Investing in a Coffee Service Part 1: Buying Coffee

Light roast, Dark Roast, Full City, Microlots, Single Origin, Blends, Espresso; the coffee industry has long been chasing a vocabulary that attracts would-be consumers to certain flavor attributes of coffee. Most of the time we see the flavor of coffee described by the way a coffee was roasted. Light, Medium, and Dark have become their own categories with loyal drinkers preferring one of the three in most cases. These terms will be extremely important as you move forward with your new coffee business. Which of these does your new coffee customer want? How much of each should you inventory to meet their demands? These are difficult questions to answer and going at it alone is sure to cause frustration with your staff and future customers. We look at roasting coffee a little differently. Our goal is to “cook” the coffee all the way to the center like you would a chicken breast. This type of roasting isn’t Light, Medium, or Dark. It is a better version of all three and will, if brewed appropriately, please 90% of your customers regardless of the preferences they will bring into your new business. Now, lets talk about the 10% of customers that may want a little more roast flavor than your main customer base.

The Dark Roast. Dark roasting coffee is generally done by heating the coffee beans to the finished cooking temperature as fast as the roaster can. Like cooking a steak, this chars the outside of the coffee bean while undercooking the center. These types of dark roasted coffees taste like carbon, just like any other food that is burned. This flavor has become popular mostly due to no other types of coffee being available in a certain time and place. There is a very small percentage of your future customers that may want this flavor and won’t tolerate anything else. Our favorite way to navigate this demand is to provide an incredible service atmosphere as well as a properly worded menu that invites the most demanding dark roast fan to trust your coffee selection before he ever speaks to the barista. This is done by utilizing your Safehouse Representative’s experience in designing, implementing and communicating a really great coffee service during the planning stages. There are other times when a dark roast can’t be avoided. In these time Safehouse has devised the very best dark roasting practices in the industry. Instead of cooking the coffee fast to create burned flavor in the finished coffee, we roast our coffee to the center a little bit slower but keep it in the roaster for a little bit longer. This allows just enough carbon flavor to build up on the coffee beans’ surface to give those dark roast aficionados just what they are looking for! Also, our dark roasted coffee is a bit less expensive than the rest of our menu to allow you to inventory it without it hurting your cash flow as much.

Now the we understand roasting its time to talk Blends.

Blends are when a single unit of coffee is made up of multiple different types of coffee beans. There are thousands upon thousands of different types of coffee plants. Each different plant produces a very different tasting coffee bean. Those varieties will also taste different depending on which country and region it was grown in. Blending these different coffee “varieties” together can create a very balanced coffee flavor experience if done well. Often, coffee companies will blend a poor tasting coffee with better coffee to mask its negative flavor, to reduce costs, and lower their price points to compete. This practice has created the prevalence of coffee blends we see today as super markets and mass retailers prefer the much higher margins. All the while coffee consumers have grown accustomed to the lower quality this method produces. Not all blends are bad though. We take the time to find coffees that taste great alone then blend them to make something balanced and unique. Safehouse blends coffee for three purposes. PLENTY is a blend that focuses on consistency from season to season as well as tasting great in a batch brewer. You can make plenty of PLENTY to please a crowd. PLENTY Dark is blended specifically to taste best as a dark roast and PERIODIC Espresso is uniquely qualified to taste great under the exacting demands of an espresso machine. But what does coffee taste like if the vast “varieties” of coffee aren’t blended together? That is where you get our Black and White Label coffees. The industry term for unblended coffees is Single Origin coffee.

Safehouse’s beginnings are in Single Origin coffees. We started buying coffees from defined countries like Costa Rica, Guatemala and Ethiopia. Over time we came to love coffees from certain regions inside of those countries, such as Tarrazu, Atitlan, and Yirgacheffe. These Regions are much like states in the U.S. but that’s not where we stopped. We found that the finest coffees we could find were from very particular areas within these regions. If you search hard enough you can find the farmers growing these plants and have their coffees year after year. This is the very edge of coffee quality. It’s hidden away from the masses of grocery store shelves and mass retailers on every street corner. This type of coffee is elusive, hard to find and an adventure for your soon-to-be customer. Our reputation is founded in these coffees. We work hard to ensure our relationships in coffee sourcing so that you can provide a coffee experience to your customers that isn’t just talk.

Investing in a Coffee Service Part 2: Brewing Equipment

Now that we know the different kinds of coffee we can provide, how do you brew that coffee and what machines do we need?

First, lets talk about the most important piece of equipment in any coffee brewing. The Grinder. The way in which your coffee is ground is the single most important variable that influences your coffee’s final flavor. As a general rule the larger the cutting blades are and the slower they spin, the fuller and more rounded your coffee will taste. Couple this with very sharp cutting blades and you will find that a high quality grinder will make coffee taste noticeably special compared to a lesser quality grinder. This is an easy way to set yourself apart from other coffee programs in your area. The grinder is easily the most over looked piece of equipment. Take a good look at its importance when building your budget. Expect to spend $1,000 + on a grinder that will stand the test of time while making great tasting coffee.

Now that our coffee is ground, how do we brew it best for our business?

Batch Brewing is what we see in the majority of coffee retailers. This is generally a machine that is capable of brewing gallons of coffee at a time into a specific vessel that will keep that coffee hot for hours. There are positives and negatives to this type of brewing. Let’s talk about the positives first.

Batch Brewing coffee is very simple for your staff. After grinding the coffee, all your staff has to do is put it into a specialized brewing basket and push a button to run the brewing cycle. The machine will be programed by a Safehouse Representative trained to use your machine. The resulting coffee will taste great with very little work on your part. So what are the negatives?

The main negative is waste. The coffee holding vessel is designed to keep coffee hot for hours but how long does it taste good? In our experience, the coffee in these containers continue to get stronger and stronger as it sits. We recommend coffee be re-made every 35 – 40 minutes. This is no big deal during a busy morning when you can have enough orders to empty the vessel within the allotted time but throwing away a gallon of coffee every 35 minutes from 11am until closing will negate all of the profit you were able to make in the morning. A good batch brewer with serving containers will cost around $2500. That isn’t a huge investment for the potential return but be aware of the potential cost of waste if you choose to solely use batch brewing for your business.

So what is the solution for a coffee program that may not maintain a steady customer flow for all hours of the day? Our favorite solution is called Pour Over Coffee. This is coffee that is brewed one cup at a time right when the customer orders it. This may sound daunting but with proper training and relatively little equipment investment this could easily become the aspect of your business that your competitors do not even know they need. Couple this with a small selection of our Black Label single origin coffees and you have a very unique and affordable solution to afternoon and evening coffee. How much does this cost? Most likely you will have already invested in a brewed coffee grinder for your batch brew program. That grinder can double-task for this program as well! The other purchases are 2-4 kitchen scales, pouring kettles, pour over brewing devices and a hot water boiler. All of these components together barely break $1,500.

Taking a thorough look at all that is needed, the total equipment investment for a Batch Brewer and a Pour Over Program together is approximately $6,000. That is less than an espresso machine and may account for upwards of 45% of your total coffee business.