US Roaster Corp
In a nondescript warehouse just west of Downtown OKC's newly minted Film Row, Dan Jolliff has been designing high-end, custom coffee roasters and selling them worldwide. Oh…and he’s been doing it since the late 90s.
Dan has been involved in the coffee industry nearly his entire life. His Dad worked for Cain’s Coffee and he recalls with clarity the smell of coffee at a young age. Dan went on to start a coffee services company and experiment with roasting his own beans and tinkering with roasters. After a few years of refurbishing roasters for others, he decided he could design a better roaster and build it to last a lifetime. Although he knows the technical side of roasting coffee as well as anyone, you won’t hear him talking about cupping notes. Coffee is not a white glove affair for Dan, it’s got more to do with work gloves.
We followed the Oklahoma native through the back door of their offices into the full scale fabrication shop. This is not a faux industrial "new American maker" type of place. It’s a full on machine shop complete with oil sodden good ol’ boys. Welding smoke, flying sparks, and a thundering metal break are among just a few of the dangers these skilled craftsmen, including welders, electricians, and painters, have to deal with.
If you didn’t know any different you might mistake this shop for a trailer or drilling equipment manufacturer. That is, until you get to the final assembly section of the shop and see where these roasters come together. Currently they have a few roasters in the final assembly stages that are bound for destinations as far as Germany and China. Every one of them features custom design elements and impeccable finishes. Dan runs a fully integrated system. He designs, fabricates and finishes every roaster in their shop here in OKC, with plans to expand even more into their second shop in 2016. With a staff of about 30, US Roaster Corp. can turn out a 12 kilo roaster in about 3 months.
Dan’s roasters are not just nice to look at. Their flagship model, the Revelation, is pushing the envelope of sustainable design. As much as we all enjoy an expertly roasted coffee, upon closer inspection, the process may off end the environmental sensibilities of some. When roasting coffee, you’re left with 2 by-products. Aside from those brown beans packed full of happiness and inspiration, there are chaff and exhaust to deal with. The chaff is the toasted skin of the coffee seed. The exhaust is made up of volatilized compounds that are harmful to the environment. The Revelation Roaster, developed in conjunction with the Oklahoma State Food and Agricultural Products Center, is able to eliminate nearly all of that harmful exhaust.
Instead of venting the smoke through a stack to the outside air, The Revelation pulls the chaff and smoke out of the drum with a fan, separating the chaff with cyclonic action. The chaff falls into a collection bin, while the smoke and gasses are directed over a catalytic converter that ignites the smoke as a fuel source. The de-chaffed, cleaned, and heated air is then re-circulated back to the roaster. Some traditional roasters utilize a gas fired afterburner to deal with the smoke, essentially burning it on it’s way out. Although this does remove the smoke, the heat from the afterburner is wasted, not to mention the fuel used for the afterburner can use as much or more fuel than the roaster itself. Thanks to this special catalytic element within The Revelation, that combustion can take place at a much lower temperature. The operator has full control of the path the cleaned air takes, as well as control over the amount of fresh oxygen that is introduced into the roast. With the significant savings on fuel needed to maintain roasting temperatures and the elimination of the harmful exhaust, this new design saves 97.7% of the CO2 emissions over a traditional roaster setup.
We are constantly impressed with the exciting things happening in OKC. Whether it’s a new restaurant concept, a seasonal beer from one of our great local breweries, or a new coffee shop, there’s always something new to look forward to in our local food world. As our city continues to grow and develop a distinct food culture, it’s important to highlight folks like Dan who have been quietly building something great for decades. What’s more Oklahoman than that?