A Guide to Importing Coffee Beans into the US

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Although coffee wasn’t that popular in the US until the Boston Tea Party in 1773 — when colonists decided to boycott British tea and drink coffee instead — a life without the hot caffeinated beverage would now be unimaginable for most Americans. In fact, the average person consumes approximately three cups of coffee a day in the US.

The downside is that coffee can only be commercially grown in two US states, Hawaii and California, because of the tropical climate and high altitude that the beans thrive upon. 

However, the good news is that some of the best coffee-growing nations — including Colombia — are very close by. In fact, the US imports more than $1 billion in unroasted coffee from Colombia each year, and here at Those Coffee People, we are proud to be part of that number. 

As specialists in sustainably sourcing the highest quality Colombian green coffee for US-based customers, we’ve put together this guide to importing coffee beans into the US.

Finding a Supplier

If importing coffee beans into US territory is something you’re planning to do regularly for your business, finding a trustworthy, reliable coffee supplier will make or break the process. 

When importing into the country, you have to abide by the rules of three different government agencies: 

In which case, it’s a good idea to find a supplier who is familiar with all of these guidelines.  

When vetting your coffee supplier, ask as many questions as possible, including how long they’ve been in the business, the type of green coffee they supply, and the minimum order values they accept. 

Also – be aware of the fact if you’re trying to source your coffee directly from growers then they may not have the prerequisite export licenses. This is why a licensed exporter is usually required to facilitate the trade.

Looking for a coffee bean supplier? Discover our range of exotic green coffee beans for export.

Arranging Shipping

Shipping and logistics may be the most complex part of the process when it comes to how to import coffee into the USA. In general, there are 4 main ways that coffee may be imported into the USA:

  • Courrier model, like Fedex, DHl, UPS
  • Air Freight with major commercial airlines
  • LCL Sea Freight
  • FCL Sea Freight

As well as arranging the actual transit, there’s quite a bit of red tape to get through, including FDA regulations for importing coffee. This includes: 

  • Filing prior notice of the commercial coffee import with the FDA, and registering your manufacturer or distributor with the FDA before sending out the coffee. This notice can be submitted to the FDA through the CBP or alternatively through the Prior Notice System Interface (PNSI). For further advice, refer to FDA guidance
  • For coffee cargo arriving into the US by vessel, you’ll also have to file your Importer Security Filing (ISF) no later than 48 hours before the estimated time your shipment is due to depart the last foreign port. 
  • You’ll need to arrange a Certificate of Origin as a requirement of the International Coffee Organization (ICO).

When buying through an experienced coffee supplier, they will manage all of this on your behalf.

Shipping Costs 

Your supplier will include shipping costs in the final order quote but depending on the Incoterms you negotiate, they will only include costs until the goods arrive at the destination port. A few additional shipping fees that you may need to account for once the goods have arrived are the following: 

  • Merchandise Processing Fee. MPF is an ad valorem fee of 0.3464%. This is based on the value of the coffee being imported, excluding duty, freight, and insurance charges. The minimum MPF is $27.23 and the maximum fee should not exceed $528.33. 
  • Harbor Maintenance Fee. The HMF is 0.125% of the value of the commercial cargo shipped through ports. HMF is not collected on goods that are transported via air or mail.

US Coffee Imports Product Labeling Requirements

When it comes to FDA regulations for importing coffee beans into the US, you must mark the country of origin clearly and legibly on each bag in English. 

If the coffee is roasted, the import will require additional, product-specific labeling requirements which may include:

  • Ingredients
  • Net Weight
  • Gross Weight
  • Content 
  • Other details. For more detailed information on labeling roasted coffee imports, contact the FDA.

Customs Clearance Declarations in the US

When it comes to US customs and coffee beans, if you’re importing a coffee shipment valued above $2,500, it will require a customs bond. Five days before your coffee imports are due to arrive, you must therefore fill out a CBP entry form in order to post a customs bond that will clear your goods through CBP.

If you’re managing the importation process without the assistance of experienced international coffee suppliers, then hiring a licensed customs broker is a good idea. They will help you meet all of the federal requirements for your coffee import and avoid obstacles.

Coffee Import Customs Duties in the US

In the United States, there are no limits to the amount of coffee you can import into the country and green coffee bean imports are duty-free. 

If the coffee beans are ground and already brewed, however, there are special duties to pay on coffee containing syrup or sauces. Again, an experienced coffee supplier or licensed customs broker will assist you with this.

Sales Tax on Coffee Sales in the US

Sales tax on retail coffee sales varies according to each state. There are some states — Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, and Oregon for example — that don’t charge a sales tax.

While most unheated food and drink is exempt from sales tax, hot beverages such as coffee sold in a form suitable for on-premises consumption or a “to go” order, will usually be subject to taxation in states that have sales taxes. In 2020, the average combined state and local sales tax was 7.12% across the US.

Discover Our Range of Direct Trade Coffee Beans  

Here at Those Coffee People, we’re experts in sourcing and supplying the finest direct trade Colombian green coffee beans. We venture off into remote areas of Colombia’s beautiful coffee regions to search for new and exclusive varieties, exploring the country town by town to identify the most unique and desirable origins for you and your customers.

Explore our unique Colombian coffee origins here and discover the story of every estate we work with. We can fulfill and deliver orders of any size for buyers in the United States, contact us for more information. Or if you are interested in visiting Colombia to source your own specialty green Colombian coffee, check out our Colombian Origin Trips.

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