We are living in the golden age of the microroaster.
Never before has it been more cost effective, more achievable, and more attractive for coffee companies to roast their own coffee. In tandem with the rise of high quality green coffee microlots, this has led to a boom time for new, independent roasters—some built from the ground up with roasting in mind, and others jumping into the game after years working as a successful cafe serving someone else’s coffee.
Here at Sprudge it feels like we’re telling this story six different ways, all the time. From the coffee design and packaging boom to the annual influx of new cafes under construction each summer, many of whom roast their own, to our ever-growing global network of maps and city guides, great microroasters can be found at every step of the path along the way.
Some of what’s changed is cultural, but there is also clearly a technological and access component to why more and more coffee companies are roasting their own. One of the major ringleaders in this movement is Bellwether, a California-based manufacturer of an all-in-one roasting system that allows small coffee businesses to roast their own coffee on-site. It is frankly a pretty incredible machine and we’ve followed the evolution and growth of Bellwether closely over the last half-decade, as the product has refined its “zero emissions” system and found ready adoption and more and more small coffee businesses.
We’re thrilled today to be launching an updated feature series on Sprudge called Roaster Spotlight, presented in partnership with Bellwether. In the weeks and months to come we’ll be telling stories about remarkable small businesses that have been impacted by using this technology, focusing on how taking over the work of roasting has benefitted their coffee companies. Some of our first interviews will include Lawrence Lai (Craftsman & Wolves), Tami Caniday (Wagon Coffee Roasters), and Amanda-Jane Thomas and Shanita Nicholas (Sip & Sonder).
These are just some of the microroasters we’ll be featuring in the series, but even here in the first round of interviews it’s remarkable to hear each of these very different companies tell a similar kind of story over the amount of control and benefit they get from managing the roasting part of their business. “Roasting ourself is important because we now have the flexibility and control over the type of beans and roasts we want for our brand,” Lawrence Lai told me—and if you’ve ever had the pastries at Craftsman & Wolves in San Francisco, you know the coffee has to be great to match.
Meanwhile at Wagon Coffee Roasters, a social mission driven company that supports women in recovery, Tami Caniday sees the work of roasting being in service to the greater goal. “Roasting coffee is our medium or tool that allows us to do what we love while supporting women in recovery from addiction,” she tells me. “People can buy their coffee anywhere but not everyone leans in 100% on a big mission. The coffee you drink from Wagon Coffee doesn’t just help you, it helps a whole community of others. Plus it helps the environment, which helps all of us!”
For others, taking on roasting is symbolic of growth, and that’s certainly the case at Sip & Sonder, an LA-based coffee success story that’s grown from a single Inglewood location in 2019 to three physical locations here in 2023. “Over the four years since we launched, we have really honed in on our coffee program by connecting the roasting experience to the dial-in experience behind the bar,” Nicholas and Thomas say. “As part of our onboarding training, we take our team through a coffee education experience, which includes a visualization journey from the farming of the coffee cherries through to de-pulping, drying, packaging and shipping. We know that by having a deep understanding of what it takes to get coffee to our customers, our team gains an increased appreciation for the product and also the ability to share that knowledge with our community.”
This is just a taste of the sorts of stories we’ll be exploring here at Roaster Spotlight, presented in partnership with Bellwether. Stay tuned—and keep (micro)roasting!