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Jack Merriman

Content Marketing Manager

A lot of the business leaders we work with at Bridge Coffee Roasters are in a state of tension. They know that the coffee they are currently serving isn’t up to scratch. But – it’s cheap, they don’t get too many complaints, and they’re worried that spending more on their coffee won’t have the pay off they would hope for.

In this article and accompanying podcast episode featuring our Roastery Production Manager Marcus, we’re going to discuss whether business can improve their coffee quality, whilst simultaneously increasing their revenue from coffee sales, by spending more on their coffee beans.


First, What is a High Quality Coffee?

Coffee is completely subjective. Even though the industry has standardised ways of measuring and dictating the quality, such as an SCA score of 80 being the threshold for specialty coffee, what makes a delicious cup of coffee to me is likely different to your preferences. This means it’s hard to pin down an exact definition for high quality coffee. However for many of the businesses that approach us looking for a change, the lack of quality in their cup is clear. They’re typically buying low quality, commercial coffee beans, often around £10 per kilo or lower. At this price point, the coffee is grown and processed to prioritise volumes, rather than quality.

What Benefits Does a More Premium Coffee Bring?

Cheap coffee means picking the fruit off the tree all at once rather than when it is ripe, growing at lower altitudes, often growing robusta rather than arabica, a lack of traceability in the supply chain, defects in the beans that add undesirable flavours, dark roasts to mask the issues in quality, and often out of season and stale coffee being sent from the roaster. A high quality coffee on the other hand, is one that prioritises cup quality and traceability throughout the supply chain:

  • Arabica over robusta
  • Traceability from farm to cup
  • Certifications (Fairtrade, Organic, Rainforest Alliance etc.)
  • Careful picking and processing at peak ripeness
  • Careful roasting, tasting and quality control
  • Seasonality – roasting recent harvests
  • Shipping freshly roasted coffee

Supplying your business with a higher quality coffee not only gives you a delicious cup, but also a marketable story with transparency all the way through the supply chain. Buying a more premium coffee bean gives your customers something to buy into when purchasing their coffee, rather than just buying the drink itself. This opens you up to a world of possibilities: posters and point of sale materials that showcase the farm, marketing videos discussing the processing methods of the coffee, social media posts from the roastery about the taste in the coffee, and user generated content from happy customers.

Not to mention, the improvement in word-of-mouth recommendations from your customers thanks to the improved cup of coffee.

What Problems Get in the Way of Serving Premium Coffee?

The coffee beans are obviously one of the most important factors that goes into the flavour of your cup of coffee. However, a lot more is at play. The grind profile and freshness, the age of the coffee since roasting, the water quality, the machine quality, brewing method and technique, and the skill of the barista, are all individual factors that influence the taste of the final cup.

One of the most common issues that can get in the way of serving a high quality cup of coffee, even when you have invested in fantastic premium beans, is staff retention. As Marcus mentions, staff retention is an issue that is widespread across the coffee and hospitality industries. Developing the skills necessary to become a proficient barista can take months, if not years. Unfortunately, highly competent baristas are rarely compensated fairly for their skills, which leads to a consistently high level of staff turnover and inconsistent customer experiences regarding coffee.


Can a Tastier Cup of Coffee Help Increase Revenue?

Imagine this: you’re in charge of an instore coffee shop that charges £3 for a flat white. You’re paying £8 per kilo for the roasted beans which taste bitter and harsh and have no clear origin, story or marketing message, but your high margins are making it difficult to consider a switch.

Consider the maths. Out of a kilo of coffee you’re generally going to get 50 cups of coffee, using a standard 18 gram dose per cup with some room for wastage. At £8 per kilo, you’re paying 16 pence for the coffee beans in each cup. £3 isn’t an unrealistic amount to charge for a flat white of this standard.

Now picture upgrading your coffee to a single origin, medium roast, fairtrade coffee. It tastes absolutely delicious, but costs £12 per kilo. That’s a significant jump, but still costing you just 24 pence per cup. You’re now serving delicious coffee: coffee that your customers are happy paying an extra 50 pence for. And a coffee that comes with a story, and gives plenty for your customers to buy into, your baristas to talk about, and your marketing team to drool over.

Of course, we’re making a few caveats here, including no drop-off in demand and your baristas being trained to a standard high enough to get the best flavour out of your coffee. However, you can start to picture how investing in a high-quality coffee can help you increase revenue significantly. It’s not unheard of for multiple site businesses to increase their revenue from coffee by up to 5 figures annually by improving the quality, and commanding a higher price.


How Much Does High Quality Coffee Cost?

To a point, the more you pay for your coffee beans, the higher chance they have of tasting great, being traceable, and having a marketable story that many businesses are looking for.

Of course, the cost of high quality coffee can vary significantly, as ‘high quality’ is somewhat of a subjective term and there is no upper limit as to how much coffee beans can cost. But there is certainly a range at which you’ll be buying high quality, great tasting coffee beans for your café.

In general here in the UK, high quality coffee beans will cost your café anywhere from £15-20 per kilo as a base price. This will give you a great tasting fan-favourite coffee that will treat you well as a house blend or single origin espresso. For limited time guest coffees, high(er) quality filter coffees and experimental processes lots, these could cost extra and might run up to £25 or even £30 per kilo.

Of course, there are diminishing returns to the flavour of the coffee with every subsequent increase in price. There are also a number of other factors that can affect the price of the coffee beans that are totally separate from the flavour and quality including scarcity and demand as two driving factors.


When you Shouldn’t Buy More Expensive Coffee

Sometimes, the quality of your raw ingredients is not the issue getting in the way of your coffee’s flavour. As Marcus stated in our conversation above, coffee has to be cared for all along the supply chain in order to maintain it’s quality. The are a large number of steps and potential ‘failpoints’, as Marcus calls them, between farm -> processing -> exporter -> roaster -> café -> consumer.

Additionally, higher quality coffees often come with unique flavour profiles such as sweet, fruity, floral or fermented flavour notes. These are not flavours that everyone is looking for in their coffee.

So, when we would we advise that a business does not need to spend more on their coffee beans? When your existing beans aren’t the problem, and when your target customers aren’t open to those interesting and experimental flavours.


How to Start Serving Specialty Coffee

By definition, specialty coffee has to use a raw coffee bean that scores above 80 out of 100 on the SCA scale. For specialty coffees, explore our Roots range or The Explorers Collection. In order to properly these high quality coffees and get the flavour you’ve paid for, the raw coffee must be roasted carefully to bring the best flavour out of the beans rather than masking flavours with a dark roast. Your baristas (or automatic machines) must then properly extract the coffees using dialled-in espresso ratios and grind sizes, great pourover coffee technique, and properly textured steamed milk. Make sure you’re using the right equipment, including automatics, espresso machines and a great grinder, then make sure your baristas are properly trained to use them and get the best out of the beans.