I was at the supermarket the other day and I just happen to be going down the coffee isle and I saw shelves full of all kinds of coffee from Starbucks to Dunkin Donuts to even the supermarkets own brand. There were plenty of options as well from Light Roast to Dark Roast and blends with some very interesting names. And to add to all this they were selling some of this coffee at some very attractive prices so the question occurred to me, if I have all these coffee options at a supermarket why then should I buy coffee from my local coffee roaster?
What exactly is a Coffee Roaster?
I think its best to start off with the question before getting to my list of reasons in order to clarify exactly what a coffee Roaster for those that may be unsure. My own short and very brief definition of a coffee roaster is someone who takes raw coffee which comes in varying degree of green and “cooks” the coffee in a specially designed and built coffee roasting machine, (in my case it was a Diedrich IR5). He manipulates the air, gas and time in order to bring out the full flavor of the coffee.
What are the benefits of buying locally roasted coffee?
While its not an absolute and what many many do no realize is that Coffee is at its peak flavor, for the most part , anywhere between 3 days to 2 weeks after its roasted. This means that by buying coffee from your local roaster you are almost guaranteed to find coffee that has been roast within this time frame. All local roasters will have stamp or sticker on their coffee bags letting you on what date your coffee what roasted.
This is very different then when you are buying from a supermarket where what they usually put on bag is a BEST BY date which they normally about 6 months or a year after they package the coffee.
If you think about it anybody that is going to take the time and expense to open up a business fully dedicated to roasting coffee is going to by the best coffee that they can afford to by and use his knowledge of that coffee such as country of origin ,altitude, coffee tree type etc to carefully roast that coffee in order to bring out the best qualities in that coffee. Your local roaster is going to be carefully watching over the “cooking” process at every stage to assure the coffee is properly done.
By visiting a local roasting company you can get many of your coffee questions answered such as brewing techniques or brew methods such as Chemex vs V60. Many of my customers would come in and ask me questions about flavor profiles on coffee that I had roasted.
For example Brazil coffee generally has a chocolate notes where Kenya has more floral notes and what was the preferred method of brewing these types of coffees. They would also come in and ask about grind size for a particular brewing method or about coffee to water ratio etc.
Now this may at first, seem like way too much information but trust me, once you experience how good coffee can taste if done properly, you will be visiting your local roaster with all your questions in hand.. Why do I know this? Because it has happened to me on more then 1 occasion.
When you visit your local roaster you will be able to experience different types or flavors of coffee that you might not otherwise be exposed to at a supermarket. Usually the roaster will have some traditional offerings such as Brazil and/or Colombia but then also have other options that you may want to try for example, Ethiopia or Kenya.
These coffees and others as well have there own distinct flavors and if roasted properly will give you a greater appreciation for what is out there and which you may not have had the chance to try.
Helps the Environment
In order to better understand this point let me go through a couple of terms that used in the coffee industry when buying green coffee:
- Organic – This means that the coffee with designation abides by standards of the USDA of not using prohibited substances on their land
- Rain Forest Alliance – Promotes sustainable practices in the environment as well as the treatment of the workers.
- Bird Friendly/Shade Grown – Promotes multiple layers of vegetation and various species, keeping the environment diverse and healthy.
Many roasters will carry coffees with at least one if not all of these coffee designations even though roasters usually will have to pay more them. However, they willingly do so in order to have a sustainable product and to do their small part in helping the environment. By a customer buying roasted coffee with these designations they are not only supporting this they are also doing there small part in helping the environment as well.
Helps the local farmers
There are also a couple of certifications in the coffee world that also help the farmer who, in the end is paid very little for his time and efforts in growing coffee and is at the whim of nature to decide what is coffee is worth at the end of the season and if he has made a profit. Another words the coffee farmer is taking all the risk to bring coffee to the market but gets the least financial reward.
It is for this reason that there are a couple of designations that many coffee roasters look out for or ask about when they are buying there coffee and those designations are:
- Fair Trade – Fair Trade links coffee farms with importers and guarantees a minimum price for their coffee, reducing exploitation in remote areas.
- Direct Trade – Though not technically a certification, many specialty roasters are bypassing traditional certifications and purchasing coffee from farmers directly .As a result of cutting out the middleman (exporting/importing companies, etc), roasters are able to pay farmers a higher price for their coffee (higher than fair trade requires) and thus helping the farmer earn more for their efforts.
In my opinion, its always great to support local whenever possible, regardless of the product and so when you purchase your coffee from a local roaster you are not only supporting the roaster you are also supporting your community.
Did you know that the US Department of labor says that Independent retailers return more than three times as much money per dollar of sales to the community in which they operate than chain competitors? One of the sayings that I had at my coffee business was: Buy Local! Buy Fresh! If you do that your not only helping yourself your helping you neighbor!
Ok, this one may sound a little odd because you may be thinking is it really more convenient that buying coffee at my local supermarket at the same time I am buying other items? So let me clarify.
If you live in a town that does not have local coffee roaster and maybe at this you have decided to try out specialty coffee then I would suggest that you look online as there are companies out there that will send you coffee from different local roasters from around the US on a monthly or bi weekly time frame.
One of the more notable of these is Bean Box but there are many others as well. The reason I mention these two is because they will send a variety from different roasters so you can see which ones you like the best. Afterwards you could contact the roaster directly for them to send you coffee or you can stay with these two companies. In either case can it really get any more convenient that now?
What Other Questions Do You Have?
What other questions can you think of about getting coffee from a local coffee roaster? My hope is that this will be a somewhat complete guide to why you should at least think about buying coffee from your local roaster. Please comment with your questions as well as your answers to any questions in the comments below.