What do cafés look for when selecting guest coffee roasters?

Esther Gibbs
May 29, 2023
An image of a coffee roaster near a batch of freshly roasted coffee as a guest coffee roaster in an article on what cafés look for when selecting guest coffee roasters

Many cafés often become tied into long-term or machinery-based contracts with a main coffee roaster. However, the specialty sector is seeing more cafés offering a wider range of coffee by having “guest” slots on the menu. This may include offering a guest espresso, batch brew, or filter, which changes regularly. Or, roasters could sell a variety of retail coffee bags for customers to brew at home.

A guest coffee can be a highly effective way to educate regular customers about an origin they have yet to try. Additionally, it can intrigue new customers and get them to come into the café for the first time. Rotating a guest coffee roaster is a great way to make sure customers return to try something new, as well as get new consumers through the door. 

So, how can roasters secure themselves a spot on a café shelf or in their hopper? To learn more, I spoke with Natalie Hodgkinson of Boss and Brew Academy, and Phil Blake from Blake and Brew.

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Choosing a guest coffee roaster: 7 key factors

When asked what criteria should be met when choosing a guest coffee roaster, both Natalie and Phil agreed. It came down to seven significant points:

  1. Ethos
  2. Reputation
  3. Initial Customer Service
  4. Ongoing Customer Service
  5. Flavour 
  6. Price point
  7. Packaging

Top of the list is the company ethos: it is important the roaster has a sense of responsibility, works in a traceable and transparent manner, and cares about the people in the supply chain. Café owners must be assured that whatever coffee they are selling is in line with the values of the company. 

For a social enterprise such as Boss and Brew Academy, this is crucial, as the brand wants to support businesses with social impact at their core. Boss and Brew is a community interest company that supports young entrepreneurs with barista training at the brands’ local cafe, Training Ground. The brand sources coffee from enterprises such as Redemption Roasters and Manumit Coffee. “Quality, of course, has to be there,” Natalie explains. “But, we aim to work with other roasters who have a similar ethos in order to highlight the positive things going on in coffee. When there is a good story behind the coffee that you can share with the customer, the cup just tastes better!”

Reputation is also important, as this is how the café is likely to find out about a roaster. Reputation may stem from word of mouth, social media, strong branding, or being featured at an event. Alternatively, the café owner could have tried the coffee elsewhere, or it may have been a recommendation from staff or customers. 

Another important factor to consider is initial customer service. If a roaster is impossible to contact or is delayed in sending those first samples, an order is less likely. For Phil and Blake and Brew, “customer service is what keeps it all together. Having a good wholesale and sales team sometimes really makes all the difference.” Blake and Brew are a pop-up that began during the pandemic and has since established itself as one of the strongest specialty coffee spots in Cardiff. For Phil, it is important to partner with those who are knowledgeable, keen, and excited to work with others. “If it seems like too much of a chore to send cupping samples out, then I’m probably not going to order from them,” he admits. It is important to remember ongoing customer service and relationships require care to ensure the continuation of a guest coffee spot.

An image of a coffee enthusiast brewing coffee in a chemex with various coffee beans in jars in foreground as an example of guest coffee and guest coffee roasters in coffee shops in an article on what cafés look for when selecting guest coffee roasters

Trust and consistency are essential

The conversations with Natalie and Phil highlighted how they valued the ease of ongoing orders, the standard and quality of coffee, variety, and consistency. 

“We were working with roasters for whom we had high expectations,” Natalie explains. “However, we found the coffee was almost impossible to dial in. And, once it was, it was inconsistent from one shot to the next, which resulted in so much waste.” As a result, they were removed from the guest coffee rotation. 

In contrast, Phil gave examples of roasters he has built relationships with, and those he trusts. “Some roasters I’ve used, I know 9 out of 10 times I can order any coffee from them and I’ll probably like and enjoy it. I’m happy ordering blind from these roasters, without cupping, because I trust their tasting notes and the quality of the coffee being delivered.”

Over time, café owners will learn what their customers want to buy. This directly complements having a greater understanding of what the guest roaster can deliver. A huge part of building trust is ensuring the flavour notes depicted on the coffee bag reflect what is in the final cup. Essentially, the coffees need to fall into a few categories. For instance, they will need to be easy to work with or offer consumers something unique and of high quality. 

A café owner is also looking for something they know their customers will enjoy. Therefore, the more information the roaster can provide, the easier the decision is for the buyer. This includes the variety, roast profile, the altitude at which the coffee is grown, and the processing method. For retail coffees, the flavour notes, as well as recommendations from staff, are likely to sell the product. “If people can’t imagine what the coffee will taste like, they’re unlikely to buy it,” Phil advises. 

An image of a coffee shop or cafe with consumers looking at menu as an example of guest coffee and guest coffee roaster in an article on what cafés look for when selecting guest coffee roasters

Final thoughts: Coffee price & packaging

Importantly, the coffee must be priced to ensure the café makes a profit. This must either be on the sale of brewed cups, where the value-added tax (VAT) margin must also be considered. Or, retail coffee bags must offer the café an incentive to sell more. Providing basic recipes or guidelines for each coffee can reduce waste and increase profit margins for the café. Café owners must also know how much their customers are willing to pay for coffee. This is why offering a wider range to reach different customers and listening to feedback is essential.  

While both businesses agree packaging plays a role in choosing a guest coffee roaster, they state it is the bag’s ability to keep the beans fresh that matters most. “If the coffee bag is unable to retain coffee freshness, it’s a problem,” Phil says. “There are a few roasters I avoid ordering from due to the packaging not being up to scratch.” He adds more customers are requesting environmentally friendly packaging that is either recyclable or compostable. 

MTPak Coffee can create bespoke coffee packaging that sells your story and company ethos while keeping your coffee fresh. Our range of coffee packaging is made from renewable materials. Our coffee boxes are made from recycled cardboard, while our coffee bags are made using kraft paper, rice paper, or multilayer LDPE packaging with an environmentally friendly PLA lining.

Our packaging options can be fully customised using techniques such as spot UV with a glossy, satin, or matte finish, embossing and debossing, as well as hot foil stamping in a variety of colours. We also offer our clients a quick turnaround time of 40 hours and 24-hour shipping time in addition to low minimum order quantities (MOQs) for those looking to remain agile while showcasing a commitment to the environment.

For more information on sustainable coffee packaging materials, contact our team.

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