Many non-restaurant businesses sell coffee to lure customers or make them feel more comfortable. If you limit your operation to hot coffee or unprepared coffee beans, you generally need neither a food service certificate for your company nor food handler's permits for your servers. If you plan to sell iced coffee or prepare hot drinks using fresh milk, you will need certification. The general rule of thumb is that you need certification if you're using a refrigerator and handling anything perishable and non-prepackaged, or if you're serving people with reusable dishes.
Hot Coffee and Roasted Coffee Beans
If you plan to sell hot, freshly brewed coffee served in sanitary, single-use disposable cups, and if you only provide sugar and cream in single-serving packets, then in many jurisdictions you can do so without acquiring a food service certificate and without requiring your servers to obtain food handler's permits. Likewise, in most jurisdictions you can sell roasted coffee beans -- ground or whole -- without obtaining the usual certificate and permits. The reasons for these exceptions are that hot brewed coffee served in single-use cups presents minimal public health risk due to the temperature of the coffee and the lack of extended handling by you or your staff, while coffee beans themselves are not considered ready-to-eat and will eventually be heated by the customer to sterilizing temperatures. However, these rules vary at both the state and local levels, so it is vital that you check with your county's health office prior to proceeding.
Josh Fredman is a freelance pen-for-hire and Web developer living in Seattle. He attended the University of Washington, studying engineering, and worked in logistics, health care and newspapers before deciding to go to work for himself.