Roasting Coffee for Your Coffee Shop

Are you trying to decide if you want to roast your own coffee for your coffee shop?  Are you just opening a coffee shop and find yourself torn between roasting your own coffee beans and buying coffee from someone else?  Hopefully I will be able to put it all in perspective so you can make an educated decision.

There are so many variables when considering roasting coffee for your coffee shop.  This really is another career of sorts.  You will now be responsible for more than just roasting coffee beans.  You will also have to keep up proper roaster maintenance, buying and storing green coffee, proper packaging if you plan to pre-package your coffee (usually not a good idea, more on this later), and designating and keeping separate an area specifically for roasting.

There is also a good chance that once people know that you roast your own coffee beans in your shop, you will get interest from other shops, cafes, restaurants and other establishments wanting to buy your product wholesale.  Try to plan for this as it can open up a whole new revenue stream.  Although this is totally up to you.

Do not make the decision to roast your own coffee beans based on the cost factor alone.  Besides green prices being double what they were a year ago, it is still cheaper to roast your own rather than buy coffee from a roaster.  However there are elements involved in coffee roasting that you should realize before you start roasting coffee yourself, as I will describe in the course of this article.

You also will now have the expense of buying a coffee roaster.  Whether you pay for it outright or finance it, you still have to repay the loan or recoup the money you used to buy the roaster so there is the extra debt service.  If you are about to open a coffee shop, this additional cost will add approximately $10k-30k to your equipment cost.  Yes, coffee roasters are not cheap!

If you do decide you want to roast your own coffee beans, you have other decisions to make like gas or air roaster?  The gas roasters, in my opinion are the better ones.  They can run on natural or propane gas and the heat source is an open flame on a rotating drum.  The internal drum heats like an oven.  You can roast small batches from 5-30lbs before you get into industrial-sized roasters.  However, I believe flame drum roasters give your coffee beans a more even roast, and overall better flavor profile.

The other option is an air roaster called a fluid bed roaster.  It uses hot, forced air either heated by a flame, or electricity (heating element).  The force of the blowing hot air inside the roasting chamber keeps the beans suspended in air for even roasting.  Think of the old air poppers for popcorn.  I think that fluid bed roasters are better for higher capacity roasting of 250lbs or more at a time.  The air is much hotter and the roast time is a bit shorter.

However determine the capacity that you want to roast coffee beans at:  your shop only or you and other shops, cafes and restaurants?  If you think you are going to try to wholesale, get the larger roaster.  You will need a minimum of a 30 lb roaster in order to adequately roast for wholesale.  Anything less and roasting will take you 2-3 times longer.  Being able to roast 30lbs of coffee vs. 10lbs is obviously an advantage.  A larger roaster will come in handy for wholesale.  However for just your own shop it will be a benefit as well because you will be able to roast larger batches of coffee beans and in a quicker time frame, allowing you to wear all of your hats a little easier.

The roaster must also be properly vented and connected to a gas or propane line, if applicable.  It is very likely that you will have to have a plumbing contractor put in a gas line and/or have an electrician add a power receptacle specifically for the roaster.  You may also have to have an HVAC person put in the exhaust stack if you city requires this performed by a licensed contractor.  Be sure to add this cost to your list once you get your estimates.

In regards to a specified roasting area, this is a must.  Roasting coffee in any type of commercial or semi-commercial roaster is noisy.  In fact, it can be very noisy!  You will not want to be roasting during your shop’s open hours unless you can segregate the roaster fully or at least, partially.  Some shops put the roaster in a room on its own or put up at least a ¾ wall so they muffle most of the sound.

If you are planning on roasting for wholesale as well, this specified area is even more detrimental.  Besides a roasting area, you will need a storage area for green coffee, blending area, packaging area and prep/ship area.  That is a lot of extra space for most independent coffee shops and it’s hard to come by.  Choose your space wisely.

Having said that, if you happen to be a one-person operation you do not want to roast when you’re shop is open in any event.  There are too many distractions that could ruin your roast or even cause a fire if you are not paying attention.  You must pay attention to your roaster at all times.  Ask me how I know this.

A word about bean displays for your shop:  I am a big advocate of allowing customers to smell the actual beans before they buy.  This means putting them in a glass or heavy duty plastic jar.  Then you can get the brown “Kraft” tin-tie bags, get some labels printed and a scale and sell the coffee beans by the pound.  You are done!

If you still plan on roasting in your shop, know you are embarking on something wonderful.  It is a lot of work yes and attention to detail, but the resulting product will have people talking about the fresh roasted coffee beans you have available in your shop.  It takes more than a desire for freshness or to save money; it takes passion for the bean.  Good luck to 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.

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