For me it's ALL about the product and customer service. I like working with roasters that are in tune with what they do, are very willing to give free samples of their offerings, not afraid to try something new even if in theory it shouldn't work well. My current roaster is spot on in everything he does, is happy to have me stop by for cuppings/shot pulling, always answers any questions I have at any time and is quick in doing so. He recently told me his goal is to extract the very best each bean has to offer and make sure the customer is 100% satisfied. What more can you say about a roaster?!?
From a roaster, I look for two things.
The end product.
The taste of the bean and the quality of the shots pulled.
The roasted on date. Fresh is an absolute must.
The training and knowledge of the roaster or his company.
And if they are available to respond to my questions quickly and concisely.
what has made you change suppliers in the past?
I didn't change suppliers, but I tested other suppliers. I stay away from suppliers that don't roast their own beans but buy in bulk from one of the other major roasters.
Roasting to order would be a big factor.
What made me stick to my current roaster, was their response to my complaint about delivering older than 10 day beans. They said they would make sure all coffee was at least a maximum of seven days. And they haven't failed so far. They also send lots of free samples and do training at their roastery. They're a happy bunch of people and I like talking with them. Though they are a little far and I would have considered a roaster closer to home. Which is why I have decided to roast my own.
Being in Hawaii, and serving only Hawaiian coffee, my needs may be a bit different. I'm in an area, as you all know, that grows coffee and there are a number of local roasters. I will know the names and faces of all the farmers that grow my coffee, and most likely will have visited their farms before or shortly thereafter buying from them. When talking good roasters, the number diminishes rapidly.
As for green bean supplier, I will only buy from those I trust to deliver fresh premium beans. And the supplier (farmer) meets highest standards via peer review (awards).
The roaster must meet a few qualifiers: first, be able to roast per my very finicky consultants' instructions. Second, be able to deliver small batches on a regular basis. And be local.
A roaster must have good or great: espresso blend, coffee quality, variety of options, pricing, trainers, product knowledge, and customer service.
I would not consider using a roaster that was more than one shipping day away. Coffees need to ship day-of-roast or the next day, except for espresso where 2-3 days is ok. For this reason I would not consider using a middleman of some sort. Direct only.
Occasional availability of special "reserve" coffees is nice, especially around the holidays.
Nobody has mentioned value yet, and I feel like this is relevant. We're running businesses here and price is important. One of the things that we try to do for our customers is only bring in coffees that represent a good value. That doesn't mean only cheap coffees - it means coffees that are worth their cost. Yes, this means that sometimes we pass on some popular offerings where demand has inflated their price beyond their worth. I just feel that if we're going to sell a product at a relatively premium price, it'd better deliver the goods!
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