Many family-run roasteries attach a proud sense of heritage and tradition to their brand, but it is rare that a family can lay claim to an invention that went on to change the coffee roasting world.
Following in the footsteps of his father, Lutz Reinhart-van Gülpen is now the sixth generation to keep the flame burning when he took over the reign of his family-run business eight years-ago. The father-of-four and current business manager of Van Gülpen Kaffeerösterei, established in 1832, explains his connections to roasting royalty:
“We had two founders, Carl Lambert van Gülpen and J.H. Lensing, who imported green coffee from Holland which was transported down the Rhine to Germany. Alexius, the son of van Gülpen, was experimenting with small ball roasting machines in his garage from designs that he saw in England. At the time, people were buying green beans and roasting at home over the fire. He had the idea that you could manufacturer and sell coffee roasters, as well as roasted coffee”.
He says Alexius experimented and contacted an engineer, Mr von Gimborn, and together they set up Europe’s first factory that focused exclusively on the manufacturing of coffee roasters, before adding: “They went on to sell a lot of roasters, over 100,000 units of the “Emmericher Kugelbrenner (Ball Roaster)”, which was a lot at that time”.
In 1868, the founders started a company and today, Probat still remains one of the world’s leading manufacturers of coffee roasters as it celebrates its 150th anniversary this year.
Yet despite the family calling, Lutz has not always been a coffee man. He formerly trained as a sound engineer but the switch from the technical and sensory world of the recording studio to the roastery became an obvious choice after graduating from a course in Coffee Excellence at Zurich Institute of Applied Sciences (ZHAW).
“It was a good experience”, he recounts, “there was a lot of sensory and chemistry involved which is important to progress as a roaster”.
Van Gülpen Kaffeerösterei now roasts daily on an airflow modified Probat G90 which was manufactured in 1934, and has recently added a brand new G22 to the line-up. In keeping with family tradition, he still owns a priceless piece of roasting heritage; one of the original Probat ball roasters that paved the way for the drum design that continues to set the benchmark more than a century later.
Focusing on specialty-grade single origins and blends, the 39-year-old says he is proud to keep the the family tradition alive but says their business identity is also progressive and looks to the future. Catering for a diverse mix of business-to-business and online retail clients, Lutz is confident that his roastery will continue to change with the times.
He mentions that in a couple of decades’ time, he and his children can look forward to celebrating their 200th anniversary as one of the oldest-roasting families in the world. It’s a timely reminder that the evolution of the coffee roaster was born out of a dedicated family tradition that still continues to celebrate and roast coffee today.