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Ricardo Lopez of Bellwether Coffee describes the newly introduced Shop Roaster

Ricardo Lopez of Bellwether Coffee describes the newly introduced Shop Roaster

SR-duo

May 22 -2024

Coffee Geography Magazine

Reporter: Doug Gemeda


Bellwether Coffee, a high-tech company based in Berkeley California launches the first-ever compact, ventless commercial roaster for less than the cost of an espresso machine. With increasing competition in retail coffee, businesses are looking for new ways to differentiate themselves and increase revenues. Roasting in-house with The Bellwether Shop Roaster enables more retailers to serve fresher coffee at a fraction of the cost while reducing their carbon footprint.

Ricardo Lopez, CEO and Founder of Bellwether Coffee describes the new Shop Roaster to CGM

bellwether-shop-roaster2

Doug: Bellwether Shop Roaster is a compact version of its predecessors. How do you describe it in general? 


 Lopez: The Bellwether Shop Roaster is a compact, all-electric, ventless coffee roaster that provides retailers the ability to cleanly roast coffee on-site, creating the freshest coffee possible for their customers. Because of its compact size and cost, even shops roasting under 40 pounds per week will see an ROI, but it can easily roast four times that amount. For shops that opt for the Continuous Roasting Upgrade, the machine can run up to 13 continuous roast cycles automatically, allowing them to roast up to 20 kilos (44lbs) in one operation, cutting labor costs and increasing throughput. Like the Bellwether Series 2, this roaster also reduces carbon emissions by 87% and is a profitable way for businesses to serve the lowest carbon coffee to their customers. 


Doug: What do we expect from Bellwether in the future that eases and improves our roasting experience? 


Lopez: Our mission is to make clean roasting more accessible to the greatest number of retailers possible and we plan to continue delivering on that goal. The Shop Roaster was built on the premise that coffee shops and resellers moving even small volumes of coffee could benefit from the huge economic, quality and sustainability gains of roasting in-store on a Bellwether. The Shop Roaster offers the same easy-to-use technology and quality that our customers expect but on a smaller scale. This allows more retailers to become microroasteries and reduces their collective carbon footprint as more coffee shops move away from gas roasted coffee. Just like Bellwether's Series 2 roaster, the Shop Roaster requires no special training or prior roasting experience to operate, so anyone on staff can roast expert coffee at the touch of a button, increasing quality and consistency, even between multiple locations. The Shop Roaster allows microroasteries to create the freshest farm-to-cup experience for their customers, while reducing costs, growing revenue, and creating a distinct brand. 


Doug: How do you find the competition in this market segment and the support from government and non governmental entities to advance the use of electric roasters and cut CO2? 


Lopez: We are glad to see traditional roaster manufacturers starting to build electric roasters, as this will accelerate the adoption of electric roasting. We embrace the competition because the industry and environment will benefit from it. Given that we've been leading the electric roasting space for over 10 years, we're in a great position to compete. Bellwether has proven that it's possible to roast coffee entirely on renewable energy, and remove 90% of the carbon produced during the roasting process which are two huge developments that had never been achieved before. Support from the coffee industry has been enthusiastic. As roasters and consumers look for ways to lower their carbon footprint, sustainable roasting is an attractive option. With our roaster, no afterburner is required, and it takes just 0.39 kWh of energy per kilo of coffee – compared to the 2.7 kWh (mostly comprised of natural gas) of electricity to roast on a gas-powered roaster. Last year, the California Energy Commission supported a grant to bring a fleet of Bellwether Series 2 roasters to two of our wonderful commercial roaster partners – Heirloom Coffee Roasters and Red Bay Coffee Roasters – so they could adopt clean roasting in their operations. We see this as a beginning point to greater government support, similar to what we've seen with the electric vehicle industry, because the metrics and outcomes support the switch – some of our partners have seen a 10x reduction in energy costs and consumption simply by switching from natural gas to electricity. It's a significant multiplier that will have incredible impact as adoption increases. 


Doug: The coffee brewing process alone produces 50 billion pounds of carbon emissions annually. Figures like that underscore how much impact one product has—and the potential for change held within improving just one product. How do you see the future of roasting and how long do you think it would take for the whole world to turn into electric roasters? 


Lopez:That is such a great point – the coffee industry has a huge carbon footprint – roasting alone contributes more than 40 billion pounds of carbon emissions annually, so small steps in changing how we do things by many can make a massive impact. Electric roasting reduces the carbon footprint from roasting by 87% – this accounts for retailers not only using the machine but also the transportation and packaging. Buying green coffee through our marketplace also allows retailers to access specialty coffee at half the price they're paying wholesalers, and on top of that, our farmer partners are paid more. Every aspect is profitable and reduces the carbon impact. It's a capitalist approach to sustainability and that's how we move our industry forward and preserve it.

Doug: I know it takes time for many large and medium roasters to completely transform their system from gas to electricity in just short time, but Bellwether is doing quite impressive progress by introducing its innovation in just few years not only in the U.S. but also in Europe, Britain and Japan. How do you assess that progression and its sustainability in the future? 


Lopez: We're heartened and excited about the demand we've received across many global markets. The great thing about switching to electric roasting is that from a setup and operational standpoint, it's as simple as plugging in the new machine to get started. The design of Bellwether's roasters allows the majority of our customers to enter the roasting business without incurring any additional labor costs. The US is still our core market, but we're really excited by our recent entry to the European and Japanese markets and the increasing global demand for our platform. We're always looking for ways to meet production demands and to ensure our sustainability efforts continue to improve and keep a close eye on our impact. We run detailed analyses on our data because we believe in the power of transparency to demonstrate our real impact. This not only benefits Bellwether but also our farmer partners and our customers, who care about reducing their carbon footprint. You can see more about our sustainability and impact on our website. 


Doug: Just last year, I recalled that you signed big contracts to supply four large roasters in California funded by the California Energy Commission. The state is more energy-efficient than the rest of the US in a many ways. How is Bellwether's activities in other states like Washington where many large roasters are located? 


Lopez: We supplied a total of 24 roasters to Heirloom Coffee and Red Bay Coffee Roasters, made possible by a grant from the California Energy Commission. Without a doubt, California is one of the country's most forward-thinking states about energy consumption, renewable power, and moving away from fossil fuels. In states like California where the energy grid is very clean, roasting with Bellwether reduces the carbon footprint of roasted coffee by up to 94%. That's already encouraging but the real win is our data shows that even in states where energy grids are run entirely by non-renewable resources like coal or natural gas, electric roasting with Bellwether is still more sustainable than roasting with fossil fuels. In West Virginia for example, where 88% of the grid is powered by coal, roasting on a Bellwether still reduces the carbon footprint of roasting by 70%. When it comes to electrifying high volume roasting operations like those found in Washington State, we're inspired by the early data we're seeing from Red Bay and Heirloom who are shifting thousands of pounds of annual roasting over to Bellwether and are poised to reduce their carbon footprint (and their gas bill) by staggering amounts.