COFFEE CONNOISSEURS FROM EMMERICH
Probat has been building the most successful coffee roasting machines in the world for more than 140 years. Seven out of ten cups of coffee consumed worldwide are brewed from beans roasted by machines from the Probat Group. And with coffee consumption increasing, especially in the producer countries, there is a great sense of excitement in the Lower Rhine region.
Over the years we have all become great coffee experts. We can order a latte macchiato or a cappuccino without thinking about it. We can differentiate between products like Arabica and Robusta, choose a machine with automatic flow control, and make French, Italian or Turkish-style coffee. Yet, Probat, based in Emmerich, doesn’t mean anything to many coffee fans. This is because they concentrate on the preparation of coffee and not the roasting process. All over the world, a large proportion of coffee roasters work with Probat machinery. The company’s know-how is in demand everywhere. Unsurprisingly, the Emmerich-based machine and plant manufacturer is the global market leader.
The fact that the most successful coffee roasting machines have been built in the Lower Rhine region for over 140 years, and not in seaports like Hamburg or Bremen, has to do with the pioneering spirit of Emmerich’s merchants – and with the link to the Rhine and the new railway line between Amsterdam and Basel built at the time. Back then coffee was an absolute luxury. Green coffee was bought from local shopkeepers, and it was then roasted at home in the oven. During these so-called, very aptly named ‘founding years’, merchants Alexius van Gülpen and Johann Heinrich Lensing had the idea of making it easier for their customers to enjoy this product by roasting the green coffee themselves and selling it to the customers ready to use. To do so, roasting machines larger than the small drums with crank handles for household use had to be developed. And this is where a young engineer called Theodor von Gimborn came in. Together the three of them founded the Emmerich machine factory and iron foundry van Gülpen, Lensing & von Gimborn. This is where the first ball roaster was made in 1870 and quickly entered mass production. Word quickly spread about the power of these robust and modern roasting machines and they became a best seller. By 1900, 50,000 copies had been sold worldwide, and by 1938 it was 100,000.
The long company name was then changed to Probat after the war, to be more precise, Probat-Werke von Gimborn Maschinenfabrik. Probat, which is the Latin term for proven or tried and tested, was already the brand name of a roaster until finally the brand name also became the company name. To this day, Probat is still a family-run business that is deeply rooted in the Lower Rhine region but present all round the world. Three managing directors from the founding family von Gimborn ran the company until 1993. The families still own the company, which today is run by Wim Abbing, a fourth generation descendent and son-in-law of Carl Hans von Gimborn, as the sole Managing Director. The descendents of the two merchants have likewise remained true to coffee products to this day. The Emmerich-based company Lensing and van Gülpen, for example, still markets the Royal brand, which is sold by Manufactum stores and the Berlin up-market department store Kadewe, for example. But Probat shifted its focus to roasting machines from the beginning, and its success proves the wisdom of this decision. Today the company has a global market share of over 50 percent, and all the while coffee consumption continues to rise worldwide. Brazil, formerly known for being the biggest coffee producer in the world, is enjoying strong growth in coffee consumption in its own country. Here in Germany, the American coffee houses with their coffees to go have made coffee the “in” drink. And even though roasting machines have a long life; demand for them is also rising across the globe.
Before the war, in Germany there were thousands of small coffee roasting houses, but then an inexorable concentration process resulted in a few large factories emerging. Nevertheless, today there are some smaller specialty coffee roasters again. The trend towards freshness has also been changing the coffee market in recent years. With small but high-performance shop roasters, green coffee can be roasted directly at the point of sale in smaller quantities from five to 50 kilograms, at the bakery or the corner café: With the new series Probatone, Probat has launched drum roasters on the market. Around 49 percent of all the roasters go to small companies. Raw coffee keeps for years, unlike the aromas. During the roasting process, the beans develop more than a thousand aromas, which disappear rapidly when combined with oxygen. “Not everything you smell makes it to the coffee cup,” Inga Schäper, Communication and Training Manager at Probat, knows. The relationships between coffee types, roasting, degree of grounding, and preparation are relayed to the customers in diverse training events in Emmerich.
Probat faces competition, but it is well-positioned worldwide. Many of its former competitors no longer exist. The American roasting machine manufacturer Burns, which was founded in 1864, was for a long time the biggest competitor on the American market. But in the 90’s, the Probat Group was able to take over Burns. The oldest roasters are now united under one roof. Worldwide, Probat has 650 employees, 360 of which work in Emmerich. Probat has expressed its firm commitment to staying in Germany. From the founding fathers until today, production in Emmerich has relied on qualified specialist staff, an optimal infrastructure and the availability of modern technologies. The main market is Europe, with 49 percent, followed by North America (25 percent) and South America, Asia and Africa (24 percent). Probat is known for its state-of-the-art technology. This includes its own laboratory and research center where it develops its products and where roasting processes can by tested by customers. The Emmerich coffee experts have already assisted with development at Nestlé and Kraft. Together with the Hamburg mill maker Mahlkönig and the Italian espresso machine maker La Marzocco from Florence, Probat set up the project Songwa Estates in Tanzania. On this East African model coffee farm, interested customers can learn all about how coffee is made in an intensive three-day seminar.
Technologically, there is still potential as far as the roasting of coffee beans, joined long ago by cocoa beans and oilseeds, is concerned. Traditional drum roasters are now accompanied by tangential and centrifugal processes, but the centrifugal coffee roaster series Saturn wasn’t ready for the market until the 80’s. The pioneering spirit in Emmerich can still be felt day to day. The Probat plants offer the most training places in the Lower Rhine region. More than 10 percent of the staff consists of apprentices learning seven different jobs. The Museum of Coffee Technology also tells the history of coffee-making. The museum can be visited on weekdays following prior booking (tel. 02822 912-331). Managing Director Wim Abbing is always happy to see visitors: “Anyone is welcome to visit the museum here and enjoy a first-hand view of the 140-year history of our company.
von Gimborn Maschinenfabrik GmbH
Reeser Str. 94
Tel.: +49 (0) 2822 – 912-0
Fax: +49 (0) 2822 – 912-444