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"To roast or not to roast, that is the question...." (pros and cons to roasting your own coffee)

There is nothing more alluring to a coffee aficionado than the smell of coffee, fresh out of the roaster. However, when deciding whether or not to go into the business of roasting coffee, the magic of coffee's aroma should not cloud the important considerations that must be addressed. Among the preliminary questions that must be answered are: how do I acquire the expertise that is required to master the art of roasting; how do I learn how to buy and evaluate green coffee; and what are the advantages of installing roasting equipment versus working with an experienced roaster?

Roasting coffee is an art as well as a science; it takes time, skill and patience. Although there are specific formulae for roasting coffee, one must acquire hands-on expertise to properly regulate roasting time, temperature and airflow. For those thinking about purchasing roasting equipment, it is essential to consider how the roasting will be done and by whom. Ted Lingle, executive director of the Specialty Coffee Association of America advises, "In your planning, make sure that you have allocated sufficient staff. It is not as simple as just turning on the roaster and roasting the green beans. You need to train a roastmaster." Manufacturers of roasting equipment offer roasting classes or one-on-one instruction. It may also be possible to find a skilled roastmaster who offers tutorial lessons.

For Jane Senior and Marrie Morris, owners of New Helvetia, a coffee store in Sacramento, California the decision to purchase a roaster was easy. Senior notes, "I already knew how to roast from previous experience in the coffee business. So, we knew that we wanted to install roasting equipment from the beginning." Senior started the company equipped with the necessary roasting skills and has since passed along her knowledge to her partner.

Having control over quality and freshness is important to Senior. Profitability is another important factor she considered. She notes, "You can also make a better profit when you roast your own coffee." Senior's approach has proven to be successful; she and her partner plan to open a second location and will supply it with roasted coffee from their existing roaster.

Inherent in the decision to roast coffee is the need to purchase green coffee. That entails establishing relationships with producers or green brokers, obtaining samples, and understanding pricing. Not only must one develop channels for accessing coffees from around the world, but a buyer of green coffee must have the ability evaluate green beans. Although purchasing green coffee may be a challenge to the novice, it provides access to a vast selection of origin specific, regional and estate-grown beans. Stephan Diedrich of the Diedrich Manufacturing Co. notes, "When you install a roaster, you have access to a much better selection of green coffee than you would with a wholesaler." Diedrich manufactures roasting equipment in Costa Mesa, California. Before purchasing roasting equipment, a strategy for buying green coffee must be established. Purchasing green coffee fee is a major investment and extensive research is imperative for running a competitive and profitable business.

Tim Sheehan, President of Ruta Maya in Austin, Texas, became involved in coffee through his work in another beverage business. He explains. "We are a beer distributor that carries a lot of Mexican beers. That is how we got into the coffee business, through a contact in Chiapas, Mexico." Having this access made buying green coffee easier for him than for most newcomers to the coffee trade. Sheehan began his coffee company by hiring an outside roaster. He states, "We were contract roasting with a local guy who had been roasting for himself. The problem was, we would never know when our coffee would be roasted. We decided to do our own roasting because of cost but we also wanted control."

Using an outside roaster had other limitations for Ruta Maya; the roaster was capable of providing only a French roast. Sheehan continues, "Two months ago we installed our own roaster. Now we have the flexibility to produce different roasts. We are a small business and it is hard to know how much coffee we will need from day to day. Now I can roast at the end of the day after I see exactly how much we need. Now that we have our roaster, we are not dependent on anyone else." Sheehan and his partner Katherine Keating sell roasted coffee to restaurants, supermarkets, and specialty stores.

Cost is indeed one of the most important factors in the decision-making process. Diedrich explains, "The typical roaster can pay for itself in nine months to a year, and that is the difference between buying green coffee versus buying wholesale from a roaster. If you are required to add pollution control to the roaster, you double the time in which the roaster will pay for itself." It is important to understand all of the possible expenses before purchasing roasting equipment.

Ted Lingle advises, "Contact the Air Quality Management District in your community. If it has stringent requirements you may have to install an afterburner which could be more expensive than your roaster when you consider the increased energy costs."

Although it is impossible to assign a dollar value to having a roaster in a retail setting, creating the right atmosphere in a store is an important consideration. A roaster can add interest, warmth and ambience. Stephan Diedrich elaborates, "The roaster becomes the focal point of the store. People can talk to the roastmaster and customers can better understand what it takes to make good coffee. They can also see that your coffee is fresh." He notes another advantage, "When you have your own roaster, you can expand your business to provide wholesale coffee to restaurants, cafes and coffee shops."

JoAnne Shaw, president of The Coffee Beanery, Ltd. had a different experience when she installed roasters in two of the company's retail locations including problems with local fire marshalls. She explains, "Our experience with roasting in a retail location was not the best. It did not end up creating the ambience we were looking for so we moved the roasters into the warehouse. We had between eight and ten stores at the time and found that it worked well for us to roast at one location and distributed the coffee."

When asked about maintaining freshness with off-premises roasting she reveals, "We keep coffee fresh by storing and shipping in the latest high tech packaging. We use five pound foil valve bags which are sealed immediately after roasting. Then, the coffee is shipped within one or two days after roasting." New packaging techniques, equipment and packaging enables roasters to maintain quality and freshness. Shaw adds, "It is expensive and people need to evaluate the price of this packaging."

Having a skilled roaster is important whether the equipment is on-site or off premises. Shaw explains, "We have one woman who roasts and one back-up person. Limiting the number of people who are involved in roasting to ensure quality and consistency. Maintaining a clean roaster is also of paramount importance."

Working with an outside roaster is advantageous for many companies. Dr. C. Stewart Ritchie III is president and ceo. of Guckenheimer Enterprises, Inc. Based in Redwood City, California, G.E.I. is the largest privately-held contract foodservice company in the U.S. Two years ago, he developed the concept for Supreme Bean coffee and espresso bars which use one proprietary blend for all coffee and espresso beverages. As with his foodservice operations, Dr. Ritchie believes in delegating the production of products to those who are the best in their area of specialization. He notes, "This enables us to get the best manufacturers and producers to supply us with the best products.

Dr. Ritchie explains, "We contacted George Vukasin of Peerless Coffee, a premier roaster for his roasting and blending expertise. We presented our business plan to him and told him we wanted a blend that had distinctive character and body with a roast that was not burned." Dr. Ritchie continues, "We had about 110 tastings and kept reblending the beans until they created the right coffee. When we hired George, we were hiring three generations of coffee knowledge. Peerless' roasting is consistent and they know their sources at the green coffee level." There are two Supreme Bean coffee and espresso bars in the San Francisco Bay Area, one in Los Angeles and another scheduled to open in Irvine, California in July of 1992.

Based in Toronto, Canada, Timothy's[R] Coffees of the World[R] has 50 retail stores, 4 of which are in the U.S. Company President Becky McKinnon reveals, " For us, it is more cost effective to use an outside roaster. We have used the same roaster for a long time. We have freedom of movement through his facility so that we can pay close attention to the roasting. Maintaining control over the roaster is key."

McKinnon acknowledges that her roaster has capabilities that are outside of her expertise. She notes, "There is a synergy of skills; his roasting skills are better than ours and our merchandising skills are our strength. We have a kind of partnership that works. It is best to concentrate on what you know best and let others do what they do best." McKinnon continues, "Many small roasters are not able to work with a nearby roaster. Because we generate volume, our roaster works with us to select the green coffee."

Undertaking the business of roasting coffee requires a great deal of planning and forethought. Ted Lingle's advice is, "Look before you leap." He notes, "The important thing is to understand the purpose for roasting. Make sure that your purpose is to establish quality control." He also advises, "Think of how you want to position yourself in your own community."

Regardless of whether one roasts coffee or purchases it from a wholesale supplier, understanding and evaluating the taste of coffee is essential. Lingle emphasizes the paramount importance of quality control, "If you get involved in coffee, become knowledgeable about cupping. If you are a good cupper you don't necessarily need to roast but you must have a good quality control program of your own." He asks, "Do you have to roast to be successful?" His answer is, "No. But do you have to have a good quality control system?" He answers emphatically, "Yes."
COPYRIGHT 1992 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Pugash, Melissa J.
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Aug 1, 1992
Previous Article:The future of specialty coffee.
Next Article:Canada Coffee Association holds inaugural annual meeting.

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