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Coffee write: dark roast trend

July 9, 2013
By Brian Martell


July 9, 2013 – Brian Martell provides insight on the popularity of a stronger coffee, and how it affects costs and long-term contracts.

“The amazing shrinking coffee” sounds like a
sci-fi thriller, but this is what’s happening to a large percentage of
the roasting industry.

In the coffee biz, shrink has to do with the amount of weight lost from green coffee to roasted beans, and is a factor when calculating cost. If 100 pounds of green is being sold, the net yield after roasting may be anywhere from 78 to 85 pounds, depending on how dark the roast is. This is precisely where historical averages of roast colour are starting to no longer hold true to what they once were.

Back about 20 years ago, the typical average shrink rate across the industry was about 16 per cent (84 pound roasted yield out of 100 pounds of green). This is still used today when larger operators purchase contracts and the green is converted into roasted pounds (a 37,500 pound green contract equates to 31,500 pounds roasted at a 16 per cent shrink).
However, things diverge from this standard since the average shrink rates for North American roasters has steadily been getting higher due to the market tendency for darker roasted coffees. A few factors may be contributing to this phenomenon:

1) There are claims that darker roasted coffee is better for you (no proven clinical research backs this claim)

2) Starbucks has always had a darker roast than other traditional coffee shops, and may contribute to the shift

3) Perhaps the most compelling reason for more dark drinkers is the increasing age of North Americans. As we get older, we tend to lose some of the subtler sensory perceptions on our pallet and therefore may find stronger, bitter flavours more appealing
The average age of Canadians is 40.6, and 37.1 for the US, but twenty years ago it was 32.9 for the US and 35.8 for Canada.


Typically, people start to drink coffee in their mid to late teens, and usually with plenty of milk/cream and sugar. As our tastes mature, the prevalence of heavily “enhanced” coffee decreases to where there are fewer condiments in the cup and more coffee.

The next step along the progression is to have bolder coffees with more body and a little more bite consistent with darker roasted coffees. To accommodate this trend, roasters have been bumping up the average temperatures, which in turn have increased their shrink rates. All in all, this is not a bad thing. If the average shrink has gone to 17 per cent (as an example), then the actual roasted coffee per contract would be 31,125, and not 31,500 (mentioned above). This plays into costs, contract timing, and a host of other considerations that should be examined when developing long-term contract strategies for those using the green market as a hedge.

The continued darkening of the average roast is likely to plateau in the near future (there has even been a slight reversal with some major retailers coming out with lighter roasts), as shrinks cannot rise forever. The standards need to be reconsidered when making planning decisions forecasting green requirements under higher shrink rates.

Comments, questions, feedback, start a dialogue? E-mail
Brian at

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