Collaboration – The Key to a Better Cup

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Successful roasters are like Formula One drivers

Formula One, like roasting, requires an almost miraculous collaboration of people whose efforts come together in the hands of just one person. A single person who can make or break the results of all that effort. If you have ever stood beside a roast machine, you’ll appreciate how deep this analogy goes. Both jobs require expertise and demand long hours of focus that can be punctuated by moments of panic. Both are also jobs where strong collaboration, combined with a mastery and the leveraging of technology, brings big rewards.

Coffee seems to be a long way from the race track when it comes to complexity, but the collaboration required for coffee to make the journey from the farm to the cafe is surely similar in terms of people, expertise and relationships—not to mention paperwork. Look at a bag of specialty coffee in 2017 and you will find lots of detailed information about those people and their contributions, especially at origin. Businesses that understand the value of collecting, sharing, and utilizing the information created by collaboration are increasingly recognized as leaders in this industry. Like Formula One teams, these businesses create something that is greater than the sum of its parts and when it works, everyone involved gets to win. How do they do it?

Information as branding

Top roasteries cultivate customer interest in the origin story. They identify and differentiate their products by country of origin, altitude, farm, processing methods, etc. These strategies are driving a change in offer sheets to include more detailed product information. Food safety requirements may be a factor, but they don’t drive people to add farm altitude information. Specialty coffee leaders understand that collecting complete origin information creates enormous leverage outside simple branding. It can help farmers get a greater share of the cup, it can encourage more sustainable practices, it can improve transportation challenges and ensure quality is built into every step of the process. It can can also help skilled roasters consistently deliver a better cup. How does it all come together? Through integrated systems. Today, buyers can cup a sample at origin and that cupping can follow the coffee all the way from the farm to the cafe. This creates insights that subsequently drive purchasing, transportation, packaging, warehousing, roasting, and blending decisions, as well as many others. Just like Formula One, specialty coffee get a little more competitive every year. What’s more, the players who know how to collect, act on and leverage increasingly detailed information are increasingly winning this competition.

Leading coffee businesses are leveraging technology up and down the supply chain. Information can be collected at every stage and when combined, can deliver a winning competitive advantages.

Time travel – collaborating with the past, for the future

Experience matters – whether you’re driving a 1000 bhp car or a 15 kg roaster. It takes time to build up experience and it is difficult to pass on. We are lucky to work with experts at every level of the industry and we see all of them trying to build that experience into their businesses. How? By increasing use of tools to capture and analyze quality both inside businesses and increasingly with external partners. In coffee, experts are often early adopters when it comes to technology. They understand that systems give them an almost perfect memory and appreciate the advantages of looking at coffees, roasts, warehouses, partners, etc. over time. Today, people up and down the supply chain can literally look back in time and ask themselves exactly how things were and compare it to how they are now. The result: we have seen a big demand for things like ‘quality over time reports’, ‘profile over time’ and ‘green coffee supply over time reports’. Our leading customers use these reports to learn what they have done, to dig into the details and to understand what worked. They then make incremental steps—and sometimes big jumps—towards higher quality, better purchasing decisions, and even identifying better roasters and cuppers. Accurate information is addictive to experts because it drives better decisions. Collaboration has a new dimension—these leaders are literally consulting themselves in the past and it is paying off for the very same reasons capturing every turn, from every race, pays off for drivers.

Today’s roast machines are getting more and more intelligent as devices. Their real power to change businesses comes when they are connected to inventory, quality, suppliers, historical information and, of course, profile analysis.

Intelligent roast machines don’t live on islands

An appliance is a device or machine designed to do a specific task, like a roast machine or a fast car. Computers bring enormous benefits to appliances—incredible control over functionality and the ability to collect detailed information with ease. One only has to look at the leading manufacturers to see this in action – delivering it defines today’s leading machine manufacturers. Modern roast machines are filled with sensors and often include their own screens. The result: automatically collected roast profiles and the rate of rise feel like they have been with us forever. Still, even with all these innovations, free standing roast machines remain appliances—good at one thing. They sit on a virtual island, disconnected from all the information the supply chain is creating, and that is a problem. Luckily, there is a solution. At leading roasteries, intelligent roast machines are no longer isolated. They are now connected to inventory, quality, suppliers, and of course profiles. Connected roast machines are a nexus where every part of the supply chain comes together. Their owners and operators understand that an intelligent appliance, like a roast machine, is only one piece of the puzzle. But it is a critical piece that starts to make everything else fall into place when it is connected. These businesses know the impact of every roast on inventory, which supplier provides the most consistent product and of course how each of these elements affects taste. But delivering the real value requires something critical – a connected roaster who understands the machine, the coffee and what all this information is telling them. A driver, who is passionate about knowing everything that can influence the outcome before race begins.

Roasters create great coffees with great information

The more information roasters have about a coffee; where came, from how was handled, how it was roasted and what was done with it after roasting, the more able they are to make informed decisions. Just like drivers adjust to rain on the track, roasters examine green coffee moisture and roast accordingly. The result is better coffee, more efficient production and less mishaps—another huge win. Roasters are in a unique position to deliver the benefits of all this collaboration from bean to cup. An intelligent roast machine undoubtedly delivers better, more consistent coffee – when driven by the right roasting professional. But, just as a Formula One driver needs a competent team behind him, today’s top roast professionals need strong collaborators, technology and data support to help them get the very best from every coffee. For roasters, that team is unique because it can increasingly include past versions of themselves.

Viewed from the perspective of the ‘connected Formula One driving roasters’, the advantages of collaboration and information sharing are evident in every cup of coffee they help produce. The industry has come a long way in a short time. But, in the words of Harvard Professor Michael E. Porter, this increased information “changes industry structure and, in so doing, alters the rules of competition.” Just like Formula One teams who discovered raw horsepower could no longer secure success, many of today’s industry leaders have realized their game is changing and have embraced technology to improve collaboration, collect information and gain insight. Unlike Formula One, the technology they are using to do this is not complex or expensive. Something we will cover in our next article.