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Burning it down

September 10, 2012
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Things have been heating up over here at RoastLog.  Working with customers is always one of the best parts of our jobs, and we’ve been cranking out some great new features based on user feedback.  Today, I wanted to highlight one of those.

You know you roast coffee, and you have a sense of how much coffee you’re roasting…but just how long is that seven bags going to last you?  Now, users of our inventory system can leave that math to RoastLog.

Inventory burn down rates, with weekly usage and a projected date for when you'll run out.

Inventory burn down rates, with weekly usage and a projected date for when you’ll run out.

The two columns highlighted relate to the amount of coffee your’re burning down and consist of:

  1. The amount of coffee roasted in the last week (weekly burn)
  2. The day at which you’ll run out of that coffee based on your weekly usage

In the first row, there’s also a “Total”…in our example, we roasted 358.0 lbs last week across all coffees (hey…we’re a new roastery just starting up…the order will eventually start rolling in! :-) ). What’s a bit more interesting is when you begin to look at the individual rows for the coffees you’re currently roasting.  As you roast, you should be telling RoastLog how much green coffee you’re roasting in each batch.  With that information, we can start to build trends and do some aggregation.  For our Santa Elena Estate coffee above, we roasted 24 lbs in the last week.  Given that we stay on this trajectory, our 2.6 bags will last until Jan 9th.

Getting coffee into your roastery is a big deal.  Getting coffee into your roastery when you’re running out is an even bigger deal.  With this enhancement, you can now get a snapshot of what’s going on with your business and what needs your attention.  It shouldn’t be a surprise when you get down to that last bag since you’ll have been warned long before.

Of course, this is all calculated dynamically, so throughout the day you can even watch as this changes.  Have a big order or get a big rush on a particular coffee?  The projected zero date will update every hour so you have near real-time insight into your roasting operation.

Like I said, there are a bunch of other things we’ve pushed out recently, and I hope to do a better job of talking about them here.  In the meantime, keep an eye on those zero dates!

Bringing back the heating rate

June 26, 2012
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Who can guess where this screen shot is taken from?

RoastLogger 0.3.0

If you guess RoastLogger version 0.3 circa 2009, you’re right!

Notice there is a little field in there called “Heating Rate”. That thing made it into the earliest versions of RoastLogger, but I took it out since I never had the time to really calculate an accurate value. Around here, we will often not tackle a problem until we have a solution that we’re mostly happy with. It’s taken some time, but I’m happy to report that as of RoastLogger 2.2.3 which was released a couple of weeks ago, the heating rate (or, ROR [rate of rise] as some call it) is back in.

What we’ve learned since releasing this is that most roasters have already been using the heating rate, even before we had it on the display. How is that possible? Many roasters have been calculating this in their heads, taking mental snapshots periodically and calculating a degrees per minute rate in their heads.

Heating rate is a critical metric to watch, mostly after first crack when the roast temperatures rise at a much slower rate. In this phase, it’s crucial to not stall the roast by hitting a zero or negative slope. Now, with this number clearly visible, it’s much easier to see if you’re getting close to the danger zone. While the heating rate provides a very clear picture of what’s going on *right now*, there are still other metrics which are insanely useful, notably the environment/drum temperature.

As Shark from De La Paz Coffee pointed out in a guest blog post, the drum temperature give you a prediction of *what’s going to happen*. When you pump heat energy into any system, it takes some time for that system to react. With the environment temperature and the heating rate combined, you get the best of both worlds….a head’s up of what’s going to happen based on the heat entering the system, and an indication of the subtle changes when it matters most.

If you’re a RoastLog user and haven’t downloaded the latest RoastLogger, head over to our downloads section and download it now!

De La Paz guest blog post

April 18, 2012
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Right now the guys and I are sitting in downtown Portland getting in some last minute work (online cupping forms anyone? http://cuppinglog.com, plus we’re launching a new homepage!).  This is the third year in a row that we’ll have a booth at the SCAA show.  The entire weekend is exhausting, but exhilarating for our little start-up.  One of the most rewarding parts of working on RoastLog for me personally has been the stories from our users.  When folks tell us that our software is helping them run their business better and produce better coffee, I can’t help but smile.

This month we have a couple of stories from Shark Senesac and Mat Olive from De La Paz Coffee.  These guys use RoastLog every day in their roastery…so this is real feedback from the guys in the trenches.  Enjoy!

On Inventory

by Mat Olive


As a small but growing roasting company, we don’t always have time on our side. Though we’ve been using RoastLog for a few years, it was being used exclusively as a temperature logger and not until we had two people roasting did we realize how much more of the software we should have been taking advantage of. In our minds, stopping to do inventory on all our coffees and entering them into RoastLog would have taken more time than we felt we had. We could not have been more wrong and wish we would have done this many months ago.

The most obvious benefit from having our inventory properly entered into RoastLog is how quickly we can determine the amount of green coffee we need to order for the near future. In our retail-ready location we don’t have tremendous space for green storage and using The Annex is a necessary part of our business. Using RoastLog I can quickly run a report that tells me how much of a specific coffee I’ve roasted this week, look at the Inventory tab to see how much of that coffee I have left in our on-site storage and at the annex, and then coordinate with our distributors to release the appropriate amount of coffee we will need. With more than a handful of coffees and several different distributors, what used to take far too much time now only takes a few minutes.

Reports have also allowed us to run quick sales statistics. We can easily see which coffees are our biggest sellers which has helped us analyze things like whether we might have enough of a particular coffee to use as an additional espresso offering. Looking at the Inventory tab can show us if we need to start moving a coffee we have before it becomes too old. We find a new use for the features of RoastLog on a regular basis!

On the Multiple Input Data Bridge

by Shark Senesac


When Brian initially approached us about beta testing RoastLog, we knew very little about logging programs.  In fact we had never even used one before.  All of our times, temps and adjustments were written by hand on paper – understandably a cumbersome method.  Its usability was simple and the learning curve wasn’t too steep.  Everything seemed to be rolling along well except one thing.  Our bean temperature lines tended to fluctuate too often.  Perhaps, distortions caused by ambient temperature changes and maybe even an inattention associated with looking at a computer and the roaster simultaneously.  Over time we ran tests and realized that we we’re placing entirely too much emphasis on the bean temperature.  For instance if a coffee was running slow/ fast we would find ourselves over correcting in an attempt to match the live line with the target line.  Although we were cautious of drastic flame adjustments (knowing that altering the heat application would change the fundamental recipe) small alterations seemed to still have massive effects in the cup.  We began to realize the problem had to be within the drum and we were fighting it daily.

The stock environmental temperature gauge that Probat installs on L12s are great for ball park estimates and that’s about it.  In addition to inaccuracy, the original gauge that came with our L12 was seized (due to years of neglect from the previous owner) and we were unable to remove the housing for routine maintenance.  Even after drilling out the old and installing a new gauge, we still found it to be inaccurate as well as difficult to read. With that being said, we mostly used the gauge for introduction temps as it was much more constant than the bean probe which can shift radically due to being so close in proximity to the jets.  Ultimately any sort of tracking of the environmental temperature was out the question, as it would constitute again, one more thing to write down and keep track of – further distracting us from what’s happening to the coffee.

This image illustrates how a roast may appear to be on track although the blue line (environmental temperature) indicates an inconsistency created by an unsynchronized changes to the gas.

After incessant fantasizing about concurrently tracking both bean and environmental temperatures, RoastLog released the multiple input Data Bridge, which allowed us to do just that.  What we learned from the first batch cleared the road for what would soon shed light onto our problems regarding recipe vs. integrity.  Initially we noticed (with great detail) exactly how every adjustment affected both the temperature of the coffee as well as the air inside of the drum.  This in turn confirmed our theory that while the live bean line may match its target, the coffee didn’t necessarily cup the same due to small periodic variations in energy application to adjust for a miscalculation in an intro temperature, batch size or fluctuations in ambient temperatures.  Because we were able to track the actual temperature inside of the drum we couldn’t deny that the slightest alteration to the gas created massive deviations to the environment, causing not only over/underdevelopment but also shifts in momentum.

This image illustrates a synchronized roast in progress.

It goes without saying but the advances we’ve made in technique as well as the understanding of the what’s happening inside of our roaster is in large part thanks to RoastLog. We will be at the their booth during the 2012 SCAA conference answering questions and talking about out experience with RoastLog.

New RoastLogger features

March 13, 2012
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I’m very very excited to talk about some long requested RoastLogger features which will be landing in the next week or so.  Cutting straight to the chase, they are:

  1. Improved feedback when a roast doesn’t upload successfully
  2. Spacebar shortcut for starting and saving a roast
  3. Selectable profiles in the Roast Queue
  4. Drum roll…….ability to re-order items in the Roast Queue

Improved feedback when a roast doesn’t upload successfully

There you are, roasting your coffee with RoastLogger fired up.  You click the Save button, and go along with the rest of your roasting business.  Later on when perusing your Inbox, you notice that a roast is missing….hrmmmmm.  This isn’t a huge issue since RoastLogger was designed to handle this.  Profiles are saved to your computer before they’re uploaded.  If there was some type of network error which prevented the initial upload to roastlog.com from succeeding, RoastLogger will try again later.  However, RoastLogger doesn’t do a good job of letting you know what’s going on.  We’ve fixed that.

Error uploading dialog

If something didn’t go quite right, you’ll now have a better idea of what’s going on with a little notification as well as a yellow highlight on the problematic roast.

Once you hit the Sync button, as instructed, and the roast is uploaded, the yellow turns gray and you get the Roast Id back, signaling that everything is right in the world.

Spacebar shortcut for starting and saving a roast

As a programmer, I try to avoid the mouse as much as possible.  I’m simply faster doing my job when my fingers are on the keyboard rather than moving the mouse around and clicking on things (this is why I love Vim so much).

As a roaster, you don’t want to click the mouse either.  There is now a shortcut to start recording a roast, and save that roast when you’re ready…the spacebar.  Think iTunes when you start and stop a song, or video player when you start/stop a video.  Same thing.  I know of at least one person who is going to be thrilled to have this….hopefully there will be others.

Notice the "Space" shortcut next to Record and Save.

Selectable profiles in the Roast Queue

After you save a roast, it just sits there in your Roast Queue letting you know what you have already done, but not doing much good beyond that.  A few folks expressed a need to actually pull up the profiles they just did on the plot to compare with new roasts.  Well, you can now do that.

Any roast which you’ve saved and uploaded to roastlog.com is now selectable in the Roast Queue, and that profile will be drawn on the plot.  We still have our Starred Roast system and that is still the method of marking your favorite profiles which will automatically be displayed when you roast a particular coffee.  But, for running experiments or quick checks where starring a roast is too much effort, selectable Roast Queue profiles are your friend.

Note, this one may actually show up a bit later since there are a couple of outstanding bugs…but it is coming, promise!

The big daddy: Re-order-able items in the Roast Queue

I’ve known about this feature forever and it simply took a long time to get it right.  If you add 20 coffees to your Roast Queue, then decide you’re going to skip coffee #10 or do it last, it’s currently a headache to deal with.  I’m very happy to say that you can now just grab any cell in a given row and drag the entry to its new home.

Reordering the Roast Queue

Select any cell in the Roast Queue and drag it to its new position.

Not only can you reorder, but you can delete from arbitrary spots in the Roast Queue as well.  Right-click a cell and you’ll get a little context menu with one selection, “Delete from Queue”.  After clicking “yes” to the confirmation window which appears, the item is removed like magic.

Delete from Roast Queue

Right-click on a cell to get this

Note, I find it funny that I’m still calling this a queue since I originally thought it would act like a real computer science queue….we’re sort of a cross between a queue and array at this point.

Look forward to RoastLogger 2.2.0 within the next week or two.  I’m confident these changes will make the program easier to work with.  If you have any other suggestions on how to make RoastLogger better, let us know via support.roastlog.com!

New feature – Roaster service records

February 6, 2012

Linsey has been doing a killer job of hitting the pavement and talking with our customers.  He came to me a few weeks ago with a new feature request: add the ability to track and schedule servicing records for roasters.

With a little bit of work, I’m happy to unveil this neat new feature of RoastLog.

The main idea is that everyone services their roaster from time-to-time.  However, just like changing your oil, sometimes you forget when you did that, or you forget when you should be doing that.  With RoastLog, it’s now trivial to schedule an upcoming servicing and track the history of what you’ve done.

For any roaster which you’ve added to your account, simply open up the detail page for that roaster and you’ll see a “Log service” button.  Once you click on that, you’ll be able to add the details about a past or upcoming servicing which you or someone in your organization performed.

Add a service record

Adding a service record for a roaster

When you visit the detail page for a particular roaster, you can quickly see what’s coming up and what’s already been done.  For the servicings which are within the next two days, we highlight that row just to draw some extra attention to it.

Servicing record

Servicing record in the roaster detail page

Alerts are sent via email to everyone in your organization.  Alerts can be controlled to be sent out on the day the servicing should take place, or on some day before that.  If you prefer, you don’t even have to get the email and simply visit this page on your own schedule.

Thanks to our users who continue to give us great feedback on what they need.  We love hearing about what’s working and what’s needed so that we can continue to evolve our platform like this!

Post-Roast Blending with RoastLog Green Inventory

January 11, 2012

So… what about post-roast blending? We get asked about that often. The current version of the RoastLog Green Inventory System stops keeping track of things as soon as they go into the roaster, yet one of the benefits of the Green Inventory System is tracking exactly how you are using green coffees and the real cost to roast them. We know people want support for post-roast blending, and it will make it’s way into the product. In the short term there is a way to track your post-roast blends.

RoastLog fully supports pre-roast blending, but many, many people exclusively blend post-roast. With a clear understanding of Roastables (the ways coffees are used) and the blending feature in RoastLogger you can track your post roast blends.

Let’s be completely clear on terminology by defining “pre” and “post” roast blending.

A pre-roast blend is two or more green coffees roasted together in the same batch. We built RoastLog with this exact workflow in mind, so that inventory is automatically adjusted when you roast this type of blend.

Post-roast blending is two or more batches of roasted, single origin coffee mixed together once they’ve left the roaster. With RoastLog, this is not inherently supported; however, it’s still possible, and here’s how:

Using a specific example of a blend called Gaute-maul-an, which is a 50/50 post-roast blend of two Guatemalan coffees, a Huehuetenango and Rio Azul.

First, create three Roastables:

  1. “Guat Huehue PR” so you can profile that SO coffee specifically for the Guate-maul-an blend
  2. “Guat Rio Azul PR” so you can profile that SO coffee specifically for the Guate-maul-an blend
  3. “Guate-maul-an PR Blend” for your Guate-maul-an post-roast blend, made up 50% “Guat Huehue PR” and 50% “Guat Rio Azul PR”

Now, for the roasting. Here’s how to do a 20lb batch:


The Roast Queue in RoastLogger for setting up a post-roast blend

  1. add “Guate-maul-an PR Blend” to the queue, entering 20 for starting mass. You’ll use this roastable to tell the inventory system:
    • 10 lbs of the “Guat Huehue PR” were roasted and used in your Guate-maul-an PR Blend
    • 10 lbs of “Guat Rio Azul PR” were roasted and used used your in Guate-maul-an PR Blend
  2. add “Guat Huehue PR” to the queue, entering 0 for starting mass
  3. add “Guat Rio Azul PR” to the queue, entering 0 for starting mass
  4. Record a couple seconds and save the Guate-maul-an PR Blend from step #1. The point here is just to trigger the inventory system.
  5. Now actually roast and log the two other batches.

So, in the end, inventory is reduced correctly and usage data is recorded. You’ll also have complete profiles for the individual components stored in a way that lets you easily find them later.

Next time, using this same technique, I’ll explain how to handle a batch of coffee that will be split up post-roast for different uses.

Frying a turkey with software

November 28, 2011
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This Thanksgiving I wanted to fry a turkey.  It’s all the rage and I had heard how fantastic the turkey tastes.  There are all sorts of warnings and videos about frying turkeys and burning your house down (it’d be seriously fun to be one of these firemen!)

Not only did I not want to light myself, family or house on fire, but I also didn’t want to burn or overcook my turkey.  Enter RoastLog.

TurkeyLog

My TurkeyLog setup. Four gallons of 350F peanut oil in the pot on the left, MacBook Pro and RoastLog Data Bridge on the high tech laptop stand on the right.

RoastLog started off its life as a temperature recording system with a little web software to store and interact with that data.  Since then, we’ve grown to include a much richer set of features for managing inventory, analyzing green coffee purchase prices and fees, etc.  Still, we retain the ability to measure, record and visualize temperature readings in real-time of pretty much anything you can reach with a thermocouple.

I grabbed a type-J thermocouple and drilled the correct size hole in lid of my fryer to measure the oil temp, securing the TC with a small metal binder clip.  Since the Data Bridge can measure up to four temperatures, I put a type-k thermocouple at the base of the pot in between the pot and burner.  I didn’t know what to expect measuring the burner temp, but thought it’d be fun.  With that, I lit the burner and was off.

Warming up the oil

Oil temperature during the warmup

After about a minute I got a very nice linear warm-up for the oil temperature.  As you can see in the screenshot above, the burner TC was reading about 850F.  One of the neat features of the updated UI is the ability to selectively turn on/off certain TCs on the plot.  It was nice to see the burner temperature, but I didn’t always want it on the plot for scaling reasons.

Oil (red) and burner temperature (green) during the warmup

The warmup phase went well and was thankfully uneventful.  Once I got the oil to 350 it was show time.  I had my old welding gloves from college and wore those while very slowly lowering the bird into the oil.  Putting that sucker in four gallons of 350 degree oil was a bit scary at first.  The welding gloves were a late addition since I didn’t know exactly where I had put them, but I was damn happy that I had found ‘em.

Gently placing the turkey in the oil

Gently placing the turkey in the oil. Note the thermocouple sticking through the lid, attached to the Data Bridge.

Once the lid was back on the pot and thermocouple in the oil I could see that oil temperature was dropping.  Just like coffee roasting, this was the result of putting something cold into something hot.  I cranked up the heat of the burner to get back to 350F as quickly as possible.  During that phase of my fry the burner temperature got up to about 1100F.  It took roughly 2 1/2 minutes to hit the turn-around time where the oil starting increasing in temperature…a bit longer than a typical coffee roast.

Now, here’s the part where RoastLog really helped.  Because I had a visual representation of the temperature, I could see when I was getting close to my target of 350F and the rate at which the oil temp was increasing.  As I approached 350F, I backed the heat down bit by bit and tried to just touch and then stabilize at 350.  Below is the zoomed-in plot from roastlog.com.  You can see it for yourself here as well…to zoom in simply click and drag on the chart: http://roastlog.com/roasts/zambrano-coffee/46/

Oil temperature near 350F

As you can see, I didn’t stray too far from my 350F target.  I was continuing just fine through minute 24 when I noticed a slight ramp up in temperature.  In terms of degrees, it wasn’t that much above 350, but due to RoastLog I was able to see the trajectory and that it would quickly become an issue if I let it continue.  Back down came the burners so low that I actually killed the flame….doh!  If you look at the subplot on the website or burner temp (green) below you can actually see a huge drop in burner temperature when the flame was out.  It wasn’t that big of an issue really….once the burner was re-lit  I got back on track.

Full recording of oil and burner temperatures

Full recording of oil and burner temperatures. There's a big drop in burner temp when I accidentally killed the flame.

Being able to remove the oil temperature from the plot while recording was great, since the scales were so much different.

Oil temperature

Oil temperature

The result?  Delicious.  I didn’t light anyone on fire, had a great time and produced a great tasting turkey for the family.  I’m looking forward to doing this again.  With a longer thermocouple I think I can actually log the internal temperature of the turkey which would be the ultimate in turkey perfection.

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