This article is aimed at those who are about to open or already have some form of café/restaurant or coffee shop Business. I’ve created this to highlight the good and bad things to watch out for when choosing a supplier for your coffee beans.

But before we jump straight into the top 10 tips, I first want to explain why I think what we do at Smokey Barn is pretty special. Ask any of our wholesale customers and they’d tell you they get an excellent level of service, care and attention. It’s not just our coffee products (they are clearly awesome), but the attention to detail that we pay to all aspects of our customers coffee set up. We act as their coffee partners and mentors.

How is this possible? Because coffee is our hobby, this what we do for fun! So when I go to visit a cafe to introduce some of our new coffees or to give barista training, it’s not a sales thing, I genuinely love getting involved with anything that’s coffee. It doesn’t even feel like work to me, it gives me a real buzz, especially if I’m helping others to learn.

Right, enough waffle, bring on the tips!

Top 10 tips for choosing a wholesale coffee supplier:

1) How long has your coffee supplier been in the business? This may surprise you, but anyone can be a coffee supplier, or even a coffee roaster. There is no exam, no governing body and no checkups. With this in mind, how much experience does your roaster have? Does this suit the needs of your business? Your roaster should be able to guide you through any coffee problems you have. Visit, talk to and taste coffee from some of thier existing clients to see how it stacks up. 

2) What do the beans look like? Or, more importantly, what colour are they? Black and oily beans are a sure fire sign of dated practices (in my opinion). I believe that dark roasting coffee is much like burning toast. Whether you have white, brown or focaccia bread, it becomes irrelevant if it’s burnt to a crisp. Specialty coffee has moved on from this old fashioned style of roasting. I recommend you look for beans that are a ‘medium’ to ‘medium/light’ brown colours (see below). These will have retained the desirable qualities that you’re looking for in a cup of coffee (providing of course they were good quality raw green coffee beans in the first place).

 3) Beware of underhand sales tactics. Unfortunately, an awful lot of coffee suppliers in Norfolk are supplying poor quality beans that are labeled as a premium product (also see point 6). It’s very easy to seduce someone new to coffee with some sexy sounding words like “strong, smooth, rich roast”, all of which have no actual meaning but sound really appetising! Have your potential supplier demonstrate their range of coffees to you. 

4) Ask your wholesale coffee supplier what they can tell you about their coffee beans. Questions such as: “Which countries of origin do you currently have in stock?”, “What do they taste like?” “Would those beans suit brewed or espresso based drinks?”, “When was it roasted?”. If your coffee supplier has difficulty answering these simple questions, walk away.

5) Don’t get too hung up on ‘Fair trade’, ‘Organic’ or ‘Rainforest Alliance’ coffees. Nestle now offer a ‘Fair trade Kit-Kat’, but that doesn’t mean you’re buying high quality chocolate! I’m not saying fair trade or other certificates are bad, I’m just saying it has no bearing on quality.

6) Avoid cheap coffee! Anything less than £12/KG is likely to be low quality coffee. Although I will admit this isn’t always the case. In the early days of Smokey Barn, we charged just £11/KG for some wonderful coffees, purely because we wanted to sign up some new customers. However, through experience (see point 1) we have learned that you just can’t make a sustainable business as a specialty roaster at this price. Avoid.

7) Also avoid (overly) expensive coffee! Without going into too much detail, I have known other UK roasters to sell the same crop of coffee as us, for almost double the price! This of course is madness. As long as you’re buying from an experienced and reputable roaster, excessive pricing is just companies exploiting their 'fan boy' status. It’s a huge waste of money for your business.

8) Don’t allow your business to be tied into a contract of poor quality coffee beans, in exchange for the lease of an espresso machine. Do you want to do this coffee thing properly or not? I’m all for saving money, but don’t cheap out on the very thing that makes your cup of coffee taste like coffee!

9) How in depth is their barista training? A lot of wholesale coffee suppliers will deliver your shiny new machine to your door, explain what the buttons do, set the grinder, then disappear. We usually give our customers at least 4 hours of initial, in-depth training to new customers. We then offer unlimited top up sessions and workshops, free of charge.

10) And finally! Do they seem like the sort of people you want to work with? As I mentioned in the beginning of the article, we effectively go into partnership with our customers (not financially, of course). But, it’s our product being served and we don’t want our reputation for excellent coffee to take a tumble. I recommend you choose a supplier that is friendly, sociable and takes pride in seeing their coffee driving your business forward.