Commercial Break: A Dream Alive [CC#11]

A Dream Alive

ROCC started in 2012... well perhaps it goes back further than that.

Adam was no ordinary Michigan farmer. At a young age he began traveling the world until one day he landed in Central China. It was the other side of the world that he bumped into Paul... another "Michigander".

One day the two grabbed a cup of coffee together. Paul began to reminisce about his artisan friends & family back home. He casually mentioned, "I used to roast my own coffee." Suddenly the cosmos opened for Adam who bemoaned, "I wish I could find a decent cup of coffee around here." Epiphany! Paul, "Let's roast our own!"

Today the coffee you're holding was hand-selected and handcrafted by the ROCC Coffee Crew. The point of all this coffee hype is to focus on roasting and serving amazing coffees that build community and provide a playground for coffee enthusiasts.

Whether you call yourself and artisan or a novice, rest assured that at ROCC nothing is compromised. We do all the hard work (meticulously selecting, roasting, testing & brewing) so that you can just sit back & enjoy incredible coffees with a big smile.

Diedrich ROCC Bags

(Excerpt as read on the back of our beautiful ROCC Coffee bags : )

A 1,748 Day Flashback. [CC#1]

A 1,748 Day Coffee Entrepreneur Flashback.

It was time to lock those heavy glass doors. Paul, Louis and I stood on a well worn red paper entryway exhausted. My oldest daughter, who had turned five just 17 days prior to the Grand Opening Party, had scribbled a marvelous array of swirls and blessings in black Sharpie markers.

Tonight was truly grand! The guests were kind and waited a long time to drink ultra-light roasted coffees late in the evening. Thats what friends do after-all. The French pastries disappeared real quick. Chocolate tarts, Macaroons, Puffy-French-Things, Eclairs, Handmade Pretzels (I convinced the baker against his will to make me the german Bretzel).

Grand Opening

It was mostly Americans, Koreans and Chinese who filled the too-warm 25 square meter room where a PPT (PowerPoint) introduction was provided. From Day 1, I held the microphone as Paul preferred to speak when called upon and Louis preferred to hide a safe distance behind Paul. We were a great team standing on that red-papered entry.

The center lock was mostly ornamental. A visual deterrent for petty thieves who might somehow find a market for stolen coffee beans and simple coffee brewing devices. In hindsight watching how a thief off-loaded an armful of our coffee may have helped enlighten our marketing strategies. For good or ill, the "xiaotou" thieves never realized how useless the $3 stainless steel lock was.

When we really locked up, we'd break out the large red plastic covered U-bolt lock and secure the door handles shut. In order to get past this bad boy, I imagine a Chinese "da'ge" bro would need as much brains as he had brawn. Either way, I tried to convince myself that I and Paul were the only two people in a city of 12 million who knew that the secret to breaking into our shop was to go at it Bruce Li style and just "la" pull the door handles off and then "tui" push your way in.

Tonight we were too excited to worry about all the bad stuff that might befall our newly minted business. We'd been going full speed for 100 days non-stop. We didn't imagine how or where we would find customers to buy all of our amazing "xinxian" fresh "hongbei" roasted coffee. There were so many other problems that we had overcome!

Stuff like:
- Writing a business plan and convincing ourselves for 6 months that roasting Specialty Coffees in Central China was a great idea.
- Raising capital, forming and American LLC and a investing into a Chinese Wholly Foreign Owned Enterprise.
- Finding a shop to rent and a contractor to renovate it and passing police and fire department inspections and interrogations!

** Important note to foreigners doing business in China, this is the part where you run to get noodles or turn on your "ting bu dong" I-don't-understand face and keep clear of any landlord or badge bearing uniform.

- We shipped a half ton Diedrich IR-12 coffee roaster (purchased 2nd hand off Craigslist sight-unseen) halfway around the world.
- Then, we couldn't find green coffee to roast and when we finally did (paying an arm and a leg for it) we couldn't get the roaster to fire.
- We even made and fastened our own 8x2 meter signboard 12 feet off the ground to steel, marble and concrete with a bunch of hand tools for 1,000 "yuan" bucks because the contractor quoted us 20,000 yuan!

But it all worked out.
The ROCC Coffee Roastery was open for business.

Fond China Coffee Recollections

That first shipment

That first shipment

Sitting on the opposite side of the world, recollecting what I love about coffee in Wuhan, China.

As a coffee roaster starting out in Wuhan (2012) there were few options for purchasing green or roasted coffee. It seems most everything has changed in these 5 years since.

One great change is the availability of green coffee. I remember buying my first batch of coffee from some friends in Beijing. The price was outrageous, marked up 4-5x. It was my first purchase and the ROCC Coffee Roastery Grand Opening party was quickly approaching so we needed the best. We loaded up on some specialty grade Pulp-Natural Brazil, Washed Costa Rica, MicroLot Kenya & Gayo Mountain Sumatra. The Kenyan ran me $20USD/kg while the rest was closer to $15/kg! I had no choice, it was the only place I could find specialty coffee in 2012 and those were my only 4 choices.

However, to this day I have not had a Kenyan coffee which could rival that of 2012 (Kagumo Estate). Light roasted was sweetly acidic like vine ripened grape tomatoes and raspberries. Dark Roasted (I'm talking middle second crack) was like a toasted marshmallow.

2 months ago when leaving China I was sent 8 samples of some phenomenal coffees. Now green coffee traders are desparate to get roasters attention to help them offload excellent and affordable, clean, crisp, dense, fresh coffees from all over the world. Prices today are half those 2012 prices.

The Unforgetable Kenyan!

The Unforgetable Kenyan!

Yet still, what I love about coffee in China is that it's like the Wild West. We need professionals to stand up and boldly say, "This coffee is a great bargain!" or "This is how you roast!" or "This is what blending is all about!" Instead roasters and cafes are creating new brands everyday declaring, "Buy my coffee!" "Spend money at my cafe!" "Take training courses from me!".

All this reminiscing has me thinking it's time to document ROCC's coffee history.

~ Adam 黄朋

Become a SCA Member Today

Many people ask, "Why should I consider joining the Specialty Coffee Association as a member?"
or perhaps, "What value does the SCA offer if I become a member?"

I'll answer the Why's and What's here so that it's a bit more clear for YOU if you are part of the WHO... should join SCA as a Member.



First, the WHY:

  1. Typically I help enlist new members to the SCA in order to help them receive DISCOUNTS on their Certified Training programs. For example in China the cost of membership (about 600 CNY) is perfectly offset by the savings in your first Intermediate course (600 CNY). 
    1. So - after 1 Intermediate course your membership fee is covered.
  2. ALL subsequent Intermediate and Professional level courses are discounted that same amount (in China's case 600 CNY)... so you end up SAVING LOTS OF CASH!
  3. There are a number of GREAT RESOURCES which unlock through:
    1. Specialty Coffee emails
    2. SCA Store Discounts 20%+ on SCA/SCAA/SCAE approved merchandise and training equipment
    3. Access to conferences and Specialty Coffee events
    4. And much more. See website for more details.

There's lots to say about different member types, but the most common for individuals is as a Barista. Read more about it on the SCA Membership webpage above.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there is a level of ACCOUNTABILITY and MOTIVATION which comes from joining the SCA as a certified member. Discounts and resources are great and practically needed by all of us, but the INTRINSIC value of belonging to a Global Community of Specialty Coffee Professionals is the immeasurable value I'd like to promote most of all.

If you are ready to start training, or get that Intermediate and Professional Certification be sure to contact SCA.Training and let us know how we can help you personally and professionally. Thanks!

Renting the China Roastery [CC#10]

Roasters & Registrations... done! Check! What about China? My eyes turned to the East.

Paul and Louis had been keeping busy in Wuhan. Louis searched for decent rental locations. He considered a dozen before finally deciding.

Rent in Wuhan is steep! (commonly 200-300 RMB per square meter per month) This makes a 100 sq.m. shop (thats 1,000 sq.ft.) cost 20,000-30,000 RMB ($3,500-4,500 USD) per month. Typically only restaurants or big brand shops can earn a profit. As a result at half to two-thirds of small businesses lose money and close within the first year.

More affordable rentals in small or old business plazas are held by old landlords (with whom you need "guanxi" relationship). Many are so bad that you don't dare do coffee business from them. Old restaurants covered in "you" oil and "yan" smoke are the norm. Often when you do find a decent place it is hard to locate (off the beaten path or has poor public transportation). You should ensure the neighbors aren't sketchy and you want to foresee any building issues that may exist (e.g. bad electric wiring, bad plumbing, a low point for flooding, etc.). Transportation, delivery and parking are issues to consideration as well when purchasing 60-70kg jute bags of green coffee or shipping boxes of fresh roasted espresso to customers.

A view of our neighbors: Smokes-Liquour Shop, Japanese Diner, Lounge, Curtain Shop, ROCC, Teahouse & Tea Distributor... (from left to right)

A view of our neighbors: Smokes-Liquour Shop, Japanese Diner, Lounge, Curtain Shop, ROCC, Teahouse & Tea Distributor... (from left to right)

Juggling all of these considerations, Louis narrowed down his search to a few locations. The one finally chosen won us over for a few reasons:

  1. Louis felt great about the landlady, Ms. Liu. She was kind and professional to work with endearing a sense of confidence and trust.
  2. The place was "hen fangbian" very convenient, for Paul's commute (about 2km walking distance).
  3. To the South (right if door) was a family owned teashop where the elderly grandfather sat daily offering advice and assurance that it was a decent location.
  4. To the North (left of door) was a family owned curtain shop. The husband wife duo were hard working and seemed good parents to their young daughter who often did homework or played among the piles of curtain rods and bolts of fabric.
  5. Though formerly a restaurant, the 100 sq.meter shop was very clean. Little oil remained from past "chaofan" food frying.
  6. The unit was 5 shops in from the entrance, close enough to have some visibility from the outside while being far enough in to be sheltered from torrential Wuhan rains by an overhang covering above.
  7. While feeling expensive, the shop was affordable at 3,200 RMB/month (about $500 USD).

While I was still in the US - after several late night phone calls (in the garage near the wifi router) Paul, Louis and I confirmed to Ms. Liu "women yao zu" we'd like to rent. With Louis' investment capital he signed off on the shop and with Paul began planning what renovations were needed to turn Unit 7 in Building 18, XiangLong Times Plaza on NingKangYuan Road into the ROCC Coffee Roastery.

A Craigslist Coffee Roaster [CC#9]

I had scoured Ebay, Craigslist and coffee forum postings for 6 months. Nothing was turning up to meet my need: a batch roaster rated 5-12kg (10-25lbs) at a price we had budgeted in our business plan. Although frustrating, six months provides a great timeframe to patiently watch the market, understand the value of used equipment and see what sells (and what doesn't sell).

From watching the market I learned several things:

  • Probat (German) and Diedrich (American) machines sold for the most and sold quicker than other models. 
    • I knew it would be hard to get one of these, but at the same time in the future we could sell it higher and more quickly.
    • Others like San Franciscan, etc. also appeared but didn't sell quite as fast and didn't have the positive feedback in forums which Probat or Diedrich commanded.
  • Nice 5-7kg (10-15lb) used roasters were selling for $10-16,000 USD.
  • Larger 10-12kg (22-30lb) used roasters were selling for $18 - 22,000 USD.
  • Much older, classic cast iron drum roasters (typically 10-12kg) sold immediately for $20,000+.

It wasn't easy staying on top of the listings. Contacting sellers through Craigslist or coffee forums proves to be slow and frustrating. Demand for great machines was much greater than supply. Well priced roasters sold immediately. In the course of 6 months, there were a few machines (I still remember the Blue 7kg Diedrich!) that I wanted to pull-the-trigger on, but at the time I didn't have the capital.

Right around the time I was registering, getting capital commitments and expediting papers across the USA the perfect machine popped up. A 2007 Diedrich IR-12 (Infrared 12kg) roaster was listed for sale on Craigslist near Tucson, AZ. I immediately contacted the seller because his list price of $15,000 was much lower than the $20,000 prices I was accustomed to seeing. If purchased new the Diedrich IR-12 retailed $35-40,000. These were the manual roasting days, before computer aided roasting programs and profilers became ubiquitous. 

At that time in 2012, my wife and I were operating a non-profit Educational Exchange that recruited teachers for ESL teaching in China. "Zhong Relations" was on-boarding a new teacher that year from Tucson, AZ. I called Joel in Tucson and asked, "Hey man, would you be willing to go kick the tires on this roaster for me and make sure everything looks up to snuff?" He didn't know anything about coffee roasters but agreed to check out a few of the areas I alerted to him.

2012 Diedrich IR-12 used roaster

My Instructions and Requests to Joel included:
1. Do a basic walk around - ensure the roaster looks standard, nothing busted or out of place and that it starts up easily.
2. Listen to the machine heat up, and confirm it makes no strange sounds (Like it needs to be oiled or as if metal rubbing together somewhere).
3. Let the sellers talk, are they transparent and sharing plenty of details or does it appear they are hiding something, drawing your attention away from trouble spots.
4. Try to inspect the drum rotating on it's center shaft, is it concentric and smooth in rotation or is there wobble with an oblong shape (indicating it was not cooled properly and that the metal had warped).
5. Look underneath, behind, inspect bearings front, back, lower for excess oil or any rust or dryness. 
6. Is the machine generally clean or is there old buildup in the cooling chamber and chaff collector. Are there coffee fines or oil buildup?
7. Does the machine produce good looking roasted coffee in your opinion within a 10-15 minute roast period? Do those fresh roasted beans cool to the touch quickly (in less than 5 minutes)?
8. Do you smell gas or propane when it's roasting?
9. Take lots of photos and videos to send to me please.

I had never purchased a coffee roaster but I grew up on a farm. I figured buying a used coffee roaster would be similar to buying a used car. There's only so much that can be checked in a 60 minute inspection and then you drop a wad of cash and drive off hoping nothing blows up.

Joel reported back well, sent reassuring videos and photos and even got himself a couple free bags of coffee. Ron (the seller) and his team were experienced roasters and machine refurbisher/resellers in America's Southwest. I bargained a bit and got the price down to $14,500 which included assistance loading the machine onto a fumigated export-approved pallet with delivery to a local logistics center. 

The whole time I was thinking, "man I should get on a plane and fly out there in person" but the exchange went so well and the terms became increasingly attractive (that machine could have sold for $20,00 if Ron and his team wanted to hold it longer) ... so together with Louis' and Paul's approval I sent payment and bought the Roaster!

I forget how that 450kg machine got from Tucson, AZ to the port of shipping in Oakland, CA, but it made it. Costs were either included in the sale price of $14,500 or included in my international shipping expenses. Looking back now, I feel that was also a significant work accomplished.

Finding a logistics company which would ship our new baby across the Pacific Ocean effectively was no small task. I knew a guy named "Henry" in Wuhan, from the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) Central China Chapter, who was in logistics. He and his colleague "Monica" hooked me up with their Oakland partner "Kevin" who quoted me $5,000 to pack and ship the Diedrich IR-12 to Wuhan. I was concerned about taxation, inspections, customs and tariffs so we had to get a bit creative.

China and the US have always had a few disagreements when it comes to import exports. I knew firsthand after living in China that the last thing I wanted was to get the roaster 95% of the distance and then get stuck in customs.

Kevin and I devised that we add an extra stop along the way. From Oakland the roaster traveled to Taiwan. It was unloaded and registered as a Taiwanese (a.k.a. "Chinese") shipment. The roaster was put on a truck and shipped north to Taibei where it went from Taiwan to Mainland China - stopping at the docks in Wuhan. America to Taiwan no tariffs or scrutiny. Taiwan, "China" to Mainland China also no problem. That extra jaunt by truck in Taiwan added some fees, but avoid any taxes and expedited the whole process.

The last unexpected hiccup occurred at dock in Wuhan. I spent an extra $1,000 to transport the machine the final 30 miles to the door of our roastery. Unbelievably a giant industrial hydraulic lift-truck showed up (as if it were moving an entire 20-40 foot container!) The oversized crane set our cargo palette on the ground, from where we pushed it to the door. Getting the 1,000lb machine up 3 stairs and into place was adventure but with 5 anxious men pushing and pulling the job was finished!

From Tucson, AZ to Oakland, CA to Taiwan to Wuhan, China and into the ROCC Roastery, I spent a grand total of $6,000. It was a lightning fast 20 days from start to finish. I shouted a quick praise and hallelujah to God Almighty and high fived Paul & Louis. We were on to new adventures in roasting!

Starting the Wrong Way [CC#8]

If I could go back to July 2012, I would do it all over. But I didn't already have the experience that tells me... it's coming.

It was a cool and sunny summer in Michigan. The dining room table held a stack of paper and plans next to my laptop. I succeeded to register ROCC, LLC (a partnership held Limited Liability Company) in the state of Washington. The reason for this was two-fold. First, my family called WA home, had drivers licenses there, voted and annually filed taxes there. Second, we had some "guanxi" relationships there (as the Chinese would say). A couple good recommendations for a CPA Firm and an attorney who we might trust were just what we needed to start with a bit more confidence.

In the past I had a terrible experience opening and operating a 501(c)3 Non-Profit organization in the State of California. Sadly CA has a lot of regulations and is more costly than other states to operate your business from. Washington was a dream in comparison: less paperwork + less "mafan" hassle = more conducive to our small business.

So between the CPA, the law Firm and the State of Washington Business Bureau, and the good ol' World Wide Web (Internet) I was able to expedite the needed papers from Washington State to Washington, DC (for Chinese Consulate Authentication) and finally back to me in Michigan. ROCC, LLC was not only formed, but it was authorized to do business in and make an investment in China!

So, we needed cash to invest in China. I put out the call to our partners in California, Oregon, Washington and Michigan that it was time to make contributions. Businesses require capital, but technically we didn't have a "business" we just had paperwork. Sadly we fell into the trap of raising and spending money before we had any real business. We needed systems in marketing and coffee contracts which were generating new customers with revenue and profit. We had spreadsheets and projections, but again - it was just a plan.

In our own way we believed, "If you build it they will come."
"If you buy a roaster and start a roastery they will come."

If I could go back to July 2012, I would do it all over. Back then I didn't have the experience that tells me, "go look to find existing assets and put them to use." I tell new entrepreneurs this all the time.

All over China (all over the world) today there are under-utilized roasters (assets) sitting idle ready for outsourcing and toll-roasting contracts. In the beginning we could have saved ourselves from spending an entire year of generating customers on our investments if we had operated with someone else's assets for a time. If there really is a clientele for your product you can save piles of startup-cash by renting another persons roaster (use it from Midnight to 4am if you have to). What's more are the relationships and knowledge (e.g. poor product choices, gaining access to supply channels and vendors, etc.).

However, we chose to carve our own path and write our own story. Enthusiasm was high. A few close family and friends heard the ROCC story and caught the vision. The ROCC partnership had financial contributions and we were certified to "conduct coffee business between the US and China." 

red stamps required

Extra measures needed to be taken to ensure I went back to China with all necessary documents in hand. Within 10 days ROCC, LLC was incorporated, documents were expressed to the Washington DC Chinese Consular Business Section. A business must first be recognized by a special department issuing permits (which come as beautifully notarized sticker type documents) before it can make a foreign investment to China and operate in country.

Part 2 of this story was the exciting challenge of buying our Diedrich IR-12 roaster sight-unseen off of Craigslist and shipping it from the Oakland port of Los Angeles, CA to Wuhan, China. Those developments happened between legal and bank registration work.

Incredibly documents crossed the country by plane while I coordinated phone calls in multiple time zones to government offices and express courier services. I opened business bank accounts and established my wife's father as a co-signer to serve while I was out of country. Papers in hand by mid-July I was back on a plane headed for Wuhan.

Business Startup Checklist [CC#7]

Enough about choosing a proper business name. Paul & Louis (both spending the summer of 2012 - in China) gave a commitment to build this thing called ROCC. I was in America for the summer. We had work to do.

A short list of essential items to check off included:
1. Raise a first round of capital ($70,000 USD) by sharing the vision with and recruiting additional shareholding partners.
2. Register an American Limited Liability Corporation.
3. Find a secondhand shop roaster (5-15kg batch size) to purchase and ship to China.
4. Figure out how to ship a giant roaster to China without getting stuck in customs and indefinite taxation.
5. Coordinate all startup plans, analyze potential locations for our shop, choose a location, prepare and sign rental agreements, etc. etc. with Paul & Louis across the Pacific Ocean and 12-15 hours time difference.
6. Identify and hire attorneys, CPAs, etc.
7. Open bank accounts and create books to run the new US company accounts.
8. Miscellaneous tasks that come alongside opening a business to have operations on the other side of the world.
9. Be a good husband, father and son while "vacationing" in Michigan and Washington for the summer.

All of the above was essentially pulled off successfully in one whirlwind of a month (July 2012). Each with an anecdote and lesson of its own.

the startup team

Localizing Your Brandname in Chinese... [CC#6]

Why can't the Chinese just call McDonald's, McDonald's? Instead they call it "mai dang lao". I remember when Starbucks first came to Wuhan (back in 2007). I hopped into a cab and told the driver, "wo yao qu Starbucks" I want to go to Starbucks. The driver looked at me blankly. I tried again but with a heavy accent (guessing at what the name may sound like from a Chinese perspective) "wo yao qu se'er ba'ke". Still a blank stare.

So, I resorted to going to the shopping plaza I heard rumor as having Starbucks and searched for myself. Upon arrival I learned that Starbucks is "xing ba ke". "Xing" has the meaning of "star" though phonetically sounds nothing like "star". The later part: "ba ke" is a transliteration sounding like "bucks" but has no real meaning when translated. This often happens in a mysterious way where brands mix meaning and sound to create a cool Chinese name.

Thankfully, today (as was not the case in 2007) the rise of smart phones loaded with translation apps and ride hailing services (like DiDi) make finding Western tasting coffee or cheeseburgers much less confusing.

It only took ROCC a couple weeks before it received its own Chinese name transliteration. At first I wasn't happy. I wanted to choose a Chinese name with more meaning. However, Chinese friends naturally came up with their own version, calling us: "luo ke" which phonetically sounds like you've stretched the word "" to make 2 syllables: "law...kuh". No need to fight something that was working, so we took our new localized Chinese name and owned it.

ROCC 洛克 "luoke"

Choose a Business Name [CC#5]

How do you chose a great name for your business?

Depending on the business resources you read, you will likely encounter an infinite number of the following sample responses.
- Make it memorable
- It should be easy to spell
- Give it a visual element
- Ensure it has a positive connotation
- Let it include information about your business
- A good name should be fairly short
- Research who, if anyone, else is using the name or words
- Consider (if you live outside of the US, Canada or English) filing for Trademark rights. 
- Finally, go with your gut - don't let others choose your name for you.

Before finally landing on ROCC (an acronym for Roasters of Central China) we tried about 2 dozen combinations of coffee+landmark+location such as:
Roasters of Wuhan (our city)
Yellow Crane Coffee (our city's landmark)
Wuhan Coffee Company (very clear) 
Yellow Crane Roasters (construction?)
Along with many others which apparently had less sticking power in my brain.

Every name was scrutinized for its meaning and considered as an acronym. I especially liked the use of "Yellow Crane" as it tied a historic tower overlooking the convergence of the Yellow and the Yangtze River (also a site of many famous poetic inspirations) to our brand. However the Chinese name "huang he lou" if added to any extra monikers like "kafei" coffee or "hongbei" roaster just became a painful mouthful.

Ultimately the decision was mine, but I had to get the team on board. ROCC when spoken sounds like "rock" which has many strong connotations. The letter K-sound also has a definitive and lasting effect when spoken. Brands like Nike and Coca Cola when spoken linger in the air. When combined as "ROCC Coffee" or "ROCC Coffee Company" there was a rock & roll masculinity and playfulness we three were all drawn to.

the logo that never stuck

Well intentioned business books will advise you to "test your name" or survey random people to get feedback on how potential customers may respond to your name. While it may be necessary in certain more sensitive consumer sectors, by and large with any sort of creative discretion you should choose the name you are excited to give life to daily.

Initially, people had a little trouble with the name "ROCC" and would belabor through it letter by letter, "Hey Adam, can I buy a bag of R- O- C- C- coffee?" Naturally it was an easy conversion for them when I replied, "No problem I'll bring over a bag of ROCC (rock) tomorrow." Later on you experience the benefit of being part of the 'in crowd' and there is pride being in-the-know. Only a rookie would make the mistake of saying R- O- C- C letter by letter.

If Paul, Louis and I loved it we knew others would too. We went on daily to infuse ROCC strength into our brand and ROCC playfulness into all that we did. Culture starts with something so simple as a name.

The 100 Day Business Launch [CC#4]

Starting a new business is exhilarating! Rewind 100 days from our Grand Opening and our story finds itself in the beginning of July, 2012.

In the birthing stage of a business cost analysis, projected cash flow, startup equipment, budgets, design plans, marketing assumptions and stuff like visual identity systems consume incredible time and energy. But its ok! Before you have a business to run this stuff is fun. It feels real, even if its just plans and PowerPoints and spreadsheets.

In 2012 it didn't matter if you were a "waiguoren" foreigner or a "zhongguoren" Chinese in Central China; you couldn't find a local coffee roaster. No one was talking about fresh roasted coffee and no one seemed to care. How could a group of fanatical hand craft artisans not find a market for their premium product in China's 5th most populous urban center Wuhan?

* Insert "A Dream Alive". This is how we told it on the back of our coffee bags.

Since December 2011, Paul and I had scoured our financials looking to extract every possible source of "lirun" profit. All good roasters should sell B2B "pifa" wholesale and B2C "lingshou" retail. Roasting your own private label is a mainstay whilst roasting custom labels for others (toll roasting) can also be an income source. Catering and providing services can be a reliable revenue stream for a new roastery, while activities and training provide intermittent income with a marketing bonus.

We estimated (too generously) how much coffee our wholesale customers would buy each month and built in a too-hefty growth curve at 15%. Market research showed then (and still today) that China's coffee market has grown at an annual rate of about 20% for the last decade.

Although the financials were far too optimistic, their underlying spreadsheets were rock solid and useful for years. Knowing the cost of each green coffee bean, down to the gram; counting "fen" Chinese pennies spent in bags and labels; or scrutinizing "shuifen" water moisture variance by roast level helped the whole team understand the value gained or lost in each step of our operations.

Whatever free time Paul and I had from December 2011 to June 2012 was spent researching the China Coffee market, formulating plans and drumming up enthusiasm.

Louis joined the team at the end of June 2012 after a small coffee brewing demonstration and business plan presentation in Huangshi at the ManJing Hotel. It wasn't immediate, but a few days after the June 23rd presentation he told me that the exciting possibility of starting a business and launching into a coffee career path was a chance he couldn't miss. His dad was an entrepreneur fish farmer and the entire family was amazing - supporting Louis both emotionally and financially.

However, the whole business plan was nearly scrapped just before Louis called me. The presentation was on Saturday and by the following Monday I was on a plane with my family back to the USA for a summer holiday. Meanwhile Paul had decided, "if money doesn't come in by the end of June, I need to tell Adam I'm out." Well, needless to say, ROCC Coffee was launched as a tribute to the Higher Power at work in our summer 2012.

As Paul (who stayed in China for the summer) was getting ready to send me his message, "I'm out!", he received my email stating effectively, "Louis is in!". Paul made an abrupt 180 degree turn.

While in flight I received Louis' email stating "Count me in for a $20k investment into ROCC! But by the way I have decided to quit my job and I will come to work for ROCC full-time... immediately."

I was amazed and encouraged! Someone believed in my dream called ROCC Coffee!
Paul was affirmed and confidently made a 2 year commitment to build the business.
Louis already cashed in his chips with his former employer HuaXin Cement Company (a huge Chinese Government Owned Company) and was ready for a call to coffee-action.

ROCC - Roasters Of Central China was moving from dream to reality!

Renting a shop in China [CC#3]

Finding a good business location and renting a shop to operate from is an especial challenge in Central China.

Every city, every district, every industry of China has its own idiosyncrasies. Sometimes (as in our case) you rent from a "fangdong" landlord who owns rights to a rental unit. At other times you may deal with a small property management company and lease a "menmian" storefront. Other hybrid scenarios often emerge with countless and ambiguous "ceng" layers of "laoban" bosses taking their own piece of the rental payment pie, which effectively drives rent prices sky high.

No matter what the diligent tenant does, they must sign a "hetong" contract. Absolutely you must consider how you can minimize any security deposits and "zhuanrang fei" transfer fees (cash bribe payments to gain permission to lease). Any cash given up-front should be clearly documented and should be given slowly. The eager entrepreneur often is too loose with the ample cash available during the startup phase. Without a doubt you should negotiate how much your rental fee will increase annually (10-20-30% is common). Additionally ensure you know what penalties exist for early withdrawal. Sadly you can seldom believe what you are told, trust the documents you sign, rely upon the hands that you shake or make claim to the promises over dinner and hearty "ganbei" dry-your-glass toasts when celebrating the new lease signature.

China redefines the game Caveat Emptor - Renter Beware!

Pro-tip if you plan to lease in a shopping complex you may be able to get 6-12-18 months rent free (because the place won't have electricity or customers for 5-11-17 months... which means you won't have any income!)

The day after our Grand Opening party, we "sange pengyou" 3 Amigos didn't have a clue about any of these shenanigans. Except perhaps we did encounter and successfully dodge a 100,000 yuan ($15,000 USD) transfer fee! A feat marvelously executed by Louis!

Louis signing contract in blood... not really it was red ink.

Louis signing contract in blood... not really it was red ink.

The shop we finally rented had two levels and was "yibai pingfangmi" 100 square meters. Before we moved in, the 50 sq.m. below was customer seating with a small restroom on the back left. The front was all glass and about 7 meters wide. About 8 meters back from the center doors was a heavy duty steel staircase, painted black, that ran against the back wall leading upwards with a sharp righthand turn to the second floor.

The second floor was partitioned into 3 functional rooms. Standing at the top of the staircase, the left side was all open seating space with narrow windows beyond over looking the front entrance. To your right was a small enclosed seating area (typically used in China for meetings or "majiang" Majohng table gambling). Beyond the partitioned room, in the far back righthand corner, (also over looking the entryway) was a tiny kitchen with a big steel sink with simple plumbing stolen from the bathroom below. A gigantic vent hood nearly filled the small room to take care of the oily smoke produced from all the heavy "guo" wok frying required in authentic Chinese grub. However the best part of all was a little elevator shaft with rope and pulley assembly for sending food down below to customers below. Sadly we never found a suitable use for elevating our green or roasted coffee beans up and down the wall.

A special feature which enabled us to roast coffee on site was the oversized exhaust pipe running left from the kitchen, into the left dining area and snaking back over the stairway to exit five floors up and out the roof of the hotel behind us. This same hotel provided KTV music for us most evenings through the concrete walls separating our stairwell with one of the many KTV rooms beyond.

The place was really clean (for a former restaurant) and the landlady seemed pleasant enough so we decided to go for it. Paul, Louis and I set off to make ROCC Coffee dreams come to life in the Xianglong Times Plaza.

But those dreams are all part of a "jihua" planning and building "gushi" story which occurred over the 100 days leading up to these Grand Opening Memories.

Entrepreneurs Need Sleep Too! [CC#2]

So what do all good business builders do the day after a Grand Opening party? They sleep in! For once in their life, they give themselves permission.

Aside from Sundays, I don't believe Paul, Louis and I were really able to sleep in for the prior 100 days. Nor do I believe that there were many mornings in the proceeding years that we slept in (in good conscience). So this was a cool October morning to relish.

Wuhan is no small city. As the capital of Hubei province, it clocks in at a population of 11,000,000. While estimates may vary +/- 1 million, 10-12 are the typical figures produced. As all good cities with a history of 3,500 years Wuhan can boast as a epicenter of trade, battles and education. It's a fun name to say too "Wu" sounds like 'woo!' and comes from the military word also found in "WuShu" martial arts. "Han" is classic to the majority people of China, "Hanzu" or Chinese majority people. However, "Han" get's it's meaning from the "HanJiang" Han River which comes down from the north to intersect the great "YangZe" Yangtze River.

My mother and father-in-law happened to be staying in our home for a few weeks which fell amid our ROCC Coffee Roastery Grand Opening party. With 2 young daughters and a sprouting new business my wife and I had our hands full. In order to make ends meet she occasionally taught at a "YouErYuan" Kindergarten in our apartment complex in exchange for discounted tuition for our 5 year old. I believe at the time it was only 1,200 yuan rather than the full 2,400 ($550 USD) per month. The following year we would switch to a more prestigious school (a 15 minute bike ride away) where tuition and relationships were a whole different amazing story.

Education is big business in China! In a nation most recently founded on only children (we've all heard of the One-Child-Policy) there is incredible pressure to ensure that the one child succeeds. Schools of choice, exam scores, college admissions all contribute in major ways to the future prosperity of families.

I digress...

There was work to be done at the roastery on the other side of town. I lived in the WuChang district but the roastery was in HanYang. If I chose to take the bus to work, the alarm would sound at 5 to ensure I was on the "GongGong QiChe" public bus by 6am. In this way I could get a seat while the bus made its first round through the city. Traffic also hadn't reached rush hour pitch as I rolled up to the roastery on the west side at 8am. It was a 30 minute ride on bus "qi yao wu" 715 with a transfer to bus "wu jiu liu" 596 for the final 90 minute stretch.

one man bus band

I'm a morning person so getting up with the "yeye" grandpas and "taiqi" TaiJi practitioners was welcome. Besides, I enjoyed watching the "gongren" manual laborers pile onto those first buses with buckets and tools, shovels and pickaxes hanging off of bamboo poles straddling their shoulders. The roasted "Zhima" sesame smell of (and desire for) "re gan mian" hot dry noodles wouldn't hit me until I switched to the double decker bus 596 and grabbed my seat top-front overlooking the now bustling Wuhan streets below.

But all of this city street romance won't be happening on my well-deserved morning of sleep-in. If the 6am bus is missed by any more than 15 minutes, every minute delayed is multiplied 2-3x. That means a 6.30 bus will get me to the roastery 8.45-9.00am. A 7.00am kickoff easily takes 3 hours (all of which is spent standing jostling for a good position away from sweaty neighbors and hopefully near a good window breeze.)

After a stack of pancakes and couple cups of coffee with the family, reality crashes back upon me, "I've got a business to run!"

Rather than a "san dian liu" 3.6 "yuan" dollar (3 hour long) bus trip, I opt for the 65 yuan ($10 USD) taxi ride. Taking a taxi was a mere 50 minute ride on "san huan xian" the 3-ring road.

Wuhan also has an inner 2nd ring road and a less used outer 4th ring road. Many Chinese cities have such ring roads (Beijing is huge with 6 rings).

I wish both my 3 year old and 5 year old daughters a good day, "Daddy's gotta go to work" and kiss my wife goodbye on my way out the door.

Nearly an hour later as I walk up to the roastery Louis & Paul are finishing off their breakfast noodles and cleaning up from remnants of red paper, decorative flowers and French pastries. The place looks great and full of potential. "What should we do today?" Was the question both felt and voiced. "Lets get these borrowed tables back to our friends and go from there" I responded.

The more important question we three entrepreneurs should have been asking day 1 was, "Who are our customers and how do we reach them?"