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Thursday, May 24, 2018
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Shifting grounds in the local coffee trade

When Rose Waruinge and her husband Patrick Gachau closed the door to Café Kili in Temple Terrace for the final time at the end of last year, they opened a new one with their Internet-based business, Kili Coffee Roasters.

Customers who enjoyed a cup of freshly roasted Kenya AA or Kili’s signature Special Blend in the couple’s Temple Terrace coffee shop, can still do so by ordering online at Kili CoffeeRoasters.com.

“We loved Café Kili and treasured the relationships we developed with our loyal customers,” said Waruinge.

“It has always been a passion of ours to open a distribution company and we are extremely excited about this new endeavor.”

Like many businesses, Kili Coffee Roasters faces tough odds in achieving financial success or marketplace longevity in a competitive industry, but if the experience of Caracolillo Coffee Mill is any example, there is profit and satisfaction in providing customers coffee blends that suit their tastes.

Established in 1936, in Anastasio Fernandez’s Ybor City garage, Caracolillo is still owned by the same family, now operating out of a facility in Drew Park.

Fernandez came to Tampa from Asturias, Spain, and the tradition of creating coffee blends that appeal to Hispanics continues with Caracolillo’s position as a supplier of ground, packaged espresso coffee to bodegas and supermarket chains throughout the United States. Some of the brands Caracolillo produces are Café Rico Rico, Sol de Cuba and Café Caracolillo. Company owners say they sell nearly $3 million worth of packaged coffee annually.

Sales of whole coffee beans, green and roasted, are about one-third of their ground espresso sales at nearly $1 million, but Julian Faedo, 62, who runs the company with his brother Michael, says Caracolillo’s bean sales are increasing, with their website fueling much of the growth. He also credits tighter economic times motivating coffee drinkers to brew and even roast their coffee at home.

“I think the economy’s so bad overall, I think people stopped buying $4 to $5 cups of coffee,” he said. “Once you find that company that makes the good coffee you like, you don’t have to look anymore.”

Faedo says he’s noticing more people are interested in roasting their own blend of coffee to suit their personal tastes.

“One hundred years ago everybody used to buy green coffee and roasted it at home,” he said. “It was a known skill. Now it’s more of an art. You cannot get fresher coffee than a customer roasting and grinding it themselves.”

Home roasting can be as inexpensive and simple as a hot pan, or high tech with a higher price tag to match. Innovative use of a popcorn maker can also serve to roast beans according to Faedo.

“A roaster costing about $50 to $60 roasts about four ounces at a time,” he said. “Once they roast it three to four times, they get the hang of it.”

While the home market for coffee is expanding, there are still entrepreneurs whose passion is serving coffee to the public.

“The coffee shop is the hardest business to make a living because people aren’t going to coffee shops like they used to,” said Faedo, who works with coffee shop owners to develop distinctive blends for them to serve.

Joe Brown hopes to make a drive-up coffee and Cuban sandwich hut a profitable addition to the adjacent Hong Kong Willie art collective that sells Florida-centric art. His location at Interstate 75’s exit 266 in north Hillsborough County, next to businesses catering to travelers, may prove to be ideal, but he’s also working with Faedo to develop a consistent coffee blend to set his food and beverage business apart.

“We’re concentrating on serving a high quality coffee, and make it toward a Cuban coffee,” he said. “What we want to do is serve a dark-roasted coffee with a medium taste.”

Brown also appreciates that Caracolillo Coffee Mill recycles its coffee bags, which speaks to his focus on re-use as part of his art and business model.

Coffees available from Caracolillo Coffee Mill include almost two dozen varieties of green, unroasted beans grown in coffee fields from around the world, such as Yemen Mocha-Matari, Tanzania Peaberry and Colombian Supremo. Unroasted beans are available in quantities from one to 25 pounds. Large selections of roasted and flavored beans are also available, in one to five-pound bags. Customers can also order cases of eight- ounce bags of the espresso blends.

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