Although starting your own roastery can be rewarding, it also presents a substantial financial risk. The start-up costs alone can take years to recoup, while ongoing expenses such as fuel and rent can quickly add up.
For those who want to create their own coffee brand without the significant costs involved, “toll roasting” has become an increasingly popular alternative. Also known as “slot roasting”, it involves purchasing green beans and sending them to a roaster who will roast them to your specifications.
Not only does it limit your financial risk, it allows you to spend more time sourcing high quality green beans and putting together a strong brand identity. It can also give you time to improve your knowledge of roasting before spending money on equipment of your own.
To find out more about toll roasting, I spoke with 2019 World Cup Taster Champion and CEO of Sumo Coffee Roasters, Daniel Horbat.
What Is Toll Roasting?
Setting up a roastery can be complicated and expensive. To be successful, it requires substantial capital, as well as in-depth knowledge of the coffee roasting process.
Once you’ve established your roastery, generating consistent profits year-on-year can be a constant battle, and you may find you’re spending more time on the business side than you are on the roasting.
Toll roasting offers an alternative for those who are passionate about coffee but don’t have the means or time required to set up their own roastery. In its simplest form, it involves sourcing green beans and sending them off to an established roaster to be roasted to a set of specifications.
Once roasted, the beans are packaged and sent back, after which they can be distributed and sold under a different label. A “toll” is usually taken as payment, with the exact amount calculated by how much coffee is roasted.
Toll roasting has become particularly popular among café owners who want to sell their own branded coffee but lack the means to roast it themselves. It offers a great opportunity to expand reach and market their brand without investing in a roasting facility.
In some cases, toll roasting is used by other roasters who have taken on orders much larger than the capacity of their roastery allows. If this happens, they may decide to send off a certain number of beans to be roasted elsewhere instead of hiring new staff or increasing the size of their roaster.
Daniel Horbat has worked in the coffee industry for nearly two decades. After being crowned World Cup Taster Champion in 2019, he went on to open his own roastery in Dublin, called Sumo Coffee Roasters.
He says that toll roasting has a number of benefits for both roasters and those who are just getting into roasting.
“It allows a faster turnaround on high volume orders,” he says. “As well as ensured quality if the business owner doesn’t have the necessary skills to get the best out of the green coffee.”
Offering A Toll Roasting Service
For some specialty coffee roasters, offering a toll roasting service is an attractive prospect.
For one, it’s an opportunity to share coffee roasting expertise and deliver quality coffee for a range of different companies. Developing the skills required to become a roaster takes years of hard work and it can be very rewarding to put these skills to use beyond their own brand of coffee.
It also offers an additional source of income for roasters who have the time and capacity. If demand dips for their own coffee, they can use the spare time to roast coffee for other businesses or individuals.
“We recognised that whilst our roaster lay idle, we had the opportunity to share, not only our equipment but also our knowledge,” writes UK-based Pharmacie Coffee Roasters in a post on their website. “Coffee roasting is not a dark art, but rather a science and practice that can be learnt and developed through experience and guidance.”
However, Daniel warns that if you’re used to roasting coffee for your own company, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re in position to offer a toll roasting service.
“Toll roasting requires a different kind of skill to roasting coffee for yourself,” he says. “Not only will the green beans you receive have been grown and processed differently, each client will have their own set of preferences and expectations.
“Toll roasters need to be highly experienced, with the ability to properly understand how to manipulate the flavour profile of multiple different coffees. They need good sensory skills and, of course, the ability to identify the correct roast profile.”
Furthermore, because the green beans haven’t been sourced and paid for by you, there is much less room for error compared to roasting your own coffee.
The size of the roaster used for toll roasting is also important. Texas-based coffee roasters US Roast recommends using a 70kg roaster as it will roast much faster than a 10-15kg one, allowing for a much faster turnaround. If you’re used to operating a smaller roaster, going into toll roasting may not be the best idea.
The Impact Of Covid-19 On Toll Roasting
As the effects of Covid-19 continue to be felt around the world, the way people buy coffee has started to change.
Online orders and coffee subscriptions have increased considerably since March 2020. In the US, coffee subscription sales have risen by an estimated 109% in the last year alone.
As a result, many coffee businesses, including cafés, have set up ecommerce shops to offer their own brand of coffee in this thriving market. However, without the facilities to roast their own coffee, toll roasting has been the obvious answer.
“The market for home coffee has taken off in 2020,” writes US Roast. “This has produced a higher demand for coffee sold online directly to consumers, and e-commerce coffee businesses have arisen to meet that demand.
“A toll-roaster helps those who want to start their own coffee brand by doing the coffee roasting, while the business owner does the branding for the coffee business and markets their products.”
This has been phenomenally helpful for café owners who may have missed out on income due to the impact of Covid-19 lockdowns. It has helped keep their brands at the forefront of customers’ minds without the need to splash out on their own roastery or expensive marketing.
It has also been beneficial to micro roasters, many of whom have experienced huge surges in demand since the start of the pandemic, as customers increasingly consume their coffee at home.
Toll roasting services have allowed them to fulfil large orders in a short period of time, putting many of them in a strong position to expand their own roasteries further down the line.
Toll roasting has become an increasingly popular service in recent years.
Whether a café looking to promote its brand, a micro roaster fulfilling large orders, or simply an individual with a passion for sourcing quality coffee, toll roasting offers all the benefits of roasting without the high costs.
When choosing packaging for toll roasted coffee, it’s important to make sure your product stands out on the shelf, reflects the quality of the coffee, and communicates your brand identity.
At MTPak Coffee, we offer a wide range of sustainable packaging for toll roasted coffee. We also provide the printing of unique designs either directly onto sustainable bags or on to stickers, so you’ll have the stock to hand when a large order comes through.