Bellwether unveiled what it says is the first commercially available ventless, electric coffee roaster to the public this weekend at the Specialty Coffee Expo in Seattle. Aimed at cafés, the cloud-connected roaster is roughly the size of a vending machine and can roast seven pounds of green coffee to specific flavor specifications in ten minutes.
The fact that the roaster is electric and ventless is a big deal, according to Bellwether CEO, Nathan Gilliland. Traditionally, roasting coffee emits harmful gasses and requires special ventilation to be installed, which requires permits and is expensive. Bellwether uses a catalytic process to eliminate those gasses and the need for extra ventilation.
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 Founder, Ricardo Lopez told me one thing most people don’t often realize is that once roasted, different coffee bean types need to rest and off-gas for different periods of time. A certain type may be best 4 days after roasting, for example. Bellwether knows this and will help you schedule accordingly so you are roasting, resting and serving the coffee at its best.
With this consistency, Gilliland said Bellwether becomes a good option for coffee shops that want to expand to new locations. Rather than shipping beans around, branches can install the relatively small Bellwethers at each location. Because all the machines are connected to the cloud, each remote machine can use the exact same beans and flavor profile to ensure that coffee tastes the exact same at each location.
Bellwether is also packed with sensors that can detect any anomalies with the roast process or sense if a part is failing and alert Bellwether, which can troubleshoot the problem.
A Bellwether machine costs $1,000 a month to rent, which includes $200 worth of green coffee, as well as all the service and software.
If all this sounds familiar, that means you’re an avid reader of The Spoon, as we just wrote about Carbine Coffee’s Countertop Roastery, which also debuted its own ventless electric coffee roaster at the Expo. But there are some big differences between the two, including the bigness. Bellwether’s machine is larger and can roast more coffee at a time (Gilliland says that if pushed it can produce 300 pounds a day). Additionally, from my chats with each company, Bellwether seems further along, as its software was on display and they are actively taking orders for fulfillment this fall.
Between Bellwether and Carbine, however, it seems like we’re on the cusp of craft coffee taking off like craft beer did. The ability to stick a Bellwether in just about any location without the need for building out ventilation, plus the capability to dial in a very specific roast to your taste means more coffee shops (and bakeries, and grocery stores) can create and sell their own signature blends. It’s like B2B coffee for the SMB market.
Founded in 2014, Bellwether is based in the Bay Area, has 15 employees and has raised $8 million in venture funding. Check out a video of the Bellwether in action below.