February 16

Roasters Rock: Reverse Engineering A Blend

If you have been roasting for a while and doing any wholesaling at all, you will have been challenged by a customer to recreate someone else’s blend so you can have their business. This article will tell you exactly the methodology to do this, but first you need to decide if you want:

A) To do this kind of business at all

B) To stretch the ‘moral boundaries’ of copying someone else’s work

C) To deal with a customer that would do this kind of business

Let’s be honest, you are in the business to be an artisan roaster. You are going to create taste sensations of scrumptious glory mixed with ethical certitude. You will be different and not sell out for a quick buck!

Oh but wait, there are no dollars available to pay the bills because you can’t seem to sell enough scrumptious glory to make this month’s payroll. Being a business man has just punched the artisan roaster part of you in the stomach.

Just when it is looking the bleakest, a friend refers a guy that says if you can recreate this blend and match it exactly for a lower price, he will switch over to you. They do about 1000 pounds per week of this stuff and that should be enough to keep you afloat. So now you are faced with it: Sink the ship with principles intact or survive and feel a little like you need a shower?

Before you answer, you should consider things a little more closely. There are some fundamental questions that should be answered:

1) Can you do this? – You keep telling everyone that you make the best coffees in your region and that you have roasting skills superior to others around you. But down in the dark places of your soul you know that you might not be able to match this blend exactly and it is killing you that you can’t say it out loud.

a. ANSWER: If you cup, you can do this. If you understand the characteristics of your own coffee, you can do this. If you trust that you really are good at this craft, you can do this.

2) Should you do this? – What does a willingness to change for price tell you about the new potential client? It probably says that there is more to this situation than you know. Are they looking for a new supplier because they have not paid their bill with the last one?

a. ANSWER: Do your due diligence before you commit a lot of time and energy to this potential customer. They might have unrealistic price needs that will make it impossible to get the business even if you match the flavor profile.

3) Will this cause a ‘stain’ on the rest of your brand? – Your current customers feel special because they get this high quality product from you. Do you dilute your perceived quality differentiation?

a. ANSWER: If so, don’t do the business! But you can do this business under another brand. If you are not proud of the final product, no one needs to know.

So you have done your due diligence and have decided to take on the project. You have agreed to a price point the customer would be willing to pay should you match the flavor profile and you have an idea of volume you can do based on the customer’s run rate over the last 12 months. Here is a simple method that can be done in about a day if you have a good selection of coffee on hand.

First: Get familiar with your control coffee. The truth about your project is always in the cup. Do a full sensory analysis based on the SCAA cupping form for Fragrance / Aroma, Flavor, Aftertaste, Acidity, Body and Balance. Get this firm in your mind.

Second: Use your experience with your current inventory of coffee to make some ‘best guesses’ as to which coffees might contain attributes of the control. Realize that most blends are made from easy to get, less expensive coffees in order to get consistency and margin from the blend. Now do a cupping roast of all of these coffees and put them on the cupping table at the same time.

Third: With the control sample also on the cupping table, taste each potential ‘ingredient’ for a single attribute that will match the control. Pretty soon you will have a list of coffees that collectively have the components of the control sample. Now it is just about proportions.

Fourth: Using your spoon and an empty cup make a ‘blend’ using spoons of coffee. Start with equal parts and the start messing with proportions. Generally, in a single sitting (if you roast at least ten different ingredient samples) you will be at a point where you can make blend decisions as well as potential roast changes to really dial it in. If taste matches, supply is sufficient, and the price will be where you want it, then it is time to present what you found to the customer. Otherwise, continue to tweak your new blend to get all the three things in line.

BE PROUD of what you have done! It is not easy; it requires a true talent. You generated a new base of business for your company and your integrity should be fully intact.

Rocky Rhodes is an 18 year coffee veteran, roaster, and Q-Grader Instructor, and his mission now is to transform the coffee supply chain and make sweeping differences in the lives of those that produce the green coffee. Rocky can be reached at [email protected]

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