Adapting to Taste: Blue Jazz Coffee Roasters
By Jamie Slack
Photos by David Vincent
Companies are much the same—adaptability is necessary to connect with current clients and to create a business that can evolve as necessary. Risk and instability are common variables in the world of small business. Not only are we competing with the grocery store across the street, we are also competing with Amazon, Blue Apron, and the like. In order for small businesses to survive in this global economy, they must recognize the signals of change in the market and make swift moves to innovate and provide a product or service that appeals to the changing needs of their customers.
ADAPTING TO TASTE: BLUE JAZZ COFFEE ROASTERS Coffee is the lifeblood of productivity. Maybe not for everyone, but for a significant majority of the population, coffee is synonymous with work. Blue Jazz Coffee Roasters has capitalized on that love of coffee to become a vibrant, growing business in Topeka.
Originally Cardona Coffee, Blue Jazz Coffee Roasters has been steadily building as the leading local office coffee service while also growing as a specialty brand of coffee on its own. In the industrial park on South Topeka Boulevard, in a deceptively large warehouse, the coffee company roasts and packages its coffee and stores many other specialty coffee products sold locally and online.
Cardona Coffee, created by Kevin Conard’s father inthe early 1970s, was the true beginning of Blue Jazz Coffee Roasters. Kevin worked with his father and then in 2006 created the new company. He knew from the beginning that the market was changing, as were customers’ tastes, and that he would have to adapt accordingly.
The first change came with the new name.
“I discovered that it’s not good for a small company tohave multiple brands,” Kevin said. “Once we changed the name to Blue Jazz Coffee Roasters, people had to get used to it.”
Blue Jazz Coffee Roasters roasts all of its coffee in-house. Peder Fisher is the resident engineer that keeps the roasters working smoothly. One roaster belonged to Kevin’s dad and was an antique when he bought it. Many of the parts are no longer available for purchase, so Peder has found ways to keep the machine running by fabricating his own parts and also connecting the machines to technology. “We call it a Frankenstein— it’s kind of a combination of two different roasters,” Peder said.
The other one is high-tech, electronically monitoring the roasting process from start to finish. The difference between the two showcases the adaptation required to stay ahead in the coffee roasting business.
Another adaptation came with customer demand. Kevin realized that in the summer time, people don’t necessarily want to drink a steaming hot cup of coffee. He knew he needed to offer them something cold, but that would still offer them a coffee experience. The result? Cold brew coffee.
This product seems simple—you brew coffee, keep it in the fridge, and voila. But it is not that simple. Cold brew is not just “iced coffee,” it’s actually brewed cold.
“Traditional cold-brew takes about 16-24 hours to make, and it’s messy and time-consuming,” Kevin said. “It’s hard to get extraction when you’re using cold water. You can’t do it quickly. It has to sit overnight.”
Kevin knew that his team could provide a better solution for his clients. They developed a cold brew unit that not only saves coffee houses from the headache of making their own cold brew coffee, but also allows Blue Jazz Coffee Roasters to open up the market to new clients and sell the unit to a mass market online.
“We have the best cold-brew in the nation, and we can make it in 20-minutes per gallon,” Kevin said.
Kevin hopes the ability to adapt to changing customer demand will keep his company relevant for generations to come.