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Five essential questions to ask a wholesale coffee supplier

Written by Josh Passaro

Coffee plays a huge part in building any successful hospo business – not only when it comes to dollars, but also in bringing people together and creating community. And for me, that’s really what coffee is all about – connection. So, whether you’re opening a new café or looking to enhance your existing coffee offering, know that choosing the right wholesale coffee supplier is key.

As important as that decision is, it can feel a bit overwhelming when you consider all the roasters out there and all the factors you need to consider. That’s why I wanted to provide a bit of a guide to help business owners like yourself as you start on this journey.

This guide includes five important questions I’d recommend asking any roaster you’re considering, with details on what to be on the lookout for to make the right choice for your business.

If you’re looking to elevate your coffee offering while establishing a valuable working partnership with your chosen wholesale coffee supplier, then this guide is for you. Here they are!

#1: How do you ensure the quality and consistency of your coffee beans?

Quality coffee beans are the foundation of a successful coffee business – not even the best barista in town will be able to make a good coffee with a poor-quality product.

Choosing a coffee wholesale partner who exclusively uses Arabica beans ensures a higher quality product, with a sweeter, smoother, and more complex flavour profile. Arabica beans also have less caffeine, which is more palatable for customers.

Customers are becoming more and more picky, so selecting a wholesale coffee supplier that offers specialty coffee will help your business be more competitive. Only Arabica beans can be labelled as specialty, which means they have achieved a score above 80 by the Specialty Coffee Association.

Some roasters, including Will & Co, raise the bar even higher and use beans with a score of 85 and above. Though this score isn’t everything, it’s a good indicator of the level of quality you can expect from that supplier.

Consistency should also be top of mind; customers favour cafes where they know they’ll enjoy a quality cuppa every time they visit, regardless of the barista. Enquire about how they drive consistency with their roasting process and how they partner with green bean suppliers to provide a consistent quality product throughout the year.

Critical to both quality and consistency is quality assurance (QA). Learn about each supplier’s QA processes; for example:

– how often do they test samples from their green bean suppliers;
– how do they ensure they’re removing any potential foreign objects;
– do they keep retention samples; and
– how do they package their end product.

If you want your coffee business to be strong in today’s competitive environment, purchasing a quality, consistent product is crucial.

#2: How often do you roast the beans and what is your roast-to-ship timeframe to ensure freshness?

Freshness is a non-negotiable when it comes to coffee, and a reliable wholesale partner should understand and prioritise this. Learn about your supplier’s roast-to-ship timeframe, noting that different roasters have different timeframes for when their coffee is most ideal. Their process should be set up in a way that ensures the beans will reach you during that optimal period.

Additionally, understand their storage and packaging methods post-roasting. Find out what extra steps they take to ensure freshness with their preferred packaging method, like if they nitrogen flush and use bags with a one-way release valve for gases to escape, as Will & Co does.

Our commitment to freshness is reflected in our meticulous roasting and packaging methods, which ensures extended shelf life and a superior coffee experience for our partners.

#3: What is your pricing structure, and what is your value proposition for long-term contracts?

First, determine your budget and the volume you anticipate ordering as the price you’ll be offered will be heavily based on kilos per week.

If it’s a new business and you need some time to build up your order levels, ask about the possibility of a stretch incentive once you reach a certain level of kilos per week. This can be a great, mutually beneficial solution as you’ll be eager to hit your goals and your wholesale coffee partner will be keen to support you to grow your business.

I’d also recommend being open to contracts – they’re often a great way for wholesale suppliers to offer more and be motivated to support your business in the longer-term. For Will & Co, it also means we can offer additional funding for custom signage, marketing initiatives and more – which brings me to the second part of this question.

Beyond the cost per kilo, explore the wholesaler’s broader value proposition including equipment offerings, support, training, and additional marketing plays. Further, ask about any hidden costs or fees – do they charge for additional shipping, renting the machine, servicing, and so on.

#4: Do you offer training for baristas on how to best brew and serve your coffee?

Remember when I said, “not even the best barista in town will be able to make a good coffee with a poor-quality product”? Well, the reverse of that is also true – the highest-quality coffee won’t get you far if your team isn’t properly trained to brew it.

Alongside quality beans, training is the backbone of a successful coffee business – that’s why it’s important to select a coffee wholesale supplier that cares about your business beyond just selling beans.

Most roasters will offer some level of training, but those most committed to a true partnership will cover everything from the recipes for their blends and latte art to alternative brewing and troubleshooting issues with equipment.

Make sure to clarify if you have any specific training needs for your team to understand if they can support. It’s also a good idea to ask if the training frequency is limited or if it’s available on an as-needed basis.

#5: What type of servicing support do you offer?

It would be remiss of me not to mention this question. Though the type of equipment on offer can make a huge impact on reliability, at the end of the day, all equipment needs servicing.

It’s crucial to understand exactly how a potential wholesale coffee supplier would support you with both preventative maintenance and emergency repairs for your grinders, puq press, espresso machine, and any alternative brewing gear.

Must-ask questions for your wholesale coffee supplier

Is training done in-house or is outsourced?
Is there an emergency support contact?
What does their preventative schedule looks like?
How will they support you if a machine completely shuts down?

As much as no one ever wants or expects that to happen, it’s best to know what to expect if the worst case becomes reality. After all, what’s a cafe without coffee?

The final pour

While these might not be the only questions on your mind, they’re a good starting point as you enter conversations with potential wholesale coffee partners.

Ultimately, it’s about being open and honest about your needs, ensuring all your questions are adequately answered, and determining whether it’s a good fit for both parties. A good partner won’t judge you for asking questions and being thorough. In fact, they’ll welcome it.

At Will & Co, we’re proud to say we don’t just supply coffee – we build partnerships. Our partnerships start with exceptional coffee, top of the line equipment, and ongoing support, but that’s not where it ends.

From bespoke site activations and unique marketing support to machine customisation and 24/7 service support, we take pride in going above and beyond for our partners to help them deliver on their goals.

We’d love to have you check out what we’re about; get in touch if you’re keen to learn more. The Will & Co family is always on the hunt for new partners.

“The opinions expressed by BizWitty Contributors are their own, not those of BizCover and should not be relied upon in place of appropriate professional advice. Please read our full disclaimer."

About the author

Josh Passaro

With over 15 years of experience in the coffee industry, Josh Passaro knows a thing or two about quality brews – from sourcing and roasting to sales and marketing.

As Head of Will & Co, he works closely with café and hospo owners to elevate their coffee offerings and create a sense of community through their business.
Josh lives in Bondi, just a stone’s throw from the Will & Co HQ, and spends his free time enjoying the best of Australia’s coastal lifestyle with a piccolo in hand.