Coffee roaster manufacturer looks to grow

[caption id="attachment_25407" align="alignright" width="324" caption="Three Loring Smart Roasters await shipment."][/caption]

Energy-saving Smart Roaster is one-of-a-kind, 'future of coffee roasting'

SANTA ROSA -- Loring Smart Roast is on the prowl for investment capital to up its capacity now that its eco-friendly coffee roasters have gained recognition worldwide.

The one-of-a-kind roaster cuts energy use and greenhouse gases by a whopping 80 percent, primarily with a patented process to incinerate smoke and particles without an afterburner.

Designed by inventor Mark Ludwig and put into production in Santa Rosa five years ago, the Smart Roaster is used by local wholesalers and has been exported to Japan and Europe.

“Our European sales pulled us through the economic downturn,” said Scott Robinson, Loring director of manufacturing.

Despite growing demand as its reputation spreads, only 20 of the $125,000 roasters have been built, and that’s what the company wants to change.

“We’re building one a month, and we’d like to build one a week so that orders don’t back up,” said Mr. Robinson.

Traditional roasters are energy and space hogs, with an afterburner that takes up as much space as the roasting drum and burns ten times the fuel.

“Coffee roasting technology hasn’t changed in 100 years,” said Mark Inman, president and CEO of Taylor-Maid Coffee in Sebastopol.

“It’s basically a clothes dryer with a fire underneath. The heated air is lost up a chimney, unless a stack like a blast furnace [the afterburner] burns off the carbons at huge expense.”

The Loring roaster encloses the burner flame in a cyclone chamber, where air from the roaster is reheated and some of its particulate matter incinerated. The products of combustion are allowed to escape into a high-temperature tube that incinerates smoke and odors. The process of recycling heated air also significantly reduces the power necessary to heat room-temperature air.

The roaster, with a “half-bag” capacity, can roast 2,000 pounds of beans in eight hours. Loring is working on a machine with twice the capacity, and its customers can’t wait.

“I could have used a ‘one bag’ roaster three years ago,” said Mr. Inman. “We’re roasting 20 hours a day, seven days a week and need a bigger roaster, but I’m committed to the Loring technology so I’ll have to wait.”

According to David Pohl, green coffee buyer and director of education for Equator Coffee in San Rafael, his company is using a Loring alongside a traditional roaster.

“The traditional roaster is fairly new so it doesn’t make sense to buy another Loring, but we’d love to replace both with a Loring ‘one bag.’ Right now we’re realizing a 40 percent energy savings, or about $1,000 a month. The Loring is clearly the superior roaster in every way. I think it represents the future of coffee roasting.”

The Smart Roaster has already made waves in cupping and barista contests, winning first and second prizes wherever it -- or coffee roasted in it -- is entered.

“Environmentally it sells itself, with the reduction in greenhouse gases and fuel reduction,” said Mr. Inman.

But the coffee roasting industry, he pointed out, is trendy. Old, cast-iron roasters, mostly German-made, are prized by some coffee processors, who feel modern equals mediocre.

“Anyone seeing a picture of the Smart Roaster next to a traditional one is likely to rethink that,” he said.

“I can be buying coffee in Peru and enter a new roasting profile into our roaster over my phone. You can’t do that with a vintage roaster.”

Loring Smart Roasters are made of stainless steel sourced from Metal FX in Willits. With 10 local employees and a painstaking manufacturing process that produces each roaster by hand, Loring is clearly ready for the next step.

“We’d like to beef up production considerably,” said Mr. Robinson.

The technology also has the potential to lower fuel costs and carbon output in any industrial process that involves high heat and the generation of smoke, he said.

Loring Smart Roast will be presenting at the upcoming North Bay Growth and Innovation Forum on Oct. 20.

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