Getting away from buying coffee from another roaster, and instead choosing to roast in-house, is a badge of honor for many in the coffee industry. Taking ownership of the quality and experience, creating your unique coffee menu, building a stronger brand—it’s a natural next step for many coffee shops looking to continue growing their business.
In this journey from shop to roaster, there’s one process that leaves many stumped: the smoothest way to transition your existing coffee menu to a self-selected menu.
We’re distilling decades of roasting experience in this guide so you can rebuild a menu that works for your business as you transition from a wholesale buyer to roaster.
In it, you’ll learn:
- How to evaluate your current coffee menu
- The system for piecing together your new coffee menu
- Why you should look ahead 1-2 years at how your business will evolve
Let’s make this transition as smooth as possible.
First, Map Your Current Menu, Brew Methods, and Customers
Whether you’ve been in business for one year or ten, the very first step in building your new coffee menu is to carefully consider your current one. You’ve built up experience, a stronger vision for your business, and a loyal customer base—let’s leverage it all.
There are three things to review.
Take Stock of Your Recent Coffees
Make a master list of all the coffees you’ve purchased from your wholesale roaster over the last twelve months. We suggest including the following data in your list/spreadsheet:
- Blend vs Single Origin
- Flavor Notes
- Roast Level
- Your Rating (1-5 scale)
If you’ve been in charge of purchasing, you can already intuit what the trends are in what kinds of beans you order, but making a detailed list like this lays it all out there objectively. Set this list aside—we’ll be back to it in a moment.
Make a List of the Ways Your Customers Experience Coffee
Next, make a list of the ways you serve coffee. Don’t just write down brew methods, but rather the experience of those brew methods. For example, you may serve coffee in a Chemex and a Hario V60, but if they’re both featured on your pour over bar, write it down as one type of experience.
Your list might look like this:
- Single origin espresso
- Decaf espresso
- Batch brew
- Decaf batch brew
- Pour over bar
- Cold brew
- Tableside french press
Now that you have a list of coffee experiences you provide to customers, you’ll be able to match up new coffees to meet the needs of customers who choose those experiences.
Get Honest with Customer Expectations
The difference between barista preferences and customer preferences in specialty coffee is well-documented. Professionals who know their way around coffee tend to gravitate toward more unique or interesting coffees.
Your customers, however, likely don’t have the same palette and preferences as your team, so before you start sourcing coffees, it’s time to sync up.
Here are a few ways you can realign with your customer expectations:
- Look at sales reports in your POS. Sales data doesn’t lie. From here you can quickly see which brew methods and experiences are most popular among your customers. It shouldn’t be hard to identify your bread-and-butter brew methods—you’ll probably want to closely replicate those when you start roasting in-house.
- Review wholesale order volume from the last 12 months. Compare the sales volumes of different beans and notice what origins, flavors, and roast profiles you sell the most of.
- See what your baristas have to say. If customers are often requesting certain coffees or brewing methods, or adding things to their coffee like milk or syrups, your baristas will be the ones to know about it. Check in with your team to see what insights they have from day-to-day interactions.
- Survey your customers. Your existing sales data shows what customers buy now, but it doesn’t give you any insight into what they might buy tomorrow if given the chance. There might be opportunities to offer coffees or brewing experiences that aren’t currently on the menu.
It can be tempting to put on the coffee professional glasses when you’re looking at this data and misinterpret where your customers are coming from. If you feel you’re struggling to interpret the research objectively, run it by a second pair of eyes. The better you can understand the preferences of your customers, the better you can serve them when you start building your menu.
Second, Look Forward with Business Objectives
The final input of the coffee menu transition process is your own vision.
Where do you want to take your business next?
Clearly you want to start roasting—that’s great! But how else do you see your business evolving in the coming years? Let’s bring these goals into the equation. Here are a few examples of what they might look like:
- “I want to have a wider customer appeal.” — If you’re running on a small menu with only a handful of coffee experiences, broadening your menu might help you attract new types of customers. This indicates you should not only look to replace your existing coffees, but also add new beans that will work well with new menu items.
- “I’m opening a new up-market location.” — If you’re looking for ways to appeal to a more discerning crowd, you’ll likely need to add a brewing experience or two, and that means you might want to add new types of coffees to complement them.
- “I want to start selling to grocery stores.” — Selling wholesale to grocery stores can be a great way to expand your reach and sales volume, but not all coffees are a great fit. Here’s a look at how wholesale pricing and margins can impact which coffees you sell via the grocery channel.
- “I want my coffee to taste better and fresher.” — If you’re aiming to upgrade your flavor quality, that’s great! Make sure you work with your sourcing partner to not only replace your current coffees, but raise the flavor bar too.
- “I want to experiment with offering nitro cold brew.” — Looking to add a specific brew method or experience to your menu? Jot that down so you can make sure you find a good-fit coffee for it.
What else is on the horizon? What ideas are brewing in your head. Dream a little, then make sure to write it down.
Third, Put It All Together to Build Your Coffee Menu
You’re intimate with your current lineup of coffees, what sells well and what doesn’t, and how you and your customers want the business to evolve. The path to your new menu is drawn, now you just have to follow it.
Here’s how it works:
- Start with a coffee experience you offer (or want to offer)
- Overlay what customers want and data about what sells
- Align your business vision
- Select a coffee that matches the criteria
Start with a top-selling menu item—for example, batch brew. Let’s say most days you serve a medium-dark blend of beans from Mexico and Ethiopia, and most customers don’t seem to add milk or sugar. In the future, you’re also exploring getting your coffee into grocery stores.
Here’s what you can learn from this:
- Your current batch brew offering sells well and appears to be loved by customers
- It’s a medium-dark blend, which will probably also appeal to grocery store buyers
- Therefore, you can reasonably assume that if you source a blend that’s close to your existing blend, customers will still love it and you’ll be equipped for grocery expansion
This is exactly what happened with Beans N’ Cream Coffeehouse. We helped the original founder, Jeff Gauger, recreate and upgrade a blend he’d served for 15+ years—and his customers loved that he kept the blend’s loyal followers in mind.
As you dig into less mass-appeal coffee offerings, you’ll have to look more closely at the data to find the right way forward—for example, decaf coffee. Let’s say you already have a dark roast, nutty-tasting decaf espresso option from Brazil, but it doesn’t sell super well and customers don’t seem thrilled about it. You also want to add a decaf batch brew option. Both decaf options need to stand up to milk, either cold or steamed.
- Your current decaf (dark, nutty) isn’t a hit, so there’s an opportunity to find a better bean
- It would simplify operations if you could find a single year-round decaf option to function both as espresso and batch brew, so a blend you can tweak throughout the year is better than a seasonal single origin
- Most customers will pair the decaf with milk, so needs to be bold enough to stand out
- Therefore, you can reasonably assume that a medium or dark blend that’s not primarily nutty in flavor will be a great fit for your customers and objectives
Go down the list of the coffee experiences you want to provide to create a wish list of types of beans.
If you need extra help nailing down great-fit coffees, we allow Bellwether customers to send in samples of coffees they’re already using, so we can help match up existing coffees with new beans from the Green Coffee Marketplace. Let us know if we can help!
You don’t have to replace all your coffees at once. We suggest starting with a handful of core coffees—three to four coffees is typically a great starting point. By starting small, you give yourself the opportunity to get your systems in place and set yourself up for sustained success before adding too much complexity.
Where to Source the Right Coffees for Your Business
Between identifying importing partners, sample roasting and cupping coffees, and dealing with contracts, sourcing coffee quickly becomes cumbersome and overwhelming—even for experienced coffee professionals.
That’s why we built the Bellwether Green Coffee Marketplace, to give new coffee roasters access to pre-vetted, sustainably sourced (with receipts!) beans.
It’s your coffee menu in a box. All of the sourcing, quality control, and flavor profiles you need from a high-quality, traceable coffee are at your fingertips.
For advanced buyers, we offer custom green buying and custom blending services. Our experts will work with you 1:1 to source exclusive lots, create signature coffees, and secure your inventory for long-term menu stability and peak differentiation.
All coffees on the Bellwether Green Coffee Marketplace are thoroughly vetted and the result of strong relationships, so you can be confident offering your customers the best coffee on the market at a competitive price point.