You are opening a coffee shop. Customers will want coffee. You plan to have customers buy your gourmet coffee beans online. You have everything ready to go except beans to brew! That means you need to find a roaster. You should give yourself at least a few weeks to sample several roasters.
You should consider finding a roaster that is relatively close to you. My advice is to find one within a 50-75 mile radius of your shop (or thereabouts) or one that will deliver freshly roasted coffee beans within a few days after it is roasted. A lot of roasters will deliver (for a fee usually) if you are within a certain distance from them. This is not always practical however so you may have to get the closest roaster where you can buy the best quality gourmet coffee beans. They should be able to ship it and enable you to get it within a few days, fresh and smelling great.
However do not pick a roaster based solely on closeness to your shop; they must carry a quality product. Trust me there will be at least one roaster that is nearby AND has great coffee. It’s going to be your job to search them out. Enter the artisan micro-coffee roaster.
Every artisan roaster is usually (hopefully) committed to supplying you with a compelling product. After all, you will pay a slight premium for this specialty but it is well worth it in the end. Why? Because this is where your competition fails by comparison. They may be buying roasted coffee for $6.25 per pound on average, but they are not any better than the other guy down the street that is buying the same or similar average coffee.
You on the other hand are paying $7-9 per pound but your product is superior and your customers will taste it. You also get a much better customer service experience with an artisan roaster as they are selective about who their customer is. Of course, the final proof is always in the cup so taste and enjoy! Pick the coffees that you enjoy. With the help of your roaster you can serve an array of awesome coffees that will have your customers spreading the word and coming back time and time again.
Before I started roasting my own coffee, I used to buy from a small artisan roaster that at one time had five coffees from El Salvador alone. And three were from one farm alone: there was a wet processed, a dry processed and a pulped natural all from the same trees. So try to seek out a roaster that can get you something unique and compelling for at least the entire season. What happens next year is another story and an adventure on its own.
This will help you to be unique as well because the next harvest will hopefully bring you another round of Estate grown farm-specific coffees. Maybe this time your focus will be on Kenya or Guatemala. It can constantly change based on the roaster’s green buying contacts with farmers and/or reliable green coffee brokers.
Once you find some artisan roasters that meet your criteria, call them up and introduce yourself. Tell them what you are doing and that you’d like to have some samples to cup. Some may even invite you to the roasterie for a tour and cupping. Some will ask to do a cupping at your shop. Both are great opportunities but if I had to pick off the bat here, I’d pick to go to the roaster that invited me to their roasterie first. You do, by the way need to see how coffee is stored and roasted, as well as the roasterie operations first hand. It is a great experience.
As you prepare to start a coffee shop business, get your roasters picked to get samples from and ask them what type of gourmet roasted coffee beans they have. All top notch quality roasters will carry several varietals and maybe even a few custom blends. They should talk to you and get a feeling for what you are looking for and make recommendations to you. There are a lot of roasters that are small, artisan roasters such as myself that limit the amount of stock they carry for several reasons but mainly because they guarantee quality and a compelling product. I would suggest getting coffees that are single origin farm specific or estate grown coffees. What this means is single farm lots are just that: from a single farm (estate grown; both are really the same). These coffee beans are not ‘pooled’ from several farms and sold in one package.
You can even work with your roaster to develop one or more custom blends specifically for your shop. That is always nice. Then you have a blend that is only available at your shop.
So when you are opening a coffee shop, be sure you get the best coffee you get and charge accordingly. You and your customers will thank you!
My name is Tony DiCorpo, and I am a coffee roaster, coffee shop business consultant and barista trainer. I am a coffee shop business consultant and have an eBook on how to start a coffee shop. I also own Troubadour Coffee Roasting Co. where I sell coffee and espresso equipment and where you can buy gourmet coffee beans online.