By Sherri Johns
Green Coffee prices are at a 30-year high. Roasters, retailers and cafes are cautiously watching their bottom lines as their costs of goods skyrocket. Green bean buyers are challenged at finding the quality they seek at a price that is sustainable for their businesses. Margins are shrinking at a time when the cost of goods is increasing. Global production has fallen.
Some blame El Nino and global warming while others simply state coffee is at a cyclic phase where customer demand is up. There will be fallout. All this gloom and doom has coffee roasters reconsidering their costs and purchases as retailers cut back on expenses.
It is good news customer demand is up. There are cafes in little corners of the world where previously none existed. Korea is in a coffee bean boom, following Japan, where on any given corner, you are sure to find a café marketing “COFFEE fresh roasted here”. Starbucks has more customers today than some small nation’s populations with no end in site. So how can the medium- to small-size roaster and café stay in the fight? Major retailers have raised their prices and passed on some of the cost to customers.
What is a retail café to do? Customers are a loyal bunch. If your barista smiles and prepares a delicious drink daily you may continue to see your daily customer count increase. With so much press surrounding coffee prices, and the big box brands have almost all raised their prices, so raising prices to keep up with the market is acceptable Let’s be realistic, you need to be just as sustainable as the farms. Without a multitude of cafés to brew and sell coffee the coffee producers would not see their livelihoods sustained. Just stay focused and do what you do well. Do not be afraid to raise your prices.
Roasters, what to do? Do not, repeat, do not, cheapen your quality. If you have built a reputation on quality, not simply being the cheapest guy in town, do not back down and begin to buy the cheap stuff to maintain margins. You will regret it in the long run. Customers who just buy based on price are not loyal. Sooner or later a roaster wholesaler will come along and be cheaper than you. The customer who simply buys on price will drop you and go to the cheaper guy. If you raise your wholesale prices slightly you may see a dip in customers who simply were not your customers for the long term. But if you maintain your quality you will see customers who are loyal support you. Wholesale roasters must be resourceful and supportive to their retail clients to help them maintain profitability. Some coffee blends can have varying taste profiles to achieve a sum greater than its parts. But for the most part, the moral of the story is: do not cheapen out - just do your jobs better.
How do you do that? By looking at everything in the café and where savings can be realized. Of course, coffee. High quality is expensive, as it should be. The quality of your drinks will never surpass the quality of your espresso. The quality of the espresso will never surpass the quality of the roasted beans. The quality of the roasted beans will never surpass the quality of the green beans. You get the idea.
Maintaining and even improving quality is possible while reducing costs. As a former employee of a very large coffee company, a coffee and barista trainer and operations specialist throughout the globe I review quality and cost everywhere I go. There are many details in running a profitable café. When I see a barista being wasteful I think about the owner and how long they will be in business if the staff is not concerned.
How many times have you been in a café and heard these sounds? Click, grrrrrrrrr, scrap, scrap, scrap – pause - scrap, scrap, scrap, then bang, bang, bang, SNAP. Coffee grounds fly as the dosing mechanism of the grinder, catapults coffee into the portafilter, and the entire surrounding area forming a small pyramid of grounds on the counter. We’ve all seen it, heard it and if we are baristi done it. Press the rocker switch or powered up the grinder, let the grounds fly and simultaneously pulled the lever, a multitude of times. Not only is this messy, it is truly wasteful of coffee. Of course, you must have ample ground coffee in the portafilter, leveled and pressed with a firm tamp so the extraction time is correct. And certainly the grind must be correct for the extraction time and taste desired. Is all this extra coffee never to be brewed wasteful? Or, more troublesome, is no grinding noises at all when an espresso is ordered indicating the ground coffee is stale and the espresso is sure to be poor quality. Coffee gets stale when exposed to air. Even coffee that sits for only one hour is stale and has oxidized once ground, if not brewed within 15 minutes. Overnight? Forget about it!!
Enter the grind-on-demand grinders which are perfectly suited for cost-conscious roasters and retailers. Following is a brief summary of the features of two major brands.
Firstly, Mahlkoenig: producing an on-demand freshly ground portion and grinding directly into the portafilter with an electronically controlled timer and variable programming, according to Mahlkoenig grinding time is less than two seconds for a single espresso of seven grams. The grinder starts automatically when inserting the portafilter which means this is a hands-free operation. Can’t go wrong with that.
The Mazzer Robur Electronic on-demand grinder boasts conical grinding blades and slow speed rotation with stepless micrometrical grinding adjustment and electronic dose adjustment for starters. There may be other brands available that can perform to these specifications: check with your local machine suppliers.
Three reasons why this style of grinder is fantastic: firstly, in my experience, they reduce waste which reduces cost by 5% to 35% at busy cafes since it doses directly into the portafilters. Secondly, they are better for barista use, requiring no extra movements with hands and less wear and tear on barista wrists. As an employer and trainer it is important for me to ensure my staff have a safe working environment and safe work practices for brewing coffee. An automatic dosing grinder allows for that. The coffee is perfectly ground and dosed in a perfect pyramid so the barista can apply the hand tamper with a perfectly straight downward motion without even leveling. Thirdly, this saves time too. Since the barista does not need to manually dose, taking extra seconds to settle the grounds, she can tamp right away and brew immediately, which by the way, gets the coffee to the customer faster. And did I mention that since the ground coffee does not rest for long periods in a heated portafilter without being brewed, it is a better quality? All around a fantastic option.
Do not let the bean counters become the bean buyers. Maintain margins without sacrificing quality. Remember, no bean gets left behind IS better for the bottom line.