Makers of electric roasters pitch carbon cutting in coffee making
Mar 18, 2024

Makers of electric roasters pitch carbon cutting in coffee making

A London coffee house pivots from fire-controlled coffee roasting to using a new electric machine. We explore some of the pros and cons.

This story was produced by our colleagues at the BBC.

The global market for coffee roasters was worth over $1 billion in 2022, according to Grand View Research, and could double by 2030. Traditional gas roasters still dominate the market, but more compact electric roasters with higher tech are becoming increasingly attractive to coffee houses because they’re more environmentally friendly and cheaper to run.

Pedro Lourenço is general manager at the Notting Hill Coffee Project, a specialty coffee shop and roaster in west London. He roasts several times a week on a Giesen W6E electric roaster, on average about 90 pounds per week.

Before pouring the green coffee beans in, Lourenço peered at a laptop computer and adjusted some settings.

A connected laptop tracks various metrics, allowing roaster Pedro Lourenço to maintain consistency. (Frey Lindsay)

“The temperature is a little too high,” he said as he worked, “so I’m going to set the temperature, wait until I have the temperature I need, and then load the beans into the drum so they can start roasting.”

After just a few minutes, the coffee beans turned brown and were poured out of the drum to cool. Lourenço said while Notting Hill’s electric roaster doesn’t save them money yet, it’s about being more environmentally friendly. The main drawback to an electric roaster, he said, is that it’s “a little more difficult to control, getting that result that we are used to.”

That’s because rather than using a gas flame, electric roasters typically use heat coils, which are slower to respond. Think of it like trying to control the temperature of a pan on a stove versus an oven. But Pedro said once you’ve got it, the result is the same as with a gas roaster.

Pedro Lourenço is general manager of the Notting Hill Coffee Project in London. (Frey Lindsay)

Bellwether Coffee, based in Berkeley, California, makes a line of electric roasters coupled with a platform to source beans from farmers at equitable prices. CEO Ricardo Lopez said electric roasters like his company’s produce 90% less carbon emissions than gas, partly because of the way they retain energy.

“We’re not just taking ambient air, heating it up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit and then roasting the coffee with it and having that go out into the environment,” explained Lopez. “We’re able to recycle. So that air roasts the coffee, goes down to maybe 300 degrees. We clean it, get it back up to 500 degrees, and then we roast again. So it’s much more efficient.”

Bellwether is expanding across Europe and Asia, and its roasters are not cheap. The Series 2 roaster costs about $59,000, while regular gas roasters can go for less than $20,000. But Lopez said they’re working to reduce the price.

“As we get better and more innovative, we’re able to really focus on trying to make something that’s more mass-market appeal,” he said.

Whether you prefer a soy latte or a double espresso, electric roasting offers a way to cut running costs and take some of the carbon out of your cup.

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The team

Daisy Palacios Senior Producer
Daniel Shin Producer
Jesús Alvarado Associate Producer
Rosie Hughes Assistant Producer