Conversations from the Specialty Coffee Expo – Kimberly Noon

Name: Kimberly Noon
Company: Bellwether
Position: VP of Marketing
Based: Berkeley, California
Expos Attended: 2

JJ: Have you been to the Specialty Coffee Expo before?
KN: We have, last year was our first Expo, in Seattle, and it was also our product launch. So we announced the Bellwether Roaster to the world last year in Seattle.

JJ: And it’s been an exciting year for you! Can you give me the elevator pitch of what Bellwether is?
KN: At Bellwether, we have a ventless, electric, zero-emissions, commercial coffee roaster. It’s the first of its kind. We enable café retailers to roast coffee onsite and have a direct connection to the farm where the coffee is sourced from.

JJ: And that’s through the green bean marketplace correct?
KN: correct.

JJ: How does the marketplace work?
KN: The roaster is controlled through an iPad and the iPad has our software, our application, on it. Within the application, we have a green bean marketplace which is a curated market place of green coffee that’s curated by our green buyer, Gabe Boscana, he’s been in the industry for a very long time, very respected individual for green buying. Our customers can purchase green coffee from the green coffee market place.

One of the barriers to entry for coffee roasting is people don’t know where to buy green coffee. We wanted to break down all the walls to give people more access to coffee roasting — better access. Buying green coffee was definitely one of those barriers that we definitely wanted to knock down. We put the green coffee marketplace in our application to give people access to buying amazing green coffee from farms all around the world. When they buy green coffee from our market, we ship it in very easy to maintain, easy to store, easy to manage, boxes that are 25 pounds of green coffee, so you can easily store them in a small café. When people buy our green coffee, we also upload a roast profile to their system that our coffee team worked hard to create for them. When they get their green coffee in the door, they also get a roast profile in their iPad app so they can roast coffee right away, even if they’ve never done it before. Which is pretty awesome.

JJ: What would you say the ideal café is that the Bellwether could go into?
KN: It’s funny you ask that, because it’s kind of all over the place. So, the small neighborhood café who really wants to own their own coffee, but never thought they could, that’s one of our customers. The café down the street who might roast at another location that has a bunch of roasters for them to access, but they have always wanted to roast in-store, those are our customers as well. And then big brands, who right now roast at one central location and then ship their coffee all over the world, this allows them to roast onsite, in stores, have that connection to the customer, the customer can see the coffee roasting in their store and it provides a deeper connection all around. So those are our customers as well.

JJ: What are you hoping to get from this year?
KN: Same thing. Just getting in front of more people, being on a different coast is awesome. You know, being in California, we have a lot of connections and relationship on that side of the country. But actually bringing the machine out here so so many more people can see it on this side of the country has been invaluable so far. And seeing people that we met last year who have come up to the booth this year, who are like, surprised we actually have a “big kid” booth, which is really fun. Seeing those people again, you remember them because the connections we made were so great last year. Then coming back this year and saying hello and seeing the machine roast — so last year at Expo we weren’t allowed to roast because of the power requirements, and it was kind of a last minute thing anyways. We totally understood. Last year the SCA was a huge supporter of us being able to roast, but it just didn’t work out with the convention center in Seattle. But this year, we planned ahead with SCA support, and we were able to get it done. People who wanted to see the machine roasting last year and weren’t able to, they get to see it this year, which is really exciting.

JJ: Who are some of your initial clients out there, who are actually roasting coffee using the Bellwether?
KN: There’s one in Denver, called Unravel Coffee. Steve Holt is the owner and founder of that company and Steve is an icon in the coffee industry. He’s been a longtime supporter of Bellwether. He’s been along the journey with us, since near the beginning actually. To be able to give him a roaster at his coffee shop that he just opened was really awesome for both parties. Because, he’s kind of seen us grow up as a company, and then being able to give him one of our first machines was really a cool experience.

JJ: Any advice for any future equipment manufacturers when they come to Expo? What are some things that you’ve learned along the way?
KN: I think something that’s always served us very well is: we are not a technology company that made a product and forced it upon an industry. From the very beginning, we had the coffee industry help us build this thing. So many of our team members grew up in the coffee industry. The hands that made this machine are the hands of the industry. Just having that relationship, and that deeper connection to the industry itself, respecting the craft of coffee roasting, which we carry throughout our technology that’s inside of the machine, to everything you see on the outside of the machine, the software itself, you know all of that was built with who is going to use this in mind. All human-centered design philosophy throughout the hardware and the software. The biggest thing for us was having the industry along the ride with us from day one. Anytime that we iterated the product or had something new to show, we showed it to as many people as we possibly could. They gave us feedback, we incorporated their feedback into the next iteration, so that’s something that we’re super proud of, and it’s something that has served us very well over the course of our journey. 

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Read all of our conversations from the 2019 Specialty Coffee Expo.