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!
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Improved feedback when a roast doesn’t upload successfully
- Spacebar shortcut for starting and saving a roast
- Selectable profiles in the Roast Queue
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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:
- “Guat Huehue PR” so you can profile that SO coffee specifically for the Guate-maul-an blend
- “Guat Rio Azul PR” so you can profile that SO coffee specifically for the Guate-maul-an blend
- “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:
- 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
- add “Guat Huehue PR” to the queue, entering 0 for starting mass
- add “Guat Rio Azul PR” to the queue, entering 0 for starting mass
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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/
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.
Being able to remove the oil temperature from the plot while recording was great, since the scales were so much different.
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.
User interface design is a tricky beast. It’s part art and part science…not programming. The fact that the majority UIs suck, to me, speaks to how hard it is to design a good UI.
With our 4-input Data Bridge, there are some tough UI issues which we need to tackle. What’s the “best” way to display 1-4 roasting curves in RoastLogger? In the first iteration, I came up something which I thought made sense: create one main plot which can be though of as the “most important” along with three sub-plots.
The feedback Ryan received from folks was that they wanted to have all of these plots on one chart. Originally, I thought this was totally insane. With up to four curves for the current roast, and up to four for a previous roast drawn in the background, we now have up to eight curves drawn on one chart. Insanity! Indeed, making sense of eight curves on one plot is hard to impossible. Ryan came up with an initial layout which had some controls over which charts to show or hide. But now, just because a curve is toggled off for a given thermocouple doesn’t mean people aren’t interested in the temperature. Hrm, what to do?
Since we’re reworking the UI with the charts, it’s a good time to look at other aspects of the UI beyond the chart. When adding the three subplots, we took away some vertical resolution which meant that it’s a bit hard to see subtle changes in temperature. Realizing we needed to give back some vertical resolution, it was pretty obvious that the notes panel at the very bottom of the window was taking up more that it’s fair share as well.
So, our goals are:
- maximize vertical resolution
- allow fine controls over charts
- provide clear readings for time and all four temperatures
With all of this and some prototyping, we settled on the following changes:
- all curves are drawn on one plot
- provide off/on toggles for curve 2, 3 and 4
- provide off/on toggles for all curves in previous roast profiles
- move all Heads-up Display elements into the chart (time, temp and buttons)
- move notes into a vertical panel
This really opens up the vertical space proving more room for the chart to draw curves. Inside the chart, the four TC temperatures will be displayed in real-time while roasting (that little table-looking thing). Checkboxes next to those thermocouple readings toggle the lines for the current or previous roasting profiles. For users who don’t need all four TCs, the inputs which do not find a TC plugged in to the Data Bridge will be automatically hidden. The Notes panel which doesn’t need a ton of real estate get’s kicked over to the right and is oriented vertically along with the events panel. However, the Notes panel can now be hidden so if it’s not needed, simply close it and keep it out of sight. The Roast Queue and Starred Roasts profiles panel remains the same, except that it can now be much wider since the HUD has been moved.
For those who really want to maximize the chart, it’s fairly simple. Each of these panels is moveable and close-able. Below is a wireframe of what it would look like when orienting the toolbar vertically and completely closing the Notes and Events panels.
These changes just need a bit more coding and testing, after which we’ll be releasing RoastLogger 2.1.2. I think this is a much better design and hope that it’s easier to work with.
If there’s one thing I hate, it’s a stale blog. Embarrassingly, this poor blog hasn’t seen much love lately, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t been busy. Here are a few highlights about how we spent our summer.
4-input Data Bridge
Jeez…we’ve been talking about this for so long even I’m getting a bit sick of it. However, I’m extremely happy that this little guy is now available! We rushed to get the hardware ready in time for SCAA in Houston, but still had a ton of integration work to do with our software. There were a few database changes, UI tweaks and odds and ends to clean up so that we could easily support one or four charts. For the last few weeks our testers have been logging roasts daily with these devices…yee-haw! Of course, we identified a few things to fix and have been doing so diligently.
When you sign-up with RoastLog you’ll have the option of logging with our four-input device or our original one-input. Once you log into the RoastLogger client software, it will automatically detect which device you have and the UI will adjust itself out appropriately.
There is still some work do to in order to use a subset of those four charts, but it’s coming. I’d like to give users the option of using one, two, three or all four plots and have the layout be more flexible. Some folks like side-by-side to get more vertical resolution while others prefer the layout below. Drag-and-drop to reorganize? With this update I completely switched out the charting library in RoastLogger, so we have a lot more options which is very very nice.
One of the things I’ve been working on most recently is making our software better overall….fixing bugs, designing better in-application messaging systems, working on new-user experience, etc. It’s been a lot of fun actually. As a software guy, it’s always fun to tackle new problems and build new systems. However, there are always these little annoyances (i.e., bugs) which eat away at me, and are sources of frustration for users.
The latest version of RoastLogger has a few of those fixes as well as some enhancements which make it easier for users to know when there is a problem. At the same time, the website has undergone a few enhancements and fixes. If you’re a customer, you may have noticed a little message recently announcing RoastLogger 2.1.1. This system will allow us to better notify folks about system updates.
One thing we all obsess over is providing excellent customer support. The best part of running your own business is talking to your customers and deciding that you’re going to treat them like you want to be treated. Two weeks ago we launched our new customer support portal which will help us do a better job of helping you:
Our goal is to get back to everyone within 24 hours with an answer. Most often, we’ll get back within a couple of hours. Better yet is that this system (powered by the good folks as Assistly) provides a great search system through common questions and issues. Our hope is that this system will take the hard work out of finding answers to common questions.
Planning for 2012
Since joining us shortly after the SCAA show this year, Linsey has been busting his butt getting our sales and marketing efforts organized. We’re also all signed up for the SCAA show in 2012, so plan on saying hi to us in Portland (Portland…thank you SCAA). We still have a big vision for RoastLog and are doing our best to build software which every coffee roaster will want to have. Hopefully 2012 will see us get even closer to that vision!