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MAN AND MACHINE: With 708 clients nationally, Sean Hunziker is roasting at 95 percent capacity of his 12-kilogram Probat. He says a roaster triple in size is on the way.
MAN AND MACHINE: With 708 clients nationally, Sean Hunziker is roasting at 95 percent capacity of his 12-kilogram Probat. He says a roaster triple in size is on the way.

Business Spotlight: Before the Barista

In an artful industry, Copper Canyon is refining coffee roasting

Posted online

With coffee roasting operations popping up left and right lately, coffee connoisseur Sean Hunziker estimates there’s currently one roasting machine operating for every 6,500 people in Greene County.

It amounts to an oversaturated market.

“There is an exorbitant amount,” says Hunziker, the owner-operator of Copper Canyon Coffee Roasters in Battlefield. “We have a very high concentration right now.”

Hunziker’s been in the coffee game since 2006, so by some standards, he’s still green. The owners of Mudhouse, for instance, have been pouring cups of joe since 1998.

But Hunziker’s market goes well beyond the Springfield area.

Wholesale is the main driver at Copper Canyon, and Hunziker has amassed some 70 clients from the Rockies to the East Coast. He spent the last year almost solely focused on sales, even foregoing an annual trip to a single-origin farming locale.

It paid off, perking up four years of flat sales to double Copper Canyon’s undisclosed revenue in 2017.

“We tried it the other way around. It caused us to stumble a bit and even slide down,” Hunziker says of a 2013 sales drop of 40 percent.

At the time, the focus was on building supplier and farmer relationships.

In his own backyard, Copper Canyon distributes to 12 clients. Travellers House in southwest Springfield and Black Lab in Republic brew his beans, while bags of Copper Canyon roasts also are on the shelves of MaMa Jean’s Natural Market and Homegrown Foods. Another dozen churches are sprinkled into the client mix, something he didn’t anticipate.

“That is a surprising customer base,” Hunziker says, noting the lower order volumes based on the typical Sunday needs. “They’re low-key and easy to deal with. A church might be a fifth of a coffee shop.”

Hunziker signs nondisclosure agreements with most of the larger coffeehouses and smaller franchises, and he’ll do private label whole beans for them as well.

Roaster relations
For local coffee shops, the roaster relationship is critical, says Andrew Venturella, manager at Travellers House and son of the owners.

The team at Travellers House settled on two local roasters: Copper Canyon and No Coast Coffee. When the shop opened almost two years ago, the Venturella family bought beans exclusively from The Roasterie in Kansas City.

“That’s one of the things we wanted as a coffee shop, to showcase other roasters,” Andrew Venturella says.

Now, Travellers House alternates purchases for espresso roasts between the two but buys exclusively Copper Canyon for decaf espresso and No Coast to brew its house coffee.

“We like to switch out,” Venturella says, “to give variety and to give business to both people.”

Hunziker says he roasts a couple thousand pounds of whole beans each week to keep pace with client orders.

He’s currently roasting at 95 percent capacity of his 12-kilogram Probat roaster. That puts him on edge.

Hunziker is anxiously awaiting the arrival of a machine triple in size. He bought a 1950s model of a 35-kg Sasa Samiac, and it’s getting refurbished for an undisclosed amount.

“We overpaid. We needed it,” Hunziker says. “If something were to happen – I need a backup and want to keep growing.”

Sometimes, coffee shop orders with roasters are filled the same day.

“That’s great for a small business,” Venturella says.

And it’s great for increasingly growing consumption. According to the National Coffee Association, 64 percent of Americans drink coffee daily, up from 57 percent in 2016. The demand translates into more than $74 billion spent on coffee a year.

Coffee crash course
The coffee business is a second career for Hunziker.

He worked in commercial printing before moving to the Springfield area from Arizona. A friend in coffee roasting intrigued him, and the change of locale opened the door.

“They enjoyed their job a lot more than I enjoyed mine,” he recalls. “They showed me enough to be a little dangerous.”

Hunziker jumped right in, buying The Coffee Rush in Nixa upon relocating in January 2006.

A few years prior to his introduction to coffee, the industry began its third wave – a transition toward highly educated consumers buying coffee based on origins and artisan brewing methods.

“The industry was at a turning point,” Hunziker says. “People wanted to know the whole story behind the bean.”

Consumers moved from enjoying this newfound “specialty coffee” – led by Starbucks and others emphasizing social coffeehouse experiences – to caring greatly about the process, according to Craft Beverage Jobs, a career resource and industry blog.

“There are a ton of steps to get it from a bean in Central America to a coffee cup in Springfield, Missouri,” Hunziker says. “They say there are right around 26.”

Copper Canyon buys green coffee beans through suppliers Cafe Imports and Anthem Coffee Imports.

To learn the scientific process of roasting the bean, he received consulting from Brewed Behavior in Kansas City.

“Coffee is very temperamental. It’s like grapes – a cherry instead of a grape,” Hunziker says.

In demonstrating the roasting process, he notes 400 degrees is the key temperature, and once at that level, 60 seconds makes the difference between light and dark roasts. His style is for medium roasts, not a whole lot of dark – something Starbucks has been known for.

“They’re burnt,” he says of the beans popularized by the Seattle coffee company. “To each their own. It’s just like wine – everybody has their own taste and style.”

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