Over the years I have learned many lessons in the gourmet coffee trade. For years, we concentrated in the green coffee trade, dealing mostly with the middlemen that most often than not, were not honest and always tried to exploit the farmers.
Indeed, for a coffee farmer, the easiest way out is to sell the coffee harvest through the local co op or green coffee broker. After harvesting, farmers bring the coffee cherries to the local co op or the local collecting facilities of the green coffee broker, then get paid and go back to their farms with only a fraction of the money they deserve.
The following steps can be followed by a coffee farmer to break the cycle of being over dependant of the greedy green coffee merchants:
The first step is the hardest. There are many cultural and economic obstacles to surpass to convert from coffee farmer to wholesale roasted coffee supplier. Many reasons can be mentioned but the most obvious is the know-how of the trade. Farmers are afraid to embark in enterprises that they don’t have knowledge of. Harvesting coffee is hard, and adding extra tasks on a busy schedule in harvest season is sometimes overwhelming for many.
Planning is key, you must know your limitations and invest accordingly and if you think you have what it takes, go for it. Most farmers have the main ingredient for success: the coffee farms, the rest is up to good planning, perseverance and building a loyal client base.
Second, After careful planning and resource evaluation, learning how to process coffee cherries is important to obtain the best quality in the cup and therefore a loyal following. The key is to learn coffee mill secrets little by little and invest accordingly in a processing plant and logistics infrastructure. This can take years if self financed, but many farmers are opting for obtaining debt money from local banks. Financing via the local banks is very dangerous though, some coffee farmers have learned the hard way, thinking borrowing money to buy big processing machines is the best solution. Starting small and growing according to the demand is crucial for a coffee mill operation in the long run.
So, you have the coffee farm and now you want the coffee mill. There are many steps in obtaining the coffee mill of your dreams: choosing the land for the mill, brand registration, obtaining the required government permits, choosing the best coffee de-pulpers, building the washing stations, preparing the sun drying facilities ( or buying the coffee drying machines ) and last, but not least, the adequate storage infrastructure to keep the green coffee safe from the elements. Be aware: all this cost big money and a lot of planning, and many things can go wrong ( like the lack of permits from the government ). On top of this, you must ensure that there are already market demand for your future coffee sitting in your warehouse. Many farmers find themselves in against the wall finding it hard to sell their finished product.
One thing is planting and harvesting coffee, and another thing is roasting coffee to perfection. Learning how to roast coffee is difficult, more so if you don’t know about coffee roasting machines, ideal temperatures, green coffee moisture, and overall machine maintenance to obtain the best roasted coffee in town.
There are many types of roasting processes, coffee roasting machine brands and different packaging methods that can make the difference between a good cup of coffee and a sub standard coffee cup.
You should be able to differentiate between medium and dark roast. You must be able to answer questions regarding city, full city roast, what French roast looks like, what a peaberry coffee is, and so on. More importantly, you should differentiate between good or bad green coffee, how to cup different batches and detect defects in the cup.
Many coffee roasters fail to identify the importance of choosing the right package for their coffees, and the importance of selling fresh coffee which is critical for the success of the coffee operation.
Now that you have your shining coffee mill and you are processing the coffee from your coffee farm or farms, you have the goal of selling the high quality green coffee that is sitting in your warehouse. Until this point you have avoided being dependent of the local coop or coffee cherry dealer. However, if you don’t promote your high quality, gourmet coffee beans, you will be at the mercy of local green coffee traders, which sometimes are worse that the co-ops.
You can start by sharing the wonders of your specialty coffee with friends and family. Bring some bags to the local coffee roaster, pack some samples and start selling. You will know important skills on how to become a coffee roaster and coffee distributor in the process.
There are many ways to promote and sell your high quality coffee. Try to contact local media outlets, spread the word, and coffee samples, around town, be proactive in answering questions, participate in local barista events and coffee festivals. Before you know it, you will establish a loyal customer base and hopefully, down the road, your brand will become famous and people will look for your product.
The use of technology is also helpful. Now with the social media platforms such as facebook or twitter, many coffee farmers are opting to engage their clients through technology. As always, be careful on how or where you invest the money since having an e-commerce website, for instance, can be very expensive.
Last, but not least, to build a successful coffee roasting operation you should get really involved in customer satisfaction, and it takes a lot of quality control from the moment the coffee cherries are picked until your loyal customer receive the coffee bags. Knowing the export process, having control of the courier, delivery channels, making sure each shipment is tracked and delivered on time, and above all, answering all the questions and concerns your clients may have are the final ingredients to a recipe for success in the wholesale coffee roasting business.
Growing, processing and selling gourmet coffee is not easy. However, it is very rewarding in terms of building relationships with clients and coffee professionals. From seed to cup, there are many obstacles to pass in order to satisfy a growing demand for better coffees. A change towards a positive attitude can lead any coffee farmer to building a great coffee mill, an outstanding coffee roasting facility and brand which in turns translate into loyal coffee customers that appreciate the efforts towards quality specialty coffee.