How to Create Your Own Private-Label Coffee Brand
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A Coffee Growing Family
Tell us, what is Mogiana Coffee?
So, Mogiana Coffee, is the brand that I started in 2008, because of my background of coming from a coffee growing family. So, my grandparents own a farm in Brazil which was established, or it was started by my great-great-grandfather, in 1890.
So, all my life I, you know, spent lots of times at the farm all my summer holidays, three months, every year I would be at the farm. And playing in the fields and driving around with my grandfather and, you know learning about operations and everything. And it's… it's a, it's a place that is very, very close to my heart.
And I have really great pride about all the work that has been done there at the farm level in terms of sustainability. And I'll get a little bit more into that later. But I ended up living in Vancouver for, with my parents. My dad was a visiting professor at UBC and after moving here and working in the hospitality industry for 11 years, I decided that I wanted to bring our coffee to Vancouver. Because I guess when you grow up with something around you you don't realize how special it is.
It's kind of you, you kind of take it for granted. And we started realizing that we had a, a very high-quality coffee at our farm and it was being very well received by people. So, I really wanted to bring that up here and that's how the whole idea.
What type of roles, and what type of companies were you working in before you started your business?
I've worked mainly at the Listel Hotel in downtown Vancouver. I started there as a hostess in the restaurant while I was finishing up my studies at UBC. And once I graduated, they had a position of a catering manager come available, and my supervisor or my boss encouraged me to apply for it, and I did, and I got the job.
And that was that. I did that for about six years and then they started a new division doing offsite catering. And then I headed off that division, which was called Olds Outside at the time. I ended up working there for 11 years. It was a great company. You know, my second family I guess.
But I just needed, I guess I needed more of a challenge and I had done my time there and I kind of had hit a ceiling and I wanted a new adventure.
Is your grandparent's farm the only farm you're importing coffee from?
Initially it was, but now we do work with a little bit of coffee from other origins as well. We wanted to create some blends that had a little bit more of a more complex flavor profile, so we work with coffees from Ethiopia and from Guatemala.
And we do have a couple of farms in Brazil that are producing some very special micro lots. So, we sometimes bring from them as well. But a lot of them are still from like a cousin. I have three cousins that work with coffee, so my, I have a really big family.
It, it almost sounds like mafia, you know, it's like the cousin this and the cousin that. My, my grandparents had 10 children. So I have a lot of cousins.
So you're bringing all these coffees, and roasting it locally. Who are you selling the coffee to?
We started with groceries and farmers. As our brand developed and we became a little bit larger, with the business maturity, we were able to land some larger clients, like some larger hotel clients and restaurants. But with regards to grocery and why we have remained local, it’s mainly because we work only with like specialty grocery stores.
We don't work with mainstream stores. Our product is high quality so we work with chains like Whole Foods and Choices, the Natures Fair City Avenue.
We select Gourmet Warehouse. And then for us to start going national there, you have to work with a distributor and we do everything ourselves because, we really have a passion for awesome coffee. We want it to be fresh. We want the people that are drinking the coffee to be drinking it properly, to be brewing it properly.
So, we have a learn page on our website that teaches people, the step by step process on, on how to brew. When we form partnerships with the restaurants and the hotels, we provide all the drip equipment. We do an educational session for their staff, which talks about coffee all the way from the farming level and the processes to the roasting, to the importance of the equipment and the extraction and the brewing.
So, it gives people a little bit of a different level on caring for the product that they're serving, right? We have all this great work that is done at the farm and so many people involved in the process, and there's so much to copy. You have all the process, you bring it here, you have the roasting, everything's done super carefully.
It's very fresh, and then you bring it to a customer. And if the customer doesn't have well-trained staff or if they don't clean the equipment properly, they can screw up a cup of coffee that all this work has been done for. They are the last link. And I always say, you guys are my last link, you're my ambassadors; we are depending on you to carry on this great job that has been done all the way from the farm.
What was the process like for you? How did you set up the import process?
Initially when we first started, I did not have a roasting plant. I actually used someone that was roasting a coffee for us and we would bring we would bring smaller quantities of coffee at a time and that's not always cost effective. For most people here, they will buy through a broker.
The brokers will have the connection with the farm. They will bring in a container load, and then the roasters will buy from these brokers because they just don't have the volume to bring in a full container. Right? But because we are working directly with our family and we didn't want to go through a broker.
We wanted to be able to buy direct. So we bring up a container load at a time. The import part is fairly easy, like setting up an import company and there isn't much to it. The main thing I guess for someone who does not have a family farm is finding that good connection with a producer.
We're very lucky that we have, and I think we are the only coffee roasters in BC and maybe even in Canada, that has this direct vertical integration, with the family all the way through to the farming level. So truly bean to seed took up.
At what point did you decide to open a roaster for yourself?
That's something that we always wanted. But because I'm not a huge risk taker, I'm just a small risk taker, I wanted to make sure that I was at a good level of business before I made the investment because the roasting machine that it was a huge investment. It's the most eco-friendly roaster on the market. And the reason why we chose it was because of we have this mission of sustainability.
Our farm is certified sustainable. We have a lot of initiatives that we do, and so we wanted to continue that here and make sure that we're working with a roaster that that is sustainable. So, this roaster emits 80% less gas emissions and uses 80% less natural gas. It also is extremely consistent in the roast.
Every time we roast, we're always constantly doing cuttings and making sure that our batches are tasting the way they should. And the consistency is amazing. It really great!
What does cupping exactly mean?
Cupping in coffee is the same as I guess it would be what a wine tasting is. But with cupping, we are not tasting coffee the way you would just sip a cup of coffee. It's a very specific test. We have to roast the coffee at a certain level.
You have to grind at a certain level, then you have to put it in in vessels. Add a specific ratio of coffee grinds to water. The water has to be a specific temperature. This is all dictated by the SCA, which is the Specialty Coffee Association. The reason they do this is, is so that the coffees that are being tasted in different areas of the world have a similar comparison.
So, the cupping then, you know, you put the water in, you, you leave it for a few minutes. You have to first smell the first smell actually before you put the water; you first smell the dry grinds. Then you pour the water in, you smell the wet aroma, then crust forms.
You break the crust and you smell again the wet aroma. and then you wait for a few minutes and then you take this cupping spoon, which is like a quite a deep soup spoon. And you have to slurp the coffee in your mouth in order to aerate and get as much oxygen as possible with the coffee so that you can taste all the flavor notes.
Coffee has a lot of flavor notes similar to wine and similar to cocoa. They are, I think, the three most complex ingredients and you can get fruit flavor notes and you can get floral notes and chocolatey and nutty; and then you can get some notes that are not so nice when the coffee's not so good. You know what I mean?
The cupping is very important and it's something that we do on a weekly basis to ensure the consistency. Lowering the investment that we made on this equipment for us is very important. Going back to your original question we always wanted the roasting machine; it was the only missing piece for us between planting the coffee and having the coffee roasted. We always wanted to, to set this up. And finally, in in 2019, we started working on the project and my partner, Carlos and I found a space and we hired a designer. We did all the drawings, we signed the lease, et cetera, et cetera.
We walked into the city on March 10th with all the, the drawings. And then March 17th, 2020, everything shut down. So, we were like, oh my God, what do we do now? And you know, we had already invested a lot of time and we had no idea Covid was going to be around for two and a half years, or whatever it was.
So, we decided to go ahead. And unfortunately, the timing was very bad and we struggled very much for the last two years, but we made it, we're here. And we have this beautiful facility now that is running really well. And, you know, because of Covid being a slower time, it gave us time to put all our processes in place. Now we're ready for the volumes to come.
Mogiana Coffee Roasters is your second company. Does Mogiana Coffee Roasters sell the coffee beans as well, or just roast for the clients?
Both. We have both types. We have some people that want to work with their own coffee beans. Sorry, repeat that. We have some people that want to, that want bring in their, you know, they might have a, a specific producer they wanna work with, or they might wanna, they, they might have a relationship with a certain import.
So we have some customers that bring their own coffee, and then we also have customers that just want to have their own brand.. And they like our coffee. We provide them with a few blends to try and then they choose the ones they want and we roast the beans for them and we put it in a bag with their branding.
And some of these customers are online. We had a lot of online inquiries especially during covid. You know, I think a lot of people were trying to go into the online world. But we also have restaurant and cafe owners that have their own private label coffee that we roast.
Do these businesses expect to open their own roaster for themselves, or just rely on you for the foreseeable future?
Most of the people that are coming here are relying on us. There are a couple that said, “Oh yeah, eventually I want to open up my own roasting business.” But most of them, they want to have a coffee brand but they don't necessarily want to roast. That seems to be something that's very popular. Especially again, having online brands which took off after the pandemic started.
Sustainability & a School
What makes your farm so special, and your coffee so great?
What makes our coffee so great is the story behind it. It was my great-grandfather, like I said, that started the farm in 1890 and they always had this vision of treating the land in a way that it, that would keep the land healthy for future generations. We have a lot of environmental initiatives that we do at the farm. For example 20% of our land is kept as native forests. We treat the wastewater before it goes back into the streams. We use the coffee husks to fertilize the soil.
And in the 1950s we installed a water power generator so that we run off the power grid for 11 months out of the year.. . So, these are environmental initiatives. And then in terms of the social aspect, we have 47 families that work for us, so they get free housing. and the houses are very good houses with running water, electricity, two or three bedrooms.
They get you know, obviously free coffee and have certain staple items that we plant at the farm that they get supply of, like potatoes and rice and beans and corn. The thing that I'm most proud of is actually we have a school. We've always, we always have this belief in education.
And my ancestors, I guess my grandparents, my great-grandparents, they always treated everybody that worked at the farm very, very well. In developing countries people that are working in these laborious farms, and especially coffee, they're not always very well treated and there's a lot of poverty.
So we're very proud to have this extra care and we really care for the people that are involved in the process. So we've always had a school at the farm. Ba few years ago, probably about 20 years ago, my great-uncle was talking to the mayor and they noticed that there were some kids in neighboring farms and smaller villages that were having a hard time getting to the city to get their education. So my, my great-uncle donated a plot of land to the city, and they built a municipal school inside the farm. And there was, at one point there were 700 children studying in the school.
The kids get a free meal when they're there and it gives them a chance to get educated. Something that is so lacking in these underdeveloped countries. So those are things that make us very proud to have to have this behind the coffee that we're producing and bringing it here.
What's driving the passion for sustainability?
If we don't sustain, if we don't take care of the resources that we're using or the land, it will end. There’s climate change there as a proof of that, right?
Like, like human beings are very destructive, unfortunately. So the sustainability for us is a vision of long-term care for the environment and for the people that are involved in the process.
Advice for Groceries & Coffee Shops
What mistakes do you see groceries and coffee shops make when trying to roast, sell, or advertise single origin coffees?
Assuming that people know what they know. So, single origin coffee can be very exotic and can be very nice and taste very good, but it is an acquired taste.
Especially if you go to the newer third wave roasters that are roasting a lot lighter blends. And unfortunately, a lot of times I find there's a little bit of a snobbish attitude. Essentially your consumers are the ones paying the bill and you know they're gonna buy what they like. Right. Some people love single origin and they love the exotic flavor notes. But some people just want more traditional cup of coffee. And I think you know, the coffees, for example, the coffees from Brazil. I'm kind of generalizing now but the coffees from Brazil are typically more nutty and more chocolate, which is the traditional flavor of coffee. They are usually even, even a single origin from Brazil is usually very well accepted in terms of pallet. But I think the mistake that I see the most out there from coffee shops is lack of training for their staff.
I'm not talking about the well-established coffee chains. I'm talking about the indie independent mom and pops. A lot f them don't train their staff well, or the people don't, they don't clean the equipment well and you know, it's very, very easy to screw up a shot of espresso.
It doesn’t matter how good of bean you have, if you're not calibrating your machine; if you're not dialing it in, it's not gonna taste good, you know? And unfortunately people don't pay enough attention to the training and the importance of having that quality consistency.
You mentioned you do training sessions when you're selling coffee, and you mention education. Why did you start these roasting courses and what are the biggest takeaways people are getting out of them?
When we were going to open our roastery and we were wanting to get more information on roasting, we found the industry very closed off and we found it difficult to education on how to roast. For example, most industries will have a gazillion books about it, like, especially if you look at cooking.
But coffee only has a handful and it's very technical and it's very difficult to find courses on roasting, especially here in Vancouver. So we decided we wanted to share this knowledge. It is not something that should be locked up.
It’s an art. It's beautiful. And so we teach as much as people want to learn. Some people, they just wanna learn the basics and some people wanna learn more in depth. We are prepared to teach them what they're looking for.
What advice do you have for someone wanting to start their own coffee or roasting business?
Assuming that they already have a coffee shop and they're going to be dealing with and serving the customers themselves…This is a huge advantage because they can tell their story and they can talk and they can communicate and they can teach everything at once.
You know, for us, our challenge is that we don't have a coffee shop. How do we reach our customers? And the way we found around that is by doing farmer's markets. We still do them to this day because it's our chance to have that direct connection with the consumer.
And I think for coffee shop owners that want to have their own brand, the customer's right there. So it's a great advantage. And all they have to take care of is actually training their staff to make sure the coffee's good and to make sure that they're relaying their story.
But it makes it more special, I think, to have their own brand.
Amin Yazdani is the CEO and Co-Founder of Craver, a fast-growing mobile platform for Restaurants, helping them gain and retains their loyal customer base.