Bellwether Coffee, the startup behind the electric and ventless coffee roaster that’s roughly the size of a vending machine, today announced that it has closed a $10 million Series A round of funding led by Congruent Ventures. This brings the total amount raised by Bellwether to $16 million.
We’re pretty excited about Bellwether’s technology because it could drastically change how batch coffee is created and distributed, shortening the supply chain for smaller coffee chains and other outlets looking to get into craft coffee. As we wrote back in April:
Basically, Bellwether provides a complete roasting solution in a box for a coffee shop. With the accompanying iPad, owners can order green beans from different sources, select from pre-set flavor profiles (or customize their own) and simply press a button. Bellwether does the rest to ensure that the roast is correct and consistent every time.
Bellwether machines can be rented for $1,000 month and include $200 worth of green coffee beans sourced through the Bellwether market. I spoke with Bellwether CEO Nathan Gilliland about today’s announcement and he said that the company has more than $6 million in pre-orders right now, with some customers ordering multiple machines. Breaking that down, Gilliland said that 40 percent of their customers are small cafes with one or two locations, 40 percent are cafe chains with fifteen to twenty locations, and 20 percent of orders are coming from a to-be-announced grocery chain.
It’s the grocery chain customer that is particularly interesting because it points to the customization this roasting model can open up. Grocery store chains big and small could create their own line of coffee suited to the tastes of that region. So far Bellwether has focused its sales efforts in the Bay Area and New York, but is getting pre-orders from places like Michigan, Seattle, Austin and Tennessee.
This notion of consistent, customized coffee for localized distribution is poised to become a real trend in the coming year. In addition to Bellwether’s machines, Roastery (formerly Carbine Coffee) debuted its own electric and ventless roasting machine earlier this year and is going into customer trials this fall.
Gilliland said that the new funding will go towards supporting the growth of the company. This includes adding sales and service people for machine installation and maintenance, software engineers and support staff, as well as capital expenditures like ramping up production.
One cool addition to the Bellwether software is a new “Tip the Farmer” feature. Businesses can put the Bellwether iPad at the point of sale where customers can read about which farm their coffee is coming from, and if they like, use their credit card to tip that farmer directly.
“Tips can make a tremendous difference,” said Gillilan. “The average farmer is making three cents a cup. If one out of every twenty people tips a dollar, that can have a huge impact.”
Armed with this new funding, Bellwether looks like it will be making its own impact as well.