that are dependent on things like the weather or even the person using it.”
Over the last year, many businesses in the United States have adopted Bellwether Coffee roasters for these reasons to great results. A Bellwether customer, located just outside of Dallas, Texas, is one example Nathan gives of an independent café that has successfully grown its brand.
“They were buying wholesale coffee from a roastery in Austin, which while in the same state, is a long way away,” he says.
“They purchased our roaster, buy our green coffee, and have seen their revenue grow by 20 per cent because they’re pushing their own brand now. They’ve had a lot of really positive customer feedback about the coffee too.
“Their cost per pound dropped by 25 per cent as well, so they simultaneously grew revenue and reduced their coffee expenses.”
While COVID-19 is a huge blow to the American coffee industry, Nathan says many of Bellwether’s customers handled the situation better than most cafés.
“So far, our customers have had mixed impacts. Some have fared better, particularly those who already knew how to do ecommerce or were selling retail, but some in New York, for example, were forced to temporarily close,” Nathan says.
“Our total coffee volume being roasted is back up to pre-COVID levels, which is very encouraging to us.”
While Bellwether Coffee has been embraced across the US, the roaster has not yet arrived on Australian shores, something Nathan hopes to soon change.
“Australia is unique in how premium the coffee offerings are. What many Australians think is typical, Americans would think of as super premium, and that’s really our type of market,” Nathan says.
“Australia is a pioneer in the coffee market and we want to serve that super specialty market. We also connect with the strong interest and focus on sustainability. I think you’ll see us there either by the end of this year, or more likely, early 2021.”
For more information, visit www.bellwethercoffee.com
This article appears in the August 2020 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.