Where to start?
There are so many decisions to make when starting your roasting business. What size roaster to purchase, where to install it, what to call your company. One choice that often gets left to the last minute is which green coffees you’ll go with for your first order. The options seem overwhelming. How much variety do you need? Will you be blending or focusing on single origins? If you don’t have customers waiting, where will all this roasted coffee go?
The truth is, you need to get started with some coffees that are approachable, fairly easy to roast and have a wide margin for where they’ll taste good. There are plenty of green coffees that are affordable, forgiving, and great to work with as you’re still dialing in your machine and roasting skills.
The crowd pleasers
Most roasters will have something on their menu that’s appealing to a broad audience. This is a coffee that’s great at a medium to dark roast and has a fairly generic flavor profile. Chocolate, nuts, light citrus. We call this a “Snickers bar” coffee. It’s an all-day drinker that may not be totally memorable or eye-opening, but it’s the perfect option for drip coffee and it’s hard to mess up.
For us, this coffee will probably be a Brazil, Peru, Mexico, Guatemala, or washed Colombia. It may be a coffee that comes from Cafe Import’s Regional Select program, which means it’s collected from a larger region within one country and features a blend of coffees from multiple farms. It’s still a single origin, but it may include multiple varietals or growing elevations.
By making the choice to go with a broader locale instead of a single estate or micro-lot coffee option, you lose a little bit of the terroir in favor of a more homogenous cup. This also helps keep costs lower for this green, since it’s more expensive to keep lots separated by farm or producer.
Light & bright
We love a light roast. Coffee that shines at the lighter side of the roast curve while still offering sweetness, juiciness, and drinkability is a beautiful thing.
As you develop your roast craft, mastering the art of well-developed and soluble light roasts is a crucial skill. For us, a great light roast showcases the flavors of its origin and processing method while rounding out the sharpness we tasted in a sample roast.
Our favorites for light roast are washed Ethiopia coffees which are lemony and refreshing. Coffees from El Salvador, Honduras, Ecuador, and Colombia are also excellent choices from south and central America.
Something for the dark roast drinkers
Whether or not you enjoy coffee that’s gone into second crack, you’re guaranteed to have some customers who prefer a darker profile. It can be daunting to think about taking a high-quality green coffee with delicate flavors and roast it until it’s dark and oily.
For dark roasts, we look to Indonesia for coffees that already have great “darker” flavors like spice, earth, and dark fruits. These coffees shine at a darker roast, and since they start out with lower perceived acidity, we don’t feel like we’re roasting out any delicate high notes. Instead, we can emphasize their heavy body and woodsy characteristics by taking them into second crack and beyond.
We use coffees from Sumatra, Papua New Guinea, and Java for our darker offerings.
Chances are, you got into the world of roasting because you love coffee. It’s likely that a really special cup was your “ah-ha” moment that made you rethink how coffee could taste. Those distinct coffees are the ones that we remember for the rest of our careers.
Once you have some practice with roasting washed coffees and you feel comfortable on your machine, you can venture into some more select offerings. Companies will often carry a more “boutique” coffee with a different designation. Roaster’s Select, Roaster’s Exclusive, Enthusiast Collection, or a similar project name, can set these offerings apart. These coffees are sometimes sold in smaller quantities or offered as pre-order options.
Natural processed Ethiopia, pulp natural Costa Rica, or the elusive Gesha varietal from Panama are special coffees that fetch a higher price. Rotating in one of these coffees for a limited time is a nice way to capture the attention of the specialty-focused crowd while also exposing your regular customers to something really different.
Don’t forget decaf
I feel passionately about taking good care of decaf drinkers. I even dedicated a whole series about roasting decaf on our YouTube page. It comes down to a simple idea: decaf drinkers deserve great coffee.
If you’re not sourcing a nice decaf and taking the time to profile it and roast it regularly, you’re leaving out a whole category of customers who may want to try your coffee. There are so many great decaf options on the market these days. You no longer have to sacrifice the quality of your cup in order to forego the caffeine.
We always have a decaf on our menu, and it’s usually an EA (ethyl acetate), sometimes called the sugarcane method, from Colombia. Other great choices are Swiss Water processed Peru or Mountain Water processed Mexico. Take good care of your decaf drinkers and they’ll be loyal for life.
Enough to work with
Depending on the size of your roaster, you may find exactly what you need from our green coffee catalog. We carry most of our offerings in 10lb bags, so if you’re roasting on anything between the 1kg roaster to a 3kg model, one bag is enough to get a few batches into your drum.
For folks on production machines like our MCR-6 and larger, Cafe Import’s sister company La Bodega offers 50lb bags that ship flat-rate to you. La Bodega offers a curated selection of coffees from the Cafe Imports warehouse, with enough variety to include something for everyone.
If you’ve already got orders lined up and you’re roasting on a large machine, it’s time to get set up with an importer. You can order full bags (60-70kg) from Cafe Imports and they’ll help coordinate a freight shipment to get them to your location. They also offer warehousing terms if you don’t have the space to store everything you purchase.
The perfect balance
Ultimately, you want to start with enough coffee to get you through your first few months. This will be coffee you learn with and will help you start to develop your own templates of successful profiles. Coffee is a seasonal product, so you can’t spend all your time chasing the perfect profile. Eventually, you have to get some beans into bags and sell it.
Choosing 4 or 5 quality greens that do well at a range of roast profiles will help you practice your roasting and tasting abilities. Once you gain confidence on your machine and learn more about what your customers like, your next coffee order will be an easier decision.
If you need help with greens selection or profile design, you can always come learn more with us.