You don’t want to roast coffee. You like your current supplier; it sounds like a lot of work; it’s a new business, essentially; you’ll have to manage that many more people; you don’t have the space; you don’t know how to roast, much less find good green coffee, and education is expensive; plus, the even the tiny roasters cost a fortune anyway! Right? 

There is every reason to roast your own coffee, not the least of which is growing your brand from being a cafe to becoming a coffee business. We’re going to get into the reasons below.  

1. It’s what your customers want

Look at social media stats, sales stats, or any other measurable metric you’d like; cafes that switch from purchasing roasted coffee to roasting their own brand see a significant uptick in customer engagement with the coffee they roast. All of a sudden your customers will feel a greater connection to the coffee you provide them. You roasting allows them a more personal, unique, intimate experience whenever they interface with you and your product. The can sensorially experience your craft, your knowledge, your hard work.

2. Value

Here’s the deal. No matter how you slice and dice it, roasters take home a disproportionate amount of the coffee value chain. Roasting coffee is where the money is. We could analyze this any number of ways (and do in another article), but at it’s core you have the following:

Many (if not most) cafe owners truly struggle to make ends meet. It’s well-documented. And roasted coffee is one of the biggest expenses.

The SCA in 2014 said wholesale specialty coffee is $9-12/lb. on average. In 2017, they said $10+/lb. Now they’ve pegged it at $9.40: Other models put it even higher. Anecdotally, I’ve encountered wholesale coffee in the $7’s on the low end and $16+ on the high end of regular everyday standard coffees (so yes, you can find cheaper and more expensive, but it’s rare). That said, I think it’s fair to presume typical specialty coffee costs somewhere between $9-12/lb wholesale.

In the same article from 2014, the SCA had roaster’s operating costs (labor, overhead, packaging) at $3.75/lb. That’s high, in my opinion, and out of context. Plus, if you look at common pricing strategies – multiply your cost by 3.7; add $10; beverage price multiplied by three; cost + 30%; double your cost; triple your cost; “Price as high as you can possibly get away with (without losing too many sales)” – Matt Perger, – you can conclude that it’s not all that uncommon for margins in roasting to be upwards of 300%.

The bottom line is that if you’re paying that, you have an opportunity to lower your costs; and if you’re not paying that, you have an opportunity to save a ton of money.

Let’s do some very rough, basic math. Let’s say you get green coffee delivered for $3/lb – totally doable in today’s market with fully-transparent, responsible sourcing. Let’s say taking into account shrinkage, packaging, utilities, labor, equipment payments, and everything else, your cost doubles. You’re still saving $3.40/lb. by roasting your own. If you do 100 lbs/week in your cafe, you’re saving almost $18,000 in year one. The smallest non-sample roaster we sell, the Proaster CR-01, can handle that volume. It costs $9,900. In other words, you’re going to pay off your equipment cost in about half a year, and walk away with $8,000 or so profit just in savings. If you’re a bigger business, those savings grow very quickly.

Why not reinvest that money in your employees? Why not invest the savings in quality and raise the overall cup quality of your beverages? Why not keep the extra money? Why not invest it in a cause you support? Obviously these things don’t have to be mutually exclusive. There’s simply no denying that even with the most conservative estimates, roasting your own coffee instead of purchasing roasted coffee will save you thousands (if not tens or hundreds of thousands) of dollars each year. Reach out to us if you’d like to discuss the potential savings your specific situation would realize.

3. Quality (green, roasted and brewed)

A) Green quality

Now you’re able to go further upstream and source efficiently. You’ll be able to curate your menu, offering FTO coffees if you like, or fully traceable/transparent coffees, or coffees sourced via direct trade. With the savings from roasting your own coffee you can invest in better-quality green than your previous supplier, still save money over purchasing roasted coffee, and have better scoring cups. If you have qualifying credit, you’ll be able to get terms with importers that allow you to purchase, receive, roast and sell your coffee before you owe a dime. 

B) Roasted quality

Even if you purchase coffee from the best roasters in the country, you’ll be able to match or improve the quality. Roasting is easy. Sure, there is nuance, but the learning curve is comparable to learning to dial in an espresso. You’ll have support from First Crack, importers, manufacturers, friends, the coffee community, etc. And with the ever-growing ubiquity of automation on roasters of all sizes, you are less likely than ever to ruin batches. Plus, many roasteries source green from the same importers – why not source the same green, roast it in small batches and tailor the roast to the specific tastes of your customers? 

C) Brewed quality

With an integrated roasting and brewing program you’ll be able to improve your brewed quality. In this podcast, Ben Put (barista champion, Monogram Coffee) talks about the challenges roasters face by not dialing in their roasts in the specific service environments the coffees will be brewed in.

It could be that a supplier you use roasts a specific coffee in a way that only maximizes its quality with specific brew parameters – water composition, brew ratio, make of grinder, etc. As such, there’s simply no way to maximize the quality of that coffee without a deep discussion with your wholesaler, and ensuing adjustments. By adding a roasting component to your cafe you will increase the quality of your brewed beverages by crafting coffees that specifically had your baristas, water composition, customers’ preferences and more in mind. 

4. The story

Control the narrative. Own the roast. All of a sudden your customers are able to come to you for something they cannot get elsewhere. This is where you can speak to the coffee itself, the hard work you did sourcing it, how you maximized the cup quality via the roast profile, and how your coffee is now better because you’re able to roast specifically for the palettes of your customers. You just switched from being an actor to being the writer, director and actor. Your coffee is now a larger, personal vision, rather than an interpretation of someone else’s brand.

5. Customer experience 

Firstly, your menu diversity can be maintained or immediately enhanced. Now you have a truly curative element to your menu. It’s personal; it’s you; your product is local and artisanal, and people place a premium on that experience.

6. Grow your business

Okay, yes, this is sales-based, but it’s more than that: roasting your own coffee allows you to transcend solely being a cafe and become a full-fledged coffee business. In a practical sense, your position within the market will switch from buyer to seller. Your brand will be augmented, increasing the valuation of your business. You will also sell more coffee to your customers, you will have more requests to have your coffee in other places (groceries, restaurants, etc.), you will add a new dimension to your business simply by having a new product line (roasted coffee), and you can geographically and digitally increase your brands’ footprint. 

7. Sustainability

All things being equal, you will lower your carbon footprint by not ordering coffee to be boxed, bagged, and shipped across town, the country or the world. You can use significantly fewer single-use bags. For instance, by being able to control the cadence of your roasting you can use reusable containers (Airscape or similar for smaller amounts; food-safe bins for larger amounts) without compromising freshness, eliminating the need for disposable packaging for everything but retail packages. 

We could go into detail regarding the efficiency of our equipment too – the Bühler roasters utilize the most efficient burners currently available for commercial and industrial roasters, for instance. You can achieve further efficiency by purchasing a roaster that’s perfectly mated to the needs of your business, thus minimizing the number and inefficiency of less-than-optimal batches.

You’ll also be able to work with local gardeners and businesses to compost chaff, local artisans and gardeners to reuse burlap, importing partners to recycle green coffee liners (i.e. GrainPro), and local food banks for excess or out-of-spec roasted coffee. In other words, if your current supplier isn’t zero-waste, you can be with little effort. You’re in control. 

8. Transparency and traceability

Transparency and traceability, aside from being an ethical no-brainer, are critical to the coffee supply chain. Contemporary importers have basically perfected this. It is now abundantly possible to source high-quality green coffee with full transparency and traceability at affordable prices. It’s about to be even better. Farmer Connect –  – is a blockchain-based farmer-verified open platform for systematically tracing coffee at every step of the process. In other words, you will soon be able to see that a farmer confirmed they received what an importer is saying they paid for a coffee. You and your customers will be able to tip upstream producers if you so choose. With the debut of such a platform, you as a roaster will be able to demand full accountability and ethical practices from your coffee supplier. No longer will one importer be able to purchase the same coffee at the same price (or less) as another importer, and turn around and sell it for a larger markup; similarly, no longer will a roaster be able to do the same. The days of hiding behind opacity are over, and that’s a great thing: you will be empowered to stand behind your coffee as an ethical, fairly-sourced product. Efficient, transparent, ethical, traceable sourcing will set you apart from potentially less-scrupulous suppliers. 

To summarize, roasting your own coffee:

– Is what your customers want;

– Saves you a potentially life-changing amount of money;

– Improves the quality of your product;

– Gives you a story with which to connect with your customers and the larger coffee supply chain;

– Improves the customer experience;

– Grows your sales, augments the very character of your business and increases its value;

– Is a better option for sustainability;

– And, can legitimately improve the lives of upstream producers in the supply chain by providing greater transparency, traceability, and equity in the value chain.

What’s the cost? Let’s return to the hurdles outlined at the beginning of the article:

– Time/energy/focus

If prioritized, this can be easily navigable. Just buy a roaster large enough to minimize the time you spend roasting each week. There will be some ‘one-off’ things on which to focus at the beginning – ordering the equipment, building out the space, training, etc. but then the savings will allow the roaster to pay for itself in short order. You will be able to calculate how long you’ll need to expend extra energy before you can pay someone else to do it. I’d make the case that the benefits greatly outweigh any additional time commitments, even for a fully-strapped/no-time business owner. 

– Space 

Let’s say you just have absolutely no space whatsoever. We have tabletop roasters that take up as little room as 14” x 36” x 32”. A standard pallet is 48″ x 40″ – that can hold 10 bags of green coffee. That’s enough to last a 100 lb/week cafe a quarter. In other words, if you really want to minimize the amount of space needed, you can get away with something like a 4′ x 8′ area for all roasting operations. And frankly, in real-world setups there are people operating roasters in way less. 

– Money. Basically in almost every scenario, it will pay for itself in a matter of months at most. Perhaps you can find an investor or get a bank loan; perhaps you can tighten the belt and save. There’s no denying the ultimate savings of roasting your own coffee being worth it. In another article we discuss exactly how long it takes (and how much coffee you have to roast) to recoup your investment. Trust me, it’s doable. 

– Education

There are now a ton of great resources online for free; or, you can spend a few hundred bucks and buy every coffee roasting book ever published, and be able to roast expertly; or, you can take our 16-hour comprehensive class, which is $1,050. Point being, the days of suppliers shrouding their craft in mysticism are over; coffee roasting knowledge is available and affordable. 

– Finding good green

Green coffee is in abundant supply and is affordable. Importers love talking to new roasters about their offerings. We teach green coffee classes. This is surmountable.

Still not convinced? Invert it. Now you’re giving up your roaster and purchasing roasted coffee. You’ll basically have a product that gives your customers less of what they want, costs tens of thousands of dollars more annually, is of lower quality in every sense, lacks the latticework to allow you to connect with your customers and the coffee supply chain to the same degree you otherwise would, cheapens the customer experience, reduces your sales, diminishes what your business is, lowers the value of your business, worsens sustainability, and doesn’t necessarily do what could be done from a transparency and traceability standpoint – all the while you’re growing someone else’s brand within your own business. It just doesn’t make sense. 

We’re very passionate about getting as many people roasting as possible, because everyone wins. Reach out if you’d like to discuss how we can help you roast!