Most shops I know offer coffee from a single roaster, no matter how many origins or blends they feature at a time.  But the coffee shop I'm sitting in right now has a retail shelf with beans from three different roasters, a couple of different blends or origins from each.  Behind the bar they're doing espresso from one roaster while drip brewing a single origin from another.  

Does anyone else do this?  What would be the advantages or disadvantages of featuring coffee from different roasting companies?  Advantages/disadvantages of choosing to affiliate with a single roaster?  

I realize that training and support would be an issue.  That aside, it seems like this particular shop is maybe trying to cater to a perceived preference of customers when it comes to bean offerings.  How much does this decision affect a shop's identity or image?

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Curios to know which shop that is Jonathan. At Buzz: Killer Espresso in Chicago we have a house roast (Madcap from Grand Rapids MI) but continually feature multiple options from numerous other worthy micro roasters both local and from all over the country. Our idea is to create an identity for our shop around quality, choice, and educational possibility rather than around one individual roasters. Today, in addition to Madcap we are serving an Ethiopia and an El Salvador from PT's in Topeka Kansas and a Monsoon Malabar from local roaster Star Lounge. Cafe Grumpy in NYC does something similar but I don't know of others that do so. It is, in many ways, an impractical way to handle things but it sure is fun to get to know so many different coffees and to have to learn how to present each in their best light. Our shop is new and the jury is still out on how this will be received by the public, although the industry insiders who come through certainly are enthusiastic about our approach.
I really think this is the way to go. I know as a roaster how much I'd like to have all of a cafe's business. But I think from a customer standpoint a shop that takes the time to seek out great coffees is going to have a big advantage in terms of overall quality of offerings. To me it would be like only buying green form one source as a roaster I be a fool not to taste everything I can get my hands on.

This assumes that the owner is willing or able to train internally and purchase all of their own equipment and doesn't need to rely on their roaster much. So in short if your an owner who is also a passionate barista I'd say go for it.
It's a small but thriving shop in Atlanta called Rev Coffee. They're doing coffees from Batdorf, Intelligentsia, and 1000 Faces (based out of Athens, GA). They usually stick with Intelly's Black Cat for espresso, some sort of "house blend" always, and rotate out a SO offering (today it's a Rwandan).

When I've had conversations with different people within the industry, it seems like the consensus (at least in the past) was a leaning toward exclusive relationships. I agree that if you shoot for an identity of "quality, choice, and educational possibility rather than around one individual roasters", then having a "diverse" shelf makes sense. But are there certain advantages of a singular affiliation that simply make for good business? Where the masses possibly won't care as much about who you're offering, would you maybe benefit from those who would gravitate toward your place out of brand loyalty? For example, I know of many Counter Culture fans who go to Octane in Atlanta just because of that relationship. Is it a possibility that some of that business might be lost if Counter Culture were simply just another name on the shelf or chalkboard?

I ask these questions mainly because I'm debating on what to do with a shop I'll be in charge of in the near future. I want to make a decision that makes good sense from both a coffee steward and a business point of view. Personally, I've enjoyed dedicated relationships with roasters in the past and would hesitate to sacrifice that, but I'm open to the idea of multiple roasters.
I have coffee from multiple roasters! It is SO MUCH FUN. We only have 1 (awesome) local roaster in Ithaca so I wanted to serve their coffee but also show the town what else is out there. Serving pour-over I can keep everything fresh and not pre-brewed, our espresso and decaf espresso is from the local roaster. I take time introducing each new roaster so we can get to know them, try their full spectrum of coffees. I also end each month with an open cupping of what's coming up next, so we have a good idea on how to talk about the coffees to customers and how to recommend retail bags. I usually stick with single origins, but I'll always try to get a Mocha Java...
When looking for a new roaster I ask for small samples and as much info as possible on their relationship with farms. It's also fun when a barista, customer, or roaster friend goes out of town and has something awesome they tell me all about it, who knows, it may be something we could try out here :)

Advantages-
Offering something your customers have probably never had
Educating yourself, staff, and customers
Supporting Micro Roasters that are all about small orders (sometimes it's hard to make a minimum order of 50lbs a week, what some larger roasters are asking)
Disadvantages- Shipping: cost & footprint, I do feel that it's worth it when I'm supporting a really great roaster that is getting beans through direct relationships, and high quality.
If your model is strictly business then the multiple roasts concept is difficult to defend. In extremis one could say that the "business" model in food service is McDonalds, and in coffee it's Starbucks. Obviously we can leave behind a discussion of the relative merits and efficacy of the fast-food business. After that, as Phoebe writes below, it is a question of where each shop chooses to balance the problems and how extreme the aesthetic vision of particular shop can realistically be pursued in the market in which it is set up. What Jason says makes perfect sense in the right market. Cafe Grumpy in NY has managed a big success with the multiple roaster model but it is not yet clear to us that the coffee public in Chicago is ready to endorse this and most customers even here in a big city, seem a little bewildered by what we are doing. If not, then we have a highly inefficient model. If so, then we should see many other shops doing similar things in Chicago in the near future.

In a more limited market one could probably do whatever because with little competition your audience is captive. Whether many of them would "get it" remains to be seen.
Great topic and one I have wondered about for some time.

I would think it would help to be consistent with a couple roasters at least and maybe feature a new micro-roaster every month. I don't know, but that seems like it would be a middle ground to serving your customers something they love or can depend on while trying something new. Maybe?
Stefan Hersh said:
In a more limited market one could probably do whatever because with little competition your audience is captive. Whether many of them would "get it" remains to be seen.

This is a great point, I just moved to a new shop that is happy to stock their shelves with any and all roasters doing something special. He is lucky to have a fairly closed market with little competition. Columbus is still very young in its coffee development and coffee origin is the first bit of education. He does not list the roasters on the shelf, but instead happily informs any one who asks. I love this opportunity because i am able to try the same origins from different roasters right next to each other. Its so much fun to see the individual spin.

It does become increasingly difficult from a training aspect to keep all of the employees up to date on coffee tastings and flavor profiles, but as the barista i love the chance to really challenge my plait and try new roasters.
I love it that customers really trust me to choose the coffee for them now, they learn a little about the coffee while I'm preparing it, and they see my excitement when new coffees come in, so that helps them try the new.

Dylan Jung said:
Great topic and one I have wondered about for some time.

I would think it would help to be consistent with a couple roasters at least and maybe feature a new micro-roaster every month. I don't know, but that seems like it would be a middle ground to serving your customers something they love or can depend on while trying something new. Maybe?
Thinking that way we have a reliably wonderful (and user friendly) house roast in Madcap. A lot of coffee consumers like their "familiar" cup of java and aren't looking for a "challenge" with their caffeine hit. For all of us who are coffee geeks the challenge is to ignite in others the passion for coffee exploration that propels us forward. A new, evolved consumer for coffee will help to sustain and even stimulate the growing explosion of single origin, micro lot, specialty roasts that are so thrilling to those of us already paying attention.
I love 1,000 Faces, my dear friend Erin is working for them, that's how I got the connection to serve their coffee up here in NY, I am so impressed with everything they send me, what a great roaster!!!

Jonathan Pascual said:
It's a small but thriving shop in Atlanta called Rev Coffee. They're doing coffees from Batdorf, Intelligentsia, and 1000 Faces (based out of Athens, GA). They usually stick with Intelly's Black Cat for espresso, some sort of "house blend" always, and rotate out a SO offering (today it's a Rwandan).

When I've had conversations with different people within the industry, it seems like the consensus (at least in the past) was a leaning toward exclusive relationships. I agree that if you shoot for an identity of "quality, choice, and educational possibility rather than around one individual roasters", then having a "diverse" shelf makes sense. But are there certain advantages of a singular affiliation that simply make for good business? Where the masses possibly won't care as much about who you're offering, would you maybe benefit from those who would gravitate toward your place out of brand loyalty? For example, I know of many Counter Culture fans who go to Octane in Atlanta just because of that relationship. Is it a possibility that some of that business might be lost if Counter Culture were simply just another name on the shelf or chalkboard?

I ask these questions mainly because I'm debating on what to do with a shop I'll be in charge of in the near future. I want to make a decision that makes good sense from both a coffee steward and a business point of view. Personally, I've enjoyed dedicated relationships with roasters in the past and would hesitate to sacrifice that, but I'm open to the idea of multiple roasters.
We will have to give 1000 Faces a try!
Multiple roasters offers the advantage of hand-selecting what you believe are the best coffees available. At any given time, no roaster can ever claim to have all of the "best" coffees in the world. Why not pick and choose from great roasters?

I liken this to the restaurant business. One could easily go with a broadline distributor to handle everything - and I do mean EVERYTHING. Companies like Sysco or USFoods will provide anything and everything that a restaurant needs. However, while it's certainly convenient, if your focus is on the best quality ingredients, it's not the ideal solution.

Roasters, of course, prefer that you, the retail operator, only use them and their coffees. It's simple business: do you give your attention to the 300# a week account who's giving you all their business or to the multiple-roaster account that's buying 20# a week?

If you're a single-roaster kind of operation, you can (and should) expect service, training, technical and maintenance support. However, if you're a multiple-roaster operation, you cannot and should not expect any of those things - unless of course, you're moving a hundred pounds a week.

In my company's operations, we don't rely on our roasters for training or maintenance. We do rely on them for a consistently high-quality product and knowedgable sales and support people to whom we can turn to with questions about their product.

And when we open the doors of our new coffee joint in a couple of weeks, we will be proudly excited to serve a selection of coffees from our friends and roasters:

Hines/Origins Organic Coffee - Vancouver, BC
Ecco Caffe - Santa Rosa, CA
Barefoot Coffee - Santa Clara, CA
Counter Culture Coffee - Durham, NC
Stumptown Coffee - NYC
Intelligentsia Coffee - Chicago, IL

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