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When is a micro roaster no longer a micro roaster?

November 06, 2011

When is a micro roaster no longer a micro roaster?  I have  a friend who used to work for a micro roaster/ coffee shop.  They trained their baristas extensively and taught them a lot about coffee.  One of the things they claimed was that you could not produce coffee on a large scale.  The problems were multiple.  First of all, they pointed out that coffee beans are a commodity and getting the very best beans by definition means that you are only getting so many of them.  It is not like buying gravel where there may be a big enough supply of good enough gravel to make everyone happy (or is there?  I don’t know much about gravel).  


Second, there is quality control – you cannot keep good q c over a huge operation.  Then there is freshness, coffee must be consumed fresh and so it is hard to distribute it while keeping it fresh.


Then the next solution is lots of roasters all over the world, but again there are q c issues if you do not have a central roaster, etc.


Surprisingly the micro roaster she worked for went against their beliefs and grew quite large (you have heard of them and will probably guess who they are even if you live half way across the world).  


So when is this line crossed?  Obviously if you are the most recognized name in coffee in the world you cannot be a micro roaster.  On the other hand if you only roast 8 ounces a month I suppose you are (which makes me a micro roaster?).  Where does the line blur between the two and what is the optimal size?  I think companies from Klatch to Velton’s to Counter Culture to Paradise – all very different size roasters as far as I can tell without knowing the inside details of any of the companies – are doing a great job staying on the right side of things.  How do they thrive and build without losing their way the way my friend’s “micro roaster” did?  When do they or any other roaster risk getting too big?  


(In case it is not clear these are questions to which I do not know the answer).




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