This summer has been a season of significant growth and evolution for all of us on the Passenger team. In addition to moving our production facility to its new home and opening our second retail location here in Lancaster, we have recently launched an entirely new roasting company: Necessary Coffee. As the initial coffees on the Necessary menu begin to make their way to increasingly broader audiences, we’ve received a number of excellent questions regarding what inspired us to create Necessary and what differentiates Necessary from Passenger. The post that follows responds to a few of these questions.
What inspired the creation of Necessary Coffee?
The challenge: how can we say that we are genuinely doing our part to pursue a viable supply chain for producers if we are only buying small volumes of their highest quality coffees?
Necessary Coffee was created in response to a challenge that Passenger’s green buying team has been confronted by again and again on sourcing trips to coffee producing countries. The challenge: how can we say that we are genuinely doing our part to pursue a viable supply chain for producers if we are only buying small volumes of their highest quality coffees? There is no shortage of roasting companies in the specialty industry who are eager to pay high prices for rare, exotic coffees that routinely earn the highest quality scores on the cupping table. What is less commonly discussed is the fact that these unique coffees, coffees that we love and are proud to present on Passenger’s menu, often make up a very small percentage of a producer’s total harvest. So what happens to the large amount of “good” coffee that remains after the small amounts of “great” coffee have been snapped up? In many cases, these coffees are sold at or below the current market price for coffee, a price that reflects the supply and demand economics of the international commodities market rather than producers’ actual costs. So, with the current market price for coffee hovering well below cost of production for the majority of producers, it is an unfortunate and widespread fact that many producers who receive excellent premiums for their highest scoring lots are still losing money overall. This is one reason behind the sobering reality that coffee production is increasingly untenable, as a business model, for many producers around the world. The current state of the industry often feels far removed from the healthy, and equitable, supply chain that we want to support.
Shifting the focus from producers to consumers, specialty coffee roasters have too often made the mistake of assuming that all coffee drinkers will ultimately prefer the unusual, adventurous coffees that tend to command the most attention within our industry. This assumption is simply incorrect and roasters with this mistaken belief miss an opportunity to connect with a broader group of coffee lovers. We believe that specialty coffee is truly for everyone and that a big part of our role as roasters is to find and present coffees that appeal to a broad spectrum of palates.
Our hope for this new project is that Necessary Coffee will help bridge the gap between high-quality coffees that all too often fail to find a market and coffee drinkers who prefer rich, balanced, easy-drinking flavor profiles.
How does Necessary’s approach differ from that of Passenger?
In many ways the approach for the two companies is exactly the same! Passenger and Necessary are owned and operated by the same group of people, and they share the same approaches to sourcing, green coffee preservation, roasting, production, quality control, and customer service. Both companies are Bcorp certified and, in most cases, the coffee that we roast for Necessary is purchased from producers or producing communities that we were already working with at Passenger.
While we approach our work for Necessary and Passenger in very similar ways, we do have different goals in terms of the coffees that we select for each company’s menu. When choosing coffees for Passenger, we look for lots that are immaculately clean and bright with unique flavor qualities that truly shine when presented at a light roast degree. These coffees are often quite rare and highly sought after by specialty buyers, necessitating a higher price point. For Necessary, we select coffees that offer accessible, everyday flavors that are ideally suited to a more developed roast profile. While these coffees often require just as much work to produce, there is a much greater volume of these coffees produced around the world every year, making it possible for us to offer them at a lower price point while still paying an excellent price to producers.
What does the future look like for Necessary?
It’s still early days but Passenger’s sister company is already growing incredibly quickly! Necessary coffee is currently being served in a small selection of cafes and restaurants, and on many grocery store shelves throughout the Mid-Atlantic. Online retail customers are being introduced to the coffees in increasing numbers thanks to Trade Coffee and the Necessary online shop. It will be really interesting to see how things evolve, but we couldn’t be more pleased that this initial growth positions us to approach our buying, for both Necessary and Passenger, in different and meaningful ways in 2020. This isn’t merely a home run for Necessary, it’s equally exciting for Passenger. Expanding the spectrum of coffees that we buy, roast, and share creates an opportunity for Passenger to become even more laser focused on coffee quality without compromising the broader partnerships with producers that Necessary enables us to pursue.