How to Choose a Coffee Supplier

I don’t know why this question bugged me so much at first (other than the fact that I freak out about everything I don’t know). “How are we going to decide on a supplier? Where are we going to get our coffee? ” And Ernest would give me calm down look that’s almost second nature now thanks to this business process. But there were so many unknowns… how do you make such an important decision? Your coffee shop depends on amazing coffee!

So if you’re already freaking out like I was, here are some tips on choosing a coffee supplier, based on coffee shop owners and roasters I’ve talked to, books and research, and how we came to the decision ourselves.

How to Choose A Coffee Supplier

How to choose a coffee supplier

Learn coffee.
How you like it, how to make it, and the coffee industry. Don’t focus on who you’ll choose and how and what and why just yet. Check out different local roasters and try their coffees. Go to as many coffee shops as you can and learn what you like, what you don’t like, what stands out to you, and what your impressions are. It doesn’t matter how amazing your roaster is, if you don’t enjoy their coffee, why would you sell it?

Be Prepared. 
Although your conversations will most likely be informal and relational, be able to sell yourself as a worthy partner to work with. You’ll be wondering if you want to work with them, but they may be wondering if they want to work with you. Be prepared to offer details about your vision, target market, brand, design and what will set you apart. Know what you’re looking for, so they can help decide if they’re the best fit for you too.

Make inquiries.
Introduce yourself, have that initial conversation. See how it goes, how you click, and if you feel good about it, follow up and pop back in again. Get some coffee, try it out, ask about their values and vision, and start thinking about how a long-term relationship will look like. Really, just get to know them. Or you can hash out business in that first conversation– whatever the timeline looks like, you’ll feel it out.

Develop criteria. 
What is important to you? Start to think of what you need in your supplier relationship and what factors are more meaningful than others. Think through these points and ask questions that will reveal what you need to know about them:

  • Coffee stats- taste, quality, espresso blend, decaf options, popular roasts, storage, packaging, when they roast, cold brew options, etc.
  • Delivery frequency- for freshness and supply
  • Reliability- dependability, reputability
  • Flexibility- response to coffee emergencies and problems
  • Brand image- among customers and in the industry
  • Company stats- history, values, get a sense of who they are
  • Competitive advantage- what sets them apart from other roasters
  • Farmer/trade relations
  • Benefits/offerings- provided training & expertise, access to other suppliers, menu advice/recipes, equipment, etc.
  • Availability/communication- ease of getting through to them via email, phone etc.
  • Friendliness/helpfulness- willingness to help and support you by answering questions, giving advice, caring, being personally interested, someone you could work with longterm
  • Price/volume discounts- depending on the roaster, and if this is priority to you. I’d avoid focusing too heavily on price because there are more important factors, but get a range as you’ll need to plan for costs.

Compare & Contrast. 
Whether formally or informally. Think it through who will deliver on what is most important to you. See who stands out and who you click with. They’ll pretty much be business partners, so it’s important to make sure they’re willing to work with you and set you up for success. If you are successful, so will they be, so find someone who will support you, get to know the needs of your customers and help you to meet them. You also want every business decision you make to support your goals and brand. For instance- know your market, will they love the coffee you pick?

When you know, you’ll know. 
At least that’s how it worked for us. At first it was hard, because we have so many great roasters in Denver with amazing teams that are hospitable, informed and straight up talented at what they do. As time went on we tasted coffees, and had get-to-know-you conversations. For us, we wanted someone who had quality coffee, were willing to work with us as first time coffee shop owners, and someone who matched our brand image. We wanted someone to understand our vision, our future goals as a business, and someone with greater goals in the industry to learn from. And at the end of the day, we wanted to be inspired by their vision and heart for coffee and the community, and connect with them as people.

So as the conversations piled on, and we clicked more and more, it became apparent to us that this could work, we could see it, and would really enjoy working with them in the long-run. Choose a roaster based on relationships, you’re going to working with them and your successes are mutual. Make sure it’s a good fit in the long-run. And make sure that you yourself L-O-V-E their coffee.

And so, we’re thrilled to say we’ll be serving Corvus Coffee Roasters, from here in Denver. And hopefully quite soon!

Coffee Roaster

At Corvus Coffee Roasters, Denver on a Thursday–roasting day.


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