Cold weather heats the coffee business

Winter, gift giving, season of parties join to make this a hectic time for roasters

December 30, 2005|By STACEY HIRSH | STACEY HIRSH,SUN REPORTER

The shelves of Baltimore Coffee & Tea Co. are packed with mugs and assorted teas. The counters are lined with burlap sacks brimming with coffee. And this time of year especially, the floor is packed with customers.

While more than half of Americans drink coffee every day, wintry weather coupled with the party and gift-giving season make this time of year typically the busiest for coffee roasters in Maryland and around the country. Coffee is an $8.96 billion industry that employs more than 20 million people around the world, according to the Specialty Coffee Association of America.

"Clearly, people drink more coffee when the weather is cold," said Joseph DeRupo, a spokesman for the National Coffee Association in New York.

Local coffee roasters offer proof of that. Eagle Coffee Co. Inc., a coffee roastery in downtown Baltimore that sells its products to such retail outlets as Giant Food, does 20 percent of its business in November and December, said owner Nick Constantinides.

Eagle Coffee has been around for 85 years, and also includes a gourmet division, Old Town Coffee and Tea Co.

Even with Christmas in the past, Constantinides said business is still bustling with customers buying coffee to serve at their New Year's Eve parties or as gifts for the celebration they're planning to attend.

"Whenever I go to any party, I always take coffee with me," Constantinides said. "It's a great gift item."

Baltimore Coffee & Tea does about a third of its business in the fourth quarter, selling about 40,000 pounds of coffee a week this time of year, said co-owner Stanley Constantine. He is Constantinides' cousin and owns Baltimore Coffee & Tea with business partner Norm Loverde.

In addition to selling to customers on the Internet and to restaurants, hotels and gourmet markets, the 15-year-old Timonium coffee roaster also sells coffee by the cup or by the pound in its shop - to about 2,000 customers a day during the holidays.

"I'm looking at a monitor right now, you can't even move in the store," Constantine said from his coffee roastery and shop last week.

Eighty percent of Americans drink coffee, and 53 percent drink it every day, according to the National Coffee Association.

But coffee drinkers have been changing their habits. Rather than a morning staple, Americans are viewing coffee as a treat or social outlet, DeRupo said. From 2003 to 2005, the percentage of people who drank coffee between breakfast and lunch (considered by the industry a nontraditional time to have a cup of joe) increased from 18 to 21, according to National Coffee Association figures. "I'm seeing that people are starting to look to coffee to fill different roles at different times of the day," DeRupo said.

Caffe Pronto of Annapolis caters to drinkers of high-end coffee. There, Vincent Iatesta, a former health-care executive turned coffee roastery owner, and his 18 employees roast and sell specialty-grade coffee. Customers include the City Cafe and the Evergreen and Common Grounds coffee shops in Baltimore, Iatesta said. "From the very beginning, I knew I wanted to be very high-end," said Iatesta, who opened Caffe Pronto in August 2002. This also is the busiest time of year for Caffe Pronto. The backroom is stocked with 20,000 pounds of coffee beans imported from around the world. They roasted 2,500 pounds of coffee last week and sold more than 600 coffee gift baskets this holiday season.

Kathy Finneran sees coffee as a perfect gift. She often shops for birthday and holiday gifts at Baltimore Coffee & Tea and considers presents from there to be "edible hugs."

"I think it's so much more significant to give a gift of taste because it has heart," she said. "The gift lasts longer because each time the person eats or drinks part of the gift, they remember you."

stacey.hirsh@baltsun.com

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