Test Drive: Hands-On with the Ikawa Sample Roaster

The machine from Ikawa holds multiple benefits for users in many different circumstances.

BY JOSH TAVES
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE

Cover photo courtesy of Ikawa; article photos by Josh Taves

I like my Ikawa. I didn’t at first, I will admit, but I’ve come around and want to tell you about it.

Founded in 2010, Ikawa makes small, automated coffee roasters that have proven useful in many different circumstances. According to their website, Ikawa (the Burundian word for “coffee“) wanted to revolutionize sample roasting in the coffee industry. The practice of roasting small amounts of green coffee, sample roasting tests the flavor profile, quality level, and/or the capability of a coffee. Green coffee buyers use sample roasters on a regular basis. They use sample roasts to taste coffees they receive from importers and producers while making larger purchasing decisions. Sample roasters also serve as indispensable tools across the supply chain. They’re used to track quality throughout the lifecycle of a green coffee from harvest to processing, exporting, importing, and production.

Ikawa roaster
The Ikawa provides expert-level roast consistency in a compact and portable footprint.

Why They Did It

Ikawa realized that the sample roaster market hadn’t shown a remarkable amount of innovation compared to other sectors of the coffee industry. Most manufacturers simply made smaller versions of their production roasters. They marketed them as sample roasters, which caused prices to be very high and cost-prohibitive for many start-up companies. Some went the opposite direction, though, and created sample roasters that were so reliant on the tactile experience of the user that they were unreliable and inconsistent due to the amount of human input needed to operate the device. While these machines were wonderfully artistic and fulfilling to operate, they proved very difficult to roast on consistently and often resulted in wasted coffee and roast defects on the cupping table.

Ikawa’s New Approach

Into this niche stepped Ikawa with the idea of presenting novel solutions to the sample roasting (and eventually home roasting) industry. Now, as I mentioned earlier, I wasn’t an early adopter of the Ikawa. I had done a lot of sample roasting on both types of sample roasters listed above and loved interacting with the coffee throughout the roast. Directly affecting the inputs like airflow and heat level with dials and buttons as the roast progressed in response to my sensory input was intriguing to me. The Ikawa has only one or two buttons depending on the model, and it roasts coffee in a drum with a glass top and no “trier.” The drum is vertical and doesn’t even spin. Like most human beings, I was skeptical of something that was so different from what I had become accustomed to.

Years went by after Ikawa’s inception and I watched their popularity grow. Their roasters seemed to be a hit with folks looking for high volume, repeatable sample roasting, or for small companies looking to save some money (the home model only costs around $1,000). Eventually, I found myself working at a new company and was not surprised to learn that the sample roasting I’d be taking over was done on an Ikawa.

Ikawa roaster closeup
Not only did Ikawa revolutionize the mechanical process of sample roasting, they did it in a package that incorporates an expert level of aesthetic design.

My First Ikawa Encounter

I knew I’d have to throw my traditionally tactile desires for sample roasting out the door and instead focus on utilizing my new tool on its own platform. I did my best in the Ikawa app (all Ikawa variables and displays are controlled via Bluetooth through apps offered on Apple and Google Play) to replicate the sample roast profile I hoped to achieve. And you know what? It tasted pretty dang good. Never one to settle for good enough, I tried a handful of other profiles in an effort to get a feel for the machine and went through the process of conducting several blind cuppings looking for the best roast profile for my sample program. To my surprise, the one I ended up liking the best was my original profile.

Using It Over Time

Since that time I’ve roasted several hundred batches from origins all over the world using that same profile and I have yet to be disappointed. The beauty of the Ikawa program is that all you have to do is push the button to warm the machine up, drop in your 50 grams of green coffee (I’m using an older model—newer models have the capacity to roast more coffee—up to 100 grams), and come back when the coffee is cool.

The whole process takes less than 10 minutes per batch and I don’t even have to be in the same room. No longer do I need to utilize intense focus to achieve a consistent product, and with Ikawa’s profile algorithm, I can hit the same curve-and-finish temp regardless of the green density or moisture content. If I ever doubt the roaster, I can always go back through the stored profiles on the Ikawa app and double-check that everything went according to plan. 

Ikawa roaster close up
The Ikawa utilizes a uniquely clever airflow system that allows for roasting, cooling, and chaff collection in a very small amount of space.

There’s An App for That

Now, I can hear the screams of the roasters out there who are already crafting their replies about how I am oversimplifying the roasting process. I get it. The Ikawa allows for all of the infinite complexity that a home roaster or really anybody might want as well, but for sample roasting (as I see it), utilizing a fixed rate-of-rise, development time, and drying phase allows me to effectively remove the roast character as a factor in the evaluation process and assess the coffee more holistically for what it is capable of.

Ikawa roaster close up
The Ikawa roasters utilize directional airflow to turn the coffee rather than the traditional paddles and spinning drum.

Since its inception, Ikawa has released three models in order to capture more market share for folks looking to do what they call “microroasting.” For the pros looking to sample roast as I am, the Pro50 and Pro100 will do a great job of saving time and money when utilized to their full potential. For folks looking to bring their coffee knowledge to the next level in their kitchen, it would be hard to beat the versatility and profitability that can be had from the Ikawa Home

Closing Thoughts

While I’m not going to dive into the functionality of the Ikawa app, roasting theory, and the merits of a preprogrammed curve or convection versus conduction, I will say that Ikawa has successfully changed my mind and the minds of thousands of others when it comes to microroasting. Ikawa’s innovation and foresight have rocketed the company into the forefront of the sample roaster market. And they show no signs of slowing down. My Ikawa roaster has earned its place in my repertoire of coffee gadgets. Now, I look forward to roasting on it for many years to come.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Josh Taves is the head of business development for Stovetop Roasters in Michigan. He’s been working in the coffee industry since 2006; he invented the Rattleware Cupping Brewer and reached the finals of the 2017 United States Barista Championship. All of that is another way of saying he’s a seasoned professional at geeking out with all kinds of coffee gadgets. He also enjoys taking advantage of all the great adventures the outdoors has to offer.

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