How to find the perfect wholesale coffee roaster (according to London’s best coffee shops)
Chris Sheppard of Rosslyn Coffee and Will Mills of Common in London reveal how finding the perfect wholesale coffee partner can unlock your coffee shop’s full potential.
Modern coffee shops – especially those in the specialty coffee sector – are pretty sophisticated. Most feature a range of high-end grinders and brewing equipment, while some include innovative telemetry systems that can help guide the decisions of baristas.
Nevertheless, relatively few have the space, resources, or specialist expertise to operate a roastery of their own.
Sometimes, roasters operate their own coffee shops – but when it’s the other way around, coffee shops need to establish long-term relationships with wholesale coffee roasting partners.
It can be tempting to source cheaper coffee that ensures a higher profit margin. However, considering that Gen Zs are more inclined to pay a bit more for “gourmet” coffee, it’s unlikely to serve a business well in the long run.
There are many benefits to outsourcing roasting, but first and foremost, as a coffee shop, sourcing and selling the right coffee to your customers should be of the utmost importance – not an afterthought.
For specialty coffee shops in particular, the aim is to create a reputation for high-quality, responsibly-sourced, and consistent coffee.
Crucially, however, when a coffee shop finally settles on a wholesale partner, it’s entrusting the quality of its offerings to another company. This may be daunting for young businesses, but when done with sufficient research and care, a good partnership can reap incredible rewards.
Alternatively, coffee shops can diversify their offerings by identifying several roasting partners.
Chris Sheppard, Head of Coffee at Rosslyn Coffee in London, England, explains that collaborating with different roasters enables businesses to share different coffees and roasting styles with their guests.
He explains that Rosslyn Coffee sources its roasted beans from Origin Coffee, enabling the coffee shop to boast “full traceability in every cup”. However, that doesn’t stop Rosslyn from diversifying.
“Around 98% of the coffee that we sell at Rosslyn is roasted in the UK,” Chris says. “We are equally proud to showcase roasters from the UK and overseas.”
Spotting the signs of a good roasting partner
When beginning the search for a wholesale roasting partner, business owners often focus on taste first. Conversations focus on tasting notes and flavour profiles, as well as mouthfeel, acidity, and all the other sensory attributes of coffee.
Of equal importance, however, is a clear alignment between the coffee shop’s brand and that of the roaster.
Will Mills is the co-founder of Common, a coffee shop and retail space in Clapham, England. Common collaborates with local roasters Assembly, located in nearby Brixton. For Will, there are several fundamental aspects that must be present in a long-term coffee-sourcing relationship.
And, while specialty coffee is driving local coffee sourcing, Will believes that the pressure to work with local businesses isn’t always helpful.
If a local roaster is too small, for example, it may not sell wholesale at all, leaving coffee shops with an inconsistent supply. An unreliable relationship with the roaster will inevitably create many problems down the line.
Luckily for Will and Common, that’s not the case with Assembly.
“Assembly produces a product that is consistent and provides us with the knowledge and training so we can put their product out there with confidence in what they have produced,” he explains.
“Ultimately, they do all the hard work behind the scenes, and all we have to do is sell the lattes and cappuccinos and say how amazing they are – which is easy.”
This sense of ease is crucial to any successful partnership, especially as modern coffee consumers are more informed than ever. As such, they have certain expectations of coffee shops, who in turn depend on roasters for insight.
“Customers are selective about where coffee comes from,” Will notes. “Most commonly, a lot of people are used to drinking coffee from Brazil, and it’s a familiar taste. Coffee comes from around the world and I think that is what excites people.”
As mentioned, the right roasting partner offers more than just good coffee. In many cases, roasters can also provide consulting services covering coffee shop layout, which equipment to use, and bean storage, among other things. Most importantly, some even offer training for your baristas.
“I think what I love most about Assembly is their dedication to the customer,” Will adds. “The team always strives to make us happy, inviting us down for catch-ups, cupping sessions, or showing us new products which they are looking at selling, and getting our view and opinions.
“After all, we are the ones buying their products.”
How to find the right match
Right from the start of a coffee shop’s journey, networking plays an undeniably important role in finding the right coffee wholesale partner. For example, trade shows and local festivals are good places to meet potential roasting partners.
In the UK alone, there are around ten trade shows a year, where roasters, equipment companies, and other members of the specialty coffee community come to share their products, services, and insights.
These events are a great opportunity to compare the various roaster offerings on the wholesale market. Furthermore, it gives business owners and baristas the chance to sample various single-origin roasts and blends from around the country.
In this way, coffee shops can save vital time and money by listening to several pitches in just one or two days – all in one place. In this sort of environment, it’s also easier to identify potential partners with “green flags”, like a commitment to sustainability, transparency, and quality.
“It’s all about bringing together who we believe to be the leaders across various fields and representing their work collectively under one roof,” Chris agrees.
Ultimately, if a coffee shop and wholesale roaster partnership is a success, the business stands a much better chance of becoming profitable.
Ultimately, in developing any coffee shop business, the owner is looking for their unique selling point. Having strong partnerships with local, ethical roasters with values that align with their own creates huge appeal among consumers.