We’ve seen espresso machines sized down to fit home kitchens. We’ve seen pour over cones transition from a snooty barista tool to home coffee bar essential. And now, it seems, coffee roasting is undergoing a similar adaptation.
Home coffee roasters have existed for years, with Behmor, Hottop, and Gene Cafe leading the space (behind Grandma’s repurposed popcorn popper, of course), but a new wave of home roasting gear is making waves—and raising lots of money.
Back in 2013, over 2,000 backers raised $600,000 to bring the Bonaverde Berlin—an $800 home roaster and coffee maker combo device—to life (you can read our review here).In 2015, London-based Ikawa raised just over $200,000 to bring its app-controlled roaster to prosumer homes. The device pre-sold for $650, was released in 2017, and now sells for just over $1,000 at retail.
And more recently in 2018, IA Collaborative Ventures’ Kelvin raised $400,000 to make coffee roasting even simpler and more affordable for casual coffee lovers, with devices pre-sold for just $250. A few weeks later, the Singaporean Power Roaster raised another $50,000 with roasters for $280 a pop.
For those of us in the coffee industry, this home roasting gear boom is a bit surprising. Roasting coffee is far more complex than most consumers imagine. Getting hold of high-quality unroasted beans can be a challenge. After roasting the beans, you have to wait days for the beans to release carbon dioxide before they even taste good. And when you finally get a great flavor profile you’re proud of, it’s hard to produce a second time.
Can home roasters engage casual coffee lovers enough to make the growth we’re seeing sustainable, or is this another fad that consumers will grow tired of once they’re confronted with the hidden complexities of coffee roasting?
I interviewed Alex Georgiou, Ikawa’s Head of Marketing, to discuss how he sees this niche market evolving over the next few years.
“The global home roasting audience is all in different places,” he pointed out. Taiwan has a well-developed tradition of home roasting with low-tech tools. Europe’s traditional cafes still maintain the monopoly on coffee beans. And America has “really deep pockets of home roasting enthusiasts.”
But even in parts of the world where exploring new kinds of coffee experiences is commonplace, Alex admits that home roasters are still a very niche audience, largely because the equipment isn’t very intuitive. “For a lot of people it’s a little bit like wrestling with a vacuum cleaner in your garage. It’s hard to do well and it’s not really an enjoyable process.”
To combat this challenge, Ikawa ships six bags of green coffee beans with every Ikawa At Home roaster. When users open the app and pick a bean to start roasting, they then can choose from six roast profile options—each highlighting different flavors and aromas. “Even if you’ve never roasted coffee before, you’ll be able to get great results, and then you can explore that going forward.”
This eliminates the friction of sourcing green coffee and figuring out how to roast for the first time, but is it enough to get casual coffee lovers on board? At just over $1,000 for the Ikawa At Home, many in the industry have voiced concern that it’s priced too high to open the home roasting floodgates.
I also reached out to Dan Kraemer, Founder and Chief Design Officer at IA Collaborative and creator of the Kelvin roaster, to get a different perspective. Like Alex, Dan sees accessibility as the key to enabling demand for home roasting gear to grow.
“Consumers just need to know it’s an option,” Dan said when I asked what it’s going to take for roasting to go mainstream. “The complete roaster and green bean delivery solution we offer through Kelvin will make home coffee roasting super easy and accessible.”
The Kelvin is priced at just $249 for pre-orders and will be around $330 after devices ship this Spring—a significantly more affordable option for aspiring home roasters. Rather than allowing consumers to control every aspect of their roast profile via an app like the Ikawa At Home, Kelvin users simply turn a single dial on the device to set their roast time.
“You can create myriad combinations of flavors and profiles just by varying the amount of time that you roast the coffee,” Dan said. “It’s a very simple entry-point for people who’ve never roasted before.”
The standard Kelvin Starter Pack will ship with a single pound of green coffee, but most pre-order customers actually opted to order three to six pounds of coffee. Dan is confident that most Kelvin users will continue to use the Kelvin app to source coffees that are tailored to their taste and brewing preferences once they’ve gone through their initial bags.
Ikawa and Kelvin tackle the issue of home roasting differently, but there’s one belief they both share: fanatics are always finding new ways to explore the world of coffee, and roasting at home is the natural next step for millions of people around the world—they just need the right accessible equipment to start this next segment of their coffee journey.
We’re still in the early days of home roasting, and at this point, it’s hard to tell whether it’ll remain an activity for super-enthusiasts or if consumer-centric devices like the Ikawa At Home and Kelvin will be able to capture the attention of more casual coffee lovers.