How to Start Your Own Coffee Roasting BusinessHow-To Guides — By Melanie McIntyre on June 6, 2012 at 8:00 am
Coffee. It’s one of the most consumed beverages in the world, and nowhere is that more true than Columbus.
Judging by the proliferation of thriving coffee shops and producers, it seems the locals can’t get enough. Thankfully for aspiring roasters, the artisans who serve the city’s coffee-crazy consumers aren’t shy about sharing the secrets to their success.
In fact, three of them −Jeff Davis, president and roastmaster at Café Brioso, Dave Forman, managing partner at One Line Coffee, and Jason Valentine, coffee roaster at Thunderkiss Coffee− took time out of their busy schedules to offer tips for launching and maintaining a roasting business. Their advice helped write the following how-to guide; we hope you find it useful.
Have a plan
Davis and Valentine made their roasteries realities with the help of a good ol’ fashioned business plan. The former hired a consultant to guide him and the latter used a guide he accessed online via the Ohio Business Gateway.
When developing your concept, Forman says roaster manufacturers and coffee importers are key.
“Of course, everyone’s going to give you a sales pitch, so make sure you talk to other roasters as well,” he says. “Try to find roasters who use different roasters to get their opinions. As for importers, just call to talk to them! Be upfront about what you’re looking for, what you expect from your coffees, what you think you may need volume-wise, etc.”
The coffee is key, so give it the consideration it deserves
“We tend to focus on two things when we’re looking at bringing in a coffee: the overall quality of the cup and the ethical quality of that coffee,” Forman says.
Valentine talks at length with producers and importers about which coffees they have in his price range, as well as the origins of those coffees.
“Coffee is an agricultural product and change is the constant,” Davis says. “Developing relationships with producers and importers, and and buying with a focus on cup quality and sustainability is the key to success.”
Davis spent four years in coffee production, three years in roasting, and drank coffee every day, so he had clear ideas about which coffee he wanted to use and which flavor profiles he wanted to express.
To determine which beans are best for his business, Valentine sample roasts up to 10 coffees at five roast levels, brews them for a week using a variety of methods, and uses the results to pick the coffees to order.
“I pick what’s unique, with outstanding flavors, aroma and great value,” he adds.
Buy the necessities: a roaster and cupping supplies
Davis and Forman say those two types of equipment are crucial. A sample roaster and profile recording equipment, round out Davis and Forman’s top three must-haves, respectfully, as both will aid quality control.
“We use a data logger that electronically records our roasts on a time v. temperature graph,” Forman says. “This can be invaluable when trying to figure out why a roast doesn’t taste the way you think it should, or when trying to subtly tweak a roast to get a bit more out of a coffee. It’s also important for consistency’s sake.”
Don’t be afraid to take your equipment search online
Davis used the Internet, including industry messageboards, extensively during his quest for the ideal roaster.
“I traveled to Phoenix to inspect a used roaster I found online, and decided to buy on the spot,” he says. “I won my 1952 Probat sample roaster on Ebay [and] shipped from Belgium.”
By contrast, Forman bought his first roaster −a small Ambex− directly from the manufacturer, but bought his second −a larger, used Ambex− from a roaster near Savannah, GA.
“I think there are benefits to going either the new or used route,” he adds. “If you go new, you have a warranty, manufacturer support, and a roaster guaranteed to work well. If you go used, you probably have to break down the roaster and thoroughly clean it, giving you a great working knowledge of the unit.”
Though going with a restored vintage roaster, like Davis did, generally requires a bit of research and hunting, Forman says that whoever rebuilt the unit will be able to offer lots of insight and support.
“It’s generally a labor of love for these restorers, and they really want to see you succeed,” he says.
Find a space with easy access and room to grow
Obviously, accessibility for inbound and outbound shipments of coffee is very important, and Forman suggests making sure your roasting facility is semi-truck friendly.
A facility that’s a little too big is also a plus, as it’s easier to expand into a space than relocate, he says.
Temperature is another consideration.
“A climate-controlled environment for green coffee storage is paramount,” Davis says.
All three roasters we interviewed say social media is a great marketing medium for any business.
One reason is that consumers tend to be more loyal to brands they connect with, and social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, helps foster relationships. As in real life, those relationships should be grounded in authenticity.
“People don’t form personal relationships with canned social media accounts or their products,” Valentine says.
Social media, which can link to photos and videos, also lets roasters talk about their processes and passion in real time.
“Making our own videos and pictures allows us to keep a constant connection with our community, but it is also an extension of what happens in our store,” Davis says. “It’s a cost-effective solution for a startup business with limited resources for more traditional marketing, like advertising.”
Photo of Dave Forman by Jennifer René. Jennifer grew up in Charleston, South Carolina, and recently relocated to Columbus. She found her love for photography at a very young age by insistently capturing every detail of her life and those around her with her camera. Jennifer is a lifestyle photojournalist, who carefully crafts each image with the use of light, color, gesture, and composition to communicate a story. More of her work can be found at BeyondSnapshots.net.
Photo of Jason Valentine provided by Chris Walker Photography. Chris Walker works as a on-Location commercial photographer working with cooperate, advertising, and editorial clients. If you would like to connect with Chris Walker Photography, email CW@CWalkerPhotography.com, or visit www.CWalkerPhotography.com.