There’s A Decaf-Only Micro-Roaster Boom Happening Right Now

By boston stoker, caffenation, Carol Blanchet, decaf, Dewired Coffee, Eric Blanchet, Industry, intelligentsia, Jamie Morganstern, Kait Brown, micro-roasters, Peter Andrews, Playground Roasters, Rob Berghmans, Sara Serino, Savorista Coffee, Staff Picks, Talking Crow Coffee Roasters

Are you a mod or a rocker? Eat lunch with the jocks or the burnouts? Team Edward or Team Jacob? Rest assured, one milieu in this modern era no longer demands that you choose socio-culturally defining sides: coffee. That is, whether you drink it with or without caffeine.

You see, in the last few years there has been a burgeoning of specialty coffee micro-roasteries that specialize in decaf. They use green beans decaffeinated by natural methods, and as much as their caff counterparts, prioritize flavor while maintaining the same high standards in sourcing and processing. Although the bigwigs in third wave include decafs in their collections (Intelligentsia offers a whopping four online), for this newest generation of roasteries, decaf is a starting point rather than an afterthought. The result is delicious, complex, and varied coffee that could well disarm the death-before-decaf set and lift the Lenten gloom of those who abstain for medical reasons. Some of these roasters were once regular regular coffee drinkers themselves, still are, and/or simply do not dichotomize the joy of a cup’s contents into caff and non-caff camps.

This capacity for coexistence is patently encapsulated in a tagline on the Talking Crow Coffee Roasters website: “He drinks regular—she needs decaf.” Those pronouns’ antecedents are Eric and Carol Blanchet, who established their Sultan, Washington-based roastery in late 2018. Their “predominately decaf” business, as Carol describes it, ideally carries three regular roasts alongside seven decafs. “We roast both so that we can compare our decaf with the regular to be sure we are spot-on with our roast profiles.

“We have a large family (eight children) and we home educate, which makes for crazy-busy days,” Carol explains via email. “A few months after our last child was born, I suffered with extreme adrenal fatigue, which required, among other things, that I give up caffeine. That was really hard because I love coffee and really depended on it to function throughout the day.”

In similar want of salubrious substitution, Kait Brown last year founded Savorista Coffee in Dayton, Ohio. “I first fell in love with coffee as a teenage barista for Boston Stoker,” she recalls. But as an adult, a stressful period compounded by work pressures and her father’s cancer compelled Brown to quit caffeine because it was exacerbating sleeplessness. Eventually, she went seeking drinkable decaf.

“In Colombia, at a blind cupping of decaf and caffeinated coffees, I tasted an incredible coffee. It was one of my two favorites on the table, the flavor notes were really complex and it had a lot of brightness,” she relays by email. “I was shocked to learn that this coffee was a decaf! I realized incredible decaf was possible.”

That Colombian was Savorista’s first coffee. Nowadays, Brown is launching a remarkably berry-toned Ethiopian decaf and “actively looking for more coffees to add to our portfolio, but this has been very challenging,” she says. “I’m not looking for coffee that is ‘good for a decaf.’ I’m looking for coffee that is incredible, full stop, and just happens to be a decaf.”

Some decaf roasteries were born to fulfill not the founders’ desires, but rather their loved ones. Peter Andrews began Sydney’s Playground Roasters in 2016, “when my special lady gone and got herself pregnant, again,” he writes. “It occurred to me that no one was really putting a strong focus on decaf for the coffee enthusiasts amongst us.”

People who connect most with his decaf blend, which is available in cafes around the city, comprise “the growing world of healthy-lifers, the sugar-free movement,” Andrews finds, and “typical cafe-loving mums who so want to have a great coffee, but feel like they just have to go without until they ween the little one.” Though decaf is something he himself has only “occasionally in the afternoon or evening,” he admires the loyalists—included among them are his wife, presently expecting their third child.

“When a customer orders decaf, they are genuinely ordering a coffee for flavor alone—no buzz attached! You could put a case forward that the decaf drinker is the true coffee purist, searching for flavor and flavor alone, while the rest of us are just addicts needing a hit!” he says.

What is more, not all decaf projects are a response to doctor’s orders or an antidote to the jitters.

“We were visiting family in Maine and giving coffee we had roasted as a gift,” Jamie Morganstern recollects of a winter holiday in 2017, when he and his partner, Sara Serino, conceptualized Dewired Coffee. “The days are short in Maine that time of year so we were drinking a lot of decaf, especially when the sun went down. Everyone loved this ritual!”

Today their Berkeley, California-based business offers, on average, three types of decaf. They themselves drink it regularly, but when Morganstern blames buns in the oven, he is not referring to pregnancy. “Sara is always a huge baker, so we’ve pretty much gotten accustomed to having a cup [of decaf] in the evening with a plate of cookies or a slice of pie,” Morganstern says via email.

Though their nights sound traditionally more momcore than millennial-chic, Morganstern is 33 and Serino is 32. They substantiate industry claims that decaf is having a renaissance and young people are its patrons.

“Decaf coffee is also shedding its stigma of being a drink that only the older generation enjoys,” Andrea Piccolo, a senior brand manager at leading specialty decaffeination plant Swiss Water, tells Sprudge. “With millennials leading decaf consumption, the demand is surely to continue its upward growth.”

Still, others attribute decaf’s slow evolution thus far to the specialty scene’s relative infancy.

“Most caffeine-troubled people are not so young and outside of the interest span of these young baristas and roasters,” theorizes Rob Berghmans, who 16 years ago revolutionized Antwerp’s coffee scene with his espresso bar and roastery, Caffènation. “Me myself, I am not addicted,” he says with a laugh.

Yet even Berghmans, ever upfront about the nature of the psychotropic he peddles—his company’s slogan is “One drug, one nation, one Caffènation”—says they have “always been roasting decaf” and are lately enjoying the popularity of their new Caldono.

Another playing-both-sides perspective comes courtesy of long-time San Francisco Sprudge contributor Noah Sanders. In “Searching For The Dark Art Of Decaf,” Sanders reveals how during the early aughts he and fellow baristas sometimes punished “the very worst type of customers” by secretly serving them decaf.

Questioned in 2019 about his own relationship with the substance, he admits: “When I was a barista, I drank six cups of coffee a day until an acupuncturist told me it was undoubtedly the cause of the mildly crippling panic attacks I’d been experiencing. I drank some decaf after that.” These days, he notes: “I try—and fail—to give up caffeine every six months or so and decaf is the lifeline I then cling to, but then only paired with a large-ish amount of steamed milk.”

Now, disguise with dairy no more. At any time, sun up or sun down, you can have your coffee and drink it too. Thanks to these emergent micro-roasteries, contemporary decaf little resembles Grandpa’s Sanka (though what a cute corporate portmanteau that name turns out to be: from the French for sans caffeine). This is certainly NYMD (not your mother’s decaf). As specialty coffee grows up, the black-or-white big-gulp attitudes of yesterday are getting displaced by the nuanced fluidity of personal preference.

We say bring it on. Or more simply put, decaf gives us life.

Karina Hof is a Sprudge staff writer based in Amsterdam. Read more Karina Hof on Sprudge.

The post There’s A Decaf-Only Micro-Roaster Boom Happening Right Now appeared first on Sprudge.

Source: Coffee News

Funding Your Cafe Dreams

By Abner Roldán, Alex Merrill, anne nylander, business, Cafe, Café Comunión, Davis Sears, Eric Squires, freese coffee co, funding, Grindsmith Coffee, Hammerhand Coffee, Industry, Justin Boek, kalle freese, Luke Tomlinson, Sarah Ricks, Staff Picks, Three Crowns Coffee, Welcome Coffee

Have you ever wanted to launch your own coffee business but didn’t know quite where or how to seek funding? While this perennial question can present major challenges to all aspiring business owners, there are myriad methods to choose from—or mix and match—to get the launch money you need, each bringing with it a unique set of pros and cons. In this piece, I’ll outline some first steps to apply to your business before you pursue funding, then explore a handful of the countless pathways to acquiring the funds you need to bring your vision to life.

First Steps For Everyone

1. Create a Business Plan

Before pursuing any kind of funding, you’ll need to make a formal business plan. This step is especially critical for obtaining bank loans, but also important for crystallizing focus and gauging needs and costs no matter your funding strategy.

Puerto Rico-based Café Comunión co-founder Ábner Roldán studied business administration before getting into coffee and opening his own cafe; even so, he still felt intimidated by the process of crafting a business plan. Roldán used the online platform to help him with focus and format. “They have templates that you can use, and they give you examples for every part of the plan to help you to write out your idea. When I first sat down to write out my business plan I got stuck, but once I started using this website I did it in no time.”

Coffee veteran Anne Nylander has previously launched two consulting services and is currently in the process of opening her own cafe. She recommends that people drafting business plans be as detailed as possible. “If you’re thinking about starting a business, get as much as you can on paper,” says Nylander. “And don’t be surprised when people expect you to provide more details than you’d ever imagined. The process can take a very long time, so if you want to do it, start now and chip away at it.”

2. Build Your Following

Another thing many business founders I spoke with recommended is developing clientele and/or gauging interest before investing large sums of money in your business. “Build your audience first. Do pop-ups on loaner gear, tastings, whatever,” says Kalle Freese, founder of the now-closed Freese Coffee Co. “This way, you can be sure you’re making something people actually want. ‘Build it and they will come’ is not a good move 99% of the time.”

Getting The Money (And there’s no one right way)

Many of the founders I spoke to raised funds multiple ways, so don’t be afraid to mix and match funding methods—they each provide their own benefits and challenges.

Method One: Small Business Loans

One of the most popular tools for funding a new business are SBAs, or small business loans granted by the U.S. Small Business Administration. There are different types of SBA loans and all of them offer many benefits over conventional business loans, but they also require more paperwork.

Equipped with a thorough business plan, Roldán applied for an SBA loan in May 2016. “After a lot of paperwork, quotes, calls, and stress, my loan was approved on September 2016,” he said. He thought that meant he would receive his money the next day, but instead, he had to go through what’s called the closing process. “It meant that I needed to submit a lot of more paperwork. The closing process was done on December 2016, and we started to get checks to start the construction work on January 2017.” Although Roldàn’s experience shows one timeline, the multi-stage process can move faster in other cases.

“It took a lot of time and stress but it was worth it,” Roldán said. “You need to be very prepared with your concept, plan, numbers, and business idea and ready to answer extensive questions.”

While SBA loans offer freedom from investors, a major pro listed by Roldán, it can be challenging for certain entrepreneurs to get them. Factors like credit score and ability to put down collateral can make it difficult to get approved, especially for people from marginalized groups.

Method Two: Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding is a popular and versatile option for many first-time founders. There are many different crowdfunding platforms specifically geared toward launching businesses and products, each with its own pros and cons. Some, like Kickstarter, work through a single fundraiser for a one-time capital injection, and some, like Patreon, allow patrons to support monthly and provide consistent capital injections. In general, crowdfunding offers a way to obtain money without being accountable for recouping the investment of a bank or investor.

Crowdfunding is a great option for people who, for any number of reasons, have a hard time getting a traditional business loan or SBA loan. It’s also a great way to build your audience and make sure the interest is there before you sink a lot of money into your business idea, and it offers the benefit of being able to fund specific parts of your venture, like an espresso machine, or the whole enchilada.

Luke Tomlinson, co-founder of Grindsmith Coffee in Manchester, used crowdfunding to launch his company. Having previously founded a coffee cart through a traditional bank loan, he met his current co-founder in 2013 and raised 10k in 30 days in order to get their space. On top of that, they raised another 10k through a government startup loan program in order to fund equipment. “Utilizing the Kickstarter platform allowed us to experience the ups and downs of fundraising without becoming a debt-heavy business so early on,” said Tomlinson. “It helped us appreciate the value that people are willing to invest into your brand and idea. If we’d failed to deliver a strong brand value, people wouldn’t believe in our concept and wouldn’t have backed it.”

It’s important to note that many crowdfunding platforms involve the fundraising party laying out a series of rewards for supporters, so make sure to think about what you’ll be able to sustainably offer in return for support. Another constraint to keep in mind is your community’s income: can your community offer the funds to make your fundraiser successful?

Method Three: Investors

Investors are another popular way to gain revenue for a business launch. There are different pathways to finding investors for your brand.

After their initial crowdfund and loan combo, Grindsmith went on to launch another shop, then a roastery and lab, via private equity fundraising. “It’s hardest with your first business: it’s difficult to get funding for a business that isn’t yet tangible,” said Tomlinson. Just as with crowdfunding, he says that if investors can’t get behind the idea, then maybe that’s a good indicator that it isn’t ready yet or isn’t strong enough.

Freese went a very different route: using a family member as an investor. Only 17 when he launched Freese Coffee Co., he had already been working in coffee for four years. After holding a lot of pop-ups and events to establish an audience, he partnered with his father in order to be able to qualify for a bank loan, using his parents’ apartment as collateral. “I was a little unsure about working with my dad as a business partner for the first time, but it worked out well,” said Freese. “It was also scary taking a loan from the bank and being personally liable for it.” He emphasized that personal compatibility is a must when partnering with a family member as an investor, and that, especially in the case of family, using a primary residence of you or a parent as collateral is not a sound idea (his parents used a former residence).

Another way to get investment money is from your social network. Alex Merrill founded Hammerhand Coffee with help from an angel investor he met through a mutual acquaintance. “I had a business plan and was looking for funding and a location,” says Merrill. “[My investor] owned a building in a budding historic downtown area (among other investments he has downtown) and wanted to find someone to open a coffee shop. It was the perfect scenario for both of us.”

Looking back, Merrill, who manages Hammerhand while not technically owning it, can’t imagine funding the business any other way. After a series of unfortunate events wherein the building collapsed, they experienced major clerical errors around taxes, and construction eliminated parking and walkability for over eight months. They had to find another location, and it cost much more than intended. “If we had used a bank loan, we would have been belly-up in six months,” said Merrill. “If my investor had been more eager to get his money back or run, we would have been out in the second six months, but he believed in me and in the brand. We’ve finally leveled out and got ourselves in the black. We have become a staple of the community and that was [our] main goal: to create a space for people of his community to connect and converse over a product that is prepared with thought and care.” While the plan was to move Merrill into a 20% ownership position over the first year, he is holding off in conjunction with his investor while the business earns back lost funds.

One major potential drawback of working with investors is that you lose sole control of your business. Investors may—and likely will—have their own opinions on the best use of their money. “Technically, my investor could come in and change everything I have built and I couldn’t say no,” said Merrill. “Even if I owned 20%, he could out-vote me. This is a real and honest danger doing things this way. You must have a trusting relationship with your investor.”

Eric Squires helped open Three Crowns Coffee in Warsaw, IN, although he’s since parted ways with the business. Interested in starting a coffee company, he was approached by an angel investor through a mutual friend. The investor, who already owned a successful social club and wanted to build in a coffee shop, was a perfect fit for Squires. “It lined up with what I was hoping to do almost exactly. I had no capital to start a business and [my investor] Dave didn’t have the coffee expertise. So Dave bankrolled the project and I ran the shop,” he said. 

While the arrangement was a great way to bring a dream to life, Squires ended up leaving the business. “At the end of the day, I didn’t have complete control over how things were done and how money was spent,” he said. “While I had autonomy day to day, there were a number of things that eventually led to myself and Dave parting ways. His vision changed over time and some of the ideas I had were rebuffed. It’s easy to forget that investors are simply trying to turn a profit and their priorities may not always line up with yours.” However, he doesn’t want his story to act as a cautionary tale. “For me, having an investor was good for a season, but if I could give anyone advice on it I’d say know your non-negotiables and get everything in writing.”


The last major funding option I encountered certainly isn’t for everyone: opening your business out of savings, potentially while working another job. This option depends entirely on your personal situation: cost of living, debt, income needs, and more. However, it’s worth mentioning because many are able to do it and find success.

Davis Sears is currently in the process of launching Welcome Coffee in Portland, OR, with co-founders Sarah Ricks and Justin Boek. The trio is launching solely on savings earned while working as baristas and servers, jobs in which they are still employed while gearing up for launch. Davis acknowledged that this funding method is far from universally accessible. “We’re lucky. We live in a city that has two separate shared roasting spaces where you can rent time on a roaster, two of our owners are in double-income households, and there are three of us, which makes a huge difference. All of these factors are what enabled us to create a plan for growth, and make a timeline for when we’re going to invest how much. But I do think it’s important to note that it can be done.” Sears emphasized that Welcome’s approach revolves not around an expensive brand identity and buildout, but on creating relationships with guests and wholesale partners who view their mission as authentic and valuable to the community.

. . . . .

As you can see, there are many different ways to approach funding a first-time venture. The constants from method to method are that you as a founder need to know what you want to do, why you want to do it, and what parts of your vision you’re willing to compromise. Once you know that, there’s no shortage of ways to get your launch money and bring your vision to life. 

RJ Joseph (@RJ_Sproseph) is a Sprudge staff writer, publisher of Queer Cup, and coffee professional based in the Bay Area. Read more RJ Joseph on Sprudge Media Network.

The post Funding Your Cafe Dreams appeared first on Sprudge.

Source: Coffee News