Sourcing Green Coffee Beans – A Buyer’s Guide

We know first hand that customers looking at sourcing green coffee beans can have plenty of questions about the process. After all, if you’re new to buying green coffee the choices on offer can seem baffling, while the steps involved can be confusing and unclear.

That’s why we’ve written this buyer’s guide on how to source green coffee beans. This explains exactly what your choices are, and what happens at each step from placing an order to receiving your shipment.  

What Are Your Options?

Arabica versus Robusta

We’ll start right at the beginning. The vast majority of global coffee consumption comes mainly from just two species of beans:

  • Arabica
  • Robusta

Arabica is the dominant bean, making up around 75% of the global supply, with robusta accounting for the remaining 25%. 

In terms of flavor and uses, arabica is generally considered to be the superior bean when it comes to taste, being smoother and sweater. Robusta is considered less refined, with a stronger and more bitter taste, but contains more caffeine than arabica. However, it’s the preferred bean for espressos as it produces a better crema. Read this excellent article by Perk Coffee on the difference between arabica and robusta for more information on this.

Commercial versus Specialty

Another distinction when it comes to sourcing green coffee beans is commercial crops versus specialty. Commercial crops refer to the cheaper mass-produced beans, such as those used by instant coffee producers, or brands made famous in the first wave of coffee like Foldgers or Maxwell House. Specialty coffee, on the other hand, refers to higher value artisanal beans. 

When it comes to grading what is and isn’t specialty coffee, the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) provides coffee standards as a grading system. 

However, there are a huge amount of variables when it comes to specialty coffee, including the process, the growing technique, the origin, and the roasting or brewing method. The SCA grading system does not fully take into account all variables, particularly for natural, honey, or fermentation processed coffees. Therefore, this should be used as a guide, rather than a definitive yes/no on what is specialty coffee. Read our blog post on what is specialty coffee for more information on this. 

Direct Trade versus Fairtrade

A further choice you may have is direct trade versus fair trade. Sometimes believed to be the same thing, they are in fact quite different, but can have similar benefits:

  • Fairtrade is when a product is produced under a trading partnership that aims to achieve greater equity in international trade. When it comes to coffee, fairtrade helps to contribute to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions and terms to coffee bean farmers. Keep in mind that since a third party needs to certify the farms, and they charge a fee for this certification, it is yet another middleman adding to the chain as well as a barrier of entry to the certification for small farms who can’t afford the fee. 
  • Direct trade is when a roaster buys directly from a farmer. By cutting out all the middlemen, farmers can receive a larger part of the profit in the production process, and buyers can have better traceability to the source (which can be important for specialty roasters). This can also aid sustainable development, as roasters can help producers grow as they’re passing more of the profit to them.

It’s important to note that fairtrade must be certified by an independent body, whereas direct trade doesn’t have a certification system in place. It instead relies on the individual policies of each supplier. Here’s a useful article that provides more information on this topic.

Choosing the Right Beans for You

Next in our guide to sourcing green coffee is how to choose the right beans for your business. The most important thing is to understand your customers, by considering the following:

  • What are your customers’ taste preferences? Do they like sweeter or fruitier notes for example? 
  • What preparation methods are most popular? Do they drink their coffee black or do they prepare coffee with milk and sugar? 
  • Are you looking for a staple bean that you can build your brand around and therefore need to ensure there will be a supply for years to come?
  • Are you instead looking for a one-off supply for a special promotion or event, where on-going supply is not an issue?
  • Do you know the retail cost your end customers are prepared to pay and can, therefore, calculate your price range for green coffee?  

A good supplier will be able to guide you through the choices on offer, based on how you answer the above questions. 

Here at Those Coffee People, we provide an online matching tool to help you narrow down the best green coffee choices for your business, and you can also order samples direct to your door.

Download our FREE Ebook: A Guide to Sourcing Coffee From Colombia

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Understanding Seasonality

There is a huge variation in the harvest months among coffee-producing countries. Most countries have one harvest per year. Here in Colombia, we’re happy to be the only exception among major producing countries, by having two per year, plus small amounts of off-season production. 

Here’s a useful harvest calendar for all the main coffee-producing countries. Being aware of when the harvest falls is important when it comes to planning your orders and the quantity you order, as stock may run out of your chosen bean in the months approaching the next harvest.

However, this is much less of an issue with Colombian sourced green coffee, due to the twice-yearly harvests. 

Ordering Samples

No one expects you to commit to a shipping container full of green coffee without sampling it first. Therefore, all good coffee suppliers will be able to coordinate sample or trial packages before you place your order.

Something to look out for when ordering samples is which milling rule or defect allowance the coffees are being sold at. A standard milling rule in commercial coffee is 12/60, or 12 allowed faults of the first group of defects and 60 faults of the second group of defects in a single sample. Other common milling rules are 3/20 or 0/5. 

Here at Those Coffee People, we make ordering samples as simple as possible with our online matching and sample ordering tool. Just select your beans, pay online, then receive your order in the mail

Arranging a Cupping

Coffee cupping is an industry term that basically means a coffee tasting. Once you have your samples, you can arrange a cupping with your team, friends and family, or customers. They follow a fairly set process:

  • Blind setup 
  • Evaluation of the dry coffee aromas 
  • Evaluation of the wet coffee aromas 
  • Evaluation of the flavors, mouthfeel, acidity, sweetness, and aftertaste

Read this detailed article from Java Presse for more information on how to host a coffee cupping

How Much Should You Order?

There is no set rule within the industry in terms of how much to order in one go. This will depend on your storage capacity and how quickly you’ll get through it. If you’re a small to medium-sized buyer, then two orders per year could suffice, as long as each order is no more than 1 shipping container worth of quantity.

If your average orders exceed 1 container, then an option could be to order with as much frequency as you can fill a container. 

How Are Prices Calculated?

The price per kilo can vary widely, such as whether you’re purchasing specialty or commercial crops, or if you’re choosing fair trade or direct trade. 

As we’re a Colombia based exporter, we’ll use Colombian coffee as the example here.

Most commercial coffee crops are sold via the National Federation of Coffee Growers (FNC), who are the growers union. The FNC sets the price per “carga” (which is 125kg of parchment, pre-dry mill), which is advertised on their website and fluctuates in line with market forces.

To take an example on April 8th, 2020, the price is 1,200,000 COP per “carga” which is $309 USD per 125kg parchment, or $2.47 per kilo. Once you account for average parchment weight you can calculate an absolute minimum price of $3.37 per kilo in green. 

This is the minimum price that an exporter will pay at the farm by the supplier. However, other fees then need to be added by the supplier, before they can calculate the quote. These include:

  • Domestic transportation
  • Milling
  • Packing
  • Banking fees
  • Taxes 
  • International shipping

One of the largest cost variables is milling and this will depend on the milling rule your exporter uses. The stricter your milling requirements means the more beans that are thrown aside, raising the price per kilo. 

It’s worth stressing again that the above prices are for commercial green coffee. For anything higher quality, such as specialty coffee with unique profiles or processes, prices can increase from anywhere between 5% to 1,000% per carga. 

Negotiating Prices

When green coffee sourcing, price breaks are usually applied at certain volume thresholds and if a buyer can commit to future orders. Here at Those Coffee People we offer our best prices to buyers that are able to schedule 1 to 2 years’ worth of orders at once. Contact us to find out more about the discounts we can offer.

Shipping

Shipping and logistics are the most complex parts of the process when it comes to sourcing green coffee beans. As such, it’s best to let the exporter manage all of this on your behalf. 

The International Chamber of Commerce has established International Commercial Terms (Incoterms) that describe the different types of shipping arrangements. Two of these to be aware of are:

  • When the buyer is receiving a price for goods that do not include shipping costs this can be known as Ex Works (EXW) or when it includes costs to get the goods only onto the ship, but not the freight costs, it is referred to Free on Board (FOB). 
  • Or on the opposite end, when the seller both includes the costs of transport and is responsible to bring the merchandise to a designated place of the buyer’s choosing this is known as Delivered at Place (DAP).

Quality Control and Spotting Defects

It’s important to understand there will always be some defects with green coffee, and the number of defects will depend on the milling rule you’ve agreed to. 

When you receive your shipment, you should inspect a sample for defects, to ensure it’s to the agreed standard. There are a number of visual defects that you should look for; the excellent coffee industry news source, Perfect Daily Grind has produced this guide on how to spot defects.

Storing Coffee

There are a few important factors to consider when planning where to store your coffee:

  • Store in a cool dry place, where there is some airflow
  • Never store the bags directly on the floor, raise them up on pallets to allow airflow underneath

Discover Our Range of Green Coffee Beans  

Here at Those Coffee People, we’re experts in sourcing green coffee beans. We venture off into remote areas of Colombia’s beautiful coffee regions to search for new and exclusive offers, 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 orders of every size.

One Comment on “Sourcing Green Coffee Beans – A Buyer’s Guide

  1. So how does processing impact a coffee s flavor profile? Here s a quick overview of the three common processing methods and their influence on the flavor of the resulting green coffee beans.

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