Let me start my saying that writing a blog was never really on my list of jobs for Kickback Coffee. However, now that we find ourselves in this new situation, I have the time to write to you guys. So, this new post will be the beginning of doing 'something' for the website on a regular basis. I'm still deciding what all the content will be, but there will be something.
I frequently get asked how I got into coffee roasting so I feel that this will be a good first 'new' post to kick things off. (Apologies for the previous ones, but they are a part of my past and I try not to delete stuff).
Coffee was never meant to be a job. I didn't one day go "I really want a business, I hear that coffee is a popular drink, maybe I should try something in coffee". It was a lot more organic than that, something that grew out of a hobby which slowly got too expensive.
It started about 8 years ago whist I was working in Nottingham (playing rugby, different story altogether, maybe another blog post...) when I got talking with a local coffee shop owner who was thinking of opening a roastery. Well, that person turned out to be 200 Degrees [@200degrees], if you don't know them, they are one of the bigger boys now and are smashing it. As I said, they opened a roastery and I got the chance to have a look around. During my visit I met Tim, I believe he was their first head roaster, who told me that you could roast coffee with a popcorn machine. From there, I went onto Gumtree and bought a used popcorn maker, costing a colossal £5 and then purchased some green beans from eBay, highly reputable.
I will confess that roasting coffee on a popcorn machine definitely doesn't produce the best roast I've done, but what it does do is enables you to see some of the basic principles of roasting. Which was incredibly fun.
After melting several popcorn machines, due to them overheating, I found a small home roaster (GeneCafe) which would allow up to 250g per roast. Considering that I was playing around with 50g previously with the popcorn machines, my production levels had the potential to go through the roof!
By buying the home roaster, I had my first opportunity to roast using a drum method (this is how I roast today) which also provided a more consistent roast.
With the home roaster, I was able to roast enough coffee for me to drink and more importantly, start giving the coffee out to friends/family and during a 2 year period, the list of people asking for coffee slowly grew. This essentially lead me to wanting a larger machine;
1. To play with more variables during the roast
2. To produce more coffee
If I was to choose this machine again, I would definitely have something different. Mainly as there are more options available but also because of what I have learnt. At the time, I chose an electric burner as I thought it would be easier to find somewhere to roast with it. Evidently, I didn't understand what 3-phase electric was, I now do and its NOT standard. In addition, as electric burners don't have the ability for instant power on/power off... [Imagine boiling a pan of water on an electric hob, switching the power down and the water keeps rolling. Whereas on a gas hob, when you switch off the power, the water settles down almost instantly - imagine that but with coffee beans]. This principle when it comes to controlling a drum roaster is therefore extremely important.
Anyway, this is what I purchased and I bloody loved that I now had the ability to roast coffee by the kilo. It also meant that I had to find somewhere to actually put the roaster - so essentially I had my first roastery.
From this point onwards, the hobby slowly became more expensive. Instead of buying 500g of green beans, I started ordering 10kg bags. Then I got very thirsty and wanted to play around with an entire sack...I needed to sell what I was producing.
Anyone who has roasted on a 1kg drum, trying to produce enough coffee to sell isn't easy. Each roast would have a turnaround time of about 20-25 minutes. Meaning that every hour I could roast max. 3 batches of 1kg resulting in roughly 2.5kg of roasted coffee [net loss comes from moisture and the chaff (coffee shell)]. Roughly 10 bags of coffee per hour, or 1/4 of a weekly coffee shop order! Not a viable business plan, which I realised very quickly.
THE GOLDEN EAGLE
Or fondly known as 'The Bane of my Life'.
This is an anecdotal example of going with your heart instead of your head...I fell in love with how this roaster looked. It reminded me of some 1950's european science experiment or something straight out of Willy Wonker's factory. For some reason, I think I was meant to buy it... of course not forgetting the fact it was my minimal viable product [minimal investment to produce the coffee without dropping the quality in the taste].
I could write an entire post of the stories with the Golden Eagle. A little taster would include the time I nearly blew myself up by attempting to drill more holes in the burner...
I thought it would be appropriate to show a picture of the Golden Eagle in pieces, as it often spent time that way.
With all that being said, the Golden Eagle gave me the chance to start a business, to turn a hobby into something which could make me a living. Even with the difficulties I experienced whilst roasting with it, I grew a small wholesale client base and began selling regularly at local markets... Kickback Coffee was born.
It makes me smile looking at my roaster. It is the product of a lot of hard work, of sacrifices, of the pain it took to get into a position to invest into a quality machine. It most certainly didn't come easily. The Giesen WA6 was an easy choice for me. I had several friends who already roasted on one, they have a great heritage and support system and they are a machines that lasts.
Why I chose a 6kg? My plan is to try to grow out of it quickly, then retain it in the roastery as my smaller batch roaster, for single origin coffees. Then invest in a workhorse who can pump out the espresso blend for wholesale.
I hope that this journey isn't over and that I have several more roasters to buy but I am truly grateful to be able to call my hobby, my job. It definitely wasn't planned, it wasn't easy and I don't take it for granted. I have big plans to turn Kickback Coffee into something special and I hope that if you have read this far that you would like to follow my journey.
"Work on your dreams, or someone will pay you to work on theirs".