How to start a coffee roastery on a budget

Matteo Pavoni
August 2, 2021
specialty coffee roastery

Starting a roasting business can be a challenging, yet exciting, step in a coffee professional’s career. The idea of owning a roastery, selecting your own coffees, and supplying shops with your branded bags of freshly roasted beans is one that many coffee enthusiasts have dreamed about at least once.

However, it’s not as simple as shopping around for green beans and choosing decor. Equipment, location, and permits are just a few more of the obstacles you’ll face, while the list of expenses is likely to be significantly more than you first thought.

To find out more about starting a roastery on a budget, I spoke with 2019 World Cup Tasters Champion and founder of Sumo Coffee Roasters, Daniel Horbat.

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Nailing the basics: What do you need?

You might think that the first thing on your shopping list would be a location, or perhaps even a roasting machine. However, there are a couple of other things you need to master first: knowledge and sensory skills.

A good level of coffee knowledge is key to starting a roasting business. You need to be equipped with the skills to operate equipment and manage a business. You also need to have mastered all sorts of brewing methods, and you’ll have to identify quality suppliers and partners.

Entrepreneurial knowledge is crucial. Being able to write an excellent business plan, identify your target market, and develop strategies to get a strong customer base are all skills that will help kickstart and maintain your business.

Knowledge can be developed with experience and built on over time – but if you’re lacking knowledge to start with, you might want to consider attending professional courses on both coffee and marketing.

“By investing in training for yourself and your employees, you make sure everyone will be more productive.”

Daniel Horbat is a World Cup Tasters Champion and founder of Sumo Coffee Roasters in Dublin, Ireland. For him, having plenty of coffee knowledge is key to cutting costs at the start of your journey.

“Instead of hiring people with knowledge in these areas at the beginning – people that you usually pay higher salaries – you’ll be able to do it yourself and get the roastery off the ground while also making sure you’ll offer the best quality possible,” he explains.

“By investing in training for yourself and your employees, you make sure everyone will be more productive, perform better, and deliver work of a higher quality which will create more opportunities for your roastery and potentially increase your revenue over time.”

A sensory skills course will help you to recognise both green and roasted coffee defects, as well to identify characteristics like sweetness, acidity, and bitterness.

The SCA sensory skill module is a good place to start, but make sure you taste loads of coffee on your own time, too – preferably together with coffee enthusiasts or professionals you can share and compare results with. 

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What equipment do you need when starting a roastery?

Once you’ve finessed your coffee roasting skills and built up some good business knowledge, it’s time to think about the coffee roasting equipment you’ll need.

Roasters: Several types of roasters are in use today: classic drum roasters, indirectly heated drum roasters, fluid bed roasters, and recirculation roasters. Each of them has distinct advantages and disadvantages.

Depending on the type of roaster you opt for, roasting can take place in several different ways. Modern roasters use mechanisms such as convection, conduction, and radiation. The way a roaster transfers heat to the beans can dramatically change the outcome.

The choice of roasting machine should be driven by material quality, cost, after sales service, capacity, and the ability of the machine to connect with roast profile software.

For a new, small roasting business, a classic drum roaster with a 5kg capacity is a good place to start. Most models allow you to play with batches of between 2 to 5kgs and are compatible with software like Cropster or Artisan.

Software: Artisan is open-source software that can be applied to more than 30 types of roasting machines and more than 50 associated devices. It works on four different operating systems, with more than 30 languages available. 

Because it’s free to use, Artisan is an incredibly powerful tool for coffee professionals just beginning to experiment with roasting.

Cropster, meanwhile, is a more complex software solution that includes tools for monitoring inventory, green coffee management, production planning, quality control, and online green coffee buying and selling. Unlike Artisan, however, it’s not free to use.

Other items: Roasting machines are expensive toys that will undoubtedly form the centrepiece of any roasting facility. However, you’ll also need smaller pieces of equipment like sample roasters, coffee bag sealers, humidity readers, and colour meters.

Daniel explains why it is important for any new roaster to have these pieces of equipment. He says that investing in them will help you to master consistency and quickly improve quality.

“I think there are a few instruments you should think of investing in,” he says. “For starters, a sample roaster — how else would you judge a coffee’s quality level, its sweetness, brightness, and body, and whether any defects are present when purchasing green coffee beans?”

A sample roaster will help you choose the best green coffees on offer, as it allows you to roast smaller amounts at a time. Exploring different origins and varietals will open more possibilities for your business.

Daniel adds: “I find it important to have a moisture reader because it tells you about how a coffee was prepared and how the quality might change over time. Also because it gives you clues as to how that coffee will behave in the roaster. 

“And as for the colour meter, I think it is the most effective tool in analysing the degree of roast, especially for consistency.”

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Where does coffee packaging come in?

You might not think of packaging as a priority for your new business, but it’s crucial in many ways. The right packaging preserves your coffee’s freshness and flavour, and ensures that people sit up and take note of your roastery.

As Daniel says, it’s possible to start small, investing in basic types of packaging that will still give you quality and marketing value.

“Until you build some cash flow, and can afford customised coffee bags, I think a good starting point would be buying plain, recyclable coffee bags in bulk,” he says. “MTPak Coffee has a wide offering ranging from different colours and materials to different components, such as recyclable degassing valves and resealable zippers.”

He says that initially, you can save costs by printing your own labels and sealing and weighing bags manually. “Even though I think these are important things to have at the roastery,” he says, “one can do without them in the beginning.”

MTPak Coffee stock bags are available in sizes ranging from 20g all the way up to 10kg, making them perfect for any roaster’s needs. This comes in very handy in the early phases of your business, when you might want to send samples to prospective buyers.

Packaging plays a key role in the image of your brand and it’s one of the most important factors to consider when looking at the flavour conservation of roasted coffee over time.

At MTPak Coffee, we believe it’s possible to start a roastery on a budget with a few accurate choices, ranging from professional training, to choosing the right equipment including, and selecting the best packaging for your budget and needs.

For information about our sustainable coffee bags, contact our team.

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