[Korean Startups] Stronghold Technology’s smart roaster stirs up coffee market   

  • 2020-02-13

It’s part of our morning routine, an afternoon pick-me-up and a good complement to an evening get-together with friends. We’re talking about coffee. It’s a huge industry that brews up approximately $2.3 trillion a year worldwide. This is similar to the global contents market that entails movies and games.

A large and growing number of consumers call for a pickier appetite. This is essentially what fanned people’s interest in roasting. Roasting is the process of transforming raw coffee beans into aromatic and distinctive roasts. Depending on the circumstance, same raw beans can release completely different flavors. This is why roasting is often dubbed “a form of art” in the coffee industry. There are even global competitions where baristas compete their roasting skills against each other.

How cool would it be to download and replicate the roasting secret of the world’s top baristas? Stronghold Technology has done just that. The startup, which calls roasting “science,” uses information technology (IT) to make coffee enthusiasts’ dream come true.

“Even if you’re a beginner, you can make coffee like any roasting expert as long as you can read simple numbers,” said Woo Jong-wook, CEO of Stronghold Technology.

“Coffee beans hold the most diverse range of flavors in the world,” he said. “An excellent flavor can get accomplished once, but what matters is if you are able to replicate the same flavor repeatedly.”

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Downloading the secret of roasting experts

Stronghold’s equipment has a large display screen attached to it. The screen not only shows the surface and internal temperature of the raw beans, but also their temperature change rate. Because even small factors can affect the flavor, detailed measurements are provided, the company explained. Another feature to take note is that the equipment uses electricity instead of gas. That’s because the level of heat cannot be meticulously controlled on a gas equipment. A vertical drum using patented convection, conductive and radiant heat technology enables delicate heat control, which minimizes flavor fluctuation in the final coffee product.

Stronghold Square is a sharing platform created by Stronghold that makes reproduction possible. The platform combines software along with the roasting equipment, which is based on an Internet of Things (IoT) technology. Roasting data is entirely saved on the roaster. And the information can be uploaded to Stronghold Square, which can be easily downloaded like any other application on Google Playstore or Apple Apple App Store.

Woo said, “With the click of a few buttons, even beginner coffee shop workers can roast beans like world class baristas.”

“Downloads are currently free, but in the future, experts can charge a fee for giving people access to their profiles,” he said. “Only high-end commercial equipments are available now, but home use machines are being developed. Our goal is to allow people to achieve flavors of top-notch baristas right in the comfort of their homes.”


Overseas VCs showing interest

Stonghold’s roasting equipment, which has been selected as the official roaster in global competitions, is recognized by coffee experts around the world. The World Coffee Roasting Championship (WCRC), hosted by World Coffee Events, has selected Stronghold as its official sponsor for four consecutive years since 2016. The Korea Coffee Roasting Championship (KCRC), which serves as a preliminary to the WCRC, was held in Stronghold Technology’s headquarters.

Stronghold is aggressively expanding into the U.S., China and other overseas markets. Beginning with China in 2012, the company is exporting to some 20 countries, including the US, UK, Mexico and Australia. With a booming coffee market, China is expected to buy in bulk. In the US, the company’s equipments have been sold to a major distributor, while China’s No. 2 coffee franchise Greybox and unmanned cafes have made purchases. Environmental regulations have been an advantage for Stronghold’s roasters, which use electricity instead of gas.

Stronghold has raised 15 billion won from Softbank Ventures and other VCs. Its accumulative investment adds up to 20 billion won. The company plans to push ahead its initial public offering (IPO), aiming to list on KOSDAQ within two years.

By Namyoung Kim

nykim@hankyung.com