The specialty coffee industry is witnessing an exciting and rapidly growing trend – home coffee roasting. Enthusiastic coffee lovers are increasingly turning their kitchens into mini roasteries, and this movement is gaining traction for several reasons.
Home coffee roasting empowers individuals to take control of their coffee experience. It allows for the customization of roast levels and profiles, resulting in a cup of coffee perfectly tailored to one’s personal preferences. This level of control is a game-changer.
Since roasted beans are most flavorful within days of roasting, another significant benefit of home roasting is the freshness factor. Home roasting ensures that coffee beans are at their peak when brewed. This level of freshness simply cannot be matched by store-bought coffee.
The idea of roasting coffee at home appeals to me because, I imagine, it fosters a deeper connection to the coffee journey. Roasting at home allows enthusiasts to explore the complexities of different coffee origins, experiment with various roast profiles, and gain a profound appreciation for the intricacies of coffee flavors.
Aillio saw that trend growing early and decided to answer it with the Bullet R1 induction heated coffee roaster. It quickly became a sensation among coffee lovers. For many good reasons.
It offered unparalleled control and precision in the home roasting process. With its advanced technology and user-friendly interface, the R1 allowed users to fine-tune every aspect of their roasts, from temperature and airflow to drum speed, resulting in perfectly customized profiles. Moreover, the R1’s compact design made it an ideal fit for home kitchens, eliminating the need for bulky and expensive commercial-grade roasters.
What Aillio really did was democratise roasting technology.
We spoke to the company founder and CEO, Jonas Lillie, about the journey Aillio took to today and what lies ahead.
Please introduce yourself to our audience.
Tell us about the first time you tasted specialty coffee & the impression that made.
The first time I tasted “specialty” coffee was in Taiwan while working on the second prototype of the Bullet. There was a little store in a hip part of town, where I ordered a pourover. It was a rather disappointing experience. It looked like tea, and didn’t taste of much.
But a few weeks later I tried again in another little random little cafe. Pure strawberries, and other flavors I had no idea could be found in a cup of coffee. Amazing. I immediately found a professional roaster to teach me how to roast coffee like that on my prototype.
One of the learnings I took away from my interview with Douglas Weber is to take lessons from every one of life’s experiences. What lessons did you bring to Aillio from your time as a fashion photographer?
I was a pretty good photographer, but I was not the most creative photographer, and so I was mostly stuck with boring, commercial jobs.
So the biggest lesson I learned from photography was that the concept itself is the absolute most important thing to focus on. By “concept” I mean, what are you doing and why?
That’s why when I first began working in coffee, I spent a lot of time focused on coming up with an idea that would not only solve people’s problems, but that was also unique and hard to copy. I eventually settled on trying to figure out how to make a smarter coffee roaster, and that’s how one day I found myself alone in the kitchen, disassembling an induction cooker in order to put together the proof-of-concept for the Bullet. And that’s when my brother Jacob got interested and started writing the software.
Another lesson from photography – the work never really ends when you think you’re done. So you have to really embrace the entire process to be successful. You have to persevere.
Good products, both physical and artistic, are extremely hard to make, and require constant fine-tuning. You strive for perfection in your initial designs and preparations, but no matter how well you think you have prepared, the reality will disappoint, and you will find yourself back at the drawing board again and again.
But the final lesson from photography comes from contrasting it with what I do now. For me, playing the “fashion game” often felt fake and pretty hollow. I didn’t enjoy it at all. In coffee, the connections between people feel more genuine. Even better, by building a physical product like a roaster that people interact with and take pride in owning, you naturally get a lot of great feedback from them. It’s why I like going to trade shows so much, to meet the people using the Bullet and hear all the amazing things they’ve done with their roasters.
In other words, I learned that I want to make real products for real people. I couldn’t ever go back to fashion, now.
Why start Aillio? The product suggests that, at the time the idea for Aillio was born, you had a very clear opinion on how the coffee roasting industry was not doing enough with technology, software and automation. Is that fair to say? Tell us more.
I started Aillio because it was the only way to see my vision through to the end.
It all began with a trip to Taiwan for a short getaway. I had started having second thoughts about my life in Hong Kong as a photographer, and was intrigued by the hospitality and more relaxed vibes of Taiwan, and wound up loving it here.
I enjoyed my trip so much that I closed my studio in Hong Kong and moved into a tiny little flat in Taipei.
To make ends meet, I got a freelance job for making all sorts of coffee accessories for a company in Hong Kong. I designed marketing material and packaging, but was also thinking a bit further, about new products they could manufacture.
Analysing the market at the time, all the designs for coffee roasters, both professional and hobbyist, were pretty much the same. There was no innovation happening in terms of tech and features – software, automation, as you said – and there wasn’t much thought being given to making a roaster look nice, either.
So I pitched my idea for a better electric home roaster to them, but they felt it was too much of a niche market, too difficult to produce, and so they rejected my idea.
That rejection only motivated me further, though. I could still see the gap in the market very clearly, and I could not get the roaster idea out of my head. Shortly after, I went all in and started Aillio.
You spent 2 years doing product development and were very hands-on. You studied product design, even went as far as learning CAD, specifically focusing on understanding how to design for manufacturing. What inspired the design of the Bullet? It’s one of the most memorable and unique designs on the market today. Especially in specialty coffee.
For me, product design is really about cutting away the unnecessary to get to the core of what’s needed. It’s almost like a puzzle where you are trying to figure out smart ways to combine things in creative ways to get your part count down.
Since I am not a professional designer, the process was mostly based on functionality, especially in the beginning.
For example, the drum has to be round, so why not make the outside of the roaster round as well, so that the insulation around the drum will fill out the whole space?
Why not add some feet so that the roaster is accessible underneath? And let’s tilt the display upwards to make it easier to read when the Bullet is on a table with the operator standing above it.
It just so happens that this way of thinking about your product naturally puts you on the path toward a design that both looks and feels nice.
Were you surprised by the success at launch?
I was pretty confident the product would work, but didn’t know how well, and didn’t really think about how it would be received, as I was laser focused on getting it done.
But while developing the Bullet, I was sometimes met with pretty extreme skepticism from some corners of the specialty coffee industry. Some of whom told me directly that what I was trying to do (was already doing) wasn’t possible. They simply didn’t believe an electric roaster that size could roast 1 kg of coffee.
So, after all the pre-orders were shipped, it was a pleasant surprise to discover that our early adopters were really an amazing group of open-minded people, totally devoted to coffee and totally in love with the Bullet. A lot of our current success is due to the community’s word of mouth on our behalf back then.
I have a few amateur and professional roaster friends who are absolute disciples of Aillio. In fact, my local coffeeshop has just bought an Aillio Bullet and is roasting some gems. Your Roast.World community has more than 10,000 active users. Why is building a community so important to Aillio? What real value does it add?
It really helps everyone out. The tide to lift all boats… hah.
Coffee people are passionate and eager to share that passion with others. So creating a space for them to do that, to easily ask and answer questions about roasting or just to chat about coffee in general, makes perfect sense. It’s useful and fun at the same time, and of course having people talk about our product is good for us, too.
But Roast.World is more than just a forum, it’s also an enormous repository of really good coffee data. Moving forward, a big focus of ours will be leveraging that data in new ways to make it more useful for everyone.
Machine learning, in particular, holds a lot of promise in terms of dissecting what makes a great roast. Especially once AiO launches.
Tell us about AiO. It seems to be quite an exciting new chapter for the company.
Circling back to whether I was surprised by the success of the Bullet, I guess you could say that I have been surprised by just how many people have started their own business on our little roaster. We designed it for home and light commercial use, but now we see there are some cafes running two, three, four Bullets at a time to keep up with their demand!
We made AiO for people like them, to solve their problems. It’s for those who need to supply a very busy cafe, or chain of cafes, or a micro-roastery. Coffee businesses that require more volume.
Before, your options for in-house roasting at this level were basically limited to very expensive, very large, and very heavy 5+kg capacity gas roasters that eat up all the seating space in your shop and require installing a gas line and then hiring an expert roaster to sit and manually roast each and every batch. And if it breaks down? Good luck getting up and running again quickly!
Until now that’s always been the reality of roasting your own coffee, and it’s been a deal breaker for most cafes. And this is where AiO steps into the picture.
Like the Bullet, it doesn’t use gas and is small and light enough to fit on a counter. But AiO is also packed with more precise measurement and data collection tools than the Bullet, is smarter and more modular for easier and faster maintenance, is twice the capacity (2 kg) and most important of all, it can automatically roast your coffee for you while you do other things.
The idea is that a barista on duty can just weigh the greens and drop them in AiO, select a Roast Recipe to run, and then walk away to serve customers. AiO does the rest by itself. When the roast is finished, they can bag it up and begin the next batch right away.
AiO can roast 6-8 kg of coffee in an hour, with minimal labor, at a price point that shops will quickly see a return on their investment, just because green beans are way cheaper than roasted beans. Greens also store for a much longer time than roasted beans, so if you’re roasting your own, you can roast them in smaller batches as needed, which gives shops a lot of flexibility for their coffee lineups in order to stand out from the crowd.
It’s a machine that’s gonna help a lot of businesses grow their brand out in fun ways.
Apart from AiO, what does the future hold for Aillio.
AiO is the big one on our plate right now. There is still a lot to do with it in terms of moving past the beta testing and orchestrating the upcoming launch. And of course Roast.World is also a big focus moving forward, like I said.
But we’re always quietly working on some new ideas in the background. Although I can’t say too much right now, I can definitely say AiO won’t be the last roaster we design.