It comes as a shock to most in the beginning of their business journey that, to start a coffee roasting company, you need not one, but two coffee roasters. According to every roasting expert you’ve spoken to and coffee websites you’ve read, there’s your go‑to big commercial roaster, and then there’s a “sample roaster”.
But what is a sample roaster, and why do you need it?
In this article, we explore what a sample roaster is and how it contributes to the professional roasting business. We’ll discuss things like…
The very specific role a sample roaster plays in roasting operations
When you might not need a sample roaster (and what you’ll need instead)
Three suggested sample roasters to pick for your business
So What is a Sample Roaster?
Simply put, a sample roaster is a much smaller version of a normal coffee roaster. Sample roasters are designed to produce much smaller batches or test sizes, ranging from 20 grams of roasted coffee, up to 1 kilo.
For a commercial coffee company, especially one that aims to be known for delicious brews, impressive cup scores, and knockout blends, a sample roaster is an important tool in the arsenal.
What Does a Sample Roaster Accomplish?
So why buy a miniature version of a roaster when you already have a large and reliable piece of equipment in your repertoire? Great question.
For one, standard commercial roasters require a high minimum amount of green beans to operate as normal—often 60% or more of the total capacity. If you’re in the testing phases of a roasting technique or roast profile for a specific bean, roasting large batches is a very fast way to waste a lot of extra coffee.
Sample roasters mimic the larger roasters, but for small batches that allow you to experiment quickly to find the best roast profile without going through tons of coffee.
Additionally, roasting companies can use their sample roasters to do a number of important (and cost‑efficient) tasks before firing up the five kilo or larger machine.
Quality Control — Continuously test the green coffee you already have in stock to see how time and storage affects it, and possibly change your roasting style in response
Creating Profiles — Smaller batches mean more trials to test and set roast profiles, curves, and experimentations.
Green Buying — Getting a range of green samples directly from the farm or an importer can be roasted to your preferences (such as light, medium, or dark profiles), unlocking your preferred flavors and helping your choices.
Practice Makes Perfect — More frequent, smaller roast cycles means you can gain a better understanding of roasting mechanics and best practices with little to no extra coffee wasted.
Education — Roasting tiny batches of one coffee several ways allows for educational opportunities for your team to understand the roast process and its impact on flavor.
These duties would largely be overkill for a larger commercial roaster, and a sample roaster is better suited for them.
The Sample Roasting Process for Professional Roasters
Now that we know the benefits of owning a sample coffee roaster, how does the process work? This depends largely on the type of sample roaster you have.
Digital sample roasters often have a mobile app or attached tablet that you use to track and log roasting temperature and times. Some of these sample roasters allow you to create whole roast profiles on the screen that the roaster then follows, while others require manual adjustments to temperature and the app simply logs the results in real‑time.
Traditional sample roasters feature a gas source that creates heat through convection or conduction. This heat source is controlled manually, typically through a dial or knob. There’s also often an airflow adjuster that circulates fresh air into the roaster. Most professional roasters install thermocouples to allow for digital logging of temperature and time for better clarity of the roasting process and results.
Just like with the typical roasting process, sample roasting takes the green coffee on a transformative journey:
First Stage, Drying — Raw or green coffee beans have a moisture content of around 8‑12%. The beans need to be dried before they can start browning and developing into the desired result. The beans will also start absorbing heat energy which will come to be very important later on in the session. This stage takes around 3‑4 minutes, depending on the style of the roaster and size of the beans and batch.
Second Stage, Browning — This stage is where you start getting all those recognisable coffee aromas. Though this is the second stage, the beans are still losing moisture. The browning is caused by the Maillard Reaction, which affects many parts of the bean, including sugar, acids, and color compounds. The roast curve will naturally slow down and richer flavors will begin to develop. The end of the second stage is signified by the initial bean ‘pops’, more commonly referred to as first crack.
Third Stage, Development — The third stage is where you will hear all the beans start to push out the heat and explode with energy, pushing out with a sharp pop or crack. Roasters will quickly have to adjust variables such as airflow and heat to slow down or change the roast curve to achieve their desired effect.
You let the coffee rest for a day or so, evaluate its flavor during cupping (often evaluating multiple roast profiles side‑by‑side to find the best), and find the roast that best accentuates the coffee’s natural flavors.
Four Sample Roasters With Good Marks
If you’re going to continue down the traditional roaster path, here are a few sample roasters that come widely recommended in the industry.
The Roest sample roaster is a cleanly‑designed model that prides itself on its modern functionality and approachability. With a capacity of 50 ‑120 grams per batch, the Norwegian originating machine can perform back to back roasts with a LCD screen on the front to let the roaster control every parameter and curve.
You can roast up to 1.2kg of coffee samples per hour
Intelligent first crack detection
hybrid roasting technology: combining hot air roasters and conventional open drums to develop beans.
Price: $7,200 to $7,850 (excluding VAT).
The smallest physical footprint on the list, the Ikawa Pro series could easily be mistaken for a different machine with its sleek, slim appearance. The two professional versions of the popular machine, the Pro50 and Pro100, roast coffee in a vertical drum by heating the air, avoiding the build up of smoke.
Up to 50 or 100 grams of roasted coffee per batch
Access to an online ‘Roast Library’ and connect with a wide coffee community through it
Control every roast through a companion phone app
Portable with its own Pelican travel case
Price: Available upon request
Aillio Bullet R1
Created by the Danish/Taiwanese company Aillio, the Bullet R1 is an eye‑catching ‘true drum’ sample roaster. Boasting a one kilo capacity, it is a more classic roaster in both form and function, with a cooling bowl in front and lever release to empty the finished batches.
Infrared bean and drum temperature sensors
Larger sample sizes if preferred, with batch sizes ranging from 350 to 1000 grams.
Easy to clean and take apart
Digitally recorded roast profiles
The Bellwether Roaster
Still curious about automated smart roasting? The Bellwether represents a fundamental shift in roasting technology toward a more consistent, higher‑quality, and more profitable business. Though it’s designed to be a full production roaster, the Bellwether’s naturally smaller roast capacity and self‑contained drum make it a capable and highly controllable sample roaster as well.
Automated roasting means baristas can operate during regular shifts
Ventless roasting, so no extra permits or ventilation required
Roast up to 18 pounds per hour—far more than any other sample roaster
Pre‑crafted roast profiles from our roasting experts that you can use out of the box