The java jive

At Coffee Tech, the past is treated as a stepping stone to the future.

espresso coffee 88 (photo credit: )
espresso coffee 88
(photo credit: )
At the end of a quiet street, tucked between leafy pomelo trees dripping with fruit and a small gravel road, the ultra-modern Coffee Tech factory stands in stark contrast to the residential homes and sprawling farmland of Moshav Matzliah, near Ramle. As the noon sun beats down on the peaceful surroundings, CEO Ram Evgi emerges from the shadows of his office. Wearing a gray lab coat imprinted with the red Coffee Tech logo, he looks more like a scientist than an ingenious inventor of advanced coffee bean roasters and roasting equipment. With a big smile and an outstretched hand, he ushers me into the large factory for a preliminary tour. "Welcome to Coffee Tech," he says, a jovial glint in his eye. He sweeps an arm over the room and declares, with great satisfaction, that this is where Coffee Tech designs and builds the espresso machines and roasters that are sold all over the world. But before the interview begins, he insists that I sample a rich cup of espresso. Made with beans that were freshly roasted on the premises and served with a sparkling glass of soda, the smooth, dark liquid is like drinking chocolate. Even my untrained palate can taste the difference between this ambrosia and the coffee I drink on a far too regular basis at home. The secret, according to Evgi, is all in the roasting - a process that he has helped revolutionize thanks to a combination of technology, vision and timing. After a stint in Canada, Evgi returned in the late 1990s, searching for a new direction in life. "I was a very successful artist in Canada," he says, settling into a large chair behind his sleek desk and showing me a few snapshots of his paintings and sculptures. "I used to sell every single piece on the walls in my art exhibitions and I made a lot of money, but I realized that it doesn't get you anywhere. You suffer from the same problems with or without money." Evgi, who always had a knack for invention, took a special interest in coffee when his sister asked for help with her coffee bean import business. "I realized that the coffee industry was 50 years behind," he explains. "The Italians were stuck in their traditions, so they couldn't meet the new demands for more advanced coffee roasters." Behind him, framed awards for his various achievements in the coffee industry hang next to a glass case displaying antique coffee equipment - from old metal percolators to delicate serving sets. He knew as soon as he got involved that there was no future in importing roasted coffee beans, because one of the most important parameters for excellent coffee is that it be freshly roasted. Importing beans that had already been roasted was like reading yesterday's newspaper. Evgi seized the opportunity and decided to start roasting his own beans. "If the Italians can do it, I knew I could too," he says. Fearful that he would lose customers who preferred Italian-roasted beans, Evgi says it was a huge surprise when not a single client stopped purchasing beans from him. "I was offering them better, fresher roasted beans for less money, and at the same time it meant keeping the money in Israel instead of sending it abroad every month. It was a rare, win-win situation." With the resounding success of the first roasting plant, Evgi started to expand his business to meet growing demand. Defying the coffee monopoly that was controlled by several large companies for decades, he created a professional roasting machine that didn't require years of training to operate. "If you know which button to press, you can roast the beans to perfection. It doesn't require an expert," he says. "It's all done by the computer." The coffee rebellion worked. More and more coffeehouse owners started to purchase machines to freshly roast the beans on their own premises and in front of their customers. Evgi gives partial credit to the Internet for the success, explaining that people can now purchase green beans from all over the world on-line that cost up to 80 percent less than roasted beans. Thanks to the Internet, coffee roasters no longer depend upon importers to get exclusive, high-quality beans. Today, with 11 skilled employees, Evgi designs and manufactures a wide array of machines and equipment for customers all over the world, including Italy. His most innovative contribution to the field, however, is the brand new Solar roasting machine that was unveiled at the Triestespresso convention in Italy last month. It solves one of the biggest problems associated with roasting beans: smoke. Using an air filter, the system swallows the smoke and converts it into clean air. This is critical because it means that coffee beans can now be roasted in places like shopping malls and homes. The Solar eliminates the need for ducts, which are fire hazards, and is more environmentally friendly because it wastes less energy and doesn't produce smoke pollution. To roast the beans to perfection, it integrates four different methods of conducting and radiating heat, which ensures that beans get an even roast no matter what their size, density or humidity level. "This is the most advanced shop roaster in the world today," says Evgi. "I'm lucky because I get to deal with coffee, and that's sexy stuff so a lot of huge brains in every field come to visit me. I overcame a lot of technical problems thanks to help from my friends." In the near future, Evgi hopes to open a museum that will exhibit his large collection of vintage espresso machines and educate visitors about the rich history of coffee and ultra-modern, fully-automated roasting machines. "This is a LaPavoni 1931 model," he says, pointing out the old lever system for making espresso as he rubs one of his many beautiful machines with pride. "To be a great inventor you have to understand the past," he says. "If you understand what came before you, it's possible to create innovative new things by combining today's technology with old ideas. An inventor should know a little bit about a lot of things and always be willing to learn and investigate."