You’re Killin’ Me Smalls: Small, Micro, Nano Batching

The third wave of coffee created coffee roasting and sourcing rock stars. Roasters and coffee shops alike were dissatisfied with coffee middlemen holding a monopoly on coffee sourcing information, so they started going directly to the source. The price reduction and opportunity for fairer trading practices were also a draw. When the coffee buyers and roasters, the coffee lovers let’s say, became more directly involved in the sourcing process, they discovered that our love for coffee could be grown even more. The third wave rolled in, bringing gallons of new information about coffee at its source, and the benefits of difference sources.

Whoever bought the green raw coffee and roasted it was now responsible for preserving this new influx of information and elevating it (not ruining it or burning it away to negligibility) with their roasting and blending process.

Following this trend, coffee shops began sourcing their roasted coffee from more than one coffee roaster, something that had rarely-if-ever been done before. Small coffee shops couldn’t necessarily buy their green coffee from wherever, in whatever configuration, if they weren’t roasting it themselves; but, they could track the trendiest roasters with the best quality sourcing and roasting to bring variety and sourcing magnificence to their shop. In third wave (possibly moving toward the fourth wave) coffee, the consumer and the producers want to know as much information as possible. They are constantly striving to achieve the perfect, rarest cup. That isn’t going to happen if you’re getting the same beans from the same farm-roasted by the same roaster every week.

These changes in sourcing have opened up the field for an avalanche of small, independent shops who don’t have to invest their first year’s profit to get well sourced, high-quality coffee. The problem with this is, these shops are often small, especially when they’re starting out. If they purchase the typical amount of coffee, they’ll run into the problem of either having to waste the excess or offer their customers stale coffee.

That’s where small and nano-batch coffee emerged. Small batch roasting is a response to these burgeoning coffee shops, the tiny ones in New York’s East Village or Brooklyn, for example. Additionally, the trend of roasting at home has been emerging in the last couple years, especially in hipstervilles like gentrified Brooklyn. Green coffee suppliers are repackaging and marketing minimized batches of their beans to cater to these tiny niches.

Micro-roasters, as defined by Roast Magazine, cannot roast more than 100,000 pounds of coffee beans each year.

Compare that to the coffee roasters who are just coffee shops roasting for their own purposes; they often only roast up to 200 pounds per week, which is roughly 10,000 per year. That’s what the term nano-roaster applies to. These are shops that have created a need for a roasting machine that can roast a mere half pound of coffee at a time.

Benefits of roasting in smaller batches include the opportunity to experiment without creating an excess of waste. This is especially appealing when one is working with rare and special coffee beans whose waste would make some in the coffee community weep. This allows for an array of offerings, such as haute couture roasting—roasting made-to-order. Additionally, the smaller the roasting machine, the less pollution, and environmental impact. That’s good enough in itself, but if you’re roasting in a machine smaller than 12 kilograms, you probably won’t have to pay for machine attachments that are legally required to prevent air pollution.

The size of your roasting operation is ultimately dependent on your economic and business ambitions. If you’re roasting for just your hole-in-the-wall, you don’t need much. If you’re distributing or collaborating with other shops, you may have to amp up the volume. One thing to keep in mind is that roasting in smaller amounts really serves best producing small amounts. If , as a nano-roaster, you’re trying to match the output of a micro-roaster, you’re going to likely end up paying more for labor. Logically, it takes more time to roast more coffee if the machine is smaller. This means your roaster or roasters will work more hours, and possibly work harder, which both require more payment.

Roasting such small batches also means that consistency could pose as an issue. Getting the same roast and flavor profile is difficult from batch to batch. You’ll want seasoned and attentive roasters on your team to ensure that consistency and uniformity are being accomplished during each roasting cycle. Unless your brand is a unique product each time, typically having a product they can rely on is what consumers look for; that’s what they offer their loyalty to.

But, small/micro/nano roasting all offer the opportunity for more control over the roasting process and the final flavor and quality outcome. In the big, automated machines, the final product is wholly dependent on pre-set, uniform math and science. Technology is granting the opportunity for specified roasting with a bigger, automated/digital machine, but there is always going to be something beneficial about having the human touch involved. For now, robotics and automation don’t come with human intuition.

If your volume output matches your volume demand, again, you’re minimizing waste and optimizing the quality of your product. The fewer bags of roasted coffee that sit on the shelf well or are sold well past their best by date, the better the situation for everybody. Micro roasters and nano-roasters really offer the opportunity for prime quality by being able to roast what is needed and preserve the freshness all around.

No matter what type of roaster you are, remember that packaging is key. PBFY has packaging that is tailored to coffee storage and they offer customizable printing and labeling, utilizing the latest trends and technologies. One trend in nano-batch roasting is packaging for single-serving brewing. PBFY offers packages as small as 1 oz. Or, if you’re marketing to a shop that’s not quite Starbucks but needs more than an ounce of coffee at a time, their packages go up to five and ten pounds, all perfectly suited for preserving the freshness and quality of your coffee and selling your brand wherever it goes.

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11 Comments

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  1. That was definitely an interesting read! Great post! I agree that smaller batches will give roasters the ability to try and test various flavors without creating excess waste. However, I can also see where consistency would be a potential issue if the roasters were inexperienced as individual taste can differ batch to batch. Overall, this was a well thought out post with a lot of valuable insight.

  2. Amazing article! I can’t agree more that coffee lovers should become more involved in the sourcing process. Our love of coffee has reached the point where we want to know everything about it. Packaging is a very important key because that’s the first thing our eyes see.

  3. For those who are starting their coffee business, roasting in smaller batches offers the opportunity to experiment first. Make sure to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of every action that you do in your business. It is better to be sure than sorry. In terms of packaging, I agree with this article about PBFY packaging. In my opinion, PBFY offers a unique and creative packaging that those in the coffee business would certainly love to have, a great way to preserve or to sell their products.

  4. I think this is some great information. Yes, nano-roasting is a good thing and I agree with the point that producing the amount of coffee that sits on the shelf comfortably and sells before its expiry date is good for both producers and customers. Moreover, I would never revisit a coffee shop which I know serves stale coffee.

  5. Im glad that there is someone like PBFY who helps the small coffee shops get smaller quantities instead of wasting a ton of money for big bags of coffee, and still having to serve “leftovers”. It makes us, the customers, get the best quality coffee, and it also helps small businesses grow.
    Keep up the good work 🙂

  6. I suppose this is really a great way to get started in the coffee business without spending too much in capital. It’s for those who would like to test the waters and see if there is even a demand for their coffee in the area. Thank you for such an informative article. It would definitely help out those who are planning to enter the coffee scene.

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