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Sip by Sip: Loving Your Neighbor One Cup at a Time!

My first full year of running my coffee shop in review.

As I publish this blog post, it has now been a full year since I opened the coffee shop in the village of Pawling. In some ways, I feel victorious, and in other ways I feel like just sort of tumbled through. Either way, I made it!


I've always believed in the importance of reflecting on life as you go. It's very much like being a cat standing on a mirror, we need to "paws and reflect."



Whenever I publish annual reflection reports like this, I like to recap highlights, specifically:

  • Accomplishments

  • Challenges

  • Insights and lessons learned, both the easy and hard way.

  • Vision for the following year


Accomplishments:

My Roaster- Starting out last year, I had only recently set my drum roaster up for basic production. It was clunky, inconsistent and smoked up the place something awful, but it produced really nice coffee. Though the roaster itself wasn't completely consistent, I worked to make sure I produced consistent coffee each time. It was capable of producing 1 pound in approximately 15-20 minutes, which made for a tedious workday when I had a lot to roast. It also would regularly slip out of the rotisserie motor, causing me to constantly stop what I was doing to fix it.


Thankfully, over the course of the year, special thanks to my engineering friend, mechanically-inclined dad and coffee-roasting expert uncle, I am now able to roast 2 pounds in the same amount of time with greater control and consistency. It also stays put in the rotisserie now, so I don't need to worry about it as much while I'm working.


I have roasted approximately 1,000 pounds of coffee, which actually means about 1,250 ended up going into the roaster over the course of the year due to moisture loss.


My Roasting- The most popular roast has been the El Salvador San Miguel medium-dark roast, which has accounted for about 300 pounds of the total roasting.


I also have learned a lot about the craft of roasting coffee. With coffee I haven't spent a tremendous amount of time studying at academically like I would with any other interest in my life. For whatever reason, I've just enjoyed jumping in and hanging on. It's felt very much like how I imagine it would feel learning a language by going to another country and just figuring it out. I can make a separate blog post dedicated to what I've learned over the past year, all I can say is it's been an exciting journey! I suppose I've chosen this style of learning coffee because I'd like to experience as for the first time. As we all know, the first time experiencing something you feel a sense of awe and wonder. I'm choosing to continue capturing that feeling as I learn more about this craft.


Something I've particularly enjoyed in the business has been the coffee-roasting demonstrations. Up to this point, I have had 11 demonstrations:

  1. My own shop as a special event in the evening.

  2. Collaboration with Ridge Ranch cow farm, "Cows n' Coffee!" We did this event 4 times with great success.

  3. East Fishkill Library

  4. The biggest one was at the Culinary Institute of America, my Alma Mater

  5. Collaboration with Iron and Wine restaurant, at the restaurant

  6. Fundraiser for the American Heart Association, done in my shop

  7. Prosser School of Technology Culinary Arts program, where I first learned cooking

  8. Beekman library


Special opportunities- As many of you know, I'm a pastor, which means I want to serve the community in any way that I can. We're in an age that no longer views going to church as a normal thing to do, which means if I'm going to connect with the people of Pawling, I'm going to have to meet them where they are. People may not want to have anything to do with church anymore, but the love for coffee hasn't diminished in the slightest!

There have been numerous people come to the shop who would otherwise not even so much as give me the time of day because I'm "religious." Most will come in for their coffee and we'll enjoy a pleasant conversation, some will sit down and we'll talk a little more in depth, others still we've developed a wonderful friendship. I think we can all agree that the world needs a few more coffee tables where different people can sit together and talk about things over coffee.

Another special opportunity has been introducing people to the world of coffee roasting. Within the first year, I helped 11 people take their first step into roasting their own coffee. For some of them it's really caught on, others enjoyed the experience and May pick it back up in the future.


Challenges:

Equipment- The process of fine tuning my roaster was a very bumpy ride. As a result of the testing alone, I had to sacrifice 30#+ of coffee that ended in disaster. There were times when the drum would come apart during the roasting, burning all of the beans and causing the whole roasting process to delay a couple of hours.


There were also a couple of mishaps during special events, such as the first day of the Pawling Farmers market not having electricity for me or the gas getting shut off during my demo at the Culinary Institute of America.


During the late summer I had to go almost two weeks on a boil water advisory. This was more of a slight inconvenience than anything disastrous.


Other challenges were more along the lines of just being new to business in general, such how to file taxes, advertising and managing inventory. They were more learning experiences than challenges, but it was still a lot of work to get through.


I would say my biggest challenge over the past year has been the fact that I'm running the operation solo, which limits my ability to keep the shop open consistently. If I had a special event, I had to close the shop. If I was sick, which happened frequently, I had to close.


Lessons Learned:

Equipment- I had bought a $500 professional roasting drum. It was the highest quality craftsmanship with no moving parts and a 4# capacity. It turns out my roaster doesn't have anywhere near enough power to handle such a batch load, which rendered my expensive roasting drum useless. That's when I discovered the need for certain amounts of power to keep a consistent roast. Just a couple of weeks ago, I received a transformer, which increases the power output of the roaster substantially. Not enough for the large drum, but still way better than before.


I also learned what to look for in determining when a machine requires deliming. Thankfully, I didn't lose any equipment from burning out, but it could've been a problem.


Purchasing- The first couple of months were wild with purchasing. If I needed it, I bought it without hesitation. When my coffee supply was running low, I just threw an order out there to Royal and took what they gave me. This started causing problems.

I ended up purchasing the wrong decaf because I bought it without thinking. Since receiving 150# of it, I've felt the need to explain my decaf apologetically.


After a while, thanks to some advice from other professionals, I began doing more research ahead of time in order to make more informed decisions. I wrote an article recounting that process here.


I also learned how to produce or purchase more exact amounts for what I needed simply by paying closer attention to how much I'm going through. This has saved me hundreds of dollars already!


Brewing- At first I was eyeballing the amount of beans needed to brew the regular coffee, but it wasn't coming out consistently. There were even complaints about the coffee not being strong enough, they were right...

To resolve this issue, I began weighing everything out before grinding and brewing. It's taken a little trial and error, but I feel good about the consistency now.


Assertiveness- I had to have a very difficult conversation with my insurance company because they weren't insuring me despite taking my payment each month. I had to climb up fairly high on the corporate ladder to get some answers. Thankfully, I was able to get new insurance through a local agent. The lesson learned was how to stand up for yourself without being overly aggressive.



Vision for the Future:

Farmers Markets- I have signed up for 3 farmers markets this year instead of only doing the Pawling market. So this summer I will be at the Arlington market Thursday nights, Patterson Friday nights and Pawling Saturday mornings.


Wholesale/Private Label- I have plans in place for when a business would like to set up a wholesale account with me. As for the private label coffee, that would be where the client would purchase the full sack of green coffee and I will roast it and bag it for them at a reasonable rate. This would allow businesses to say no one will find their coffee anywhere else!


Online Sales- I'd like to have a more steady online presence, which I'll work on in the form of social media and email marketing.



Conclusion:

I'm so excited to have made it this far and can't wait to see how next year goes. Thank you all for your support though out the year. Whether through buying coffee from me, helping me advertise or opening up your venue to allow me to sell my coffee there, you all mean so much to me. You are the reason I'm in the coffee business. I'm not interested in just selling coffee and calling it a day, there has to be a connection with the people I'm serving.


Cheers to another year!




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