Do they hold/meet any certifications, like organic or HACCP or Fair for Life? What is their worker safety record? When was their last fire? What is their recall procedure and when did they last use it?
How and when do they check for quality? What equipment do they use to do so? Ask them to show you how they use their moisture analyzer, their agtron or colorette machine.
When do they cup, do they let the beans off gas, or do they cup right away? Who does the cupping, have they been trained, or do they hold any certifications; are they Q graders? Can they provide training services for your baristas? At their place, or in your shop?
How much inventory do they keep on-hand? how much is off-site? Is it insured?
That's all I can think of for now.
Matt, I think you hit some good points but Q-graders, moisture analyzers, agtrons, insured greens...All of these are things that Maxwell House and Starbucks use and I don't know that many of us would necessarily want to serve their coffee. Can these gadgets help with consistency? Of course. Are they necessary for consistently great coffee? No. There are many great roasters that use this type of equipment as well as many great roasters who don't. I don't know so much that these questions should be used to gauge if a roaster is the right one for you. There are many great but small roasters around the country that all of this would just be overkill.
However, no matter the size of the roaster there should be a consistent procedure for quality control in place. I just don't think it has to include all this gadgetry.
You should find a roaster who is truly invested in the success of your business. One who offers a selection of coffee that is compatible to the tastes of you and your customers and who provides the support that your business needs. There are many other important factors in choosing a roaster but without knowing your businesses goals they are hard to pinpoint.
Good luck in your search. There are many great roasters to choose from.
Zack, I really agree with you in spirit, but the question was what should be asked that wasn't already on the list.
Really where we differ is tool vs gadget. Do Q graders and agtrons and moisture analyzers make a good roaster? Absolutely not. Do they have a high correlation with places that invest in quality? I would say so. Certainly they are not causal, but I would strongly disagree that only big commercial places use them. I doubt small roasters would find any of these to be overkill, they just might not yet be worthwhile capital investments.
I can tell you what I am often asked.
Do you offer training?
Can you help maintain my equipment?
Which coffees are fair trade/organic?
Do you trade with the farm itself / how many middle men?
Can you get X coffee year round?
Can you do custom labelling with us (for 1lb bags etc..)?
What price can I resell your coffee for?
Can I call on you 24/7? (this one seems to be used often for me, make sure your roaster is willing to oblige!)
Will you let me see you roast?
Do you sell flavored coffee or will you in the future?
How long have you / who trained you at roasting?
Can you deliver to my shop?
Will I get coffee the same day it is roasted?
Will pricing change? How can I lockdown a long(er) term price?
What is your minimum order for a region or blend?
Can you make my espresso blend stand out?
Can I request a certain roast profile for a coffee I order in wholesale?
those are off the top of my head if I think of more I will post more
If I find a micro lot I like in green can you roast it for me / look into acquiring it for me? (I do this with lots from the Coffee Shrub for people, and I think other roasters do as well!)