I bet that if you’re reading this post, you either have a cup of coffee at hand or you’re thinking about going to make one. But what if you really made a cup of coffee? What if you had played a part in selecting the coffee and defining how it would taste?
What if you became an artisan coffee roaster?
In the Spring of 2013, I did just that. I’d worked in financial services for around 17 years before deciding to make a complete career change and become Bean Smitten. Now I’m here to give you advice on how to do exactly the same thing. Read on as, in part one of this three-part series, we guide you through the basics.
Spanish Version: Cómo Convertirse en un Tostador Artesanal: Aspectos Básicos
You’re thinking about quitting your 9-5 job and pursuing your roasting dream? Do it!
1. How Long Will it Take?
There’s no set answer to this, but there are three things that will affect how quickly you can set up business:
- Your roasting location
- Your choice of roaster
- Your confidence in your own roasting ability
I was lucky: the very day I made the decision to begin roasting, I opened the local property pages to see an ad for a reasonably priced 500 sq ft unit. I went to see it the next day.
What took longer, however, was the roaster. First, I procrastinated, putting off selecting one. Then I had to wait while it was built from scratch. Then once I took delivery of it, I experimented for six weeks before selling any coffee.
Choosing your roaster isn’t easy… research as much as possible to make an informed choice!
This may be different for you. You may already have your perfect roaster lined up. Or you may need to wait a few months before finding the perfect roasting location.
2. Where Should You Roast?
You can start as small or as big as you want, depending on your situation. A Gene Cafe home roaster can be used in your kitchen under the cooker extraction hood, a 2-3 kg roaster could be accommodated in a garage or shed, or you could consider a small commercial unit. 500 sq ft will give you enough space for the roaster, stock area, cupping table, coffee preparation/bagging area, and an admin space.
Yet, no matter what size you opt for, there are four things you should consider.
Ventilation: those exhaust gases need to escape. Work out which way the prevailing wind blows. Oh, and while I’ve only ever had positive comments about the smell of roasting coffee, it might be an idea to let the neighbours know what you’re up to.
Access: how will you get the roaster and the coffee inside? If your beans are going to arrive on pallets, can they be wheeled in? Can trucks park outside? Will you be found by the delivery drivers? At Bean Smitten, we’re tucked away in the middle of a camping site. We have reasonable access but we always have to ask for our coffee to be delivered in smaller trucks, because articulated vehicles would simply not fit.
Make sure your roastery is well equipped, accessible, and has the right setup before starting to roast.
Humidity: moisture will impact on the drying phase of the roast (although this is less of an issue if your coffee comes in grain-pro lined sacks) and, maybe less obviously, on paperwork and kraft-style packaging. I’ve had A4 paper curling up at the edges and ink smudging on labels when packets of coffee came into contact with one another. Fortunately, a small amount of background heating solved this problem.
Services: you’ll need water, drainage, electricity, and internet. And there’s the matter of your business phone – if you can’t get a landline, you’d better check you get mobile (cellphone for the Americans) signal on your network.
3. What Do You Need to Know?
Just because you can’t start roasting on day one doesn’t mean you can’t start preparing. Make use of the lead time on your equipment by reading up on coffee and coffee roasting, attending the odd course or two, and taking field trips to friendly roasters.
Become familiar with the different coffee varieties, origins, and terms used to describe these coffees, such as SHG, AA, Peaberry, and so on. Know when the key harvest times are, including when the coffees will become available for sampling and delivery. Speaking to speciality coffee merchants will help – and, at the same time, you can start to narrow down which ones you’d like to work with.
Get a coffee subscription from one of the bigger roasters in your region. You’ll get to try a broad range of coffees. Plus, subscriptions usually come with pretty detailed information about the coffee.
Develop your sense of taste and smell. This is a seriously difficult area to develop on your own; you’ll progress much faster if you learn with others. You’ll then build confidence in this area, which is essential when it comes to writing coffee descriptors about your own products. I’d strongly recommend taking a sensory skills course, such as those run by the SCAE/SCAA, and attending coffee cupping sessions.
Through regular cuppings you will train your senses. The taste and smell of your coffee will teach you more about your roasting methods.
Learn the theory of coffee roasting. Go on a course such as those run by the London School of Coffee. Read books and free web resources. Carry out some experiments in a popcorn maker or frying pan. I began roasting on a Gene Cafe; you can roast up to 200 grams at a time and there’s a reasonable degree of control over the roast. In fact, I still use it today, both as a sample roaster and for theatrical effect at food fairs.
Visit other roasters; they’ll be delighted to help. You might want to skip those on your doorstep, though, since you’ll be competing for local business. Instead, identify those roasters whom you respect and feel aligned to. I visited three coffee roasters of varying sizes. Two of those visits came about because of my membership of different coffee forums. Incidentally, coffee forum members are an excellent test group for your first few roasts – and you can be sure of honest feedback!
By following these steps, you’ll pick up a significant amount of knowledge in a surprisingly short amount of time.
Are you geared up to go? Or feeling overwhelmed? No matter how you feel right now, beginning your own coffee business is a daunting, exhausting, but 100% worthwhile pursuit. If you’re dreaming of swapping your business suits for coffee beans, I can’t encourage you enough to do it.
Today, we’ve looked at the basics of becoming an artisan coffee roaster. Watch out for part 2, when we look at selecting a roaster.
Want to read more articles like this? Sign up to our newsletter!
Perfect Daily Grind.