Roasted With Aloha: The Vintage Roaster Behind Your Kona

Roasted With Aloha: The Vintage Roaster Behind Your Kona

THE STORY OF OUR KONA COFFEE ROASTER

From the beginning of Honolulu Coffee, we’ve seen many things change in the coffee industry and in the coffee consumer: greater focus on coffee origins, more attention paid to light and medium roasts, and a new appreciation for the craft of coffee roasting.

Roasted Coffee in a Cooling Tray

What hasn’t changed recently, however, is the machine that roasted your bag or cup of Honolulu Coffee. There has been one reliable, trusty, cast iron beauty of a machine laboring behind the scenes and roasting the best coffee we’ve grown and tasted, day in and day out.

This blog is our ode to our vintage Probat drum roaster, a roaster that you can see in action in the middle of our Honolulu Coffee Experience Center.

Here, we dive into what we think makes it so special and why we choose as a part of our farm to cup quality chain. Read on to learn more about this integral part of your Kona coffee experience. 

 Roasting on a Probat Coffee Roaster

FIRST, WHAT IS COFFEE ROASTING?

Before we get started, let’s cover the basics. Coffee roasting is simple on the surface — make green beans brown! — but getting the most out of a coffee is an art and a science.

Coffee is usually roasted between 300 and 450 degrees Fahrenheit for a variable period of time. The exact time and rate at which it reaches its final temperature, and the controlled fluctuations of airflow through the roaster, are what determine the unique “roast profile” of the coffee roast. 

As an example, consider the widest gap of our coffee blends, Lokahi and Lava Roast. As a medium roast tailored made for espresso, Lokahi maintains some of the natural acids (i.e. fruitiness, complexity) of the green coffee due to less time and sometimes less temperature in the roaster. Lava Roast, on the other hand, has a roast profile of deep chocolatey sweetness that comes from longer, slower roasting. 

Scooping Green Coffee

Coffee roasting at Honolulu Coffee is still a very hands on process — these decisions about time and rate are executed manually by our coffee roasting team. When we’re roasting your coffee, we’re actually caramelizing natural sugars found within green coffee to get it tasting just right. Routine quality control is conducted to make sure each coffee is tasting to spec. This ensures your favorite Kona coffee or favorite blend tastes the same whether it’s January or June. 

In the end, roasting comes down to the individual and the machine that's doing the work. 

If you live in Hawaii or are ever on vacation, stop by the Experience Center to see our roasting team in action. Make seeing - and smelling - pure Kona coffee being roasted a part of your Hawaiian experience. 

Roasted Coffee in a Cooling Tray 

WHY WE CHOSE A PROBAT COFFEE ROASTER

There are dozens of manufacturers of coffee roasters all over the world. In fact, many of these manufacturers are newer companies that have formed in just the last 30 years or so. There is one name in particular, however, that has stood the test of time: Probat. In existence and producing coffee roasters since the late 1800's, Probat is the oldest continually operating coffee roaster manufacturer in the world. In our opinion, Probat machines harbor the right balance of controls and qualities to help us get the most out of each bean.

Per Tyler Zimmer, green buyer, Q-grader, and experienced roaster: “Every coffee we grow and buy, from the raw honey and sweet spice of our Kona Peaberry to a delicate chocolate and cherry-dominant Colombian, have unique properties. Our Probat roaster gives us excellent control—from airflow, to gas fire controls, to the consistent heat of the cast iron —the tools we need to develop and coax the best flavors in each coffee.”

Green Coffee being Loaded into a Probat Coffee Roaster 

...BUT NOT JUST ANY PROBAT

The roaster we use is a refurbished, classic cast iron machines built before the 1950’s that has been retooled with modern roasting amenities. Before the 1950’s, Probats were manufactured almost entirely out of cast iron, something that is not true of many modern machines for cost and manufacturing reasons.

We prefer these cast iron roasters for a few reasons:

  • energy efficiency
  • good retention of heat
  • even spread of heat

These attributes lead to fewer defects in the roast and give us the consistency and predictability that we need when roasting, especially when going from roast to roast. 

This, as you can imagine, is a core need for us to ensure your cup of Kona coffee or Lokahi always tastes the same. Our Probat roaster is also natural gas fired (meaning a flame heats the coffee roaster), and the heat from the flame, the heat from the cast iron, and the control of airflow gives us many tools to develop the best flavors in each coffee.

For these reasons, we sourced and lovingly restored our 75 kilo Probat, originally made in the 1940’s, in 2014. It has gone through a few upgrades and changes through the years, but this piece by piece restoration was a testament to the quality, potential, and timelessness of a Probat cast iron drum roaster. 

Roasted Coffee in a Tryer 

MAN, MACHINE, AND YOUR CUP OF ALOHA

We’ve talked many times about the Honolulu Coffee quality chain from farm to cup. Careful picking and processing, extensive cupping sessions, best brewing practices, and world-class barista training all ensure that when you’re served a cup of our coffee, it’s the best that it can be. Our Probat coffee roaster has been a part of all of those stories for years, and the people and passion behind it are a core part of our identity. 

The next time you sip on your brewed-with-aloha cup of coffee, know that a story is unfolding before you stretching back centuries - from the discovery of coffee, to the forming and molding of cast iron plates, to the training of a passionate coffee roaster ready to take the controls and roast you the best coffee in the world.

 

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