About RK Drums: How it All Began

RK Drums was founded in 2002 by Ron Kyle, of Anderson, SC.  Ron was a machinist and avid coffee enthusiast who had a passion for crafting some of the finest espresso.  Ron developed the original 4LB RK Drum providing legendary customer service to anyone he encountered.   Ron passed away in 2008, then requesting neighbor and friend Shane Lewis to continue the traditions of RK Drums.

Shane Lewis said,

I met Ron Kyle as any customer would have back in 2004. I'd started roasting as a supplement to our coffee farm and export operations in Huila, Colombia, and decided to break into it with a 7oz electric home roaster. I quickly got the hang of loading the little drum and pushing the roast button. Overjoyed by the taste and quality of the coffee, it wasn't long before I had 8LB of customer orders. At that time, roasting large volumes at home was practically unheard of. After 10 incredibly laborious hours of roasting at 7oz. per batch, and burning up 2 Walmart home grinders, I recall thinking, "This is simply ridiculous, there must be a better way....""

Ron Kyle Roasting on the 4LB RK Drum circa 2005.

" I set off on the internet searching for different solutions, having found Commercial roasters such as Diedrich, Ambex and Probat and quickly learned these options were simply unaffordable at the roasting stage I was at. By some luck, I discovered RK Drums, which purported to roast an entire 4 or 6LB per batch (the 4LB and 6LB was all that Ron had at that time), which was truly an unbelievable volume and valuable time saver.

By pure coincidence, Ron lived up the street and being the gentleman that he was, he invited me over to his house for the day to check out this roaster, oddly, conveniently, and affordably created from a BBQ grill. I recall thinking, if it gets the job done, for such a low price, I'm in!

Ron spent the entire day teaching me the craft and the art of roasting by temperature, time and sound. He taught me how to throttle the roast and control the process accurately. I was intrigued and instantly sold on the process, but at first glance the build looked intimidating, and I really wanted to do it the right way. As we began discussing things, I offered an interesting solution to Ron.

"Build me a roaster, and I'll build you a website!"

As a web developer by day, that part was easily in my wheelhouse. We had a deal, and Ron set off to build me a new roaster over that coming week. He crafted a true beauty, as if he were creating that roaster for himself. That's the kind of guy that Ron was. If you knew him, you knew that about him. Here below is that exact machine he built with heart and precision.

I set out and built a newer website for Ron, and a friendship and partnership was born. We worked in partnership over the next several years, Ron coaching me on my roasting and me doing all I could do get the RK Drums name out to the public. It truly was a hard to find product at that point, and I thought everyone deserves to know how cool this thing is. Unless you were hanging around on the sweetmarias.com forums, or on coffee geek, you might not ever find this incredible jewel of a machine.

I'll never forget my first experience on the RK Drum. I remember pouring 4LB of beans into the drum.....freshly coming off of my 7oz. electric roaster. 4LB of coffee in one batch seemed incomprehensible. I roasted that first batch as Ron had taught me, and it came out perfect. The sight of 4LB of perfectly roasted coffee (I guess actually it would have been less than that with the water loss, but nevertheless..) pouring into the box fan cooler that Ron made for me.... was exhilarating and quite unfortgettable.

And just like that, my roasting business was off the ground. I set off to sell to friends, and family and eventually restaurants and workplaces!

Ron and I frequented coffee conventions and meetups with other coffee enthusiasts over those few years, all while trying to develop our respective coffee businesses. In early 2008. Ron discovered that he had cancer, and had discovered it too late. He was an incredibly brave and strong man, and his wife Elaine, even more so to endure such a painful times. Before Ron's passing, I met him in the hospital, and Ron, knowing my passion for coffee and having a machinist background asked me to continue running RK Drums. It was part of his legacy...

Worried, I said... "Ron, you need to focus on getting well." He quickly dismissed me with the wave of his hand, and said,

"I have three requests if you do this", and this was something I'll never forget.

"Number one. Always build with good old fashioned American quality. You know what I mean by that, like they used to do in the 50's."
"Number two. Never outsource to China." and..
"Number three, always treat every customer the way I treated you..."

I promised him I would always do my best to live by those three rules, and now 11 years later, I still live by that, we live by that. We, now a bit of a larger team, strive to teach and coach, and help people get to their roasting and business dreams started up as much as we can.

Eventually, we expanded the original 4LB and 6LB drums by offering a 2LB, and an 8LB and 12LB and custom sized drums. We've added some pretty cool coolers and custom rotisserie oven builds as well. We're pretty much open to discussing anything a customer wants to build.

At the end of the day, I still love coffee as much as our customers do, and everyone I get to talk to, is just like sitting down and hanging out with a friend and getting to discuss coffee, I enjoy it very much. Many of those people have likewise become friends over the years.

These days, I run the day to day face of things, teaching customers, talking coffee and working on product development. Monica and Robert manage the machine shop, with a handful of fabricators. Keeping all the gears turning sometimes can be a challenging operation. " We miss Ron, but I like to think that if Ron could see things today, that he would be pleased.

More Background on Shane:
Shane Lewis, founded Old Spanish Main, Ltda. in Bogotá, Colombia to function as an export operation, Certified by La Federación Natcional de Cafeteros de Colombia.  Old Spanish Main, Ltda. had farms in Huila, Colombia working on cultivating some of the finest Colombian coffee available.
“2006 was an extraordinary year, with … Read More…