The challenges and joys of creating customised coffee products for customers

Creating custom coffee products for customers and the vast amount of planning that goes into it – from inception to the time it hits the market – is always a great challenge. Nobody ever said it was easy. But it’s also fun and fascinating. So many questions need to be asked and answered. And, as expected, there’s a whole lot of tasting to ensure the perfect coffee profile is achieved, as well as testing for quality all the way through the process.

Working in the coffee industry, I have found there are people who really know coffee, and there are people who want to know more. When working with people who really know coffee, part of the challenge is they know what they want but don’t always know how to get there so it’s up to the coffee manufacturer to deliver exactly what they desire. But what type of bean do they want? Arabica or Robusta? What origin? Colombian, Central American, Vietnamese, Kona or another? That’s only the beginning.

As we know, developing a coffee product and the time and expertise involved, all comes with great effort, which in the world of coffee, relates to sustainability because the farmers in rural, agricultural areas of the world have to feed their families and know they must deliver an outstanding export and work hard to ensure that. That’s a big part.

For those who are worried about cost, they might choose the standard bean where you can still find a lot of great tasting coffee but at a lower value. It’s not common to work with customers who generally want something that tastes good, but then think twice when they find out the cost of the bean.

So, what we have to do is fully understand the customer who wants to make and sell coffees. For instance, we ask how they want to go about creating it and what they can afford, as well as how they want to sell it. Having it sold through a food service channel, for instance, has a different economic model of getting to market than if it’s going to be sold in a bottle at a retail store.

A good way to think about this is coffee in one form or the other – whether it’s cold brew, hot brew or iced coffee – sold at a quick service restaurant has a whole different cost model than how it’s priced in a major supermarket or food club.

It’s important to consider all these factors. Ultimately, however, it’s your job to help the company or customer, who wants to develop a coffee product, understand all the equations, and ask good questions along the way. All of this, of course, takes time and, by this, we mean it can take up to two years sometimes.

It all starts by asking yourself how you can help a customer with his or her end product in mind. You begin by asking what kind of bean they want, and if they need help sourcing those beans. Do they want to buy the beans, or do they prefer that we buy them? Do they want to roast them, or do they want us to roast them? What kind of roast do they want? What kind of flavour do they want? Do they want to sell their product in a glass bottle, keg, tote or bag in a box? The questions are endless, and you will have a lot of homework to do until you discover exactly what they want.

As we know, it’s a lot of work, but it’s also a whole lot of fun, and this is definitely one of the best things about being in the coffee industry. In fact, customisation is a fascinating business because in all its wonderful varieties, roasts and tastes, they can all taste very different.

And what’s even more exciting is that for the people who work in the coffee industry developing products for their customers bring an endless possibility of creations with them and in all its forms from bean to bottle to packaging.

Finally, from a customer perspective, it’s always a great feeling to know you have delivered a customer the exact product he or she wants, and that’s extremely satisfying, as anyone will tell you.

Charley Snell is CEO of San Antonio, Texas-based Aspen Beverage Group, which provides customer coffee solutions, specialising in coffee extracts and concentrates. In 2017, James Finlay acquired 100 percent of the shares in Aspen Beverage.

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