Home Roasting and Lean Manufacturing


On my recent tour of commercial roasters I had fun looking at their manufacturing and warehousing processes.  I like warehousing and manufacturing.  I don’t work in that industry, but I like all the processes: cool conveyor belts and forklifts and all sorts of activity.  Whats not to love?  And when its a coffee warehouse, roaster, and manufacturer just about everything I find cool is located in one place.

The roasters i toured were operating on purpose.  I’m not sure if they are formally Lean or Six Sigma or some other ‘plan’, but they are operating with thought and purpose behind their activities.  Here are some points of Lean, commercial roasting, and how the points may impact home roasting:

  • Chaff is recyclable organic material.  When I sweep my chaff into the lawn, I’m not being lazy.  I’m recycling.
  • Lean puts a lot of emphasis on ergonomics.  How ergonomic is your roasting set up and can you improve it?
  • Blend strategy impacts inventory.  You should chose your blend strategy based on flavor, but if you blend before roasting you won’t need to maintain blend stock.
    • I’m not blending but it was neat to observe that commercial operators approach blending with different strategies.
  • Consistancy.  Lean and Six Sigma want to measure and eliminate varation.  Roasters measure and track varations in their roast.  I wonder if I need to measure and track my finished products.
    • I’ve tried to use a roast log but I didn’t really know how I was going to use it.  I wonder if I can switch from a roasters log to a tasters type of log.  Track the finished level of roast and the finished taste.
  • Green storage is interesting.  Even if you are buying container loads, greens are transported and stored in 150 lb jute bags.  It seems that there are a lot of non-value added steps in this process.
  • Disaster plans: Both roasters had contigencies for disasters.  My backup plan for beans is to run down to starbucks  🙂




Recently I was lucky enough to do a coffee cupping with a master roaster for a really large commercial roaster.  It was a really cool experience.  I tried once or twice to do cuppings at home but its not as easy as it sounds if you don’t know what you are doing.

We did a finished product tasting and a traditional coffee cupping.


We tasted 5 different blends/roasts.  The neat part is two of the sampels were the same blend, roasted to different levels.  I was aware of the importance of roast in an intellectual level but I haven’t actually roasted the same beans to different levels (at least not on purpose).  The roast level was only a little different but the taste was totally different.

The challenge with home roasting is quantity.  How do I roast and taste to different roast levels of the same bean?  I only order a few pounds of each bean and I don’t want to have tons of fresh roast going stale.

But its for science.  Maybe on my next sweetmarias order I’ll order only one coffee instead of an assortment and try and set up a tasting.  You all are invited  🙂

Traditional Cupping:

After the tasting, the rest of the people I was with left and I had the cool opportunity to do a cupping with the Master Roaster by myself.  The first thing I learned was that spitting into a spittoon is harder than I thought.

The spittoon goes between your legs.  I put it off to my side at first and it was just too awkward to be sitting on the spinning chairs and trying to lean over and hit the bucket.  I really didn’t want to spit all over the floor.

The Roast Master hadn’t planned on doing a cupping with me, if he did he would have selected different beans.  The beans that we tasted were the beans that his team cupped in the morning.

As we went around the table tasting, all I could taste was coffee.  I just smiled and tried to taste but it all just tasted like coffee.  I was relieved when he told me that this was hard since all these beans tasted the same.  Shew.  I did taste a difference in the 5th sample, it was brighter than the other 4.

At Home:

As for the practicality of doing this type of cupping from Home roasting, I’m not sure.

I’m not really going to reject a shipment from Sweet Maria’s?  I think I’d be better off doing a tasting.  Roast two different beans or the same bean to different levels and brew up 2 cups in the morning.  That way when I drink 2 cups of coffee in the morning, I’m not over-indulging, I’m tasting for science!

Cappuccino Deconstructed

We vacationed in Seattle in early June.  I was there to run a race and visit in-laws, but I did drag people to a few coffee places.  One of the more remarkable locations we visited was Slate Coffee Bar

We ordered Cappuccino Deconstructed.  Turns out a Capp is made of milk and espresso so the deconstruction wasn’t that exciting  🙂  The brilliance of the drink was the use of stemware.

Small capps don’t need to be kept crazy hot, especially since the drinks were appropriately sized and not some venti-trenti whatever sized bucket of milk.  The stemware was a fun elegant touch that I hadn’t considered doing at home.

Contrary to Yelp reviews, the site does have chocolate drinks.  We ordered a hot chocolate for one of my kids.  Keeping with the fancy schmancy coffee bar style, it is a nice single origin chocolate bean. I liked the depth of the chocolate, although my kids prefer a more traditional kid flavored chocolate (aka Nesquick).


Hot Chocolate

Coffee Concentrate

Coffee Concentrate

The ‘concept’ of coffee concentrate seemingly will fit nicely in my coffee consumption schedule and my roasting schedule. This was supposed to be a simple and quick quest, do a little google kung-fu and then I’d have concentrate. Alas its taken me months of ardous research to develop my concentrate. Or maybe its taken me months because of other reasons …

I’ve mentioned before that now that I have a drum roaster, I can roast more beans than I could possibly drink. One way to increase the ‘volume’ of home roasting is to figure out a way to drink my home-roast at work. I’ve tried to brew at work but thats a hassle and its a little more pretentsious than I like to be. Plus I usually drink coffee because I want to get away from my office – so I make a trip to Starbucks with my laptop. I got this vision of developping a concentrate based drink that I could make and then go to a park to work.

For my roasting schedule, we flip back and forth between traditional french press coffee and espresso. I love espresso but there just seems to be a lot more romance in a micro-lot of beans from Sweet Maria’s that I don’t find in an espresso blend. So I roast ‘coffee’ for about a month or so and then roast ‘espresso’ for the next month. I figure at the end of my coffee cycle I could take the ‘coffee roast’ and turn it into concentrate. Then I’d sorta have both coffee and espresso available.

‘Intellectually’ the idea was compelling. However I had no idea what coffee concentrate was. My google Kung-fu got me several recipes which basically went along the lines of making french press coffee with cold water and then wait 24 hours. The problem with recipes that include “and wait 24 hours” is that 24 hours later I’m doing some other project. And I don’t have a huge inventory of roasted beans, I try to keep everything fresh. I can’t just grind away beans or I’ll be drinking Tea in the morning (bleah). My ability to run repeated experiments causes this simple experiment to take several months because of these roadblocks.

Experiment #1: My first concentrate recipe I found was about a cup of beans + 4 cups of water. Which is just about my normal french press recipe (should have been my first sign). I made the concoction and stuck it in my fridge. The next day I plunged it and tried some — Yum, water with a slight coffee taste!

Experiment #2: I identified the problem, I stuck the coffee in the fridge – the recipe called for setting out at room tempeture. Repeated the experiment, plunged it. Yum, water with a slight coffee taste!

Experiment #3: I knew I was doing something wrong, beans + water + some function = concentrate. I came across a recipe that gave more detailed instructions (probabably because I actually read them this time). 1 ounce of beans to 4 ounces of water. I whipped out my kitchen scale. Measuring by weight indicated I was way way low on beans – I was only using 1/3 of the beans I needed. I reran the experiment with 1/4 pound of beans and 2 cups of water. After waiting the perscribed 24 hours I plunged. A drinkable product came out! I made myself a cup and went to work. I came home and wanted to make a second drink to validate my findings. Unfortunately my wife spilled my container – it was all gone. If you ask her, I left the bottle out and didn’t put the lid on properly — so don’t ask her.

Experiment #4: 1/2 pound of beans:4 cups water. Wow, thats a lot of beans, the grinds fill up half of my large press, I wasn’t sure the water would fit. But now I have a decent amount of concentrate to experiment with.

I still have much experimentation to do on this and it will be slower going than I thought. There is about a week or two of time between each experiment. But I think I have a framework now to work with. I need to figure out the right ratio to “rehydrate” my concentrate and what the best way to serve this product. It seems to be a product that needs sugar, like a sweet ice coffee, but maybe thats because I was craving sugar at the time.