It was at the Golden Bean 2011 when I was first approached about assisting with the first large scale installation for Proaster in Australia. JUSTIN METCALF WAS MOVING AHEAD WITH A NEW COFFEE ROASTING BUSINESS venture with partners, as part of the company AESP. The roaster and plant setup was integral to the business getting underway and timing, as always, would prove critical.
Justin and his partners decided on the Proaster 120 kg Batch Roasting line that included a green bean loader, destoner, afterburner and PLC control system that is manufactured by Taehwan Automation in Seoul, Korea. This wasn't an easy decision for Justin to make, given that this would be the first industrial installation of a Proaster line in Australia and so would present certain challenges in relation to timing and compliance for the local market. I also had no experience with the brand other than what I had seen at trade shows, so a quick trip to Korea was organised to inspect the quality of the equipment, as well as to nut out the viability of importing and installing one into Australia for AESP. I was also looking for a premium end range to add to our roaster product portfolio, so figured this would be a great opportunity.
Before going, I knew South Korea was a very strong manufacturing country, given the success of their car industry, so I was expecting quality manufacturing processes. Sometimes this doesn't translate into quality food or beverage processing equipment, so I was very interested to see what other roasting companies were doing in the market and the quality of the coffee they were producing.
What I wasn't aware of was how developed their coffee market is. The Korean specialty coffee market is booming. I was pleasantly surprised to see cafes roasting in house and serving coffee in a number of different ways. Although they are more filter coffee oriented than Australia, if anything they have on average more advanced palates given they are less reliant on milk based blends and seem to embrace the serving of single origin. A lot of the cafes and roasteries I visited had walls proudly displaying training certificates. I felt their obsession with coffee rivalled ours and that I could learn a lot from what they are doing in their market. I was pleasantly reassured that this was a culture that focused on quality, which was only more evident when I visited a supermarket and was amazed at some of the innovative packaging they were using.
The larger scale roasters I visited all had advanced plant setups that were climate controlled. These were factories as good as you would see anywhere around the world. Quality control was evident everywhere, and proper cupping and sample procedures were in place in most establishments.
After seeing a few of the Proaster industrial lines in action, I was convinced it was a quality piece of roasting equipment, and the coffee results were as good as I had seen anywhere in the market in the industrial sizes. I gave my opinion to Justin, knowing that he had high expectations given his background in working with Probat roasting equipment. I think the deciding factor for me was that Proaster started off in manufacturing food processing equipment, which to this day is still a large part of their business. Some of the equipment they produce is very complex and requires expert knowledge in the food industry.
On visiting their factory, you could instantly tell that the focus was as much on the quality of the coffee and service, as on the quality of the manufacturing processes. For this project they also offered a time advantage in being closer in location to Australia, so manufacturing and shipping times are greatly reduced. The timings were always going to be tight for AESP so for new equipment, this was a much faster option than Europe.