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SANTA ROSA -- Using skills acquired in more than 30 years of experience in making food-processing equipment, Loring SmartRoast founder Mark Loring Ludwig developed a clean, green and efficient coffee roaster that produces great tasting coffee every time without using massive amounts of energy during processing or eliminating smoke.

At the same time, the company goes the extra mile to service its roasters and stay on a first-name basis with its customers. Technicians at Loring SmartRoast (smartroaster.com) are dispatched to each new buyer’s site during installation and startup, but this is only the beginning of the relationship.

[caption id="attachment_76712" align="alignleft" width="315"] Loring SmartRoast founder Mark Loring Ludwig (left) and CEO Bob Austin with an energy-efficient coffee-processing machine at the Santa Rosa plant. (image credit: Gary Quackenbush)[/caption]

An Internet connection is installed on each roaster allowing Loring employees to monitor every machine 'round the clock from Santa Rosa and perform remote diagnostics. Training customer-support and maintenance sessions are held with buyers on every continent using Skype video conferencing -- following an on-site visit to ensure each roaster is set up properly and running at peak performance.

Another unique capability of the Loring service commitment is the ability to modify a roaster in the field to meet local standards.

"We called this a smart roaster because it uses an intelligent processor, rather than traditional manual inputs, to monitor and modify the roasting process and make critical time and temperature adjustments at just the right intervals to derive certain flavors from the beans,” said Bob Austin, president and chief executive officer. "We’re in the capital-equipment business, not the coffee business per se, but we have to understand the coffee market, industry trends and customer preferences to maintain a strong market position.”

Loring’s patented closed-loop Flavor-Lock Roast Process uses programmed computer controls in a touchscreen operator interface to deliver reliable, consistent results based on recipe data. A single gas burner roasts beans and incinerates fumes -- nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide -- in one operation, without putting scrubbers on the exhaust stack.

This technology, patented in 1999, continuously circulates hot, clean air within the chamber while using less oxygen. This leads to energy savings of up to 80 percent by eliminating the need for the separate afterburners found in competitive models.

Loring operates in the mid-range of the global coffee roaster market. The company’s all stainless-steel roasters can process 60- or 70-kilogram bags of coffee beans at a time. Depending on which of the three models is used or output level is desired, half or quarter bags can be roasted in a batch. Prices range from $75,000 to $200,000.

Roasters are customized for each location's electrical, safety and emissions standards.

"In addition to knowing our customers’ businesses, we examine fair-trade policies and sustainability practices, so both we and our clients can be good citizens of the earth,” Mr. Austin said. "Even the chaff, or outer covering of the coffee bean, is good for the garden. Our roasters are a very green product with the lowest emissions.

"Furthermore, our roasters have the smallest footprint among competitive models in the industry, using only half of the floor space.”

According to Mr. Austin, anyone could roast coffee in a popcorn popper or a frying pan -- with correct knowledge -- but consistent results when roasting bulk volumes requires precise temperatures.

Coffee is the second-largest commodity in the world, next to oil. Global demand for coffee roasters is a $200 million-per-year market, of which Loring has a small but growing market share in its category.

The firm employs 20 workers at its manufacturing facility located at 3200 Dutton Ave., Ste. 413, in Santa Rosa.

"Starbuck’s built the $2 to $4 dollar a cup phenomenon around the globe where a young, growing middle class increasingly loves coffee -- especially in the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China), which have enormous economic clout,” Mr. Austin said.

While the U.S. coffee consuming market is seeing moderate growth, Asian countries, including Vietnam, are becoming coffee producers.

"We’re in our highest growth period to date right now with a 50 to 100 percent increase in sales revenue each year,” Mr. Ludwig said. "We have a good, loyal installed base and great testimonials from our customers. This growth spurt started before the recession, but today this market is even stronger as people spend more for unique coffees and blends, and also due to the proliferation of coffee cafes."

The company plans to introduce a new product every year to build out the product line, according to Mr. Ludwig.

"We’re in an R&D phase right now to develop products that go beyond roasting, such as accessories for the roasters and new ways to get the beans into the roasters and out again into new packaging," he said.