Limpopo Mavericks: Hoedspruit Coffee Purveyors

Tuesday, 7 February, 2017

“Let’s start a coffee roastery!” we said. “It will be fun!” we said. Well, if you consider roller coaster rides fun. Having said this, what an exciting and interesting journey this has been so far.

This story provides a short glimpse of what it takes to start up your own coffee roastery. In Limpopo.
Hoedspruit Coffee Purveyors was started after various travels in South Africa, which consisted of visiting some of the best coffee farms, roasteries, restaurants and coffee shops the country has to offer. It soon became our passion to promote freshly roasted artisanal coffees in our home-town.

We, the founders Urbanus Human and Jacques Moller, are passionate about the good things in life - family, friends, homemade pasta, cheese, wine and last but not least, a great cup of coffee.
Hoedspruit Coffee Purveyors is a Hoedspruit based coffee purveyor (a seller and promoter of particular goods) and roaster. We offer a fine selection of hand-crafted, ethically traded, 100% Arabica coffees, supported by a strong customer-service ethic. Our aim is to be the supplier of choice to those seeking out premium coffees.
… or so the story goes. Herewith a little more insight as to what it took to get HCP online. In saying that, we know we have by no means arrived, but we want to share a part of our start-up story with you.

One evening in August 2015 we roasted our first green coffee beans in a popcorn maker (it was Cameroon, a little burnt on the outside and greenish on the inside after the 02:45 “roast”) which filled the kitchen with chaff and smoke. Since that experiment, we were hooked.

We contemplated the business strategy, came up with a name after a few glasses of wine at a braai and crunched the numbers. It made sense, but we were out of our depth. Reading The Coffee Lover’s Bible, having chats with business owners and coffee roasters, visiting coffee plantations and getting a feel for the business was a honeymoon to remember.

Initially we knocked on the door of a larger and more established coffee roastery, who proposed that they roast and package a special blend of coffee for us (it was named “Blend 58”), with our logo. The consignments were ground and in bean form, we bought for R69 per bag and sold for R75 (which was a tad expensive for the Lowveld coffee drinker and after courier charges were deducted we barely broke even), but we sold, and discovered there was a market.

Selling coffee came easier than selling most other things – it was something we could get passionate about, and the passion grew like wildfire after selling our first few bags. We knew our product was good, but had to let people know what we were all about.

The idea was to do single origin coffees. So we got a whole load of samples and picked the five best coffees from there – Ethiopia, Uganda, Brazil, Guatemala and Tanzania, which was later replaced by a beautiful India. Our coffees had to have a cupping score of 80 or above – and had to appeal to our palate. We decided not to blend and committed to keep things simple and transparent. What you see is what you get. Coffee roasted to what the bean’s DNA prefers, has always given us the best cup.

We procured and roasted with a Solar Coffee Roaster from Coffee-Tech (made in Israel). What a perfect little roaster! 2kg perfect every time – allowing us to literally run our fingers through every batch and check for defects.

We decided on refurbished LaSpaziale espresso machines from Ital Espresso Worx – Italian tanks we call them as they weigh “a ton” but makes the perfect cup and are extremely reliable (we also fitted one in our coffee-trailer)!

We also bought a package grinder, espresso grinders, till and broom amongst other things …

Market research and marketing came in as very important. We had to see if we could sell artisanal coffee in the warm Lowveld successfully. Marketing played a big part and we spent nearly 40% of our soft budget on some kind of marketing, which included the website and e-mail setup, branding, logos, packaging, shop décor, adds, coffee tastings, sign-boards etc.

We also discovered that it remained important not to lose sight of our original goal – producing a premium, hand crafted coffee, and not competing with the coffee-shops & restaurants we supplied. We had to be reminded time and again to stick to our game plan. Time, we discovered, was also a commodity we needed to invest in carefully and that patience was key.

Setting up shop we knew that location was important, but we have also found that people in the Lowveld will seek you out and stick, even if you are not placed in a primary location. We officially opened shop in May 2016. The road-side stalls supported us very well, including some restaurants, lodges, retails stores and personal sales to friends and family (we have to mention as these are the people who support the young dream, give good and honest feedback and are easily approachable). Tourism / walk-inns came to the game at their own pace and time.

With both owners still working full-time, we had to employ a shop manager. Employees, like a marriage partner (and business partner) can be your biggest asset or worst nightmare. We have learned that it is essential to handpick a potential employee through word-of-mouth referrals (and not advertise the position on Facebook for example), while carefully nurturing a love for the perfect coffee in them. There are no limits to what good an employee will do for the business once he/she has caught on to the dream.

People who took a personal interest in our business from whichever walk of life and by whatever means turned out to be our most loyal supporters. We gave our best to them. These people are also the pro-active bunch you want to deal with. The coffee culture in the Lowveld is still somewhat behind that of the Western Cape and Gauteng, so a lot of what we do is awareness, training and educating on good coffee.

Coffee tastings, roasting demonstrations and chocolate pairings worked well for us – spurring on sales and creating the much-needed awareness.

What does the future hold for a young coffee roaster in Limpopo you may ask…? Well - We have events to attend, new coffees to try, new markets to break into, new acquaintances to make and new chapters to write! We are looking very much forward to what lies ahead in 2017 and beyond!

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