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Roaster's Blog
A Question of Quality
(A Background)

As small business owners, Christi and I are often presented with so called ‘short-cuts’ which would allow us to increase margins by cutting costs on many fronts. Today’s economic back drop has required ICC (as well as most small businesses) to ‘tighten its belt’ when it comes to staying competitive in today’s environment. We still consider ourselves a start-up even though we have been in the coffee business for nine years.

The first year we roasted around 1,800 lbs. of coffee. We joke that we gave away about 1,700 lbs. and drank the rest. (It’s actually true). As with most start-ups that rely on personal funds (savings, credit cards and any extra change that can be found at the bottom of a dresser drawer or under a couch cushion), the ‘belt’ has been quite tight from day one.

Add the fact that over the last year green coffee prices have gone up over 100%. One can see that we have had to rely on grass roots marketing, our continued commitment of offering THE best coffee experience at a fair price and of course, our great commercial and individual customers. The result has been hundreds of new customers and ICC fans. 

Fortunately, ICC has a very small but dedicated staff. The ICC team works long hours and all of us have a make-it-happen approach to growing this business. Each employee (including Christi and myself) shares most job responsibilities. We all package, we all deliver, we all perform customer service functions and we all have become very proficient at cleaning the bathroom at the roastery!

(Cut costs? “Yeah right.” Here is how we ‘roll’!)

The ICC roastery is very small by most standards (just under 3,000 sq. ft.). It feels like a huge airport hanger compared to our original 500 sq. ft. facility! Our delivery vans are a 1999 Ford box van with 203,000 miles on the odometer and a 2001 Ford passenger van with the seats removed for increased product space and it has over 200,000 miles on it as well. (I know what you are thinking…”American cars can last that long?”). Both of their engines 'cut-out' and 'miss' and they both rattle and shake going down the road. (If you haven't seen it already, this video may give you the general idea!) http://vimeo.com/26783507. But, we are proud to not be delivering 400 lbs. of coffee in a Mazda 5 mini-van. (Yes we did that for a few years as well.)

When it comes to equipment, we have two roasters, one large grinder, three basic packaging machines and a couple of foot-operated sealers. No computers for the roasters ("we let our eyes, nose, ears and taste buds tell us ‘when’ each batch is ready"), no conveyor to carry coffee up the required 12 feet to feed a packaging machine. (We climb stairs carrying 70 lbs. of ground coffee to feed the machine). We flavor each batch of flavored coffee that we produce by hand (5-10 lbs. at a time). ICC has utilized these 'old school' methods of hand-roasting and packaging to produce close to 350,000 lbs. of coffee since 2003.
No complaints here. We love what we do and absolutely live for the moment when a customer says “that is the smoothest, richest cup of coffee that I have ever tasted”.

So, as you can see, our ‘belt’ has always been on the tightest notch!

(Our Coffee Quality Has Not (and Will Not) Change)

What we can proudly say is that through all of the growing pains and long hours, we have never compromised our quality. There are green coffee beans that are 5-6 years old being bought and roasted by other roasters in order to cut costs and increase margins. Some coffee roasters cut costs by having large third party companies roast and package their coffees. 

Independence buys current crop coffees and we roast EVERY SINGLE BATCH! (I know because I personally buy each green coffee bean that is roasted in our facility. Greg and I carefully roast each and every batch by hand.)

(The Best Green Coffees Make THE Best Roasted Coffees)

We are using the same green coffees that we did on day one. While I must admit, when suppliers (or even other roasters have hinted to us, “Hey just buy cheaper/older green coffee beans and either roast them very dark or flavor them...it will cover up the bitter taste and defects.”), it has crossed our minds to look into it. (Especially when coffee supplies hit a twelve year high this year and our margins were compromized). ICC committed to stay the course and pay extra for our hard to find origins for our signature roasts and flavored selections.

You can feel confident that ICC still purchases, roasts and packages the best coffees out there.
Thanks to all of our customers that allow us to do what we do.
Until our next post: “Savor Your Independence and Grind True!”

Ragan Bond 
Roaster
A Day in the Life of a Small Coffee Company

How often have you asked yourself "Why am I doing this for a living?". Probably many, many times. I guess we all do. I usually ask the question when I am tired and beat down from a hot, hectic, stressful day at the roastery.


Yesterday was different. I got up around 3:30 am. (I know, "man you are nuts!"). Well most times when I get up that early, it is definately not planned. As a small business owner like some of you are, I often wake up that early (if not earlier) to find myself in a 'fetal position', sweating and sucking my thumb thinking "how in the heck am I going to do all that I have to do today and actually make money doing it?"

 

I headed to the roastery (which luckily is only 5 miles from my house). I loaded up the 'ol box van with fresh coffee, some of which Greg had roasted around ten hours earlier. At 4:00 a.m. I was on my way to downtown Houston (which is a two hour drive) to try to 'hit' at leat five HEB grocery markets, a large YMCA and a couple of offices and stock them full of Independence Coffee for the coming weekend.

 

As the morning got hotter and the August sun seemed to pick on me more and more as I would pull up to a store, run in, check stock, run out, 'load out' my carts with coffee and tea and watch my time (most stores receive product only until noon), I was getting a bit cranky.

 

I was leaving the next to the last store around 10:45 and feeling pretty good about my 'time management' skills for the day when I approached the exit gate and one of my competitor's delivery vans were coming in. I was thinking "I bet they have a 'cold blowing' a/c in that thing".

 

I looked in my rear view mirror and noticed that both of these guys (of course they have two delivery guys instead of one like me), were kind of grinning as they watched me pull away.

 

I'm not sure if they were making fun of my 'over-sized' rolling billboard truck (see photo), or just the fact that I was trying to do all of this alone. Hot, sweaty and frustrated I rushed to my last store. This was my "why am I doing this for a living?" moment.

 

"Ahh my last store for the day!"
As I was stocking one of our whole bean coffee bins with a five pound bag of fresh coffee, a guy in a "I Need My Independence!" tee shirt came running up to me and said "I just love the smell of Independence 'Jet Fuel' in the morning!". He said that he drives 30 miles to get his Independence 'fix' and that no other coffee can come close. We exchanged biz cards (he is a radio DJ in Houston named Jack) and he went on his way with three bags packed full of whole bean coffee that was still warm from our Ambex roaster.

 

I can credit Jack with answering my most burning quesiton, "Why am I doing this for a living?".


My trip back to Brenham was a ton better than the early morning trip into Houston, made better by a stop at Spec's for a 6-pack of St. Arnolds 'Lawnmower' beer (let's give these guys the credit that they deserve...they make excellent beer and they make it in Houston!). I'm sure that St. Arnolds owner, Brock, has asked himself "why...." several times over the years, which he and his crew have dedicated to growing what is now the largest micro-brewry in Texas.

Jack, enjoy the weekend, relax and remember to "grind-true"!