Recently, the coffee world has seen a surge in new roasters. Many don’t have a shop and instead focus exclusively on roasting. They stamp their bags with labels like, “Micro Roaster,” “Home Roasted,” “Small Batch.” and “Artisanal Coffee.” But what do these labels mean? And most importantly, are they worth your money?
This article demystifies the trend toward roast-only businesses. It offers an overview of the differences between large, shop-based business and small, local roasteries; and it advises you, the consumer, about where best to direct your purchases.
What are Shop-Based Roasters?
Shop-Based Roasters focuses on two things: roasting coffee and brewing that coffee for service in a brick and mortar store. Their shops often turn into neighborhood hangouts. They can be cozy and inviting, and many cultivate a community of devotees. The style of roast they produce is varied. Some focus on the specialty side of the coffee industry, but most shops still build their businesses around roasts that land in the heavy, dark category — French Roasts and inky espresso blends.
For consumers that want an expertly brewed cup without the hassle of brewing at home, a shop-based roaster can be an excellent choice. Recently, however, more and more home consumers have been turning to roast-only enterprises, which devote their time entirely to roasting. These roast-only companies orient more toward the light to medium single origins, as opposed to dark, smoky blends.
What is a Micro Roaster?
The term Micro Roaster has no firm definition. It is a label applied by the roaster to signify the size of his/her operation. Does that mean you should disregard it? Not exactly. In addition to offering information about the scope of a business, the designation suggests a clear roasting philosophy.
Many Micro Roasting businesses roast batches to order. Sometimes they even take notes from customers and tailor roasts according to their preferences, i.e., light or dark, fruity or chocolatey, thick or delicate. Roasting in small batches allows these outfits to offer a level of personalization unmatched by their supermarket and coffee shop counterparts.
Micro Roasters also tend toward specialty coffees. Their menus are usually seasonal, focusing on single-origin and rare offerings. These shifting menus come with pros and cons. On the one hand, they offer consumers a variety of high-quality coffee choices. On the other, if a customer finds a bean that speaks to them, it may not be available the next time they make a purchase.
How About Home Roasted?
Within the category of Micro Roaster, you might see another label: Home Roasted. Here’s a breakdown of the term.
Like “Homemade,” the term “Home Roasted” suggests a throwback style of production: batches made by one person, sourcing coffees and roasting them from a home facility. Home roasters are often hobbyists, who got into the industry through a combination of passion and accident. In many cases, they produce some outstanding roasts.
My Friend’s Coffee in Los Angeles is an example of a Home Roasting Company. Its founder spent years roasting coffee for friends and family until eventually, he found himself so inundated with requests for bags that he turned his hobby into a business. Now, the company enjoys a cult following in L.A., and ships nationwide.
Home Roasters offer a level of personalization that surpasses even many of their Micro Roasting counterparts. For example, My Friend’s Coffee labels each bag with its customer’s name includes hand-written notes with each order, and goody bags and samples with every roast. They also hand-deliver local orders and get to know their customers. Their interest tends to be in specialty coffee, third wave production, although certain home roasters are jacks-of-all-trades who, given the personalization they offer, produce custom roasts ranging from high-end rare coffees to super dark blends.
How about “Artisanal” and “Small Batch” Roasters?
The terms Artisanal and Small Batch are relative and somewhat “markety”, but they give insight into the roaster’s priorities.
Artisanal indicates an emphasis on quality and craftsmanship. Companies that use the label do so to communicate the idea that they are relentlessly focused on quality — quality in sourcing, roasting, blending, and packaging. While it can be an advertising term, most of the time seeing the word artisanal slapped on a bag suggests that its producers aim for high levels of quality.
Small batch, on the other hand, suggests scale. Roasters who describe their businesses as small-batch operations do so to indicate a level of attention to detail that other roasters might miss. In many cases, the term also promises a higher level of quality than your average supermarket bag. There naturally tends to be an overlap between micro and small-batch roasters, just as there tends to be an overlap between home roasted and artisanal roasters.
So what’s the summary?
For the home consumer who has mastered the brewing process, roast-only companies are a great option. Their businesses allow them to focus entirely on roasting. As a result, they produce some exceptionally high-quality coffees. They can also be uniquely communicative and determined to develop personal relationships with their customers. If you long for one-on-one interactions and tailored consumer experiences, the roast-only sector is the perfect option. Know more about roasters.