How to Start a Coffee Roasting Business: 9 Steps to Success
Coffee beans are actually the pit of coffee cherries. They’re green, hard and un-brewable in their raw state. A coffee roasting business roasts green coffee beans to light (city), medium (full city) and dark (full city+) roast levels so that they can be brewed. Roasters may sell their roasted coffee directly to individuals, or through coffee shops, grocers and other retailers.
If you want to find out how to start a successful coffee roastery business, this article covers the basics you'll need to know, from crafting a business plan, to startup costs, to common business licenses required in the coffee industry.
Recommended: Read our full, in-depth How to Start a Coffee Shop Business guides, inspired by coffee professionals, they will help make your coffee dreams real, from sourcing beans to hiring baristas, choosing the best POS system, forming an actual company, and everything in between.
Learn how to start your own Coffee Roasting Business and whether it is the right fit for you.
Ready to form your LLC? Check out the Top LLC Formation Services.
Start a coffee roasting business by following these 10 steps:
- Plan your Coffee Roasting Business
- Form your Coffee Roasting Business into a Legal Entity
- Register your Coffee Roasting Business for Taxes
- Open a Business Bank Account & Credit Card
- Set up Accounting for your Coffee Roasting Business
- Get the Necessary Permits & Licenses for your Coffee Roasting Business
- Get Coffee Roasting Business Insurance
- Define your Coffee Roasting Business Brand
- Create your Coffee Roasting Business Website
- Set up your Business Phone System
We have put together this simple guide to starting your coffee roasting business. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.
Exploring your options? Check out other small business ideas.
STEP 1: Plan your business
A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. It will help you map out the specifics of your business and discover some unknowns. A few important topics to consider are:
- What will you name your business?
- What are the startup and ongoing costs?
- Who is your target market?
- How much can you charge customers?
Luckily we have done a lot of this research for you.
What will you name your business?
Choosing the right name is important and challenging. If you don’t already have a name in mind, visit our How to Name a Business guide or get help brainstorming a name with our Coffee Roasting Business Name Generator
If you operate a sole proprietorship, you might want to operate under a business name other than your own name. Visit our DBA guide to learn more.
When registering a business name, we recommend researching your business name by checking:
- Your state's business records
- Federal and state trademark records
- Social media platforms
- Web domain availability.
It's very important to secure your domain name before someone else does.
What are the costs involved in opening a coffee roasting business?
The startup costs associated with opening a coffee roasting business are significant. In addition to commercial space, business owners must also purchase:
- A coffee roaster, which can cost up to $25,000 or more
- Green coffee, which usually costs ~$3.00 to $4.50 per pound but is bought in large bags (e.g. 50-kilogram (110-pound) sacks)
- Packaging supplies (a few cents per bag or box)
- A POS system
- Labels (a few cents each)
- A heat sealer, which may cost anywhere from $30 to $300 or more
- A coffee grinder, which might cost between $500 and $1,000
Businesses will also need a computer and internet access to accept orders, and a vehicle to make deliveries.
There are two ways that business owners who have limited capital can significantly reduce their startup costs.
First, business owners can “contract roast.” In contract roasting, a business pays a rental fee to use a more established roaster’s facilities. The roaster of the established company may also be involved in the roasting process. The roasted coffee is sold under the renting roaster’s brand, regardless of whether another roaster is involved. This solution not only greatly reduces startup expenses, as there’s no need to purchase a roaster, heat sealer or coffee grinder, and it lets inexperienced business owners lean on the expertise of more experienced roasters.
Alternatively, roasters can start with lower-priced equipment. Driftaway Coffee is an established commercial roaster that roasted its first commercial batches with a Behmor 1600 -- a roaster that’s marketed to hobbyists and typically sells for far less than $1,000. Businesses can also purchase less-expensive grinders and heat sealers.
What are the ongoing expenses for a coffee roasting business?
The ongoing expenses for a coffee roasting business include:
- Purchasing green coffee
- Purchasing fuel for the roaster (which may use propane, natural gas, electricity or another fuel source)
- Buying packaging supplies
- Rent and utility costs
- POS System monthly/annual fee
- Employees’ wages
- Shipping and delivery costs
- Equipment service calls
Who is the target market?
A coffee roasting business’ ideal customer is a business that sells a lot of specialty coffee. Coffee shops, certain grocery stores and a few boutiques may go through a lot of coffee. While these types of wholesale customers won’t pay as much as individuals who pay retail prices, wholesale customers provide a more stable income stream.
How does a coffee roasting business make money?
A coffee roasting business makes money by selling roasted coffee to individuals (retail) and businesses (wholesale).
How much can you charge customers?
Retail prices for roasted coffee are often between $12 and $20 for 12-ounce bags. Wholesale prices are often $6 to $12 per pound. The quality of coffee is one of the main factors that determine where within these ranges a roaster’s prices fall. (A few roasters have prices outside of these ranges.)
Lots of roasters offer retail bags in sizes other than 12 ounces, but most roasters use 12-ounce bags as their main retail package. They do this because about 25 percent of green coffee’s weight is lost in the roasting process, so 1 pound of green coffee becomes approximately 12 ounces of roasted coffee. Prices can be varied based on the reports generated by the POS system. If there is a significant demand for a product, the price may be increased.
How much profit can a coffee roasting business make?
A coffee roasting business’ profit potential depends on how many outlets into which it can get its coffee. A roaster that has coffee in lots of retail locations may earn hundreds of thousands of dollars, or more, each year. However, many don’t make quite this much, but bring in closer to tens of thousands of dollars annually.
How can you make your business more profitable?
A coffee roasting business can increase its coffee sales and add additional revenue streams by opening up its own coffee shops.
STEP 2: Form a legal entity
The most common business structure types are the sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company (LLC), and corporation.
Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC or corporation protects you from being held personally liable if your coffee roasting business is sued.
Form Your LLC
Read our Guide to Form Your Own LLC
You can form an LLC yourself and pay only the minimal state LLC costs or hire one of the Best LLC Services for a small, additional fee.
Recommended: You will need to elect a registered agent for your LLC. LLC formation packages usually include a free year of registered agent services. You can choose to hire a registered agent or act as your own.
STEP 3: Register for taxes
You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
In order to register for taxes you will need to apply for an EIN. It's really easy and free!
You can acquire your EIN through the IRS website. If you would like to learn more about EINs, read our article, What is an EIN?
There are specific state taxes that might apply to your business. Learn more about state sales tax and franchise taxes in our state sales tax guides.
STEP 4: Open a business bank account & credit card
Using dedicated business banking and credit accounts is essential for personal asset protection.
When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your business is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.
Open a business bank account
Besides being a requirement when applying for business loans, opening a business bank account:
- Separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
- Makes accounting and tax filing easier.
Recommended: Read our Best Banks for Small Business review to find the best national bank or credit union.
Get a business credit card
Getting a business credit card helps you:
- Separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
- Build your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money later on.
Recommended: Apply for an easy approval business credit card from Divvy and build your business credit quickly.
STEP 5: Set up business accounting
Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
Make LLC accounting easy with our LLC Expenses Cheat Sheet.
STEP 6: Obtain necessary permits and licenses
Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
Establishments that prepare or work with food are randomly inspected by the local health department on a regular basis. These inspections will check for compliance with local health laws, typically related to prevention of contamination. Here are some tips for faring well on a health inspection.
Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, read our article, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.
Certificate of Occupancy
A coffee roasting business is generally run out of a regulated location (e.g. Any location that passes a local health Inspection). Businesses operating out of a physical location typically require a Certificate of Occupancy (CO). A CO confirms that all building codes, zoning laws and government regulations have been met.
- If you plan to lease a location for Coffee Roasting
- It is generally the landlord’s responsibility to obtain a CO.
- Before leasing, confirm that your landlord has or can obtain a valid CO that is applicable to a coffee roasting business.
- After a major renovation, a new CO often needs to be issued. If your place of business will be renovated before opening, it is recommended to include language in your lease agreement stating that lease payments will not commence until a valid CO is issued.
Fair Trade Certification
In order to be qualified under an Fair Trade certification, the company must submit to fair trade supply chain audits as well as paying fair trade price premiums for the quality of bean supplied.
STEP 7: Get business insurance
Just as with licenses and permits, your business needs insurance in order to operate safely and lawfully. Business Insurance protects your company’s financial wellbeing in the event of a covered loss.
There are several types of insurance policies created for different types of businesses with different risks. If you’re unsure of the types of risks that your business may face, begin with General Liability Insurance. This is the most common coverage that small businesses need, so it’s a great place to start for your business.
Another notable insurance policy that many businesses need is Workers’ Compensation Insurance. If your business will have employees, it’s a good chance that your state will require you to carry Workers' Compensation Coverage.
FInd out what types of insurance your Coffee Roasting Business needs and how much it will cost you by reading our guide Business Insurance for Coffee Roasting Business.
STEP 8: Define your brand
Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
If you aren't feeling confident about designing your small business logo, then check out our Design Guides for Beginners, we'll give you helpful tips and advice for creating the best unique logo for your business.
Recommended: Get a logo using Truic's free logo Generator no email or sign up required, or use a Premium Logo Maker.
If you already have a logo, you can also add it to a QR code with our Free QR Code Generator. Choose from 13 QR code types to create a code for your business cards and publications, or to help spread awareness for your new website.
How to promote & market a coffee roasting business
One of the most effective ways of marketing a coffee roasting business is by offering cuppings. Cuppings are professional coffee tastings, and they provide a great opportunity for potential customers to connect with a roaster and learn more about their coffee.
How to keep customers coming back
A coffee roasting business must be able to differentiate itself from other coffee roasters. A business might do this by:
- Specializing in a certain roast level or coffee from a specific region
- Purchasing coffee via direct trade and sharing the stories of farmers who grew the coffee
- Supporting initiatives by providing exclusively Fair Trade, Organic Certified or Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee
In addition to these strategies, coffee roasting businesses should also emphasize providing freshly roasted coffee. Coffee loses aroma and flavor over time, so freshly roasted coffee tastes better than older, stale coffee. Many roasters state the roast date on their bags to show that the coffee inside has been recently roasted.
STEP 9: Create your business website
After defining your brand and creating your logo the next step is to create a website for your business.
While creating a website is an essential step, some may fear that it’s out of their reach because they don’t have any website-building experience. While this may have been a reasonable fear back in 2015, web technology has seen huge advancements in the past few years that makes the lives of small business owners much simpler.
Here are the main reasons why you shouldn’t delay building your website:
- All legitimate businesses have websites - full stop. The size or industry of your business does not matter when it comes to getting your business online.
- Social media accounts like Facebook pages or LinkedIn business profiles are not a replacement for a business website that you own.
- Website builder tools like the GoDaddy Website Builder have made creating a basic website extremely simple. You don’t need to hire a web developer or designer to create a website that you can be proud of.
Recommended: Get started today using our recommended website builder or check out our review of the Best Website Builders.
Other popular website builders are: WordPress, WIX, Weebly, Squarespace, and Shopify.
STEP 10: Set up your business phone system
Getting a phone set up for your business is one of the best ways to help keep your personal life and business life separate and private. That’s not the only benefit; it also helps you make your business more automated, gives your business legitimacy, and makes it easier for potential customers to find and contact you.
There are many services available to entrepreneurs who want to set up a business phone system. We’ve reviewed the top companies and rated them based on price, features, and ease of use. Check out our review of the Best Business Phone Systems 2023 to find the best phone service for your small business.
Recommended Business Phone Service: Phone.com
Phone.com is our top choice for small business phone numbers because of all the features it offers for small businesses and it's fair pricing.
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Is this Business Right For You?
People who are considering opening a coffee roasting business should be creative, and also passionate about coffee. Creativity helps when coming up with new blends, which requires combining different coffees in unique ways and also inventing blend names.
Additionally, roasters should be comfortable with basic scientific concepts. Roasters don’t need a formal degree in science, but they should be comfortable with biology, physics and chemistry because roasting coffee involves each of these fields:
- Choosing good coffees requires a knowledge of growing conditions, cultivars and varieties of coffee beans (biology)
- Selecting and setting up a roaster requires an appreciation for thermodynamics (physics)
- Deciding which roast profiles are suitable for each coffee requires an understanding of how the heat applied in roasting affects the chemical structure of coffee beans (chemistry)
It’s also helpful if roasters are comfortable multitasking. Roasting a single batch of coffee takes between 10 and 15 minutes. In order to maximize efficiency, roasters often complete other tasks while batches are roasting -- but they must still keep an eye on any coffee that’s roasting to ensure it’s roasted properly.
Want to know if you are cut out to be an entrepreneur?
Take our Entrepreneurship Quiz to find out!
What happens during a typical day at a coffee roasting business?
As a coffee roasting business owner, you’ll spend a lot of time roasting and packaging coffee. In a typical day, you may:
- Sort and weigh green (unroasted) coffee out into batches (often 5 to 20 pounds)
- Roast batches of coffee
- Sort and weigh roasted coffee into retail and wholesale packages (often 12-ounce and 5-pound bags)
- Accept and fulfill orders using a POS system
- Clean the roastery
Deliveries to wholesale customers are often made weekly.
At least monthly, and perhaps more often, you’ll receive shipments of green coffee and send invoices to wholesale customers.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful coffee roasting business?
Roasting coffee requires a lot of knowledge about coffee and the roasting process. Roasters should be familiar with everything from the cultivars of coffee and growing regions to how to cup coffee and when to increase heat during roasting.
Both the Roasters Guild and the Specialty Coffee Association of America offer classes on coffee and roasting.
Business owners who want to learn to roast coffee without paying for formal classes can apply to work as a profile roaster at an area coffee roasting company. Profile roasters don’t come up with new roasts, but they roast coffee according to the parameters set forth by a head roaster. This can be a good introduction to the fundamentals of roasting, especially if the head roaster is willing to teach and answer questions.
Sweet Marias, an online retailer of green coffee, also has a lot of free resources. These are targeted toward home roasters, but can also be beneficial to novice roasters who are exploring opening a commercial roastery.
What is the growth potential for a coffee roasting business?
A coffee roasting business can be a small, local business or it can be a large national company. Two large companies that both started as small roasteries include Starbucks, which sells its roasted coffee through its cafes and retailers, and Green Mountain Coffee, which doesn’t have cafes.
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Take the Next Step
Find a business mentor
One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.
Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.
Learn from other business owners
Want to learn more about starting a business from entrepreneurs themselves? Visit Startup Savant’s startup founder series to gain entrepreneurial insights, lessons, and advice from founders themselves.
Resources to Help Women in Business
There are many resources out there specifically for women entrepreneurs. We’ve gathered necessary and useful information to help you succeed both professionally and personally:
If you’re a woman looking for some guidance in entrepreneurship, check out this great new series Women in Business created by the women of our partner Startup Savant.
How and when to build a team
As a coffee roasting business grows, there are four key positions to hire people for:
- Sales and marketing, which grows a roastery by seeking new customers
- Packaging, which packages up roasted coffee
- Delivery and customer service, which delivers packaged coffee and answers customers’ inquiries
- Profile roasting, which roasts coffee according to set parameters
The first three positions let you focus on finding new coffees, developing new blends and growing the business. Hiring a profile roaster ensures coffee will still be roasted if you become sick and provides you with an opportunity to take a vacation.
Real World Examples
- A Pioneer within the Coffee Roasting Industry
- How 3 Coffee Roasters Got Their Start
- Successful Small Batch Coffee Roasters