Cooperative Coffee Roasting – A New Model in the Coffee Industry

If you’re a coffee shop owner you might have considered roasting your own beans at some point. But the cost can be prohibitive for some — when you consider equipment, leasing space, building out that space, getting the right permits, and so on, the costs soon mount up.

Now that’s all starting to change with a new model: cooperative coffee roasting.

What is a Cooperative Coffee Roasting?

At its simplest, a cooperative is an organization run by its members, for the benefit of its members. It has historically been a popular business model for banks, insurance companies, sports teams and farming companies, industries in which being run by and for customers or fans can be a true asset. An insurance company that is owned by its customers will charge lower prices and pay more claims, for example, because they aren’t driven by the need to make a profit — they merely need to break even. A sports team run by its fans will always place fans’ interests ahead of commercial interests.

Now the model is spreading to coffee roasting. Cooperatives like Buckman Coffee Factory and Pulley Collective in New York, are beginning to make coffee roasting more accessible to everyone including small locally owned coffee shops. .

Cost Benefits of a Cooperative Model

Cooperative-Coffee-Roasting-Achilles-Coffee-Roasters-San-Diego-Our-CoffeeAt its simplest, a cooperative allows people to share the startup costs of roasting. Pulley Collective, for example, estimates that the costs of opening a new coffee roasting operation would be between $300k – $1m in New York. Pulley Collective, in comparison, charges its members $850 per week for membership, with different packages available depending on whether you want to rent the space by the day or by the hour. Buckman Coffee Factory offers hourly and monthly leasing options as well as green coffee storage.

This means that roasting is accessible to everyone, no matter the budget.

Better Coffee, Too

Simple economics would suggest that when the cost of entry into a market falls, more people will enter that market. That’s exactly what’s happening with cooperative coffee roasters: more and more small, niche roasters are getting involved, spurred on by the lower start up costs and a chance to do something they love.

With lower costs, roasters now have the freedom to experiment and try new ideas, too. By allowing room for this variety and innovation, cooperative roasters lead to better quality coffee.

There’s one final benefit: ready access to a community of like-minded people. Roasters can surround themselves with others who are striving to create great coffee, sharing advice and stories, and bonding over their shared passion.

With so many benefits to coffee roasters and drinkers alike, there’s no doubt about it. Cooperative coffee roasting is here to stay.

Fair and Direct Trade Coffee – Cooperative Coffees

Coop Coffees is an interesting player in the 3rd wave coffee movement. What they do is simple: they import green coffee from smaller-scale farmers and their exporting cooperatives all around the world. That’s not so unique, is it? After all, the fair trade coffee movement has been around for quite some time. What makes Cooperative Coffees different?Buy-Green-Coffee-Beans-Online-Achilles-Coffee-Roasters-San-Diego-California

 

What Cooperative Coffees is doing differently is evolving the definition of “fair trade.” They already adhere to the “Nine Basic Principles” of fair trade:

 

  1. Create Opportunities for Economically and Socially Marginalized Producers
  2. Develop Transparent and Accountable Relationships
  3. Build Capacity
  4. Promote Fair Trade
  5. Pay Promptly and Fairly
  6. Support Safe and Empowering Working Conditions
  7. Ensure the Rights of Children
  8. Cultivate Environmental Stewardship
  9. Respect Cultural Identity

 

What they’ve done is take these nine principles and update them to the present day.

 

When the fair trade movement first started, the goal was to build a unified and transparent network between coffee growers, purchasers, and roasters. However, it has instead created a tangled web of different purchasing networks and companies. All of these players are operating by different sets of rules. This means that the definition of “fair trade” is much murkier than it once was.

 

In fact, this murkiness is part of the reason we’ve seen a push towards direct trade coffee, where roasters deal directly with a particular farm, often making site visits and building a person-to-person relationship with the farmer. Direct trade is often hailed as the gold standard of trade practices, but it’s a one-to-one relationship. What about smaller roasters that don’t have the capacity to directly visit farmers?

 

By updating the Nine Basic Principles and adding the cooperative aspect to their business, Coop Coffees is creating a more transparent and fair market between small-scale coffee growers and small-scale coffee roasters. By creating a collective of roasters that all commit to purchasing under these fair and direct trade coffee principles, they are giving farmers and their communities much more than just income. They’re giving them stability.

 

As if this wasn’t already enough, Coop Coffees is expanding all across the United States and Canada, with a new location coming to Los Angeles soon. They have dozens of exporting relationships with cooperatives in Latin America, Southeast Asia, and Africa. On the demand side, they have over 20 member roasters in the cooperative.

 

Will we see a Coop Coffees member roaster make an entrance in San Diego? Or perhaps another cooperative will dip its toes in the water down here. Either way, this evolution of the fair trade movement is a good sign for artisanal roasters around the country.