Picking a Roaster for Your Cafe

Coffee beans

Falling beauties!

So you have everything ready to go except what to make!  Now you have to choose what coffees you want to serve.  That means you need to find a roaster.  This can be done at almost any stage of the game but of course preferably before your grand opening J Seriously you should give yourself a few weeks to sample a few roasters.

This really is quite simple.  I am not going to spend a lot of time on this subject because as a roaster, I am quite biased to my beans <eg>.  I am also quite a coffee geek as I have admitted many times throughout this book.  I wanted to write a section about green coffee sourcing, grading, buying, cupping and roasting.  But I didn’t.  If you are going to be opening a roasterie that would be expected as you would have your hands in every process up from the coffee tree to brewing.  However I decided to skip the techie coffee stuff and go straight to picking your roaster.  If you have this entire book, then you have already learned about coffee processing and how important it is to how a coffee tastes so that is enough to help you begin to make a decision as to what coffee to buy and serve.

What you want to find is a roaster that is relatively close to you.  My advice is to find a roaster within a 50-75 mile radius of your shop (or thereabouts) or one that will deliver freshly roasted coffee within a few days after it is roasted.  A lot of roasters will deliver for a fee usually) if you are within a certain mileage distance from them.  This is not always practical however so you may have to get the closest roaster that can ship coffee and enable you to get it within a few days, fresh and smelling great.  You want to try to avoid a roaster that is across the country.  This will only make it easy for problems to occur; and when it rains, it usually pours.

Another thing to consider is that customer service is very important.  I once dealt with a roaster that had the best coffee in a 100 mile radius of my shop but there were times I would call and the phone would ring and ring and ring.  And sometimes the people that answered were just rude, and seemed bothered they had to answer the phone.  This goes a long way for a good business relationship.

So once you find some 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.  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.

So once you get your roasters picked to get samples from, ask them what 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).

Let’s use Brazil coffee as an example.  A non-farm specific coffee is usually a blend of farms in a region.  Even though Santos is a port in Brazil and not a region, I am going to use this as an example first because it is precisely what micro-roasters and most artisan roasters exist to avoid.  When you buy Brazil Santos coffee you are buying a blend of coffees from multiple farms in the Santos port area (region).  Same would be for Guatemalan Antigua or Colombian Supremo.  This not a bad thing, but the coffee and all of its good and bad qualities are not traceable back to a specific farm so if you wanted it again you would not be able to be specific.  It’s still a high grade Arabica coffee but not the highest quality like those you’d find in a farm-specific or Estate grown coffee.  The defects are more noticeable in regional blended coffees.

Estate grown coffees would be, as an example Brazil Bahia Chapada Diamantina.  This would be a specific coffee that has a particular flavor profile whereas something like Brazil Santos or Brazil Cerrado is just a more generic flavor profile, almost like a blanket profile for that region regardless of the farm.  There may be 300 farms that produce coffee under the Brazil Cerrado name most of which end up being blended together with other lots.  Again it is not bad coffee; just not farm-specific.

Estate grown coffees are more particular in flavor profiles and usually come recommended from one source or another.  These are coffees produced by a single prestigious farm, single mill, or single group of farms.  They are also marketed unblended with other coffees.  Instead of the less specific regional or market name, a lot of these specialty coffees are now identified by the estate name. Of course the price is higher but normally worth it in the end.  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.

Of course depending on your area you could even carry a Cup of Excellence (CoE) coffee.  The Cup of Excellence is a strict competition that selects the very best coffee produced in a specific country for that particular year.  This is probably one of the, if not the highest priced coffee in the world.  It is sold to the highest bidder (broker or roaster) at auction so there aren’t any ceilings.  The highest bid for the Honduras 2010 CoE coffee went for $22.05 per pound.  Guatemala for the same year went for $28.00 per pound.  Heavy hitters!

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 adventure on its own.  That 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.

!  Now you have to choose what coffees you want to serve.  That means you need to find a roaster.  This can be done at almost any stage of the game but of course preferably before your grand opening J Seriously you should give yourself a few weeks to sample a few roasters.

This really is quite simple.  I am not going to spend a lot of time on this subject because as a roaster, I am quite biased to my beans <eg>.  I am also quite a coffee geek as I have admitted many times throughout this book.  I wanted to write a section about green coffee sourcing, grading, buying, cupping and roasting.  But I didn’t.  If you are going to be opening a roasterie that would be expected as you would have your hands in every process up from the coffee tree to brewing.  However I decided to skip the techie coffee stuff and go straight to picking your roaster.  If you have this entire book, then you have already learned about coffee processing and how important it is to how a coffee tastes so that is enough to help you begin to make a decision as to what coffee to buy and serve.

What you want to find is a roaster that is relatively close to you.  My advice is to find a roaster within a 50-75 mile radius of your shop (or thereabouts) or one that will deliver freshly roasted coffee within a few days after it is roasted.  A lot of roasters will deliver for a fee usually) if you are within a certain mileage distance from them.  This is not always practical however so you may have to get the closest roaster that can ship coffee and enable you to get it within a few days, fresh and smelling great.  You want to try to avoid a roaster that is across the country.  This will only make it easy for problems to occur; and when it rains, it usually pours.

Another thing to consider is that customer service is very important.  I once dealt with a roaster that had the best coffee in a 100 mile radius of my shop but there were times I would call and the phone would ring and ring and ring.  And sometimes the people that answered were just rude, and seemed bothered they had to answer the phone.  This goes a long way for a good business relationship.

So once you find some 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.  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.

So once you get your roasters picked to get samples from, ask them what 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).

Let’s use Brazil coffee as an example.  A non-farm specific coffee is usually a blend of farms in a region.  Even though Santos is a port in Brazil and not a region, I am going to use this as an example first because it is precisely what micro-roasters and most artisan roasters exist to avoid.  When you buy Brazil Santos coffee you are buying a blend of coffees from multiple farms in the Santos port area (region).  Same would be for Guatemalan Antigua or Colombian Supremo.  This not a bad thing, but the coffee and all of its good and bad qualities are not traceable back to a specific farm so if you wanted it again you would not be able to be specific.  It’s still a high grade Arabica coffee but not the highest quality like those you’d find in a farm-specific or Estate grown coffee.  The defects are more noticeable in regional blended coffees.

Estate grown coffees would be, as an example Brazil Bahia Chapada Diamantina.  This would be a specific coffee that has a particular flavor profile whereas something like Brazil Santos or Brazil Cerrado is just a more generic flavor profile, almost like a blanket profile for that region regardless of the farm.  There may be 300 farms that produce coffee under the Brazil Cerrado name most of which end up being blended together with other lots.  Again it is not bad coffee; just not farm-specific.

Estate grown coffees are more particular in flavor profiles and usually come recommended from one source or another.  These are coffees produced by a single prestigious farm, single mill, or single group of farms.  They are also marketed unblended with other coffees.  Instead of the less specific regional or market name, a lot of these specialty coffees are now identified by the estate name. Of course the price is higher but normally worth it in the end.  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.

Of course depending on your area you could even carry a Cup of Excellence (CoE) coffee.  The Cup of Excellence is a strict competition that selects the very best coffee produced in a specific country for that particular year.  This is probably one of the, if not the highest priced coffee in the world.  It is sold to the highest bidder (broker or roaster) at auction so there aren’t any ceilings.  The highest bid for the Honduras 2010 CoE coffee went for $22.05 per pound.  Guatemala for the same year went for $28.00 per pound.  Heavy hitters!

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 adventure on its own.  That 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.

In my Ebook titled “Tony’s Coffee Shop Business Plan”, I take you step by step from concept to opening your coffee shop.  Along the way you have valuable information from a business plan tailored specifically for a coffee shop to my guideline extra that in itself is worth the price of the entire package.  Do yourself a favor and don’t get into this endeavor without the guided help of a coffee professional.  The coffee business is complex and has to be approached by a unique angle. Your profits will thank you!

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