Certain Cherry Hill residents are waking up to the smell of coffee, but it’s not coming from their respective kitchens. The wafting aroma is coming from the 1,800-square-foot warehouse of Liberty Beans Coffee, which, founded in February of this year, is roasting single and blended varieties of flavorful ‘java’ beans acquired from coffee growing capitals around the world.
Established by the husband and wife team of Jim and Diane Morton, two teachers who have blended their skills – Jim is a culinary arts teacher and Diane is a science teacher with a Ph.D. – Liberty Beans expects revenues of $100,000 in its first year (February 2021-2022) and $3 million in five years.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, Diane and I discussed the idea of starting our own food business,” Jim explains. “We stumbled across a coffee roastery that was for sale. We weren’t ready to buy a business, but after speaking to [the owner] we thought, ‘This is really cool. We can do this!’”
The couple soon purchased a small one-pound roaster and placed it in their garage. The roasting commenced with the purchase of raw green coffee beans.
“I started giving coffee to friends and neighbors to see if I could make good-tasting coffee, and it turns out, after many trials, I was pretty good at it,” Morton recalls.
He says he took a “deep dive down the rabbit hole” to learn the process of roasting and blending coffee. “I probably watched a thousand online videos about coffee, coffee origins, and roasting coffee. I also took online classes. We knew if we were going to do this, we were going to do it legitimately and for the long haul,” Morton says.
The business plan he and his wife developed was good enough to attract investors. That led to renting a warehouse, buying more raw coffee and other supplies.
The couple then wanted to buy a brand new state-of-the-art six-kilogram coffee roaster, but since it was coming from China, the pandemic and related supply chain issues placed the purchase on hold. However, customers were asking for more coffee.
Luckily, Morton found someone in Cinnaminson who was selling a used five-pound roaster. “That’s the roaster we started our business with until the larger roaster was delivered,” he says.
Liberty Beans sells its coffees online to individual buyers, but its biggest success is the private labeling of coffee for fund raising efforts.
“What is really helping us grow the business is schools, sports teams and anybody you can think of who needs to raise money. As soon as I send someone a sample coffee bag with their own private label, they say, ‘Yeah, we’re going to do that!’” Morton says.
Liberty Beans also private labels coffee products for businesses. Additionally, the company has added wholesale accounts, such as various retail farmers markets throughout the state.
Asked if he ever stops into commercial coffee shop chains to see how the competition is doing, Morton explains he will stop into local, smaller coffee shops that may roast their own beans. “I’d rather see what the local [owners] are doing, talk to them, and give them my money. We are sort of a community of crazy coffee roasters and we have exchanged products just to see what each of us is doing. There is room for everybody,” he says.
Currently, Liberty Beans buys its raw coffee beans from three US importers, and the type of bean it uses is mainly Arabica, which is grown on mountainsides and at higher altitudes than, say, Robusta beans. According to Morton, Arabica beans are more flavorful.
The countries the raw beans come from include Brazil, Columbia, Honduras, Peru, Mexico, Guatemala, Indonesia and Kenya.
In developing a single origin coffee (one bean) or a blend, Morton experiments with bean combinations and the gas pressure, heat, air flow and drum speed of a roaster. A computer software is used to record the profile of each experiment so that it can be repeated for production.
Diane Morton likes to taste test the coffee with cream and sugar. She says her husband is the purest who tastes the coffee black as he looks for nuanced flavors such as chocolate, fruits, nuts, etc.
“I’m a coffee snob,” Jim Morton admits, as he explains the term “tasting” is never used during taste tests. The professional industry term is “cupping.”
When one orders from Liberty Beans Coffee (www.libertybeanscoffee.com), Morton says the coffee the purchaser will receive will be 5 to 14 days off roast. “You are getting the freshest of the fresh,” he says, explaining that coffee at commercial shops or on supermarket shelves can be months old, going from roaster to warehouse, to shipment to storage to retail shelves.
The company just hired its first employee to handle fundraising sales. It may open a café in the future.
The Liberty Beans name stems from Jim and Diane’s thankfulness to be living in the USA. “We feel we hit the lottery because we were born here,” Jim says.
The couple has two grown children. A son is a combat medic in the US Army. According to Morton, “That also encouraged us to go with a patriotic theme for the company name. … We are not political, but we are grateful to be where we are!”
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