By Sherri Johns
Trends, fads or passing fancies, shop roasters are here to stay. All the world loves a delicious cuppa. From neighborhood café or coffee shop or a large chain, either way, delicious coffee is delicious coffee. The new entrepreneurial spirit has taken hold in the coffee world by independents that go one step further than simply brewing their best.
They roast it too! In a quality market that can feel saturated, it is all about differentiating your business from the others. Or is it about controlling the process from start to finish? Or offering a variety of farm identified coffees with the chain of custody clearly visible? Sometimes, it is about vertical integration and costs.
According to a report of coffee consuming nations, Japan leads the way in Asia with consumption at 3.3kg per person. South Korea comes in second at 1.8kg, Laos 1.4kg, Hong Kong 1.1kg., Vietnam and Philippines both at 0.7kg, Thailand 0.5kg. China has yet to tip the scales but all eyes are upon her. For reference, the US comes in strong at 4.2kg but still a far reach from highest coffee consumers of Finland at 12 kg per capita.
China’s developing tastes
China’s coffee sales grew by 90% from 1998 to 2003 to 6,504.5 tons and continued to grow at an exponential rate reaching approximately 11,000 tons in 2008. Companies are seeing their local sales increase between 50% to 100% annually as affluent Chinese consumers develop a taste for coffee and its culture. Starbucks opened their first store in Beijing, China in January, 1999 and now has over 350 stores in 26 cities. China has the potential to be the world’s largest consumer. Although of a less global nature than Starbucks, but of interest nonetheless, here are some comments from Salvador’s Coffee House in Yunnan, China.
“We, at Salvador’s, have traveled extensively in Yunnan searching for the perfect bean. Two years ago, we came upon what we now consider to be one of the most interesting beans in the world,” profess the owners at Salvador’s Coffee House. “Our roasting and blending techniques provide the bean with the perfect platform to accentuate the beans’ natural quality and robustness.”
A location near Yunnan University helps build business and customer traffic, truly a crop to cup experience. There are numerous in-shop roasters building their brand and customer loyalty throughout China.
Experiential dining and drinking has taken hold of the Koreans with fervor which means customers are seeking the ‘real deal’ in quality and roasting. Here on the turf where three-level Starbucks abound, the shop roaster competes! On my last trip to Seoul to provide cupping training, I met Mr. Kim of Leina Coffee. Mr. Kim was gracious to offer his roaster for preparation of my samples. As we roasted together, we talked about the state of the market, in shop roasting and how Korea is crazy for coffee. His bright yellow roaster is firmly planted near the entrance of his café. Customers, after climbing a steep flight of stairs are greeted by an ample variety of barrels, bins and bags of green coffee from throughout the globe.
“One advantage of shop roasting is to build your own brand,” stated Kim. “Customers come in and see a coffee roaster as a center piece: it draws attention. When in use, customers watch and are excited to taste results. They return and bring in their friends sharing the excitement.” The down side can be customers distracting you and wanting to visit at a critical moment in roasting. Storage and floor space can be challenging. Most shop roasters keep an off-site storage facility. At Leina Coffee, beans are packaged precisely after roasting and identified by country, region, farm and certifications if any. Kim of Leina Coffee knows the power of fresh roasted high quality coffee as he sources coffees from around the world for his customers. He is one of many in Korea.
Meanwhile in Japan, shop roasters lead the way with specialty green bean purchases. Cup of Excellence (CoE), a non profit cupping competition program where a coffee is identified only by code during evaluation, then awarded based upon the jury scoring, operates in nine countries and sells worldwide through an internet auction platform. The CoE auction follows an intense in-country cupping competition made up of international ‘cuppers’ from around the world, who taste and evaluate coffees. Once awarded, the coffees and farmers are identified at an award ceremony. Shortly thereafter, the auction follows. Cup of Excellence has seen a rise in Asia participation on juries and as buyers. Japan leads the way, Korea comes close second with Taiwan right behind. The Japanese palate is discerning, dedicated to quality and will pay for quality.
Not all Asia countries seek Certifications as a rule. Graffeo Coffee Roaster Asia Pacific was the first roaster to introduce Rain Forest Alliance coffees in Mix Cafes in Singapore. Last year a Cup of Excellence coffee was launched. “Consumer demand is bringing the market to a new level,” according to Brian Tom, President and Co-Founder of Graffeo who opened the company’s first roastery in Singapore 2002 with newer locations in Hong Kong. Yunson Lee, of Terarosa in Korea notes that “individual customers do not request certified coffee but wholesale requests are growing and overall customers are seeking higher quality specialty coffee.”
“Previously consumers bought by brand, they thought an imported Italian blend was the best possible coffee,” According to Tom. “In Singapore demand has pushed the market upwards. Our growth has been to high end restaurants, hotels such as Mandarin, Four Seasons and offices. In Macau, specialty coffee is hot; even casinos are requesting certified coffees.”
One of the benefits of shop roasting is that owners have an opportunity to try new trends easily.
“We roast our coffee in our factory café,” Yunson Lee of Terarosa, a specialty roaster in Gang Neung City, Korea, confirmed. “As of yet, customers do not ask for single origin espresso. Usually Korea coffee shops use blends but we are beginning to use single origin.”
Terarosa is located in Gang Neung, Korea, population 150,000, by Asia standards a very small city. A small city which currently hosts almost 20 small roastery shops where it is obvious many people enjoy coffee!
“The next big thing in the Korea coffee specialty market will be the growth of in-shop coffee roasters,” Lee predicted. She feels it will be “very fast and for a long time. People want to taste new things like single origin espresso and good quality coffee.”
As shop roasters enter the market place, the number one motivation is to differentiate them in the marketplace and provide transparency. All agreed it was well worth the learning curve to get there. The sense of community is prominent in Asia: often buying groups will form to secure a particular lot of Cup of Excellence coffees or other select beans, allowing even the smallest of shop roasters access to high quality product in a very competitive market. Customers are becoming more sophisticated thus seeking better quality and more variety. Customers also are very loyal to their local shop roaster as they discover the value of hand-crafted selected fine coffees carefully batch roasted.
In summary, shop roasters or in-store roasters may or may not be the right fit for your business. Noting the quality of the roasted beans will never surpass the quality of the greens, so pursuing shop roasters on a pure cost level alone is not sustainable. True quality is. Customers seek the best and will find it.
In Tokyo, one of my favorite old style cafes, Arabica, in the Akasaka area, is close to 50 years old and roasts in an alley behind the shop. Mr. Suzuki grinds, tests the water, wets the filter and cautiously pours water from a skinny spout through freshly roasted and ground coffee. All the while, watching every detail to ensure his guests have a pleasant coffee experience. It is as if time stood still in this café, then with every sip. I am reminded of the promising future of specialty coffee. Brian Tom, Graffeo Coffee Roasting summed it up nicely saying, “Coffee is all about Heart” and to that I raise my cup to shop roasted coffee. Cheers.