Quality control is a vital part of supplying a great product, building a successful business, and establishing a loyal customer base.
This is especially true when it comes to coffee, which revolves around the quality of taste and flavour, and relies on so many variables for consistency.
Roasters have several options to measure and monitor the standards of the coffee they are producing. While some practices of quality control remain standard, each roastery will have its own methods to ensure each coffee is as flavourful as the last.
While it may not be the most exciting part of the job, it is an essential part to ensure customers return.
In the fourth part of our Quality Control series, we speak to Ben Lowe, the co-owner of Harmony Coffee Roasters, based in the north of England.
Building a trustworthy brand
“Harmony Coffee was born out of a desire to share great coffee,” explains Ben, who also has experience working as a barista. “It was a chance to build something that stays true to the values we see as the most important pillars in the coffee community.”
These pillars are partnerships, traceability, ethics, and quality – all of which lie at the heart of Harmony Coffee’s business practices.
“Harmony stemmed from our belief that well-roasted coffee highlights the terroir, tactility, and quality of flavour of each given coffee, as no two coffees are the same,” Ben explains.
That is why, when it comes to quality control, Ben has a simple concept: “Would you buy from a roastery if you knew for certain it had no quality assurance procedure in place?
“If your answer is no, then why would you want to be a roaster that you wouldn’t buy from?” Ben asks.
As coffee is a “taste” product, Ben believes roasters should make continual efforts to taste and refine it to ensure the coffee is up to standard.
“I would say quality control in a roastery is a protocol you implement that is akin to a barista dialling in the house espresso in the morning,” he adds.
Ben explains the goal at Harmony Coffee is to optimise each roast profile to highlight the quality of the coffee the team is working with.
“We want our coffees to be enjoyed however our customers choose to brew them, every time,” he says. “More than anything, we want Harmony to be a coffee company that customers feel they can trust.”
How does Harmony Coffee ensure quality control?
Harmony Coffee reminds roasters that quality control can consist of simple things – as long as it is all done correctly.
Ben also ensures the between batch protocol (BBP) is the same. If the roaster cools down too much or not enough in between roasting, it will have a different amount of thermal energy in the drum when the next roast is started.
This can result in an inconsistent roast. Having a set BBP ensures the coffee will have the best possible starting point for matching the perfect profile. Many programmes, such as Cropster and RoasTime will create these and help roasters standardise them.
Part of the quality control process is ensuring the roaster is deep cleaned weekly. Keeping the roaster clean can have a tremendous impact on the consistency of the heat transfer within the machine.
A lack of cleanliness in some roasters can lead to different results. For instance, if the ducts are clogged, the airflow will lack the pressure required, which may cause the machine to stop as a safety mechanism.
Additionally, if the filter in the roaster is dirty, it may impart a smokey flavour to the roast coffee. More so, it will reduce the convective heat energy in the roast itself, meaning the coffee will be underdeveloped.
Therefore, the coffee will be unable to roast as you intended, due to the shifts in energy transferral.
Another integral point in Harmony Coffee’s quality control is ensuring the chaff collector is emptied and cleaned between every couple of roasts. Chaff must be removed to prevent it from contaminating the roast coffee or leaving a burnt flavour in the cup.
More importantly, excess chaff in a coffee roastery may result in a fire.
Last, Ben says every coffee is weighed out accurately, to the gram, before roasting. It is important for roasters to calibrate scales to ensure they are roasting the correct amount of coffee.
Even a few hundred grams can throw off the energy required for a roast and leave a different result in the cup.
“Make the coffee as a customer would.”
Ben explains that once he has a roast he is happy with, he often uses the automated software within the roaster to replicate it.
“They tend to be more consistent and accurate than I am, that is for sure!” he laughs. “I also prefer to do the final quality check by making the coffee as a customer might make it, rather than just laying out some cupping bowls.
However, he is quick to add that Harmony cups its coffee on a weekly basis. Part of that involves resting the coffee for a week or two or three before brewing.
“If I’m unhappy with a roast, I will pull it from production and just drink it at home,” Ben says. “As the production capacity is small, this means that coffee will not go to waste, at least.”
Harmony has built an effective foundation for quality control from its inception. Therefore, it has the right systems in place to continue to grow and scale operations successfully.
While Ben helps to reduce Harmony Coffee’s organic waste by drinking unviable coffee at home, there are many creative ways for roasters to do this. For example, Hard Lines Coffee offers its ‘test roasts’ to customers at a significantly discounted price, which tend to sell out incredibly quickly.
Roasters who choose to do this can customise the coffee bags for their “test roasts” to convey the reasons behind their unique flavours and discounted prices.
Custom-printed coffee packaging can go a long way in helping a product stand out to customers.
Research carried out by FedEx found 90% of consumers agreed “the quality of printed materials is an indication of the quality of service the business provides”.
At MTPak Coffee, we offer roasters and coffee shops a range of 100% recyclable coffee packaging options that can be custom-printed to your business specifications.