So, you want to start a speciality coffee roastery?

The more people who roast, the better for quality coffee.
My advice for those who cafe owners who are considering this route stems from motivation: are doing it to learn more and achieve consistent great tasting coffee or to save money? In either case it can make sense, however, they are not necessarily additive:

  • if you want to improve the flavour of your coffee, you may end up spending more then you are currently. The reason for this is simply that the green beans you need to get great flavours cost much more (forget Fairtrade). And if your taste exceeds the the capabilities of your current roasted coffee supplier, you may well end up paying more for green beans than you’re currently paying for the roasted. This would be great for the industry and, if your customers agree, possible good for you too.
  • If you like high roast or oily beans; any bugger can roast it. Your bean supplier has been ripping you off and you should start roasting your own using a cheap roaster and the cheapest beans available.
If you want great tasting coffee, you need to really want it and be dedicated. It’s frustrating and could be ruinous if you haven’t the financial reserves to allow for experimentation, but it can be very rewarding too. You need to have a scientific mindset. You need a decent roaster. A roaster without a bean probe is as good as a rotating pizza oven. Cheaper machines can be modified and produce very good results, but a great machine will make your life a lot easier. Be prepared to spend money to get the best beans. Spend to experiment with the beans. Be meticulous with your method. Be great at improvised mechanics – even the best machines break down. The most important thing is to be able to taste coffee. It sounds obvious, but I’m forever surprised at how many people in the industry can’t. You need to never stop tasting and learning.
Don’t listen to wankers who talk about how difficult it is to roast: if you can cook, you can roast coffee. They’re probably just protecting their interests and most of these types that I’ve met can’t roast well and in their hearts they know it. Unfortunately, there are very few people teaching who are any good. A certificate or membership of a speciality association or guild is not a guarantee of decent coffee, indeed I think it best to avoid badge collectors. The best way to tell if they are any good is to taste their coffee. If you can’t taste the difference between good and bad, then you deserve to waste a lot of money paying incompetent consultants.
At the end of the day we’re part of a small niche of small speciality roasters in a market dominated by volume roasters. The business of volume roasting is necessarily about money. Nothing wrong with that. But it doesn’t help at the supply end. The speciality roaster is incontrovertibly connected to the grower – and not in a post-colonial guilt, psuedo-eveangelical way or cynical marketing kind of a way. We rely on their development, without which we’ll be stuck with today’s coffee (or worse yesterday’s coffee) forever. Now is the best time to start. Green coffee prices are high and good producers are investing in their processes to produce better coffee.
Moreover, our niche is growing fast and a rising tide floats all boats. You need to ensure that you use this rising tide to ensure that your ship is watertight: when the tide goes out, you see who’s been swimming with their togs off.
If you really want to start understand the industry, making a trip to one of the few good producers would be the best start.

8 thoughts on “So, you want to start a speciality coffee roastery?

  1. Kopi Luwak? You frickin animal, i hope you can say your trawling the forest floor yourself for them. anything else is total bs as far as those poor creatures are concerned.

  2. is there are school where you can learn how to roast coffee? Can you name a few… Somewhere in Asia would be great but anywhere would work also… thanks

    • There are books such as Scott Rao’s book on roasting. There are consultants such as John Thompson of Nexus Coffee and Michael de Renouard and some equipment manufacturers have sessions. SCAA does a course, but I’m not that impressed with it. I think the best thing to do is to buy a roaster and start roasting. Buy Scott Rao’s book and keep an open mind. Taste lots and be very methodical in your experiments. Then get in someone like John or Michael to see how they can help you out at your location.

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