Coffee roasting has evolved dramatically throughout history
. Humans first began roasting green coffee beans on a thin pan over a flame before moving on to a cylindrical hand‑cranked roasting mechanism in the 17th century. Large‑volume drum roasters were introduced in the 19th‑century, with natural gas and electricity implements added in the 20th‑century as new technologies developed.
Now, we’re witnessing another revolution in coffee roasting’s history as electric coffee roasters become a practical option for cafés, roasteries, bakeries, and more.
Whether you deem it the fourth wave of coffee
or coffee roasting’s next evolution, all‑electric coffee roasters are here to stay.
Advancing Roasting Technology
Believe it or not, electric coffee roasters have been around for nearly a full century. However, they weren’t as popular as their gas‑powered counterparts due to the use of fluid bed roasting methods, a lack of controls, tiny capacities, and inconsistencies in roasting.
In contrast, today’s electric roasters boast serious advancements, such as:
- Drum Roaster — Rather than relying on the inconsistent nature of an air‑roasting model such as fluid bed roasters, today’s electric coffee roasters leverage the control of a drum roaster. This design provides consistency rivaling that of a gas‑powered drum roaster.
- Innovative Technology — Today’s electric options boast some of the most innovative technologies and features on the market. These options provide the utmost consistency, flexibility, and customization possible. Bellwether Roasters, for example, utilize an Adaptive Closed Loop System for precise thermal control, giving coffee professionals confidence that the coffee will meet or exceed their quality standards.
- Closed Systems — Among the greatest challenges with traditional coffee roasters is the ability to repeat quality. Human error, environmental changes, and mechanical issues can all affect the final quality of a coffee. Thanks to advances in closed systems, like what’s present in the Bellwether Roaster, however, coffee businesses can roast the same high‑quality coffee back‑to‑back without error or disruption from environmental factors.
Electric roasters now compete with the best of gas‑powered roasters — and they're only getting better. In a recent visit to Bellwether, James Hoffman
, a World Barista Champion, owner of Square Mile Coffee Roasters in London, author, and YouTuber noted, “I could not tell whether that coffee was roasted using electric or gas.”
Addressing Gas‑Powered Roaster Limitations
Although traditional gas‑powered coffee roasters have been the industry preference for centuries, they come with a series of complications and limitations. Electric coffee roasters are uniquely positioned to overcome these limitations, along with larger issues of safety and roasting accessibility.
- Natural Gas — Traditional coffee roasters need a natural gas hookup to operate. If a building is not already equipped with such an energy source, one must be installed. This requires a significant amount of time, money, and construction to accomplish—all before roasting a single bean. But electric coffee roasters only require access to a proper wall outlet.
- Ventilation — Gas‑powered coffee roasting produces harmful byproducts that must be safely directed away from the building through a network of ventilation systems. Similar to a natural gas hookup, installing the proper ventilation requires the right permits and materials, and of course, expenses. Meanwhile, the nature of electric coffee roasters makes them 100% ventless, meaning no additional construction is required.
- Large Footprint — Traditional gas‑powered roasters are massive pieces of machinery. Between the machine itself, ventilation, afterburners, and other roasting equipment, coffee roasters take up a significant amount of space in coffee shops or roasting facilities. But electric roasters don’t need additional equipment. This makes them compact machines that fit comfortably into a coffee business’s existing layout.
Electric Coffee Roasters Offer a Safe Alternative to Natural Gas
As the industry saying goes, “It’s not if you have a fire. It’s when.”
Although gas‑powered coffee roasters have several mechanisms in place to stave off emergencies, they’re not foolproof. Equipment fails, mistakes happen, or distractions get the best of us—and the next thing we know, there’s a fire
Safety is a primary concern for any coffee roaster, even those with decades of experience. Yet, traditional roasters fall short of providing a completely safe roasting experience, simply due to using natural gas as an energy source.
Electric coffee roasters alleviate this concern. While electric roasters still conduct energy, the chances of an emergency are far less than that of a traditional gas‑powered roaster due to the design of the machine.
On top of the potential for starting devastating fires, gas‑powered roasters have also been proven to cause bodily harm to those operating the machines. During the roasting process, the roasters emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs), specifically diacetyl and 2,3‑pentanedione
. These VOCs can lead to a number of medical issues including obliterative bronchiolitis, asthma, and other forms of lung damage
. While ventilation and afterburners aid in the reduction of these compounds into the air, they are not always a foolproof solution.
Electric coffee roasters do not emit exhaust fumes like traditional roasters that require the use of natural gas—providing a safer roasting environment free of fires and harmful compounds.
Expediting Roasting Knowledge and Experience
“Roasting coffee is difficult and it’s difficult to do repeatedly,” explains Hoffman. “With traditional coffee roasting machines, you spend a long time learning to be a good and consistent roaster.”
Learning to safely roast coffee on a gas‑powered roaster takes months, if not years, to properly understand. Few coffee shop owners and coffee industry professionals have the luxury of that much extra time.
Plus, the process of learning inevitably involves wasting green coffee beans, because your first few batches on a traditional roaster will be far from the quality you want to serve your customers.
The complexity of traditional coffee roasting creates a massive barrier to entry—making it hard for new roasters to learn and hone their skills.
But the digital and automated nature of electric coffee roasters equips anyone to roast exceptional quality coffee from day one.
Instead of spending weeks upon weeks studying the biological, chemical, and physical principles behind traditional coffee roasting, you can install an electric coffee roaster, select a roast profile, and get started right away.
Protecting the Future of Coffee
Arguably the biggest benefit of electric coffee roasters is their minimal impact on the environment.
“We’re an industry built on fossil fuels. Almost all coffee consumed today is roasted using gas. We know now, that’s not the most sensible choice—but that’s the way it’s always been done,” Hoffman says.
The industry relies on farmers to produce top‑quality coffee plants and green coffee, but then turns around and negatively contributes to climate change
—a coffee farmer’s greatest challenge—by using gas‑powered roasters.
Electric roasters, on the other hand, allow roastery owners a choice of where the energy comes from. “You could be powered by renewables way more easily,” Hoffman says. “This is all more useful for future‑proofing coffee itself.”
As Hoffman points out in his video about solar coffee roasting
, at some point we’re all going to have to transition to electric roasters if we want coffee and our planet to survive. “The transition to electric roasting is inevitable.”
Will Electric Coffee Roasters Signal the Demise of the Craft?
Those with traditional coffee roasting experience tend to view electric coffee roasters as a shortcut. There’s a myth that automated roasters powered by electricity cannot replicate the craft of coffee roasting.
“People worry about the loss of craft and therefore the loss of their own value [as a roaster], but I don’t see it that way,” Hoffman said. “I see it as a way to lean into where you are and focus on the areas where you are the most valuable and worry less about the areas where you’re likely to make mistakes and become frustrated. This is where I think automation is useful, valuable, and necessary.”
Additionally, these machines—while automated—still rely on experienced coffee professionals to create roast profiles. Without human insight and expertise, an electric coffee roaster cannot operate properly. Rather than diminishing the craft of coffee roasting, electric roasters are ushering in the next generation of coffee quality, repeatability, and creativity.
Endless Electric Options
Fully‑electric coffee roasting is no longer in its infancy. Coffee roasters have several all‑electric machines to choose from, each with different levels of automation, volume capacities, and technologies.
The top electric coffee roasting options include:
The Aillio AiO roaster
is a fully‑electric option for coffee companies roasting up to 2 kilograms (around 4.4 pounds) of coffee at a time. With both manual and automated modes, this is a great roaster for those who appreciate the efficiency of automation but want to retain control over the final product. The roaster also comes equipped with artificial intelligence that learns your roast preferences and styles over time.
Probat P05e and P12e
Probat manufactures traditional gas‑powered roasters. However, they’ve started adding electric machines to their lineup with the P05e and P12e roasters
The P05e has a roast volume of 1‑6 kilos, while the P12e can handle anywhere from 1‑15 kilos of green coffee. A roaster manufacturing powerhouse like Probat adding a lineup of fully‑electric models only further proves the significance of electric roasting for coffee’s future.
US Roaster Corp Revelation
Another traditional manufacturer offering electric roasting options is US Roaster Corp. Their Revelation line of coffee roasters
offers fully‑electric options at production capacities. Roasters can choose from gas/electric hybrids or 100% electric models.
specializes in all‑electric coffee roasters of varying capacities. Each roaster is equipped with plug‑and‑play technology called Roastware, which enables coffee roasters to craft and save roast profiles for repeatability. Manual roasting modes are also available for those who prefer the hands‑on approach to coffee roasting.
Preserve the Future of Coffee and Switch to an All‑Electric Coffee Roaster
Like James Hoffman said, switching to electric coffee roasting is inevitable. We can make a positive impact on our environment, the future of coffee, and our profitability as business owners—all by choosing to roast coffee with an all‑electric roaster.