How to Start a Coffee Roasting Business

Introduction

Unroasted coffee beans are usually green, squishy, and un-brewable; this is why roasting is a very important part of a coffee’s journey from seed to cup.

Roasting the coffee beans transforms the physical and chemical properties of the green coffee beans into roasted edible products.

Even though green coffee beans naturally contain similar if not higher levels of sugars, acids, protein, and caffeine as those that have been roasted, they taste terrible. There is also a predominant grassy flavor that renders it inedible. The roasting of the beans unlocks all the delightful flavors sealed within those grassy notes and possibly enhances the taste to give it that toasty flavor many people love when taking their regular cup of Joe.

Coffee is currently one of the most transported goods in the world, in fact, it is exceeded only by oil. What this means is that, all over the world, there is a high demand for this beverage. Many people depend on their daily cup of coffee to get their day started.

As a result of the high demand, a vast majority of coffee is roasted commercially on a large scale. However, small-scale commercial roasting is becoming more popular by the day because they cater to a taste that tends towards single-origin coffee. Some coffee aficionados even roast coffee beans at home to ensure the freshest coffee experience possible and also to experiment with the unique flavors of the coffee origins.

Coffee roasting isn’t time intensive but needs proper skills and keen attention to details otherwise you would get results you were not hoping for, or worse, a burnt, inedible product. However, it is satisfying work especially when your customers get to access, feel and taste fresh coffee from different parts of the world.

Sourcing for the perfect coffee beans

Before you start a coffee roasting business, one important factor you cannot scrimp on is sourcing for the perfect coffee beans. It means that you have to get various coffee beans from different locations around the world.

Generally, there are two major species of coffee beans, Coffee Robusta and Coffea Arabica.

Coffee Robusta originated from Congo in 1898 and has its unique taste which is more acidic than its counterparts. It is also less expensive.

Coffee Arabica which originated from Ethiopia in 1753 is the more popular one. Over 70% of coffee consumed in the world today, is made from this coffee species.

It is important to note that coffee roasting is not what gives the coffee the flavor people enjoy. The flavors, sugars, aromas, acids, or other unique tasting elements of a coffee seed are formed from the farm. The soil structure, humidity, soil bacteria, etc., all contribute to all the characteristics the coffee has, including the flavor. Then, farmers manipulate these flavors during the processing stage to achieve a set result. No two farms produce the same coffee flavor.

At first, the seeds and seedlings are kept in a nursery bed that is well shaded.

Yes, coffee starts as a seed planted into the ground, it didn’t just come from a coffee-making factory as many believe. The seeds are nurtured in moist areas, perhaps this is why most plantings are done during the rainy season. Once they are big enough, the plants are moved out of the shaded area to open larger beds where they can grow into mature coffee trees. Till today, the Kona Coffee from Hawaii is the most popular coffee plant because of the near-perfect conditions it has. The right amount of sun and rain, the perfect soil structure that is found on the slopes of two volcanic mountains, and the simple dedication of the farmers that have been passed down from many generations. It’s also one of the most expensive coffee in the world.

When the coffee trees start spotting bright red cherries, the harvest can begin. Many coffee planters especially in tropics like Hawaii, depend on hand-picking to harvest ripe coffee cherries. After several months of carefully pruning the trees, weeding, and nourishing the plants, the coffee is finally ready to be harvested. Some farms use harvesting machines to shave off all the ripe fruits, while some employ farm laborers to handpick only the most ripened cherries at a time to maintain the coffee quality.

Next, they de-pulp the cherry by removing the skin of the cherry with a pulping machine. Some farmers like to leave the sticky, sweet mucilage (inner flesh of the cherry) to caramelize over the coffee seeds before fermentation; this is known as the honey method. Fermentation is then carried out to rid the coffee of mucilage. Once done, the coffee seeds are dried, sorted, and graded according to their unique features such as weight, color, and size.

As a coffee roaster, you need to make adequate research on where to get the best-tasting coffee beans, so that your customers can keep coming back for more.

Coffee Roasting Fundamentals

The next stage in the coffee’s journey from seed to cup is the roasting process. As we already established earlier, coffee in its raw form can not be brewed. It has to go through the roasting process before it can be edible, this proves that roasting is a very crucial aspect of making coffee.

Roasting coffee is an art and a science. Professional roasters rely on their well-developed senses to measure and improve the flavors inherent in the coffee.

Coffee roasting does not give the coffee its taste, it merely unlocks or enhances the flavor already in it. Some roasters, unfortunately, do not unlock these flavors correctly and they end up producing bad-tasting coffee no one would want.

Since a lot can go wrong during the coffee roasting process, ensure you are skilled enough to venture into the business of roasting coffee. A few degrees of heat or a few seconds more in the roaster can make a huge difference between sweet coffee, perfect coffee, juicy, bland, or terrible coffee.

Many factors affect the coffee and make a difference in how it tastes while in the roaster. Airflow, temperature, humidity, and time are major elements that can affect the coffee during the roasting process.

So, it’s important as a coffee roaster to find the perfect balance of all the variables so that you can successfully unlock the tasty, delicious flavors sealed within the beans. It’s challenging but rewarding work as every coffee roasts differently, hence, you have a chance to experiment with different single-origin for what works best.

Stages of Coffee Roasting

Usually, large quantities of coffee are roasted in huge drum-like machines that consistently rotate while they heat up the coffee beans. The roasting takes about 12 minutes tops, but during the process, a lot of chemical reactions are taking place, and every stage of the roasting marks the end of any coffee variant you want to achieve.

A coffee roaster will roast raw green coffee beans to various roast levels to later be ground and then brewed into a cup of steaming coffee.

There are 3 major levels of coffee roasts: light roast(half city), a medium roast(full city), and dark roast (full city+). Each of them has various shades and variants, some of which are not readily familiar. The roaster has to work carefully with the unique flavor of the coffee beans, their moisture content, and their density to achieve the perfect blend.

Six main chemical reactions happen during coffee roasting, they signify the beginning or end of the different stages of the coffee roasting.

1st stage: Yellowing.

Once the beans start absorbing the heat in the roaster, a strong grass-like aroma wafts out of them and they take on a yellow tinge. This is the first chemical reaction and it’s known as the yellowing stage. At this point, you can’t stop the roasting process as you wouldn’t want to serve your customers with grassy-smelling coffee, would you?

2nd stage: Steaming.

Raw coffee has a large percentage of water retention which makes it un-brewable, that’s why roasting the beans is ideal. The roasting is merely drying up the excess water in the seeds and releasing the aromatic flavor locked within them. At this stage, the moisture inside the beans starts to evaporate and form steam due to the constant heat. The beans can lose up to 15% of their weight here as the water steams.

3rd Stage: 1st Crack.

This signals the end of the roasting for light roasts. This first audible indicator of the roasting process is a chemical reaction that happens when the beans break. While roasting, the remaining moisture in the beans dries up and the sugars start caramelizing. Once this happens, the natural oils in the beans are then released as the beans break with a distinctive crack or pop. At this point, that heady coffee aroma begins to come out and the beans start changing their colors to chocolate brown.

4th stage: Development stage.

Stopping the roasting at any point during this stage can yield diverse variations of the roast.

Here, the sugars in the beans start caramelizing and the coffee is getting darker as the natural oils migrate. Most coffee roasters stop roasting at this point because this marks the beginning of the medium roast.

5th stage: Second crack.

This final audible chemical reaction indicates that the cellular matrix of the coffee beans is completely broken down under intense heat. The sugars are further weakened and the oils spread out more on the surface of the beans. The roast flavors become more apparent than the origin flavors. Here the notes tend towards darker-medium roast.

6th stage: Darkening.

If the roasting process continues after the second crack, the sugars in the beans will start to burn, giving the beans a darker brown or even black color. The original aroma of the beans is fully subdued by the roast flavors and the natural oils have completely migrated to the surface, making the coffee look dark, oily, and shiny. It is important that you know when to stop the process at this stage because roasting the beans past this level will lead to a completely burnt product.

Before you start your coffee roasting business, arm yourself with adequate knowledge of the art and science of coffee roasting so you can consistently churn out valued products.

Equipment Needed to Start a Roastery

Setting up a roastery is usually very easy, however, the regulatory requirements can be quite strident especially air quality regulations. Coffee roasting is highly regulated because it causes air pollution through the emission of volatile organic compounds and acids which might be dangerous to human health. To guarantee quality breathing space for humans, government bodies ensure that such enterprises adhere to their various regulations.

It would be best if you check with the appropriate authorities in your locality about the relevant licenses, and permits before you set up your small coffee roasting business. This could also give you an idea of the facilities that should be in place to eradicate harmful emissions from your coffee roasting shop.

When it comes to the tools of the trade, it all depends on how you want to do the business. It’s either you want to provide pre-packaged roasted coffee beans to grocery stores or you want to open a coffee roasting cafe.

A coffee roasting cafe gives you more opportunities to relate to your customers on a more personal level. Through their feedback, you can tweak your roasting recipe to give them the best coffee ever. Some roasters who can not afford to get all the equipment needed to start a proper cafe would partner with a barista or an already existing coffee shop. This way, their customers can get to see, smell, and feel the different kinds of coffee beans from various sources and watch them being prepared to their specifications.

These are some important equipment that would make a huge difference in your coffee roasting cafe:

  • Coffee roasting machine
  • Measuring scales
  • Storage containers
  • Coffee grinder
  • Gas
  • Brewing machine
  • Branded take-out bags with the company logo
  • POS
  • Ventilation pipes.
  • Cup holders
  • Napkins
  • Refrigerator
  • Brewing machines
  • Espresso machines
  • Business phone
  • Computer and internet access.

As a coffee roaster, you can decide to sell your finished products directly to consumers(retail), or through retailers, coffee shops, or grocers(wholesale). However you plan to do it, make sure you have carried out an in-depth analysis on what will give you the most profit at the end of the day.

Business Plan for your coffee roasting café

The business aspect of roasting coffee is perhaps more important than the roasting itself, as it ensures that your finished product always has buyers. It wouldn’t do to work so hard, experiment with different coffee bean origins, various roasts, and come up with a perfect blend only to have your roasts sit on the countertop for months because people don’t know your business exists!

So you need to research your location and the kind of consumers there. What kind of beans they appreciate the most and how they love their coffee brewed. Your understanding of their taste and creating a plan to ensure they keep coming will give you an edge over your competitors.

Here are some ideas you can explore to begin your coffee-roasting venture.

1.Know your grower.

It’s good to start out creating blends that are fun and original, however, it is also vital to know everything you can about your product. Know what the best beans are, their history, origin, and planting methods. Remember no two coffee planted in different farms taste the same, coffees have different profiles and flavors and it sometimes depends on the species. Some roasters buy directly from the farmers rather than the market because they want to be able to trust the beans they are getting so they can consistently roast the perfect recipe.

2. Know Your Coffee Beans

Many beginning roasters start by creating blends that taste original and fun. While passion and creativity are vital to any new business, your venture will inevitably falter without learning about your product.

Coffee beans come from select regions of the world and are categorized by different origins and varietals. Coffees have different tastes and profiles depending, in part, on which varieties of plants they come from.

You can take courses or get trained in the art of coffee bean sourcing, this will help you to know how the various bean profiles react to roasting. It will also teach you all the necessary vocabulary to maneuver through the industry. Watch coffee-related news to glean vital information as to what is trending and what is becoming obsolete practice.

3. Know Your Coffee Roasters.

There are different varieties and sizes of roasters. Getting a small new roaster might be budget-friendly at first, but as your little business grows you might find it difficult to keep up with the demand for roasted coffee beans. As your business expands, consider getting larger roasters with innovative features. Some sophisticated machines record temperature curves, moisture losses, and analyze coffee color so you can save them for future use. You can own a coffee roaster anywhere from $3000 to $60,000, it all depends on what you can afford. Some high-quality roasters limit the coffee beans from touching the drums during roasting to prevent uneven roasts. For a start, you can get something small that would fit on a countertop and is easy to clean.

4. Know Your Customers

Now that you have decided to start a coffee business, you should understand that you are no longer brewing for yourself but people with diverse tastes. So, knowing your customers, where they are, and how they love their coffee is a step in the right direction. In fact with the advent of digital marketing, you can get all this information and more online. You could even get a few contracts before beginning just by marketing yourself online. Give your branding an extra oomph so it can stand out and draw attention. Watch what your competitors are doing, use their lapses to draw the crowd. Give your customers something your competitors are not providing. For instance, if your competitors are mainly giving light roasts, let yours tend towards something rich and deep. Once you start having regular customers, you can now consider creating blends to suit their individual tastes.

5. Create a Business Plan

It is expected that you draw up a plan from start to finish on how you want your business to grow. From sourcing materials to launching the business in the approved location, you have to plan every detail especially the financial implications.

Even if you don’t have much money to get all the necessary equipment a startup roaster should have, you can partner with already established roasters and barristers as a contract roast. A contract roast pays a well-established business an agreed rental fee to use their facilities and tools. Although the roasted product will be sold under the renter’s brand, still it is a good opportunity for startup roasters to get more experience and not have to worry about getting a grinder, coffee roaster, or any other important machine.

You need to do a swot analysis of the cost of ongoing expenses, how the business plans to make money, who your target market is, how much they will pay for your services, profit margin, and how to make your business more profitable. You also need to plan how people see your business, what will you name it, what will the logo look like, what are the marketing strategies you’d use, etc.

Planning your business is not easy work but it will help you in the long run.

Conclusion

Running a successful coffee roasting business is as detailed and vital as the coffee it sells. With adequate knowledge of the coffee beans, tools of the trade, and innovative marketing strategy, a startup coffee roaster can earn a part in this multi-billion dollar industry.

Providing roasted coffee on hand allows your customers to drink fresh coffee instead of the ready-made cups they experience every day. So hit the right spot and you will remain relevant always.

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