Coffee. A beverage that has evolved from a hot cup of black to dozens of hot, cold, iced and blended options. But is it big business here? Caribbean Roasters believes so and they’ve built a business and by extension, an industry here to prove it. “Essentially we’ve been building the coffee business in Trinidad organically and pushing coffee innovation since 1931. Everything we do, we say and we sell has to be backed by sustainability from a business point of view.” So says Vanessa Moses, executive director, food service and new business development (local and export) for the coffee firm that’s based in Diego Martin.
Caribbean Roasters not only manufactures coffee products locally but is also the vendor of choice in the commercial coffee supply sector, servicing cafes, restaurants, hotels and more, both locally and regionally. Chances are they service your favourite coffee shop or cafe and are committed to making sure every cup is brewed to perfection. Offering the best in coffee supply, technical support, and equipment for any application, Moses sees the work they’ve done so far as just scratching the service. “There’s so much still to do and we’re getting there. We just hired an in-house barista to work with us and our clients to ensure that everyone is operating at their best.” Moses explains that Caribbean Roasters has been building the coffee business, working with each client to ensure that they get their coffee just right.
“Essentially as we’ve been building the coffee business and pushing coffee innovation, we brought in our in-house barista to support our mission of excellence and profitablity. Everything that we do, we say and we sell has to be backed up by sustainability. As we continue to grow, we have to make sure that when a cafe owner comes to us to buy equipment or wants to get into the coffee business, that we can back that up with the right resources to make sure that their business is sustainable. For example, a minimum investment for proper basic espresso machine and grinder alone is about $40,000. This includes your filtration system as well. That’s a basic package start, and we follow that up with technical services and support. All of the cleaning products as well, which is another area we are going to be heavily integrating into the services and offerings.” Moses said the need for extra technical support within the team, from someone who lived and breathed coffee was clear. “What we realised is we needed a coffee expert apart from the team that already existed. My technical team’s time starting spreading thin, and then my time started dwindling, so we just needed somebody who had the technical knowledge and the passion for coffee to offer the support to our clients, continuously.”
Moses said coffee is very complex and isn’t as easy as getting a machine. “It has so many elements of wastage and your technique needs to be perfected to avoid this and maximise ROI (return on investment). Things like how much you’re using for your shot of espresso is important when it comes to your bottom line at the end of the day. So bringing in someone who is barista-trained into the Caribbean Roasters team is extremely strategic because it allows us to create more of a value add to the service we already provide.”
“When someone comes to us to get into the cafe or coffee business, it allows Caribbean Roasters to set the bar high from the start. We not only provide the resources and the technical support, we provide the classes and intimate interactions needed so that a client learns to make coffee in a way that is, the right way. We’ve experienced a lot in places like the US, UK and other places around the world. The coffee in the Caribbean is kind of the last stop, I think we kind of skipped it a little bit and that is because we have been focussing on importing brands. Now we have our young professionals, who have gone away to study in Europe, Canada and the US and the coffee culture has just followed that movement.”
As for whether Caribbean Roasters will open its own cafe, Moses says anything is possible but it’s not a focus right now. “We don’t own any cafes, we just support them and it’s not that we won’t do it in the future, but we really are more into being the back-end support and building a proper coffee industry. From the raw material sourcing, the manufacturing, the packing, the retail and commercial distribution, as well as the technical equipment support and training. We handle it all.”
Caribbean Roasters is also willing to work with groups who want to get into coffee itself and an example of that is recently launched Pax Caribbean, a new coffee brand that offers whole beans, ground coffee and cold brew coffee at various locations.
“PAX is an exciting project. Those projects we call strategic co-pack projects and we would only work with really serious groups who want moderate to high volume quantities. The team behind Pax has always struck us as very serious and very focussed. They spent a lot of time building their brand and what they’re looking to do with it before they launched. A lot of it is going to revolve around their food and cafe-based venture but while that is being built, which can obviously take time, we focussed on building their coffee product and brand in the meantime, so that they can really tap into their network and social media so that when they are ready to expand their offering, the coffee is already established. What we did with that was really behind the scenes. Took many days, weekends and many late nights with them, working with them to bring their dream to life. They’ve really put in the investment in their packaging and design. We sourced the bags for them, but their design was done locally with their designer. And we came up with their specific blend, which took months. We spent time with them, educating them, helping them to develop their cold brew product, which has been a nice extension for their brand vision. This is really about how you can build your coffee brand and take it to your network, and they are building an exciting channel that we think is going to be really profitable for them, with pop up shops and all kinds of things. And what you see with their marketing is truly the creativity of their heart and soul, blood sweat and tears and we have kind of been the right music in the middle of that with our coffee.”
Moses sees so much potential not only in coffee but the country itself. “Coffee is a connector. It’s a connecting point. The cafes that are working with us and are investing in their infrastructure, are mirroring a culture that we want to be around and support. There are people who have already invested in their equipment but they know they can do something better and something more. And we are here to work with them too.”
So what’s next for coffee here? More coffee brands? More cafes?
Moses answer is clear. “I think the next step for coffee going to revolve around the cafe experience and the different systems that available. More pod systems, more traditional systems of coffee making. The market is actually starting to care about the quality of the bean and the quality of the product and taking the education very seriously. Let’s talk about Chaud Cafe and their location coming soon on Victoria Avenue, for instance. They were really about having coffee available and now what they have done is started to look at coffee as a forefront project and not something in the back.” Moses sees coffee as something that is a massive part of the food industry. “Coffee is something that we are really educating people on and that is exciting part of the future. And it goes beyond the bean. It’s about the space, the flow and working efficiently. So with Chaud Cafe and their new concept, our in-house barista would go in and work with them for the first week or two of opening to get this section of their business right and that’s really where our barista, who has come from Starbucks also helps with the flow. It’s like a dance and that’s what people don’t look at.”
With the future of our coffee culture perking up, Moses says it will only get better if everyone continues to work together. “Supporting each other in the business community is something Caribbean Roasters is really trying to spearhead as a mantra, and I am not just saying this because it sounds cool. The coffee industry is working together to create an industry that is sustainable. It cannot be this dog eat dog kind of thing. We have to cross-patronise. So we all have to support each other and make this thing work. And that’s why we have earned people’s trust when it comes to co-packing or selling them in other ways, because we are always looking at opportunities to make other people sustainable through our trusted business relationships, where they can share their ideas, their numbers and their vision and they don’t have to worry about anyone stealing their ideas or duplicating it. We just learn from it and expand. And that’s the direction this country has to go. There is too much money here, too much industry here and too many smart people here for us to be trampling on each other’s businesses or swallowing the small guy. There is healthy competition and unhealthy competition and the business environment here for the most part leans towards being unhealthy and I think that’s kind of where we want to set the example in the coffee industry, with healthy competition and collaborations.”
Caribbean Roasters works with several chains, cafes, hotels and restaurants throughout the country such as Starbucks, Linda’s Bakery, Hilton Trinidad, Five Eatery, Full Bloom Coffee, St Christopher’s Gas Station, Presto stores and more. The company won the TTMA’s manufacturer of the year in 2017 and won the big booth prize at TTMA’s TIC event in 2018.
Pax Coffee & Kitchen
Pax is a new coffee brand that is available at local gourmet stores. They also offer free delivery in Port of Spain through orders made via social media. Products include:
House blend: a medium/dark roast, locally roasted available as custom ground or whole beans
Cold brew bottles: available in original (ready-to-drink classic) and sweet cream (sweet and milky)
Concentrate: a cold brew concentrate that makes up to three cups of cold brew