China Coffee

咖啡关系模型 Relationship Coffee Model 对JORGE CUEVAS的独家专访

The Relationship Coffee Model - An Interview with Jorge Cuevas, Chief Coffee Officer at Sustainable Harvest.

咖啡行业内部关于直接贸易、可持续发 展和行业发展未来的争论永无休止。 为了从一个新的角度看待这些问题, 我采访了Jorge Cuevas,Jorge是“咖啡关系模 型”的先锋创始人,在过去16年间,他一直担任 着Sustainable Harvest这家咖啡绿色贸易公司的 首席咖啡官(CCO,Chief Coffee Officer)。

Relationship Coffee Model.png

Jorge,和我们聊聊你的咖啡故事 我入行是在1995年,当时“精品咖啡”作为 一股新的潮流正在兴起。90年代无论是对于咖啡 还是对于其他事物来讲,都是黄金年代。 为什么说90年代是黄金年代? 当时我正在完成我的发展经济学学位,论文 写的是关于柏林墙的倒塌。90年代是一个充满希 望和包容的年代,全球责任的理念正在普及,所 有一切都是非凡的! (Jorge 将这份热情一直延续至今。“国际 贸易往来可以推动社会发展和社会变革,我们如 今都知道什么是“责任采购”和“企业社会责 任”,可在当时这些名词还不存在。”)

你的第一份和咖啡有关的工作是什么? 我的第一份和咖啡有关的工作是在Aztec Harvest实习,那是一个由墨西哥农民联合发起的 组织,该组织在美国加州设有专门的出口和进口 销售办事处。Sustainable Harvest的创始人David Griswold也曾在Aztec Harvest工作过。当时Aztec Harvest直接对接由政府控制的咖啡贸易系统,这 一系统在很多国家都普及,其目的是鼓励农民完 成咖啡贸易配额。 但配额制度完全没有给咖啡业带来活力! 忽然间,《世界咖啡协议》垮台了,所有人 都必须各自为战,这使得墨西哥的农民和他们的 代理商手足无措,他们所有人都只懂得如何应对 配额制度,最终,他们决定将自己的产品直接带 向终端市场。

在那之后,我移居到了墨西哥的瓦哈卡高 原工作,并与当地人培育出了全球最早得到有机 认证的咖啡。当地人很快便意识到了自己的竞争 力:有机认证和优质口味,对于几代生活在偏远 山区、生来贫困的人来讲,一切发生的都太过突 然,他们的种植环境一下子变为了人们趋之若鹜 的理想种植地点! 2002年,我帮助Sustainable Harvest在瓦哈 卡设立了第一个产地办事处,并由此催生出了 “咖啡关系模型”。 产地办事处并不是要代替种植者或生产者, 而是要帮助他们自己提高种植、采摘、处理、加 工、融资和出口咖啡的能力,说到底,我们其实 是建立了种植者帮扶中心。 此后,产地办事处又先后落户秘鲁、哥伦 比亚、尼加拉瓜、哥斯达黎加、危地马拉和卢旺 达。“咖啡关系模型”的诞生也要感谢墨西哥咖 啡种植者们面临的挑战和他们的需求。

“关系模型”的原理是什么?和公平贸易有 何区别? 首先,先让我来解释一下公平贸易,这的确 是一个惊人的发明!我相信我们的模式和公平贸 易是互补互助的。公平贸易的根本在于保护最低 工资,世界经济环境是自由波动的,价格有起有 伏,所以如果没有最低工资保护,人们就无法正 常生存。公平贸易便是给咖啡种植者带来了最为 基本的生活保障。 纯粹的价格转移迈出了很好的一步,我们在 “关系模型”中又加入了很多其他能够促进咖啡 工业发展的变量,因为只是增加收入还是无法从 根源解决很多国家的落后和贫困问题。

The Founders: David Griswold with Oscar & Jorge

The Founders: David Griswold with Oscar & Jorge

那么具体的区别在哪呢? “关系模型”的核心有三点:
★生产者需要及时、可承受、可靠的信用;
★生产者需要长期合作关系,投资要受到保护;
★最关键的是培训和能力建设,其真正目的 是发挥每一位种植者和种植者联盟的能量和潜力。 此外,我们还引入了政府、金融、非营利资 质和慈善。David Griswold 在2003年于瓦哈卡首次 举办了“Let's Talk Coffee”活动,当时超过80位业界相关人员聚集到一起,其中包括零售商、烘 焙商、出口商、金融服务商、加工商和种植者。 在过去,这些不同领域和环节的专家都是相 互隔离的,但我们首次将他们聚集在一起共商大 事。首先是实现了价格透明,会上我们曾听到种 植者惊呼:“我的天!我卖1.5美元/磅,但我在 美国的展销会上看到了同样的咖啡,能卖到15美 元/磅!”一位资深烘焙师站了起来,并说道: “让我来给你解释为什么能卖到15美元/磅,给 你想要的价格透明!”很多烘焙商都对这位烘焙 师的做法很恼火,因为这样做会大幅压减利润空 间。但我们组织这个活动的目的,便是让所有人 知道从种植园采购的1.5美元/磅的咖啡,是如何 通过出口、运输、烘焙中的重量损失、包装、劳 务、配送、批发,最终变为15美元/磅的。

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“Let's Talk Coffee”活动还给种植者和生产 者提供了在咖啡专家们指导下品鉴咖啡的机会。 很多人都从未品尝过自己亲手种植的咖啡,他们 不知道如何辨别香气和口味,如何用正确的语言 来向美国的买家介绍自己的产品。 当生产者了解咖啡的价值之后,他们便会追 加投资来提升产品质量,以满足市场的需求。“有 机”便是个很好的例子。如果种植者听说人们想要 有机咖啡,他们肯定会跑回村子里,告诉村民们 “我们需要有机认证!”,由此,我们能够保证他 们的竞争力,保证他们得到更优的采购价格。

政府在其中扮演怎样的角色? 我们希望给政府提供更多的建议。政府的 需求是无尽的,但资源是有限的,所有人都想得 到些什么,因此我们给出的建议是:“我们能够 告诉你如何提高咖啡产品的竞争力,咖啡能为你 们带来现金,还能促进就业,减缓农村人口的流 失。咖啡能丰富政府的收入渠道,同时还有利于 环保。”然后我们会建议他们,哪些才是他们真 正应该投资和指导的地方。

这种模式是否能帮助种植者或种植者联盟 成长? 当然,而且变化非常明显!在过去,种植者 联盟咖啡出口总量在民营咖啡出口总量中的占比 非常小,如今则完全不同。我记得90年代哥伦比 亚总共有15家出口商控制了整个国家的咖啡贸 易,但现在这种集权已经不复存在! 烘焙商和零售商是否也能从中获益? 首先,烘焙商开始采用更加科学、透明的采 购价格,在之前他们只想一味压低价格,现在他 们与生产者之间的对话更加公平,咖啡的特色和 价值也能得到体现。其次,烘焙商更加注重与原 产地社会的互动,更加注重和生产者间合作关系 的维护和培育。最后,在哥伦比亚,Keurig已经 开始支持当地有机肥料的创新和使用,当所有原 材料都是当地的有机肥料,当地的生产力也因此 翻倍。农民们开始意识到:“如果我养牛、马或 者猪,我就可以为咖啡提供更好的肥料,从而增 加我的收入,还能帮助到更多的人!”

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“关系模型”最直接的影响和好处何在? 首先,品质是主观的,如果设定目标,则更 容易被人接受。预期会影响价格,而品质则会直 接影响预期。 其次,在“关系模型”下,烘焙商能够更好 地了解生产者的能力与局限性,生产者也同样需 要了解烘焙商的需求,因此,“关系模型”能够 有效减少退货概率,提高采购时效性,提升稳定 性和可靠性,这是一个长期的过程。咖啡的采购 绝非一时兴起,需要长期培育起一种模式,由此 烘焙商也可以实现在竞争中脱颖而出。“关系模 型”能够减少供货端的波动,无需频繁更换供货 商,如果生产者从一开始就知道你是一个短期客 户,他们也不会为了维护长期合作投资更多。

你希望未来5-10年,咖啡工业能得到怎样 的发展? 我希望有一天人们会说:“我了解C Market 市场,知道它的运作原理,但它不适合我,我也 用不着,它只是一种选择。” 但目前仿佛是人 们的唯一选择。 采购者可以脱离出来,做到与众不同,但 作为生产者,或许你只能实现一半的脱离。C Market或是直接贸易都不是唯一的选择,生产者 需要两者兼顾。他们的产量中或许有30-40%是 超高品质的,10-20%是高品质的,5-10%是低品 质的。虽然他们想提高高品质咖啡的产量,但所 有产品都有它存在的价值和市场。

最后,我认为咖啡工业面临的最大挑战在于 气候变化。 ★种植的失败率大幅增加; ★种植的周期和时效性大打折扣,合同逾期 履约的概率大幅增加; ★几乎没有对咖啡口味的变化进行研究。 我已经目睹一些长期合作的伙伴因为口味变 化导致合作终止,该为此做些什么呢?我们需要 知道如何适应,并在气候变化的影响下维护我们 的合作关系。咖啡虽然没有完全变坏,但它们在 杯测桌上展现的口味的确发生了变化。 最后我相信,强大的合作关系和更好的对话 能够进一步提升透明度,只有这样我们的咖啡工 业才能得到长远的发展!



Read online here: https://www.calameo.com/books/005336753a9b36477549c

From Yunnan, a Good Friend Eric Baden

A great read for the real story of struggle and amazing endurance of Chinese coffee farmers.

https://scanews.coffee/25-magazine/issue-7/english/touching-southern-clouds 

Yunnan, Southern China cloudy skyline

Yunnan, Southern China cloudy skyline

Coffee Commune’s ERIC BADEN explores the impact volatile commodity pricing of both tea and coffee has made on Yunnan’s farming landscape in Issue 7 of 25 Magazine.

Clusters of shining white clouds pass majestic mountain slopes, wrapped in the green velvet of dense subtropical forests. The mountain springs sparkle in the sunlight as crystal clear water flows downward to nurture rice terraces, orchards, tea, and coffee plantations. This land of breathtaking beauty is Yunnan, home to a vast diversity of flora and fauna: a province in China’s far southwest, bordering on Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam. It is also the birthplace of tea: at 3,200 years of age, the world’s oldest cultivated tea tree still flourishes in the Yunnan city of Lincang.

When compared to its history of tea cultivation, coffee farming is new to Yunnan. Ever since the first coffee tree was planted in Zhukula village, introduced by French missionary Alfred Liétard in 1892, coffee trees have flourished in Yunnan’s mild winters and temperate summers. Today, there are approximately 35,000 coffee-farming families in Yunnan, most of which belong to one of the 24 ethnic minorities that call the province home, each with their own dialect, traditions, and culture. Coffee farming has been their livelihood for several generations.

A modest village home, typical of the approximately 35,000 coffee-farming families in Yunnan. Most belong to one of the 24 ethnic minorities that call the province home.

Market Impact

Beginning in the 1980s, the momentum of coffee production in the region increased exponentially. The coffee market of the time, marked by rising coffee consumption and leaf rust afflicting Central American crops, led to the widespread planting of the Catimor cultivar, chosen for its high yield and resistance to fungal diseases. With a priority placed on volume, little attention was paid to the effect picking and processing have on quality, and ultimately on price. Although it had many positive qualities – good body and sweetness, medium acidity – it also had a variety of undesirable flavor notes. As a result of this, Yunnan coffee traded at a substantial discount from the C market price throughout the years.

Why did so many Yunnan farmers, who used to grow tea for generations, decide to uproot their mature tea trees and start growing coffee, an unfamiliar crop with no domestic market? Price volatility. The impetus for Yunnan’s upswing in coffee production was a compelling combination of a slump in tea prices, which wouldn’t recover for over a decade, and a strong commodity market coffee price, which peaked at US$2.14 per pound in the early 80s. Encouraged by the success of a coffee plantation program that helped Vietnamese farmers recover after the Vietnam War, the United Nations (UN) launched a coffee plantation program in Yunnan as a way to improve the livelihood of tea famers in the region. Those who converted their plantations to coffee experienced an unprecedented rise in income, prompting coffee’s popularity as a crop as a replacement for high elevation tea plantations. As coffee prices gradually eroded from the peak in 1986 – reaching a low of US$0.50 per pound in 1992 – Yunnan coffee farmers held out: tea prices had not yet recovered, either.

Zhan Li (left) and Hei Bao Nong (right), both of the Lisu minority, monitor the progress of a lot out to dry.

Since then, coffee prices have continued to oscillate sharply. Following a price peak again in 2011 (US$2.88 per pound), we have since seen a distinct downward trend that saw the International Coffee Organization’s composite C price fall to US$0.95 per pound this year, its lowest point in over a decade. Adjusted for inflation, this price is equivalent to the low seen in 1992. Tea prices marked their lowest point as coffee prices peaked in 2011, encouraging more farmers to convert their plantations to coffee, but the market continued to shift: tea prices began to increase again as coffee prices began their decade-long decline. As coffee and tea prices oftentimes defy the law of supply and demand due to the oligopolistic structures in the markets, farmers are tossed about like reeds in a storm.

An established coffee plantation in Yunnan is uprooted to make space for new tea and orange plantations.

Make no mistake: what may look like opportunistic behavior is actually a struggle for survival in which the farmers are left with very few choices. In Yunnan, most coffee farms are small land hold farms, i.e. farms smaller than three acres, operated by individual families with two to three generations living and working together. On average, one family produces about 1,500 kg of coffee in a year which, at today’s prices for green, yields a household income after farming costs of a mere US$5 per day. This is not enough to feed the family, pay for transportation to get the children to school all year round, and save a little for medical emergencies or improvements to their very basic village homes. When you have very little and your real income keeps declining year after year no matter how hard you work, you are bound to lose hope. Switching back and forth between coffee and tea is an act of desperation that only continues to make the farmers’ situation worse: it means starting over with less mature plants and vital know-how forgotten.

A New Hope

There is hope that the cycle can be broken, not only to release whole coffee-farming communities from their dilemma, but to also unlock hidden potential for quality coffee at a time when climate change threatens the world’s coffee supply. In January 2016, the Yunnan Provincial Government established the Yunnan International Coffee Exchange (YCE), laying a new course for the Yunnan coffee industry. Today, the goal is quality over volume. Through partnerships with the Coffee Quality Institute (CQI), the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA), and the International Women’s Coffee Alliance (IWCA), the YCE is working to systematically equip and financially support (and reward) coffees produced in the region that meet a newly established standard which emphasizes consistency and a clean cup.

Care and attention are taken during processing in order to develop positive characteristics in the cup.

Private initiatives in the region complement the YCE programs, aiming to produce micro-lots that will meet the approval of discerning buyers and roasters of specialty coffee in the American, European, and Australian markets. Feedback is key to developing the potential of the region: buyers and roasters from around the world can participate in preparing Yunnan coffee for the specialty market by evaluating samples from participating farms. In one specific case, structured, qualitative feedback was translated in intentional processing amendments, in order to match the preferences of buyers in different markets.

Li Xiu Zhen (left) and Yu Hua Mei (right), also of the Lisu minority, work to remove defects from drying green.

By raising the bar on quality and consistency, and by intentionally developing outstanding specialty micro-lots, these initiatives will afford buyers and roasters new, interesting, and even unique choices to craft innovative blends and single origin roasts. For the Yunnan coffee farmers, this means the hope of a new cycle: one of gradual improvement of their income, encouraging them to keep improving the quality of their coffee, and enabling them to invest for the next generation. ◊

ERIC BADEN is the Founder and CEO of Coffee Commune, a “full value-chain business,” in Yunnan, China.

Commercial Break: A Dream Alive [CC#11]

A Dream Alive

ROCC started in 2012... well perhaps it goes back further than that.

Adam was no ordinary Michigan farmer. At a young age he began traveling the world until one day he landed in Central China. It was the other side of the world that he bumped into Paul... another "Michigander".

One day the two grabbed a cup of coffee together. Paul began to reminisce about his artisan friends & family back home. He casually mentioned, "I used to roast my own coffee." Suddenly the cosmos opened for Adam who bemoaned, "I wish I could find a decent cup of coffee around here." Epiphany! Paul, "Let's roast our own!"

Today the coffee you're holding was hand-selected and handcrafted by the ROCC Coffee Crew. The point of all this coffee hype is to focus on roasting and serving amazing coffees that build community and provide a playground for coffee enthusiasts.

Whether you call yourself and artisan or a novice, rest assured that at ROCC nothing is compromised. We do all the hard work (meticulously selecting, roasting, testing & brewing) so that you can just sit back & enjoy incredible coffees with a big smile.

Diedrich ROCC Bags

(Excerpt as read on the back of our beautiful ROCC Coffee bags : )

A 1,748 Day Flashback. [CC#1]

A 1,748 Day Coffee Entrepreneur Flashback.

It was time to lock those heavy glass doors. Paul, Louis and I stood on a well worn red paper entryway exhausted. My oldest daughter, who had turned five just 17 days prior to the Grand Opening Party, had scribbled a marvelous array of swirls and blessings in black Sharpie markers.

Tonight was truly grand! The guests were kind and waited a long time to drink ultra-light roasted coffees late in the evening. Thats what friends do after-all. The French pastries disappeared real quick. Chocolate tarts, Macaroons, Puffy-French-Things, Eclairs, Handmade Pretzels (I convinced the baker against his will to make me the german Bretzel).

Grand Opening



It was mostly Americans, Koreans and Chinese who filled the too-warm 25 square meter room where a PPT (PowerPoint) introduction was provided. From Day 1, I held the microphone as Paul preferred to speak when called upon and Louis preferred to hide a safe distance behind Paul. We were a great team standing on that red-papered entry.

The center lock was mostly ornamental. A visual deterrent for petty thieves who might somehow find a market for stolen coffee beans and simple coffee brewing devices. In hindsight watching how a thief off-loaded an armful of our coffee may have helped enlighten our marketing strategies. For good or ill, the "xiaotou" thieves never realized how useless the $3 stainless steel lock was.

When we really locked up, we'd break out the large red plastic covered U-bolt lock and secure the door handles shut. In order to get past this bad boy, I imagine a Chinese "da'ge" bro would need as much brains as he had brawn. Either way, I tried to convince myself that I and Paul were the only two people in a city of 12 million who knew that the secret to breaking into our shop was to go at it Bruce Li style and just "la" pull the door handles off and then "tui" push your way in.

Tonight we were too excited to worry about all the bad stuff that might befall our newly minted business. We'd been going full speed for 100 days non-stop. We didn't imagine how or where we would find customers to buy all of our amazing "xinxian" fresh "hongbei" roasted coffee. There were so many other problems that we had overcome!

Stuff like:
- Writing a business plan and convincing ourselves for 6 months that roasting Specialty Coffees in Central China was a great idea.
- Raising capital, forming and American LLC and a investing into a Chinese Wholly Foreign Owned Enterprise.
- Finding a shop to rent and a contractor to renovate it and passing police and fire department inspections and interrogations!

** Important note to foreigners doing business in China, this is the part where you run to get noodles or turn on your "ting bu dong" I-don't-understand face and keep clear of any landlord or badge bearing uniform.

- We shipped a half ton Diedrich IR-12 coffee roaster (purchased 2nd hand off Craigslist sight-unseen) halfway around the world.
- Then, we couldn't find green coffee to roast and when we finally did (paying an arm and a leg for it) we couldn't get the roaster to fire.
- We even made and fastened our own 8x2 meter signboard 12 feet off the ground to steel, marble and concrete with a bunch of hand tools for 1,000 "yuan" bucks because the contractor quoted us 20,000 yuan!

But it all worked out.
The ROCC Coffee Roastery was open for business.

Fond China Coffee Recollections

That first shipment

That first shipment

Sitting on the opposite side of the world, recollecting what I love about coffee in Wuhan, China.

As a coffee roaster starting out in Wuhan (2012) there were few options for purchasing green or roasted coffee. It seems most everything has changed in these 5 years since.

One great change is the availability of green coffee. I remember buying my first batch of coffee from some friends in Beijing. The price was outrageous, marked up 4-5x. It was my first purchase and the ROCC Coffee Roastery Grand Opening party was quickly approaching so we needed the best. We loaded up on some specialty grade Pulp-Natural Brazil, Washed Costa Rica, MicroLot Kenya & Gayo Mountain Sumatra. The Kenyan ran me $20USD/kg while the rest was closer to $15/kg! I had no choice, it was the only place I could find specialty coffee in 2012 and those were my only 4 choices.

However, to this day I have not had a Kenyan coffee which could rival that of 2012 (Kagumo Estate). Light roasted was sweetly acidic like vine ripened grape tomatoes and raspberries. Dark Roasted (I'm talking middle second crack) was like a toasted marshmallow.

2 months ago when leaving China I was sent 8 samples of some phenomenal coffees. Now green coffee traders are desparate to get roasters attention to help them offload excellent and affordable, clean, crisp, dense, fresh coffees from all over the world. Prices today are half those 2012 prices.

The Unforgetable Kenyan!

The Unforgetable Kenyan!

Yet still, what I love about coffee in China is that it's like the Wild West. We need professionals to stand up and boldly say, "This coffee is a great bargain!" or "This is how you roast!" or "This is what blending is all about!" Instead roasters and cafes are creating new brands everyday declaring, "Buy my coffee!" "Spend money at my cafe!" "Take training courses from me!".

All this reminiscing has me thinking it's time to document ROCC's coffee history.

~ Adam 黄朋

Renting the China Roastery [CC#10]

Roasters & Registrations... done! Check! What about China? My eyes turned to the East.

Paul and Louis had been keeping busy in Wuhan. Louis searched for decent rental locations. He considered a dozen before finally deciding.

Rent in Wuhan is steep! (commonly 200-300 RMB per square meter per month) This makes a 100 sq.m. shop (thats 1,000 sq.ft.) cost 20,000-30,000 RMB ($3,500-4,500 USD) per month. Typically only restaurants or big brand shops can earn a profit. As a result at half to two-thirds of small businesses lose money and close within the first year.

More affordable rentals in small or old business plazas are held by old landlords (with whom you need "guanxi" relationship). Many are so bad that you don't dare do coffee business from them. Old restaurants covered in "you" oil and "yan" smoke are the norm. Often when you do find a decent place it is hard to locate (off the beaten path or has poor public transportation). You should ensure the neighbors aren't sketchy and you want to foresee any building issues that may exist (e.g. bad electric wiring, bad plumbing, a low point for flooding, etc.). Transportation, delivery and parking are issues to consideration as well when purchasing 60-70kg jute bags of green coffee or shipping boxes of fresh roasted espresso to customers.

A view of our neighbors: Smokes-Liquour Shop, Japanese Diner, Lounge, Curtain Shop, ROCC, Teahouse & Tea Distributor... (from left to right)

A view of our neighbors: Smokes-Liquour Shop, Japanese Diner, Lounge, Curtain Shop, ROCC, Teahouse & Tea Distributor... (from left to right)

Juggling all of these considerations, Louis narrowed down his search to a few locations. The one finally chosen won us over for a few reasons:

  1. Louis felt great about the landlady, Ms. Liu. She was kind and professional to work with endearing a sense of confidence and trust.
  2. The place was "hen fangbian" very convenient, for Paul's commute (about 2km walking distance).
  3. To the South (right if door) was a family owned teashop where the elderly grandfather sat daily offering advice and assurance that it was a decent location.
  4. To the North (left of door) was a family owned curtain shop. The husband wife duo were hard working and seemed good parents to their young daughter who often did homework or played among the piles of curtain rods and bolts of fabric.
  5. Though formerly a restaurant, the 100 sq.meter shop was very clean. Little oil remained from past "chaofan" food frying.
  6. The unit was 5 shops in from the entrance, close enough to have some visibility from the outside while being far enough in to be sheltered from torrential Wuhan rains by an overhang covering above.
  7. While feeling expensive, the shop was affordable at 3,200 RMB/month (about $500 USD).


While I was still in the US - after several late night phone calls (in the garage near the wifi router) Paul, Louis and I confirmed to Ms. Liu "women yao zu" we'd like to rent. With Louis' investment capital he signed off on the shop and with Paul began planning what renovations were needed to turn Unit 7 in Building 18, XiangLong Times Plaza on NingKangYuan Road into the ROCC Coffee Roastery.

A Craigslist Coffee Roaster [CC#9]

I had scoured Ebay, Craigslist and coffee forum postings for 6 months. Nothing was turning up to meet my need: a batch roaster rated 5-12kg (10-25lbs) at a price we had budgeted in our business plan. Although frustrating, six months provides a great timeframe to patiently watch the market, understand the value of used equipment and see what sells (and what doesn't sell).

From watching the market I learned several things:

  • Probat (German) and Diedrich (American) machines sold for the most and sold quicker than other models. 
    • I knew it would be hard to get one of these, but at the same time in the future we could sell it higher and more quickly.
    • Others like San Franciscan, etc. also appeared but didn't sell quite as fast and didn't have the positive feedback in forums which Probat or Diedrich commanded.
  • Nice 5-7kg (10-15lb) used roasters were selling for $10-16,000 USD.
  • Larger 10-12kg (22-30lb) used roasters were selling for $18 - 22,000 USD.
  • Much older, classic cast iron drum roasters (typically 10-12kg) sold immediately for $20,000+.

It wasn't easy staying on top of the listings. Contacting sellers through Craigslist or coffee forums proves to be slow and frustrating. Demand for great machines was much greater than supply. Well priced roasters sold immediately. In the course of 6 months, there were a few machines (I still remember the Blue 7kg Diedrich!) that I wanted to pull-the-trigger on, but at the time I didn't have the capital.

Right around the time I was registering, getting capital commitments and expediting papers across the USA the perfect machine popped up. A 2007 Diedrich IR-12 (Infrared 12kg) roaster was listed for sale on Craigslist near Tucson, AZ. I immediately contacted the seller because his list price of $15,000 was much lower than the $20,000 prices I was accustomed to seeing. If purchased new the Diedrich IR-12 retailed $35-40,000. These were the manual roasting days, before computer aided roasting programs and profilers became ubiquitous. 

At that time in 2012, my wife and I were operating a non-profit Educational Exchange that recruited teachers for ESL teaching in China. "Zhong Relations" was on-boarding a new teacher that year from Tucson, AZ. I called Joel in Tucson and asked, "Hey man, would you be willing to go kick the tires on this roaster for me and make sure everything looks up to snuff?" He didn't know anything about coffee roasters but agreed to check out a few of the areas I alerted to him.

2012 Diedrich IR-12 used roaster

My Instructions and Requests to Joel included:
1. Do a basic walk around - ensure the roaster looks standard, nothing busted or out of place and that it starts up easily.
2. Listen to the machine heat up, and confirm it makes no strange sounds (Like it needs to be oiled or as if metal rubbing together somewhere).
3. Let the sellers talk, are they transparent and sharing plenty of details or does it appear they are hiding something, drawing your attention away from trouble spots.
4. Try to inspect the drum rotating on it's center shaft, is it concentric and smooth in rotation or is there wobble with an oblong shape (indicating it was not cooled properly and that the metal had warped).
5. Look underneath, behind, inspect bearings front, back, lower for excess oil or any rust or dryness. 
6. Is the machine generally clean or is there old buildup in the cooling chamber and chaff collector. Are there coffee fines or oil buildup?
7. Does the machine produce good looking roasted coffee in your opinion within a 10-15 minute roast period? Do those fresh roasted beans cool to the touch quickly (in less than 5 minutes)?
8. Do you smell gas or propane when it's roasting?
9. Take lots of photos and videos to send to me please.

I had never purchased a coffee roaster but I grew up on a farm. I figured buying a used coffee roaster would be similar to buying a used car. There's only so much that can be checked in a 60 minute inspection and then you drop a wad of cash and drive off hoping nothing blows up.

Joel reported back well, sent reassuring videos and photos and even got himself a couple free bags of coffee. Ron (the seller) and his team were experienced roasters and machine refurbisher/resellers in America's Southwest. I bargained a bit and got the price down to $14,500 which included assistance loading the machine onto a fumigated export-approved pallet with delivery to a local logistics center. 

The whole time I was thinking, "man I should get on a plane and fly out there in person" but the exchange went so well and the terms became increasingly attractive (that machine could have sold for $20,00 if Ron and his team wanted to hold it longer) ... so together with Louis' and Paul's approval I sent payment and bought the Roaster!

I forget how that 450kg machine got from Tucson, AZ to the port of shipping in Oakland, CA, but it made it. Costs were either included in the sale price of $14,500 or included in my international shipping expenses. Looking back now, I feel that was also a significant work accomplished.

Finding a logistics company which would ship our new baby across the Pacific Ocean effectively was no small task. I knew a guy named "Henry" in Wuhan, from the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) Central China Chapter, who was in logistics. He and his colleague "Monica" hooked me up with their Oakland partner "Kevin" who quoted me $5,000 to pack and ship the Diedrich IR-12 to Wuhan. I was concerned about taxation, inspections, customs and tariffs so we had to get a bit creative.

China and the US have always had a few disagreements when it comes to import exports. I knew firsthand after living in China that the last thing I wanted was to get the roaster 95% of the distance and then get stuck in customs.

Kevin and I devised that we add an extra stop along the way. From Oakland the roaster traveled to Taiwan. It was unloaded and registered as a Taiwanese (a.k.a. "Chinese") shipment. The roaster was put on a truck and shipped north to Taibei where it went from Taiwan to Mainland China - stopping at the docks in Wuhan. America to Taiwan no tariffs or scrutiny. Taiwan, "China" to Mainland China also no problem. That extra jaunt by truck in Taiwan added some fees, but avoid any taxes and expedited the whole process.

The last unexpected hiccup occurred at dock in Wuhan. I spent an extra $1,000 to transport the machine the final 30 miles to the door of our roastery. Unbelievably a giant industrial hydraulic lift-truck showed up (as if it were moving an entire 20-40 foot container!) The oversized crane set our cargo palette on the ground, from where we pushed it to the door. Getting the 1,000lb machine up 3 stairs and into place was adventure but with 5 anxious men pushing and pulling the job was finished!

From Tucson, AZ to Oakland, CA to Taiwan to Wuhan, China and into the ROCC Roastery, I spent a grand total of $6,000. It was a lightning fast 20 days from start to finish. I shouted a quick praise and hallelujah to God Almighty and high fived Paul & Louis. We were on to new adventures in roasting!

Starting the Wrong Way [CC#8]

If I could go back to July 2012, I would do it all over. But I didn't already have the experience that tells me... it's coming.

It was a cool and sunny summer in Michigan. The dining room table held a stack of paper and plans next to my laptop. I succeeded to register ROCC, LLC (a partnership held Limited Liability Company) in the state of Washington. The reason for this was two-fold. First, my family called WA home, had drivers licenses there, voted and annually filed taxes there. Second, we had some "guanxi" relationships there (as the Chinese would say). A couple good recommendations for a CPA Firm and an attorney who we might trust were just what we needed to start with a bit more confidence.

In the past I had a terrible experience opening and operating a 501(c)3 Non-Profit organization in the State of California. Sadly CA has a lot of regulations and is more costly than other states to operate your business from. Washington was a dream in comparison: less paperwork + less "mafan" hassle = more conducive to our small business.

So between the CPA, the law Firm and the State of Washington Business Bureau, and the good ol' World Wide Web (Internet) I was able to expedite the needed papers from Washington State to Washington, DC (for Chinese Consulate Authentication) and finally back to me in Michigan. ROCC, LLC was not only formed, but it was authorized to do business in and make an investment in China!

So, we needed cash to invest in China. I put out the call to our partners in California, Oregon, Washington and Michigan that it was time to make contributions. Businesses require capital, but technically we didn't have a "business" we just had paperwork. Sadly we fell into the trap of raising and spending money before we had any real business. We needed systems in marketing and coffee contracts which were generating new customers with revenue and profit. We had spreadsheets and projections, but again - it was just a plan.

In our own way we believed, "If you build it they will come."
"If you buy a roaster and start a roastery they will come."

If I could go back to July 2012, I would do it all over. Back then I didn't have the experience that tells me, "go look to find existing assets and put them to use." I tell new entrepreneurs this all the time.

All over China (all over the world) today there are under-utilized roasters (assets) sitting idle ready for outsourcing and toll-roasting contracts. In the beginning we could have saved ourselves from spending an entire year of generating customers on our investments if we had operated with someone else's assets for a time. If there really is a clientele for your product you can save piles of startup-cash by renting another persons roaster (use it from Midnight to 4am if you have to). What's more are the relationships and knowledge (e.g. poor product choices, gaining access to supply channels and vendors, etc.).

However, we chose to carve our own path and write our own story. Enthusiasm was high. A few close family and friends heard the ROCC story and caught the vision. The ROCC partnership had financial contributions and we were certified to "conduct coffee business between the US and China." 

red stamps required


Extra measures needed to be taken to ensure I went back to China with all necessary documents in hand. Within 10 days ROCC, LLC was incorporated, documents were expressed to the Washington DC Chinese Consular Business Section. A business must first be recognized by a special department issuing permits (which come as beautifully notarized sticker type documents) before it can make a foreign investment to China and operate in country.

Part 2 of this story was the exciting challenge of buying our Diedrich IR-12 roaster sight-unseen off of Craigslist and shipping it from the Oakland port of Los Angeles, CA to Wuhan, China. Those developments happened between legal and bank registration work.

Incredibly documents crossed the country by plane while I coordinated phone calls in multiple time zones to government offices and express courier services. I opened business bank accounts and established my wife's father as a co-signer to serve while I was out of country. Papers in hand by mid-July I was back on a plane headed for Wuhan.

Business Startup Checklist [CC#7]

Enough about choosing a proper business name. Paul & Louis (both spending the summer of 2012 - in China) gave a commitment to build this thing called ROCC. I was in America for the summer. We had work to do.

A short list of essential items to check off included:
1. Raise a first round of capital ($70,000 USD) by sharing the vision with and recruiting additional shareholding partners.
2. Register an American Limited Liability Corporation.
3. Find a secondhand shop roaster (5-15kg batch size) to purchase and ship to China.
4. Figure out how to ship a giant roaster to China without getting stuck in customs and indefinite taxation.
5. Coordinate all startup plans, analyze potential locations for our shop, choose a location, prepare and sign rental agreements, etc. etc. with Paul & Louis across the Pacific Ocean and 12-15 hours time difference.
6. Identify and hire attorneys, CPAs, etc.
7. Open bank accounts and create books to run the new US company accounts.
8. Miscellaneous tasks that come alongside opening a business to have operations on the other side of the world.
9. Be a good husband, father and son while "vacationing" in Michigan and Washington for the summer.

All of the above was essentially pulled off successfully in one whirlwind of a month (July 2012). Each with an anecdote and lesson of its own.

the startup team

Localizing Your Brandname in Chinese... [CC#6]

Why can't the Chinese just call McDonald's, McDonald's? Instead they call it "mai dang lao". I remember when Starbucks first came to Wuhan (back in 2007). I hopped into a cab and told the driver, "wo yao qu Starbucks" I want to go to Starbucks. The driver looked at me blankly. I tried again but with a heavy accent (guessing at what the name may sound like from a Chinese perspective) "wo yao qu se'er ba'ke". Still a blank stare.

So, I resorted to going to the shopping plaza I heard rumor as having Starbucks and searched for myself. Upon arrival I learned that Starbucks is "xing ba ke". "Xing" has the meaning of "star" though phonetically sounds nothing like "star". The later part: "ba ke" is a transliteration sounding like "bucks" but has no real meaning when translated. This often happens in a mysterious way where brands mix meaning and sound to create a cool Chinese name.

Thankfully, today (as was not the case in 2007) the rise of smart phones loaded with translation apps and ride hailing services (like DiDi) make finding Western tasting coffee or cheeseburgers much less confusing.

It only took ROCC a couple weeks before it received its own Chinese name transliteration. At first I wasn't happy. I wanted to choose a Chinese name with more meaning. However, Chinese friends naturally came up with their own version, calling us: "luo ke" which phonetically sounds like you've stretched the word "ro...ck" to make 2 syllables: "law...kuh". No need to fight something that was working, so we took our new localized Chinese name and owned it.

ROCC 洛克 "luoke"

Choose a Business Name [CC#5]

How do you chose a great name for your business?

Depending on the business resources you read, you will likely encounter an infinite number of the following sample responses.
- Make it memorable
- It should be easy to spell
- Give it a visual element
- Ensure it has a positive connotation
- Let it include information about your business
- A good name should be fairly short
- Research who, if anyone, else is using the name or words
- Consider (if you live outside of the US, Canada or English) filing for Trademark rights. 
- Finally, go with your gut - don't let others choose your name for you.

Before finally landing on ROCC (an acronym for Roasters of Central China) we tried about 2 dozen combinations of coffee+landmark+location such as:
Roasters of Wuhan (our city)
Yellow Crane Coffee (our city's landmark)
Wuhan Coffee Company (very clear) 
Yellow Crane Roasters (construction?)
Along with many others which apparently had less sticking power in my brain.

Every name was scrutinized for its meaning and considered as an acronym. I especially liked the use of "Yellow Crane" as it tied a historic tower overlooking the convergence of the Yellow and the Yangtze River (also a site of many famous poetic inspirations) to our brand. However the Chinese name "huang he lou" if added to any extra monikers like "kafei" coffee or "hongbei" roaster just became a painful mouthful.

Ultimately the decision was mine, but I had to get the team on board. ROCC when spoken sounds like "rock" which has many strong connotations. The letter K-sound also has a definitive and lasting effect when spoken. Brands like Nike and Coca Cola when spoken linger in the air. When combined as "ROCC Coffee" or "ROCC Coffee Company" there was a rock & roll masculinity and playfulness we three were all drawn to.

the logo that never stuck

Well intentioned business books will advise you to "test your name" or survey random people to get feedback on how potential customers may respond to your name. While it may be necessary in certain more sensitive consumer sectors, by and large with any sort of creative discretion you should choose the name you are excited to give life to daily.

Initially, people had a little trouble with the name "ROCC" and would belabor through it letter by letter, "Hey Adam, can I buy a bag of R- O- C- C- coffee?" Naturally it was an easy conversion for them when I replied, "No problem I'll bring over a bag of ROCC (rock) tomorrow." Later on you experience the benefit of being part of the 'in crowd' and there is pride being in-the-know. Only a rookie would make the mistake of saying R- O- C- C letter by letter.

If Paul, Louis and I loved it we knew others would too. We went on daily to infuse ROCC strength into our brand and ROCC playfulness into all that we did. Culture starts with something so simple as a name.

The 100 Day Business Launch [CC#4]

Starting a new business is exhilarating! Rewind 100 days from our Grand Opening and our story finds itself in the beginning of July, 2012.

In the birthing stage of a business cost analysis, projected cash flow, startup equipment, budgets, design plans, marketing assumptions and stuff like visual identity systems consume incredible time and energy. But its ok! Before you have a business to run this stuff is fun. It feels real, even if its just plans and PowerPoints and spreadsheets.

In 2012 it didn't matter if you were a "waiguoren" foreigner or a "zhongguoren" Chinese in Central China; you couldn't find a local coffee roaster. No one was talking about fresh roasted coffee and no one seemed to care. How could a group of fanatical hand craft artisans not find a market for their premium product in China's 5th most populous urban center Wuhan?

* Insert "A Dream Alive". This is how we told it on the back of our coffee bags.

Since December 2011, Paul and I had scoured our financials looking to extract every possible source of "lirun" profit. All good roasters should sell B2B "pifa" wholesale and B2C "lingshou" retail. Roasting your own private label is a mainstay whilst roasting custom labels for others (toll roasting) can also be an income source. Catering and providing services can be a reliable revenue stream for a new roastery, while activities and training provide intermittent income with a marketing bonus.

We estimated (too generously) how much coffee our wholesale customers would buy each month and built in a too-hefty growth curve at 15%. Market research showed then (and still today) that China's coffee market has grown at an annual rate of about 20% for the last decade.

far too optimistic budgetting

Although the financials were far too optimistic, their underlying spreadsheets were rock solid and useful for years. Knowing the cost of each green coffee bean, down to the gram; counting "fen" Chinese pennies spent in bags and labels; or scrutinizing "shuifen" water moisture variance by roast level helped the whole team understand the value gained or lost in each step of our operations.

Whatever free time Paul and I had from December 2011 to June 2012 was spent researching the China Coffee market, formulating plans and drumming up enthusiasm.

Louis joined the team at the end of June 2012 after a small coffee brewing demonstration and business plan presentation in Huangshi at the ManJing Hotel. It wasn't immediate, but a few days after the June 23rd presentation he told me that the exciting possibility of starting a business and launching into a coffee career path was a chance he couldn't miss. His dad was an entrepreneur fish farmer and the entire family was amazing - supporting Louis both emotionally and financially.

However, the whole business plan was nearly scrapped just before Louis called me. The presentation was on Saturday and by the following Monday I was on a plane with my family back to the USA for a summer holiday. Meanwhile Paul had decided, "if money doesn't come in by the end of June, I need to tell Adam I'm out." Well, needless to say, ROCC Coffee was launched as a tribute to the Higher Power at work in our summer 2012.

As Paul (who stayed in China for the summer) was getting ready to send me his message, "I'm out!", he received my email stating effectively, "Louis is in!". Paul made an abrupt 180 degree turn.

While in flight I received Louis' email stating "Count me in for a $20k investment into ROCC! But by the way I have decided to quit my job and I will come to work for ROCC full-time... immediately."

I was amazed and encouraged! Someone believed in my dream called ROCC Coffee!
Paul was affirmed and confidently made a 2 year commitment to build the business.
Louis already cashed in his chips with his former employer HuaXin Cement Company (a huge Chinese Government Owned Company) and was ready for a call to coffee-action.

ROCC - Roasters Of Central China was moving from dream to reality!

Renting a shop in China [CC#3]

Finding a good business location and renting a shop to operate from is an especial challenge in Central China.

Every city, every district, every industry of China has its own idiosyncrasies. Sometimes (as in our case) you rent from a "fangdong" landlord who owns rights to a rental unit. At other times you may deal with a small property management company and lease a "menmian" storefront. Other hybrid scenarios often emerge with countless and ambiguous "ceng" layers of "laoban" bosses taking their own piece of the rental payment pie, which effectively drives rent prices sky high.

No matter what the diligent tenant does, they must sign a "hetong" contract. Absolutely you must consider how you can minimize any security deposits and "zhuanrang fei" transfer fees (cash bribe payments to gain permission to lease). Any cash given up-front should be clearly documented and should be given slowly. The eager entrepreneur often is too loose with the ample cash available during the startup phase. Without a doubt you should negotiate how much your rental fee will increase annually (10-20-30% is common). Additionally ensure you know what penalties exist for early withdrawal. Sadly you can seldom believe what you are told, trust the documents you sign, rely upon the hands that you shake or make claim to the promises over dinner and hearty "ganbei" dry-your-glass toasts when celebrating the new lease signature.

China redefines the game Caveat Emptor - Renter Beware!

Pro-tip if you plan to lease in a shopping complex you may be able to get 6-12-18 months rent free (because the place won't have electricity or customers for 5-11-17 months... which means you won't have any income!)

The day after our Grand Opening party, we "sange pengyou" 3 Amigos didn't have a clue about any of these shenanigans. Except perhaps we did encounter and successfully dodge a 100,000 yuan ($15,000 USD) transfer fee! A feat marvelously executed by Louis!

Louis signing contract in blood... not really it was red ink.

Louis signing contract in blood... not really it was red ink.


The shop we finally rented had two levels and was "yibai pingfangmi" 100 square meters. Before we moved in, the 50 sq.m. below was customer seating with a small restroom on the back left. The front was all glass and about 7 meters wide. About 8 meters back from the center doors was a heavy duty steel staircase, painted black, that ran against the back wall leading upwards with a sharp righthand turn to the second floor.

The second floor was partitioned into 3 functional rooms. Standing at the top of the staircase, the left side was all open seating space with narrow windows beyond over looking the front entrance. To your right was a small enclosed seating area (typically used in China for meetings or "majiang" Majohng table gambling). Beyond the partitioned room, in the far back righthand corner, (also over looking the entryway) was a tiny kitchen with a big steel sink with simple plumbing stolen from the bathroom below. A gigantic vent hood nearly filled the small room to take care of the oily smoke produced from all the heavy "guo" wok frying required in authentic Chinese grub. However the best part of all was a little elevator shaft with rope and pulley assembly for sending food down below to customers below. Sadly we never found a suitable use for elevating our green or roasted coffee beans up and down the wall.

A special feature which enabled us to roast coffee on site was the oversized exhaust pipe running left from the kitchen, into the left dining area and snaking back over the stairway to exit five floors up and out the roof of the hotel behind us. This same hotel provided KTV music for us most evenings through the concrete walls separating our stairwell with one of the many KTV rooms beyond.

The place was really clean (for a former restaurant) and the landlady seemed pleasant enough so we decided to go for it. Paul, Louis and I set off to make ROCC Coffee dreams come to life in the Xianglong Times Plaza.

But those dreams are all part of a "jihua" planning and building "gushi" story which occurred over the 100 days leading up to these Grand Opening Memories.

Entrepreneurs Need Sleep Too! [CC#2]

So what do all good business builders do the day after a Grand Opening party? They sleep in! For once in their life, they give themselves permission.

Aside from Sundays, I don't believe Paul, Louis and I were really able to sleep in for the prior 100 days. Nor do I believe that there were many mornings in the proceeding years that we slept in (in good conscience). So this was a cool October morning to relish.

Wuhan is no small city. As the capital of Hubei province, it clocks in at a population of 11,000,000. While estimates may vary +/- 1 million, 10-12 are the typical figures produced. As all good cities with a history of 3,500 years Wuhan can boast as a epicenter of trade, battles and education. It's a fun name to say too "Wu" sounds like 'woo!' and comes from the military word also found in "WuShu" martial arts. "Han" is classic to the majority people of China, "Hanzu" or Chinese majority people. However, "Han" get's it's meaning from the "HanJiang" Han River which comes down from the north to intersect the great "YangZe" Yangtze River.

My mother and father-in-law happened to be staying in our home for a few weeks which fell amid our ROCC Coffee Roastery Grand Opening party. With 2 young daughters and a sprouting new business my wife and I had our hands full. In order to make ends meet she occasionally taught at a "YouErYuan" Kindergarten in our apartment complex in exchange for discounted tuition for our 5 year old. I believe at the time it was only 1,200 yuan rather than the full 2,400 ($550 USD) per month. The following year we would switch to a more prestigious school (a 15 minute bike ride away) where tuition and relationships were a whole different amazing story.

Education is big business in China! In a nation most recently founded on only children (we've all heard of the One-Child-Policy) there is incredible pressure to ensure that the one child succeeds. Schools of choice, exam scores, college admissions all contribute in major ways to the future prosperity of families.

I digress...

There was work to be done at the roastery on the other side of town. I lived in the WuChang district but the roastery was in HanYang. If I chose to take the bus to work, the alarm would sound at 5 to ensure I was on the "GongGong QiChe" public bus by 6am. In this way I could get a seat while the bus made its first round through the city. Traffic also hadn't reached rush hour pitch as I rolled up to the roastery on the west side at 8am. It was a 30 minute ride on bus "qi yao wu" 715 with a transfer to bus "wu jiu liu" 596 for the final 90 minute stretch.

one man bus band

I'm a morning person so getting up with the "yeye" grandpas and "taiqi" TaiJi practitioners was welcome. Besides, I enjoyed watching the "gongren" manual laborers pile onto those first buses with buckets and tools, shovels and pickaxes hanging off of bamboo poles straddling their shoulders. The roasted "Zhima" sesame smell of (and desire for) "re gan mian" hot dry noodles wouldn't hit me until I switched to the double decker bus 596 and grabbed my seat top-front overlooking the now bustling Wuhan streets below.

But all of this city street romance won't be happening on my well-deserved morning of sleep-in. If the 6am bus is missed by any more than 15 minutes, every minute delayed is multiplied 2-3x. That means a 6.30 bus will get me to the roastery 8.45-9.00am. A 7.00am kickoff easily takes 3 hours (all of which is spent standing jostling for a good position away from sweaty neighbors and hopefully near a good window breeze.)

After a stack of pancakes and couple cups of coffee with the family, reality crashes back upon me, "I've got a business to run!"

Rather than a "san dian liu" 3.6 "yuan" dollar (3 hour long) bus trip, I opt for the 65 yuan ($10 USD) taxi ride. Taking a taxi was a mere 50 minute ride on "san huan xian" the 3-ring road.

Wuhan also has an inner 2nd ring road and a less used outer 4th ring road. Many Chinese cities have such ring roads (Beijing is huge with 6 rings).

I wish both my 3 year old and 5 year old daughters a good day, "Daddy's gotta go to work" and kiss my wife goodbye on my way out the door.

Nearly an hour later as I walk up to the roastery Louis & Paul are finishing off their breakfast noodles and cleaning up from remnants of red paper, decorative flowers and French pastries. The place looks great and full of potential. "What should we do today?" Was the question both felt and voiced. "Lets get these borrowed tables back to our friends and go from there" I responded.

The more important question we three entrepreneurs should have been asking day 1 was, "Who are our customers and how do we reach them?"