Roasters Rock

So you are sitting in your shop and thinking, “What could I invent that would differentiate me in the marketplace?” This is a very useful question! You may also ponder, “What could I make that would be so cool I could corner the market and be a bazillionaire!?!” This is a less useful question.

The first question will lead you to the likely conclusion that you could make an improvement on your existing business that would allow you to rise above the fray in your particular field and be seen as smart, inventive, and ambitious. The second question above makes you into a creative genius, but seldom produces a product needed by our industry.

From Merriam-Webster:
in·no·va·tion; the introduction of something new; a new idea, method, or device.

For the coffee industry, this definition should include the words both COOL and USEFUL. It seems that we in the industry are focused on cool and often not on useful, although some inventions are extremely useful, but not cool. So what would the making of a cool and useful innovation look like? The following are the criteria for success.

Part One: The IDEA
If your product is going to be self-sustainable and even make you rich, you must decide that this is a primary goal of your innovation. If you are doing it just because you can, you may receive some notoriety for having done it, but no one will buy it because no one needs it.

So the primary criteria for a successful new product is: Solve a customer problem. In order to do this you must really understand what the problem is and how many people have the problem. This can often be difficult because your brilliant idea may solve a problem a customer may not know they have. Think about it; did you really know you needed the internet in the palm of your hand 24/7 until someone gave you the option? Your understanding of the coffee market will help you understand if enough people would be helped by your innovation.

If you are solving the problem, design your product. After you are 100% sure of how you would design the product, then ask for someone else to design it! In collaboration you will find that fresh eyes see much more than you do. You may want to scrap the idea at this point as unrealistic, or you may redesign the solution to solve the problem and turn a profit. Keep working until you have a prototype.

Part Two: The Prototype Scrutiny
You built a prototype and you are pretty sure it solves a problem big enough to sell some items. Now it is time to test your theory. In controlled environments you will ask people to use your product, give you feedback, and make suggestions. You may be in this phase for a while so make sure to protect your intellectual property.

Once the bugs are out of the prototype you can move to the next phase.

Part Three: Putting on the business hat
You may be brilliant at coming up with ideas. Often idea people don’t use the ‘business cortex’ of the brain and build the plan to make money. If this sounds like you, it is time to bring on board someone that can steer you towards profitable implementation. They will look at product development costs, marketing costs, production costs etc. and then will generate a required retail price that covers costs and returns a profit. Now you have a business plan!

You may need to acquire funding. With a business plan you can explain your idea concisely. Money is always attracted to good ideas.

Once funding is in place you have to market the product, sell it, and then move into production. None of these things really seem like the creative brainstorming of coming up with the idea. All of these things are essential for success. Remember; almost no one has all of the skills to get a new product to market. With a good team you will go farther than by yourself.

Part 4: Constant improvement.
Very few products are perfect the first time out. Even if they are, needs change and your product must keep up. Design a program to revisit things like design, need fulfillment and cost. Constantly re-innovate the product to stay ahead of your customer’s needs.

If you can communicate the value of your product and support a reasonable price you should be able to sell it. If you make it COOL as well as USEFUL, you will have a winner!

The following are some of the recent innovations. It is up to the reader to decide if they are cool, useful, or both. If they are both, consider carrying the product or finding a way to use it in your business. If not, well only you can be the judge!

Single Origin Chocolate in flow through Tea Bags
Creates a new hot beverage experience with subtle chocolate flavors

Espresso with Yogurt and Spices – Signature Drink
Combines a popular yogurt drink of China with a fruity espresso shot

Steampunk Brewing System
Combines infusion and siphon brewing methods with automation

Supply chain management of green coffee, roast logs and profiles

Tastify App
Capturing of cupping characteristics electronically

Others interesting innovations: Coffee skin care products, Coffee Fire Logs, Variable Temp Kettles, Immersion / Dripper Hybrids and a Single Bean Coffee Roaster.

At some point, someone thought it would be cool or useful to invent these things. If we were to check this list in a couple of years we would know which were cool AND useful. Can you pick the winners? What is your idea?

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

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