Please contact Donald Hudson at CafeCoffees.com and let him know of your interest in their roasters for coffee and that you're in touch through TheChocolateLife. I cannot quote you directly.
As for the ABS ovens, the 5-rack version is about $3000. In order to get you a quote, I need a shipping address. I will mail you privately and you can respond.
I was in a restaurant here in NYC last week that plans to be making chocolate from the bean in their kitchen. They have two larger pieces of CocoaTown equipment and were sent to small (maybe 2 pound max) CocoaTown roasters.
The CocoaTown roasters I saw were based on what appeared to be unmodified Ronco "Set it and forget it" rotisserie ovens. The spit was upgraded with a drum made from perforated stainless; this was the only change I could see.
While these (and the Behmors, and one or two others based on the Ronco chassis) might be suitable for home hobbyist production, IMO they are not suitable for commercial production (I know because I bought a modified Ronco and worked in a facility that used a Behmor).
Thanks, Clay. I'm wondering why you deem the Behmor and Ronco mods unsuitable for commercial production. Is it capacity? Or lack of consistency? I'm looking at the CocoaT that has a capacity for 10 lbs at a time, which is still on the small side, but definitely more affordable. I would love to be able to build my own or modify an existing one, but I'm not as mechanically inclined as some...
While you can do commercial production in a small machine (e.g., the CocoaTown ECGC12) you don't have a hope of being profitable using machines that size unless you live in a country where the average hourly wage is around $1.00. So, I am going to assume that the 65L Grindeur or similar capacity machine is the one you're working with (you don't say).
Given that the 65L machine requires at least 20kg of nib, working on a 1 to 2 pound batch roast capacity makes no sense as it would take forever to roast the required amount. While individual roasts might be inconsistent, you'd be blending them together so that would even out. However, from experience with someone who went from a Behmor to a larger roaster (actually, a 250kg Barth Scirocco) there's a qualitatively different roast that you get from the larger machine. I think that has to do a lot with thermal mass, how quickly the Scirocco gets back to temperature (which is called recovery time), and the fact that the Scirocco does a much better job of agitating the beans during the roast.
A 10lb machine is closer. You might get 75% yield (~7.5 lb nib for every 10 lb of bean - this counts water loss during roasting as well as fractions winnowed out) so you'd need about 6 roasts for each batch in the 65L Grindeur.
As Brad correctly states, you have to properly account for the value of your time in figuring out production costs. While you might save $1000 on equipment, if it increases the amount of time per batch beyond a certain point, you actually end up losing money (i.e., not paying yourself anything for your labor).
Whenever you're looking at the tradeoff in the initial price of equipment you must also take a look at how trading down in capacity might increase the amount of time (and other costs) associated with the decision. And you should probably pay yourself at least minimum wage. Or, if not, you should know what paying yourself a decent hourly wage means to the actual cost of production, which will let you know what price you should be selling your product for. If you don't properly calculate all of the costs and underprice your product, then you don't have a business.
The concept is called total cost of ownership (or operation). While you might start out with one 65L Grindeur, each new one is not only going to cost at least $5,000 there is cost of hooking it up, the cost of electricity to run it, the cost of electricity for the increased load on the HVAC system and the cost of ground rent. Make sure to have line items for all of these in your cost of doing business spreadsheet.
Another thing to consider is what you're going to do to scale up. If you move from needing one Grindeur to 2, what does that do to the amount of time needed for roasting, winnowing, etc.? It may be that one 10lb roaster won't be able to meet the demand.
Here's the point - there is no perfectly balanced system at this scale. For some stage of production you're going to have machines that are too small and/or too large for other machines in the production line. The question is: where do you start oversize/undersize to begin with, knowing that, if you become successful, that you're going to have to upgrade and/or buy another unit of something.
Where you feel comfortable about making the tradeoff is something you have to decide. But, no matter which way you go, make sure you do a price/total cost of operation analysis - and make sure to include a fair value for your labor.
You've addressed many of the issues I've been struggling with in starting my new business. I realize that experience is a teacher like no other, but also appreciate all of your feedback as well as this forum, as it's not only a great resource, but a nice support system. I have a lot to learn, and appreciate the help!
Something to consider in the whole roaster discussion is the relative lack of sophistication on the part of small chocolate makers when it comes to roasting - when compared with coffee.
Here's a link to a very interesting discussion about coffee roasting that just starts to scratch the surface of how the new generation of modern "technical" coffee roasters geek out about a topic like convection airflow (as opposed to conduction), pointing out that different bean origins want different roasts - not just time/temp, but time/temp/airflow - in order to bring out different characteristics of the origins.
What this suggests is that a lot more open-mindedness is needed when approaching the topic of equipment selection for roasting cocoa beans because having precise control over airflow can be critical in optimizing flavor development during roasting.