Some industries have a stronger focus on innovation than others.
The food industry experiences "fads" that are driven by a general desire of consumers to experience higher quality and greater variety in their taste sensations. These fads are also influenced by social media and reality television shows - think about competitions like MasterChef and My Kitchen Rules whereby they create exotic dishes or deserts.
Coffee is basically a manufacturing industry. Despite those high-margin, hyped-up coffee brands charging you more than $60 a kilo for their products by attempting to convince you that coffee roasting is a romantic olfactory experience, it's a manufacturing process like any other product - input costs, yields, conversion, value-add, compliance costs, distribution, overheads, etc.
Innovation in coffee moves at a relatively slow pace - especially over the last few years during the pandemic when it was hard enough just to secure raw coffees with chronic and extreme sea freight challenges.
Whilst there are improvements at origin with farming, processing and preparation, particularly in the newest trends of extended fermentation, it only applies to a tiny segment of the market - around 1%. For the rest making up a majority of coffee that is farmed and sold around the world, the basics of farming and innovation progress at a mundane pace.
In the current 2022 global coffee market, prices are the highest seen in a decade. Farmers are doing very well nicely and this can remove the incentives to try harder for improving quality the same ways that very low prices inhibit investment.
Most of the restrictions or constraints holding back farming innovation relate to shortages and exorbitant costs for fertilizers and pesticides or it's the extreme weather conditions such as excessive rains or frosts - acts of nature.
There are improvements in roasting technology from logging and profile controls, but basically, the conversion process from raw (green) to roasted (brown) has defined boundaries. Generally it's been about heat re circulation systems and that in itself raises debates inside of the industry about whether taints are present in coffees that have been roasted with closed loop systems.
We believe that in this modern age the standards of roasted coffee in Australia is already very high. There is no need for throwing stones at our competitors - just about anyone with enough time and resources can produce a great coffee product.
What truncates a great product is compromise, or a set of compromises - either planned or unplanned. It's very easy for this to occur in the dynamic variables of coffee - changed raw coffees, changed staff doing the roasting, etc..
The last couple of percent in quality that can be extracted via the roasting technology is perhaps the hardest to achieve - if at all. This last couple of percent is a rare and undefined state that can't be measured with all the telemetry devices currently available.
We think the next waves of innovation in coffee will come via packaging, storage and logistics. These are key areas whereby the quality can be compromised.
Although, there are segments of the market where the definition of coffee is changing towards a degree of aspiration and convenience - at least that's what the marketing groups are attempting to reflect with their products and solutions for capsules and pods.
Across Australia, cafes are now ubiquitous - espresso is being served at the local kids basketball arena, a suburban football field, building sites, school canteens and of course the office lunchroom. In fact, the cafe market is just as saturated as the coffee supply market......so both the supply and demand sides of the industry are suffering.
Coffee in Australia has become somewhat akin to the 21st century equivalent of the 1850's gold rush era, except the pot of gold is elusive.
Home kitchens are making space for a coffee machine, grinder or if in a tight squeeze - a capsule machine.
The demand for quality espresso beans is driving coffee roasters towards improved quality and consistency. Coffee roasting companies are responding by sourcing better grades of beans and managing their roasting and stock more accurately.
When it comes to roasting technology, there are effectively two segments - drum and fluidized bed (or "hot air").
Drum roasters have been around for hundreds of years and to a large extent more than 96% of the coffee roasted around the world is performed on a drum roaster.
Fluidized-bed roasted (or sometimes referred to as "hot-air") use a different concept and as your can imagine with any minority their supporters will scream from the top of the mountain that hot-air roasting is superior to drum roasting.
We have performed extensive testing in both Australia and overseas on both types of roasting technology.
Our Carlini Coffee roastery runs 3 different platforms. Each of these platforms is different and for very good reasons.
Our platforms consist of traditional roasting via 50/50 convection/conduction ratios to 70/30 hot air inside a drum convective and more recently we have installed a roasting plant that is unique within Australia in that it allows us to run at the extreme end points of conduction and convection.
This latest platform is truly an innovation for the Australian and world market. We cannot speak highly enough of our latest platform. For competitive reasons, we will not publish the features and specifications of this platform, but rest assured, it produces coffee beans that are superbly rich in flavor, clean in cup character and balanced in sweetness, aroma and finish.
Having our best in class roasting platforms enables us to create just about any specification coffee that is required. This flexibility is typically unavailable from other suppliers - whether they are cafe roasters or dedicated private label suppliers.
We have discovered that there is a considerable difference in both cup quality and consistency between the high-cost European plants compared to the low-cost Turkish and Chinese plants. For this reason, we have installed the best in class systems.
Currently, there are now a lot of small coffee roasters in Australia using the cheap and inconsistent Turkish and Chinese roasting plants. These coffee companies market their products the same way every other coffee company does, but the platforms they are using are more likely to experience inconsistent results. The materials used in construction of the roasting platforms are inferior, e.g. metallurgy. The methods of heat transfer are basic and prone to roast defects (tipping and scorching).
We know our roasting equipment provides the best method of applied heat and we are very confident it produces a superior product. Our burners are more than 8x times the price of burners used in most other coffee roasting equipment and in our latest platform we have installed 72x fully modulating burners to give us an incredible range of heat control.
Fluidized bed roasters suffer from internal scorching where the insides of the bean are cooked too fast, resulting in a dryness in the coffee oil lacking development. This method does not lend itself to espresso as well as the more even and gentle heat of a drum roaster.
The world of coffee roasting technology has a slow, evolving life cycle. The majority of innovation in coffee is applied to the extraction methods like grinders, espresso and pod machines, brewers, etc.
We see our innovation focus being directed in the areas of quality in maintaining our high standards for what's in the cup.
Our innovation principles:
- Constant climate managed inside our roastery - not roasted in an open air factory or subjected to hot weather that affects roast times and the finished product.
- Computer-controlled roast profiles for the ultimate accuracy and consistency. Many roasters in Australia are not computer controlled, or are only computer monitored (logging) and therefore rely upon human monitoring and control which is highly prone to numerous errors.
- We employ a special de-gas technology for fresh roasted coffee that enhances the cup quality, retains freshness and ensures your coffee is consistent. Our system is unique.
- Rapid changeover of both roast recipe and batch sizes - every single batch can be different to the previous batch - we are able to easily deal with new challenges in roasting different beans or batch sizes.
- We use the most accurate weigh-fill packaging equipment available worldwide.
- A fully redundant infrastructure - this removes the risks of not being able to supply within agreed time frames.
- Green bean selection consists of both traditional methods and speculative controlled real-world evaluations. We believe that endless hours in the lab cupping coffee at different preparation points to how it is consumed in the real world is largely obsolete. The best test for any coffee is in the cafe when served to a paying customer !