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Cupping, part deux

November 16, 2012

When RoastLog launched at the SCAA show in Anaheim in April 2010, we had a cupping module.  No doubt, recording data and keeping detailed records on how you roast is important for several reasons. One of the most important is that you can produce better tasting coffee.

At the time, we thought we had a design which was pretty slick.  Go to a page for a particular roast and see all of the cupping notes for that individual roast, define custom cupping forms, compare different roasts and their cupping scores, etc.  Neato!  However, what we found was that nobody used it.  A few folks poked at it, but nobody was really using it in a serious way.  When the time came for us to do a UI and database overhaul to support our inventory system, we ripped out the cupping component.  It was clear that what we built wasn’t quite right.  Our intent was to put it back in eventually, once we had a clearer idea of what the feature should look like and do.

Over time, more and more users were asking, “What about cupping?” They were saying, “I need cupping notes!!!”

A few weeks ago Linsey went out of town for  week, so Ryan and I sat down together and did a Cupping Hackathon over the course of three days.  In only three days of focused effort, we cranked out a usable cupping module.  I’m excited to say that as of yesterday, we’ve pushed this to our live site and cupping is back!

Cupping coffee with RoastLog using a custom form

What does our cupping module consist of?

  • Define custom cupping forms (SCAA, COE, Jim Bob’s Awesome Cupping Form, etc.)
    • Use between zero and 10 fields per form
    • Each form comes with a field for descriptors, general notes and a final score, by default
  • Cup one or more roasts at a time
    • You can cup roasts multiple times
    • Different users can attach their own unique cupping forms to a roast, regardless of the form used
  • Search through cupping notes and scores, by
    • Final score
    • Field name/value (ie, “Acidity”, 7.5+)
    • Descriptor (ie, “sweet, cherries”)

Since we are constantly coming up with additional ideas for enhancing this module, we’ve built the original to be easily and quickly iterated and improved.  The cupping module we offer now is designed much better than before. We look forward to seeing how it is used and to hearing our users’ feedback and suggestions.

Paying It Forward – RoastLog’s New Roastery Start Up Program

October 17, 2012

Getting ready for RoastLog

If you are in the planning stages of your business, you are in luck. We get the challenges that new startups face. We want to help you get your roastery off the ground.

This is why we’re excited to introduce a new program that allows qualified startups to use RoastLog for up to *one year for free!  This is a way for us to “pay-it-forward” and to acknowledge the help we have received on our journey.

When we set out to start our own company, we needed tools to help us manage our day-to-day operations. Although tremendously useful, most of these tools were expensive — at least for a few guys bootstrapping a startup. It was the proverbial chicken-and-the-egg predicament.

Sign up for RoastLog and get access to our most popular features: roast profile logging and automated inventory management. Incorporating RoastLog early on will allow you to establish a rich repository of roast-related information from the start. Use RoastLog to:

  • dial in your roast profiles
  • ensure quality & consistency
  • experiment with new coffees
  • manage your green coffee inventory

Other bonuses includes keeping track of contracted coffees, online maintenance logs for roasting equipment, green coffee delivery planning/check-in, online cupping notes, and the ability to track what you have paid for your coffees.

Using our 4-input Data Logger even let’s you track additional time/temp profiles per roast, e.g., environment air, exhaust air temps and afterburner performance. (Contact us for more information about using RoastLog for air quality management record keeping requirements.)

Program Highlights

  • Monthly subscription waived for up to one year (this is the free part!)
  • Full product support
  • Access worldwide-community of RoastLog users
  • Key Small Plan features:
    • Roast profile logging
    • automated inventory management
    • Cupping note logs
    • Roasting equipment maintenance logs

We love good coffee and selfishly we want to see it spread far and wide. This is our way of doing our small part to make it happen. Sign up or contact us (support (at) roastlog (dot) com) to get registered.

We look forward to joining you on your journey!
– The RoastLog Team

Wait, we’ve been operating for 3 months…  What about us!?

You’re building momentum. We get that.

You want to streamline part of your business. We’re with you.

You want to focus on your product, customers & profitability. Check, check and ditto.

If you’ve been in operation for less than 12 months, we haven’t forgotten about you. Here’s what we’d like to do to help you continue on your path:

Waiting on the delivery of your new roaster?

Perfect! Put us directly in touch with your roaster manufacturer and we can ensure that your roaster arrives RoastLog-ready. There is a good chance that we have worked with them before.

*The fine print:

  • Start-up status of business subject to verification.  Basically, please be honest.
  • Program includes free subscription to any RoastLog Small Plan (1-input or 4-input) for one year
  • Medium/Large plan upgrades available for nominal fee.
  • Hardware such as thermocouples, fittings & connectors may be supplied by the user, or available for purchase from us
  • Users are responsible for the cost of the RoastLog Data Bridge and shipping charges

The Roast Queue, online edition

October 2, 2012

From day one, RoastLogger, our client application used for recording roast profiles, has had a “Roast Queue”. The idea behind it is pretty simple. When you start your roasting day, you know what you’re going to be roasting and, roughly, in what order. The Roast Queue provides a visual record and reminder of what you’ve done, what you’re doing and what you still need to do.

The RoastLogger roast queue

The Roast Queue in RoastLogger with two coffees on the queue, ready to be roasted. Each has a “Start Mass”, which will be deducted from inventory once the roast is recorded and saved.

Since RoastLog is a profiling system *and* an inventory management system, this works great. Enter the coffees and the size of each roast, and let the software do the rest. Each time a roast is saved the “Start Mass” amount is deducted from your current inventory (works with pre-roast blends too: A 50/50 Moka Java blend will deduct 50% of the start mass from your Moka, and 50% from your Java).

But what happens when someone *doesn’t* want to record one or more roasts but *still* wants their inventory to be kept up to date? The “+/- Existing Inventory” page could be used for this, but since that page was really designed for inventory reconciliation, it didn’t work very well for entering individual batches.

Enter the “Online Roast Queue”:

The online roast queue

The online roast queue. Add a row for each coffee roasted, and the system will automatically create the correct number of roasts with the correct batch size depending on the number of batches roasted.

If you don’t feel like recording some roasts but want to keep your inventory records up-to-date, that’s no problem:

  • Enter each coffee or pre-roast blend into the online roast queue
  • Enter the total amount roasted for each coffee
  • Enter the total number of batches for each coffee
  • Click save

That’s it. In the example above, in the first row, El Manzano was roasted three times for a total quantity of 88 lbs. After hitting save, RoastLog will create three unique roasts, each with a batch size of 88 lbs ÷ 3 = 29.3 lbs. Those three roasts will show up as three unique items throughout the system. The only difference between these manually entered roasts and a roast from RoastLogger is the lack of a roast profile.

There are some big advantages to adding this feature. Mainly, we put the control in your hands. If you don’t want to record every roast but still want to track the details about your coffee inventory, you’re able to do so with very little work. If someone forgets to log a roast from RoastLogger, it’s now easy to fix that.

Burning it down

September 10, 2012

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

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

Right now the guys and I are sitting in downtown Portland getting in some last minute work (online cupping forms anyone?, 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

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 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 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!


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