Buying coffee beans is a big challenge, more so if you have no idea about origins and quality.
You know the local coffee wholesaler is not providing you the right beans and you need to do something about it.
Here are a few steps to follow in order to source correctly the best coffee beans in the market and not end up serving cheap robusta coffee from Vietnam or Brazil:
Coffee beans grow in many regions in Latin America, Africa, the Caribbean, some parts of south Asia and even China. Knowing the coffee grower behind the bag of beans you are about to purchase is best practice. Start doing research and you will find quickly what origins are more sough after than others.
For instance, it is well known that Brazilian coffees are average, coffee beans are mechanically harvested and it is grown in huge plantations where quantity instead of quality is key for their business.
Also, Vietnam coffees are of lower standard due to the robusta coffee trees most farmers plant in their farms.
On the other hand, there are a few regions in Latin America, Africa and Asia that are considered Gourmet and most likely you won’t go wrong if carefully evaluated. A few instances are coffees from Antigua Guatemala, Kona from Hawaii, USA, and, of course, some coffees from the Tarrazu region in Costa Rica.
If quality is of utmost importance and for sure your coffee clients are very knowledgeable about what a quality cup of coffee should taste, you have to have the right sources to differentiate your product and service from the competition. Make a short list of origins that most likely will attract the attention of your clientele and start identifying the farmers behind each of them. Knowing the farmers at the source is critical since you will need to have full control of what is going on with their production, how big is their harvest, and above all, how is their coffee operation.
This is as simple as making contact with the farmers. Nowadays, many farmers are present in the internet and most likely you will find them via Google using the right keywords. Don’t rely on coffee intermediaries, try to deal directly with the farmers themselves. Give them a phone call or email them and make that first contact in a pleasant way ( don’t show them you are shopping around because they will notice and won’t help you ) . Even better, visit them at their farms. Remember, they are busy either taking care of the coffee plants or processing the coffee cherries which is very time consuming. Call themin the afternoons if possible since most farmers wake up very early in the morning work until the rain starts falling and are more relaxed at home in the afternoons sipping their coffee. Once you make contact, try to schedule a visit to their farms, most of them are proud to show their plants to visitors and you will be treated like a king.
While at the farm, you will get to know first hand how good ( or bad ) their coffee operation is. Don’t pay attention to what the middleman is telling you. Go there and ask the right questions such as:
What is the altitude of the farm location? Generally, Altitudes above 1100 meters above sea level are considered good for gourmet coffee
What type of coffee plants you have? ( Caturra, Catui, Robusta, Geisha? )
What type of soil is present at the farm ( generally, volcanic soil is best )
What type of weather while harvesting? Drier conditions are better for picking ripe coffee cherries .
What process is used to get the green coffee at the mill? What type of machines are being used?
The above are excellent questions but there are many more if you are willing to do further research.
Once you have identified the coffee regions, the coffee farmers, and have established long lasting relationships by visiting them at their locations and cupping their coffee beans, you are now ready to source the best coffee beans on earth.
Make sure the farmers have export capabilities. Remember, there are many coffee farmers, but just a few are able to export their coffee beans directly to you because either they don’t know how to or they are dealing with a coffee broker who, in turn, most likely won’t sell the coffee you want.
Knowing the export operation of each farmer is key to make sure you coffee won’t get lost, or get confiscated at customs because of the lack of paperwork.
Sourcing coffee directly from the farmers is tough, but very rewarding. You will make friends for life and, above all, you will provide the best coffees in the world to your clients who will indeed appreciate your knowledge and efforts and will keep buying from you instead of the guy next door selling old, untraceable coffees that nobody wants to drink.