Probat Roaster from 1896 Fire-Roasts Coffee in Rural Southwest Washington
Pull Caffé is keeping it old school with the world’s oldest wood-fire roaster in operation.
BY RACHEL PINSKY
BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Photos by Rachel Pinsky
Todd Millar, owner of Pull Caffé in Yacolt, Wash., dreamed of owning a historic Probat roaster for decades. In the early 2000s, when the internet allowed him to search the planet for it, he endlessly scrolled through every listing that he could find. Sometime around 2016, a farmer in Serbia sent him a photo of a Probat roaster he had in his barn. Todd agonized. Was this a hoax?
From Serbia to Yacolt
Todd had been importing espresso machines from Europe. He asked one of his contacts there to go to Serbia to check out the machine, and she confirmed its existence. The seller took the machine apart and the pieces made a laborious journey from Serbia, through the ports of Seattle and Portland, and finally ending up in Yacolt. Todd wasn’t sure what he would find in the crate at the Port of Portland; he was relieved it was the parts of the Probat he ordered.
It took a year for Todd to put the pieces together. He consulted with engineers, automobile restorers, and other mechanical experts because there wasn’t a manual or any other guidance for how to reassemble the coffee roaster. It was a laborious process, but he ultimately got it working. Todd began fire-roasting a Mocha Java blend of beans from Africa and Indonesia, using a mix of alder, cherry, and maple wood.
Probat Surprised and Delighted By Discovery
Probat employees from the United States and Germany learned about the existence of this antique during the Specialty Coffee Expo in Boston in 2021. “Everyone was surprised, especially in Germany, because what the heck was this doing in Washington?” said Daniel Glynn, digital marketer at Probat.
In 2023, a Probat contingent from Germany and the United States attended the Specialty Coffee Expo in Portland, Ore. A group including President and CEO Wim Abbing, Senior Vice President of Engineering Robert Miller, CFO Ellen Nielsen, and BURNS Specialist Jon Morris drove out to Pull Caffé. They concluded that this is the oldest 120-kilo machine operating in the world, dating back to about 1896. “Everyone here was super impressed and amazed with what Todd has done,” said Daniel.
Just How Old Is It?
Precisely dating the machine was complicated because Probat’s German offices (and most of their records) were destroyed during World War II. Nonetheless, Todd’s roaster looks like a spec drawing from that time period, and also fits with Jabez Burns sales logs from pre-World War I. Jabez Burns has produced industrial coffee roasters in the United States since 1864; the company is currently called BURNS and is the North American subsidiary of Probat. Additionally, the use of bushings instead of ball bearings dates the machine to before 1900.
Daniel from Probat later visited Yacolt when he flew in from Illinois for the Coffee Roasters Guild in Blaine, Wash. He made the six-and-a-half-hour drive to film the historic machine, then posted a video on Probat USA’s Instagram account. “Most people were like, ‘I’d kill to roast on this thing.’ They really want to be able to roast by sound and smell,” said Daniel.
A Planned Retreat
As word of the machine has spread around the globe, Todd is finishing construction on a cluster of rustic but elegant A-frame cabins next to his roaster and café. The goal is to create a coffee retreat center allowing curious coffee-enthusiasts to stay overnight. Guests will be able to enjoy the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest, visit this historic machine, and get a taste of coffee roasted in its antique drum.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rachel Pinsky (she/her) is a freelance writer based in Vancouver, Wash. A weekly columnist for The Colombian and a regular contributor to Eater Portland, Rachel’s writing on food and drink has also appeared in Willamette Week, 1859 Magazine, and Sip Magazine. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan who formerly practiced law in Northern California. You can see more of her work on Instagram.
Subscribe and More!
Out now: It’s the December 2023 + January 2024 issue! Read it for free with our digital edition. And for more than three years’ worth of issues, visit our digital edition archives here.
You can order a hard copy of the magazine through our online store here, or start a subscription for one year or two.
Source: Barista Magazine