Roasting as a side-business - Advice needed

Discuss roast levels and profiles for espresso, equipment for roasting coffee.
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#1: Post by bicktrav »

Hi everyone,

I've been roasting for about 6 years on a Gene Cafe. In that time, I've learned a fair deal about the practice, and I've become half-way decent at it. Now, I'm interested in turning my roasting hobby into a side-business. I have a job I love, so I'm not looking for a new career. It would just be nice to make some extra cash on the side. Has anyone here done that kind of thing? Were you able to create a side-income? Also, what kind of roaster would you recommend? I want to continue roasting from home, but on a larger scale and with a better machine. I've been looking at everything from the Huky to 1kg roasters from places like Mill City. What do you all think?


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#2: Post by Moxiechef »

I've contemplated the same thing.

I've got a USRC 1# and used to roast the espresso for one of my old restaurants. Only about 8# a week. But to have enough coffee for the restaurant and myself, I'd have some 4 hour roast sessions. Some of those were fun, some were frustrating. Roasting 12 to 14 batches in a row can be quite arduous at times.

That said, if I were to dive into roasting for friends or a farmers market, I wouldn't go with less than a 2k machine and would probably consider a 5k that were prove to handle 1k batches extremely well.

As to the ROI and economics of it, someone else will have to answer that.

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#3: Post by bicktrav (original poster) replying to Moxiechef »

Great input. I have two concerns about machines larger than 1k. The first is size/smoke. I imagine that machines above 1k are pushing it for residential areas, and I don't want to rent a commercial facility. The second concern is cost. Five-figures is too much to sink into a side-business (at least for me). My hope is that the direct to consumer margin would be large enough to get by with a 1k roaster. Am I being naive?

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#4: Post by EddyQ »

It is pretty difficult to actually make money with a small roaster. You need to figure how much $$ per hour you will be getting and this would need to cover your desired income and expenses. Don't forget the costs and time to sell the coffee, permits eat.

I have a 1K roaster and sell bags to friends and co-workers and it takes me a few hours each weekend to roast. It does a reasonable job at returning some $$ for fueling my hobby. It will eventually pay for itself, but won't pay me anything for my time. This works for me, but may not be what you are hoping for.

If I got a bigger roaster, I would get a lot more of the same roast. Not ideal either (for me), since I like variety. But a 2K roaster would double your $$/hr. And bigger would bring in even more. Assuming you bag and sell all that you roast (which is work too).

Five figures comes quick if you go new. Mine is a used 1K and so is my Bunn G3.

No worries of smoke with my 1K in my neighborhood. No real smoke. The smell does travel to my land boundary. But not much further. I have no idea what size machine would cause problems for you. I'm pretty sure I could triple my size with no issues.
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#5: Post by blondica73 »

I second what EddyQ said. I started with a Hottop roasting for my own consumption. Then due to requests from family and friends I went with a BC-5 roaster last year. I sell about $500-$600 worth of coffee each month (a little more during the holiday), enough to cover all my costs and the coffee I drink and make a little profit to eventually pay the roaster of. I booked a loss in the first year due to start up costs (includes the roaster). The smoke is not that bad for this quantity, I just roasted 30# before Thanksgiving for a large order and it was a breeze.

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#6: Post by johnny4lsu »

I did it. Started with a Huky. Upgraded to a North have a North 3k..I'm in my 3rd year and barely do marketing. I'm on pace to do $20k this year revenue. I don't have debt with it and have around 500lbs of green. I'm actually trying to do less business because my full time work is my main passion.

If you put some effort into it unlike me you'll most likely do well for a side gig.

For me, Roasting as a hobby > roasting because you have to.

I don't enjoy roasting as much as I did before the business. I love coffee as much or more as when I started the business.
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#7: Post by bicktrav (original poster) replying to johnny4lsu »

That's great (though I am not surprised to hear the business component sucks some of the fun out of roasting).

Would you recommend starting on a Huky as you did, or would you skip that roaster and just begin with a 1k? Also, how did you get up and running? Did you start with friends and family and grow via word of mouth, or did you execute a deliberate marketing strategy?

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#8: Post by johnny4lsu »

I'd definitely skip the Huky. Friends, word of mouth, social media, building relationships with Cafe owners.

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#9: Post by drgary »

I think that roasting as a hobby and roasting as a business are two very separate endeavors with different priorities. If you really want to roast for business purposes, you'll need to scale up enough and market enough to make a go of it. If you're already committed to your other career this will be hard to do.

OTOH roasting for a hobby and selling some beans to help pay for it is something easily done. You're not pressing yourself to make money on the side. If you're wanting to justify a larger roaster you won't need to go so large that it's a major investment. Let's say your roasting "side business" takes off on its own. Is there any chance you would reconsider your career priorities if that happened? If not, might as well keep it a hobby and maintain your focus on your main career so that your advancement in that will give you more "side money."

My experience using a North 1 Kg gas roaster and selling/trading beans on the side is that people typically like a certain kind of roast and more refills of that. So I'll stock up on greens for that and will run larger loads. The North can roast a bit over-capacity, up to 1.5 Kg. Then there's your used market. If you keep your eyes open you might find a very good roaster of larger capacity for a good price.

What I WOULD do for a good cup of coffee!
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#10: Post by bicktrav (original poster) replying to drgary »

Thanks for the input! I am a writer. I love what I do, and I don't think I would give it up for roasting. I am mostly my own boss and can work when/where I want. If I worked in an office - which I did for several years - I would not consider a side business. But given my flexibility, it seems feasible. My line of work tends to be feast or famine; there are good years and bad years. It would be nice to have some peripheral income during the latter.