August 11, 2020

Guest Coffee: A Breakdown


Most specialty coffee shops offer a house blend that delivers a reliable flavour day after day. Typically, this will be a balanced, versatile coffee that can be served black or with milk. And while house blends do evolve, they generally stay the same for a period of months or years. This provides customers with something easy and consistent when they come in for their daily cup.

Some cafés, however, have established themselves as “multi-roaster coffee shops”. This means that they source their coffees from a variety of different roasters. In these cafés, certain beans from a range of different roasters will come and go after a limited period of time. These are referred to as guest coffees.

Read on to learn more about what a guest coffee is, and why you might bring one in for your coffee shop.

Lee este artículo en español “Cafés Invitados”: ¿Deberías Ofrecerlos en tu Tienda de Café?

What Is A Guest Coffee?

A guest coffee is a certain bean brought in by cafe owners or head baristas which will only be served for a relatively short period of time. 

There are a lot of challenges that go into choosing a new coffee to bring into a coffee shop. With so many roasters across the world, many of which offer a huge variety of origins as well as international delivery, it really is a buyer’s market. As a result, we are seeing more and more cafes offer coffees from a number of different roasters.

For some baristas, a guest coffee may be an opportunity to educate regulars about a certain origin they haven’t tried before. For others, it might be a way to intrigue new customers and get them to come into the café for the first time.

James Hennebry is the co-owner of Rosslyn Coffee in London, UK. He says that bringing in guest coffees is a great way to share your passion for coffee with your customers. “At Rosslyn, we’re very passionate about all the incredible roasters and producers who we have come across.

“This industry is brimming with talent which isn’t represented adequately in the majority of high street coffee shops. Our guest programme allows us to present some of our favourite roasters to an audience who may not ordinarily have access to these coffees.”

You may also like Five Practical Ways To Introduce Customers To Specialty Coffee

Why Should You Offer Customers A Guest Coffee?

Regularly changing your guest coffee is a great way to make sure customers keep coming back to try something new. Alternatively, it can be a good way to get new customers through the door.

Guest coffees are also a perfect option for you to educate your customers. A lot of café regulars might not be aware of the world of specialty coffee. Having a guest coffee in stock is a good way to start a conversation about the wider industry and pass on some of your knowledge.

Guest coffees can also help keep employees interested in the products they are showcasing to customers. The service industry in general sees a very high turnover of staff – offering them a way to stay connected to the world of specialty coffee can keep staff interested and invested in their role.

Marian Plajdicko, co-owner of Happy Baristas in Berlin, says she sees the benefits in her team when stocking guest coffees from well-known roasters. “I think the staff are very happy about the concept. They get to taste so many different coffees and approaches and train their palates and brewing skills.”

Roasting Guest Coffee

Jaroslav Tuček is the owner of Double Shot Coffee Roasters in the Czech Republic. He tells me that more than 50% of his wholesale business comes through multi-roaster cafes. He says he’s had a mixed experience with the growing trend of guest coffee. 

“Some customers start as a multi-roaster coffee shop and slowly get tired of it. Others start offering guest coffees, and then they grow and want more. It goes both ways.”

As there are so many roasters out there offering a whole range of beans from a variety of origins, the marketplace is highly competitive. Some years ago, you might have seen cafes supporting local roasters; today, international delivery and the rise of ecommerce platforms mean that they can pick whoever they like.

Jaroslav adds: “Some cafés start as key customers and then they get kind of tired by our offering for some reason and try something else. Some decide to experiment with other roasters from abroad.”

Jaroslav also points out that cafés sourcing guest coffees need to be careful not to overreach and offer too many different guest options. By spreading themselves too thin, he says, cafés might see the quality of their guest coffees drop.

“When I go to a multi-roaster coffee shop and see twenty open bags of different beans on a shelf, that’s disappointing, and this happens a lot. 

“Some cáfes also source coffees from various roasters, but don’t recognise the different roasting styles. This means that, a lot of the time, the coffees aren’t prepared correctly.”

Getting On The Guest List

Multi-roaster café owners spend a lot of time looking into which coffees they want to feature in their guest lineup. Sometimes, this means choosing between samples sent by roasters – sometimes, a lot of samples – who are hoping to get a spot on the guest list.

Marian says: “It is hard for me to tell people that we will most likely not be ordering from them, because we already work with a number of roasters. It’s a challenge to make sure that we give every roaster an equal opportunity to be featured, let’s say, once every two months. 

“We are happy to give feedback on the samples we receive, but growing the group of roasters we work with is difficult at times.”

James says: “It is incredibly flattering. At any given time, our samples tin has an insanely high standard of coffee in it! It’s something that we don’t take for granted and are very grateful for.”

Guest Coffee And Your Regular Customers

Getting a regular customer to experiment might not be easy. You may find that when a customer tries something on your guest list, they don’t enjoy it as much as you might have hoped.

When asked if customers ever dislike one of the coffees they have on offer, Marian says: “Yes, it’s happened many times, and we don’t make a big deal out of it. Usually, it happens with people who are classic espresso drinkers; people who like their coffee strong and bitter but really want to try something new. 

“We understand when they don’t like the taste, and swap the drink for something that they will prefer. However, it’s all about talking about it beforehand; we try to minimise these cases by explaining what people can expect.”

Batch brew also allows customers to taste a small amount of coffee before committing to a whole cup. This can be a great way to introduce customers to new flavours without wasting time, effort, and coffee. 

Stocking a guest coffee in your café can help you stand out from other coffee shops in your area. It’s a way to show your commitment to specialty coffee, and your passion for serving it. If it goes down well, it could help you attract new customers and keep regulars coming back. 

For consumers, guest coffee can be a gateway to a region or origin they never knew about. So, next time you set foot in your local coffee shop, ask the barista about what’s on the guest list. You never know – you might just get the opportunity to try something unique. 

Enjoyed this? Then read How To Meet The Needs of Today’s Coffee Shop Customer

Photo credits: Red Band Academy, Neil Soque, Van Marty, Happy Baristas

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