MILAN – Aillio is based in Taiwan, where their roasters are build, and it has its soul in Danish culture: its founders Jonas and Jacob Lillie are from Denmark and they took this influence with them in creating this global coffee business. It all begun from the passion of a former fashion photographer and now it has developped into company with over tweny people, and several offices in Bangkok, Copenhagen and Taipei.
Aillio founder, Jonas Lillie, after a decade as a fashion photographer has become a coffee roasting machine producer: how was it possible?
“In short, I had a photography client in Hong Kong who worked with coffee equipment. We knew each other because he helped supply me with quality coffee for my studio. I thought it could be fun to start roasting, so I bought a small home roaster, but the build quality and capacity was too small, and I couldn’t find a better alternative, so this idea stuck.
I suggested my friend develop a 1 kg home roaster, but they rejected my idea as they didn’t believe it possible. The idea however stuck with me. So, while my interest in photography was fading and I was spending more and more time in Taiwan yearning for new adventures, I decided to look into it and from there it took off.”
What limitations did you find in the roasting equipment market that prompted you to develop the Aillio technology?
“From the beginning, I was not impressed by the small capacity the other roasters offered. When you consider how hot the machines get on the outside, I thought it was silly that they were not insulated to save energy for the roasting – in the same way most espresso machines are wasting energy. I also thought that the designs looked like something from the 80’s. They all seemed very basic and non innovative. Yet another frustration was the controls and connectivity.
I wanted to have a machine able to roast 500 – 600g for each batch. I began studying roasters and the mechanics and technologies they used. One day while cooking noodles on my induction heated kitchen stove, it struck me; Induction… could this technology right there at my fingertips hold the key?”
From Hong Kong to Taiwan, where Aillio is based and its hotbed of innovation: two years to develop the Bullet model, can you tell us what you have managed to create that is absolutely unique and revolutionary with this mac?
“This is an easy one! We have managed to build the world’s smallest 1kg capacity electric roaster, that you can run from anywhere as the required power is very low – just 1600W. The Bullet is 4 times more efficient than other roasters. Another great thing we have developed is our infrared bean temperature sensor which in short we call IBTS. This sensor takes a lot of guesswork out of the roasting process which means a much shorter learning curve. Being from Denmark I have a love for good design, and even though I am not a trained professional, I did put a lot of effort into making a product that would look nice in a kitchen or on a cafe counter. Just google 1kg coffee roaster, and you will know what I mean – the Bullet really stands out.”
Who buys Aillio machines today? What is your target market – geographically and by sector -?
“Today the Bullet is sold all over the world. Bullet users are a mix of home roasters, coffee shops, educators and sample roasters. We call it a 1kg capacity electric roaster without mentioning the intended use – as it serves so many different purposes.”
And now which countries and slices of operators do you want to intercept?
“We keep improving the Bullet as well as expanding our presence in existing markets. We sold a good number of Bullets but believe there is plenty of untapped potential for this machine. We see an increasing interest for sample roasting on the Bullet, as well as baristas looking to get into roasting.”
Have sales changed with Covid? Is it more difficult for you to source spare parts and construction materials?
“Covid has been merciful on us in terms of sales, and 2022 is on track to be our best year yet. We see challenges in logistics and supply chains, but luckily for us we acted fast when Covid hit and stocked up on key components.”
What about design in roasting equipment: nowadays how much is it important for consumers and for companies to be recognised by it?
“That’s a question that resonates with my Danish heritage. Design permeates every aspect of Danish society from physical products and software, over public transportation and city planning, to living spaces. So design is a high priority for me. I think most people think of design mostly as the look of a product, but it’s so much more. Good design captures everything from the looks, engineering, manufacturing of parts, assembly, maintenance and quality, but also the user experience and software. We want to offer a full-circle positive experience with our products and the people behind it, and that requires never-ending improvements and alertness from our side. And that’s good, it keeps us on our toes.”
How much can an Aillio model cost?
“We like to stay affordable while delivering great products. That’s the way most Danish companies operate and I guess it’s just a reflection of the Danish democracy model where the majority has access to privileges usually limited to the few. In my home in Denmark, our dining chairs are 30 years old, but the design is timeless (7 series by Arne Jacobsen), and they are still sold to this day. Buying quality is an investment, but long term it’s cheaper than buying stuff from China that has to be replaced every 3 years 🙂 . The Bullet is priced at 3,499 USD which is of course a significant sum, but in relative terms, for an advanced, compact roaster, it’s a good price.”
At Boston, Aillio revealed the next step in coffee roasting equipment: a data-driven 2-kilo-capacity commercial roaster called the AiO. How does this technology work?
“AiO is a different beast from the Bullet. AiO is a fully automated 2 kg roaster aimed at the retail market meaning coffee shops, hotels, restaurants etc. It’s a fully integrated roaster with a built-in cooling chamber and unrivalled precision in sensor technology. Automation allows users to simply load the beans, select a roasting profile and press start. That’s it, AiO will do the rest. That frees up time for other aspects of business such as servicing customers. It requires no previous roasting experience to operate AiO in automation mode.
It is of course also possible to operate AiO manually for those who prefer to tweak the process mid-roast.
AiO can save and replicate roast profiles with close to 100% accuracy. If you create a recipe you like, you simply save it and replicate it. You can also download roast profiles from other roasters, or use the pre-loaded profiles.
So, AiO is all about ease of use and sensational performance in a compact, aesthetic frame.”
Have you received much feedback from its first launch in April?
“Absolutely. The design alone, from Danish design studio Kilo Design, is enough to trigger attention. But more than anything it’s the technology and performance that our community is eagerly awaiting. We currently have a pre-order waiting list where people sign up. We expect the first AiO’s to hit the market in the first half of 2023. Then there’s a 6 – 12 months field testing period where we collect data, and then we move into larger scale production.”
And what’s in the next chapter of Aillio?
“Continuous product improvements and better Service & Support. But there are also new and wild ideas. We intend to keep pushing the boundaries of technology within coffee roasting. So, we’re excited about the future – it’s a great adventure.”