A guide to sourcing high-quality green coffee

Kahwei Yoong
July 9, 2021
high quality green coffee

When sourcing green coffee there are a number of things for specialty roasters to consider, from variety and processing methods, to price and customer preference. 

Sourcing high-quality green beans is a challenging, yet essential aspect of running a roastery. It involves a number of key decisions on the part of the roaster and can be influenced by various factors, from the variety, origin, and processing method of the coffee to price and customer preferences.

However, even if roasters know exactly what they want, it can still be difficult to evaluate and assess the quality of green coffee. What may seem like a good choice at origin could turn out to be full of defects when it arrives at the roastery or it may have characteristics that don’t suit the tastes of your regular customers.

Becoming a great green coffee buyer takes time, patience, and commitment. Yet while it may seem like an intimidating process, with practice, it can be highly rewarding as you grow your knowledge and expand your sensory skills. Plus, you never know what interesting coffee you might stumble upon along the way.

To better understand the process of sourcing high-quality green coffee and minimising the risk of bad batches, I spoke with WBC-certified judge and WCE representative, Danilo Lodi.

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coffee cherries
Becoming a great green coffee buyer takes time, patience, and commitment.

What you need to know before sourcing green coffee

Sourcing green coffee is a fundamental part of running a roastery, and is a process that can be both fun and challenging in equal measure. For many, the excitement of trying coffee from a different origin or processing method, and determining how it will work in a blend is one of the most attractive parts of being a roaster.

However, other aspects of sourcing green coffee, such as negotiating price, rooting out defects, and ensuring a consistent supply, require considerable time and effort that can eat into the day. For those who are relatively new to it, this can come as quite a shock.

Danilo Lodi is a WBC-certified judge and World Coffee Events representative. He’s been in the coffee industry for nearly two decades and has worked as a green coffee buyer, among other things. He tells me that when it comes to sourcing coffee beans, the two most important considerations are quality control and logistics.

“Roasters need to understand the harvesting cycles.”

Quality control, he says, involves both sensory and raw material analysis. Sensory analysis is typically done through cupping to determine coffee characteristics such as flavour notes and aroma. Raw material control, on the other hand, involves the physical evaluation and grading of coffee to determine its physical health and defect rate.

For logistics, Danilo explains that specialty roasters should have an understanding of the impact of shipping, storage, and harvest cycles on green coffee to ensure maximum freshness.

“Roasters need to understand the harvesting cycles to plan out how you are going to buy coffee and to make sure you don’t end up with old crops in the warehouse,” Danilo explains. “For instance, Central America begins harvesting between the end of November to the end of March, while Brazil harvests from the end of May to the beginning of September.” 

In addition to harvest cycles, it’s useful to know about the influence of factors such as variety, altitude, growing conditions, and processing methods on green coffee. This can help roasters make more informed decisions when it comes to choosing the best beans.

coffee processing
The most common methods of sourcing green coffee are through a trader or directly with the farmers.

Choosing the right beans

Various means of sourcing green coffee exist, but undoubtedly the two most common are either through a trader or directly with the farmers.

“My suggestion is for roasters to source through traders first,” Danilo says. “Then, once you have exposure to the process and you’ve begun to actively talk to producers, you can explore the possibility of booking trips to origin and sourcing directly with farmers.”

Taking the time to build connections and familiarise yourself with the market before visiting origin is crucial. Coffee farms tend to be far away from towns, which means you need to know someone willing to host you during your visit.

What’s more, multiple origin trips in a year can be expensive, which could end up translating to a higher price for customers. Instead, you should only select origins where you know you will come back with high-quality green coffee.

“My suggestion is for roasters to source through traders first.”

Before you start contacting traders or farmers, it’s a good idea to know roughly what type of coffee you want. In particular, think about how the coffee is going to be used. For example, is it for a component in a blend or a stand-alone single origin? Will it be a limited edition coffee or a year-round offering?

“If you want to do a blend, you could be looking for coffee that fits a particular sensory profile,” Danilo tells me. “If you are more specialty oriented, you could be targeting high-scoring coffee. For this you’ll need to have knowledge of the SCA grading and cupping protocol.”

As part of this, roasters should sample roast and cup the coffee to identify characteristics and determine what each one has to offer.

At the same time, roasters can get a sense of the roast profile for when it is purchased. A quality check can help conclude if the green coffee is up to the required standard and enables roasters to establish a fair price for the batch.

cafe do brasil
When a shipment arrives, it’s a good idea to compare notes with the sample roast.

Practical tips to keep in mind 

One of the most common mistakes that Danilo has observed when roasters source for green beans is blindly following a hype or trend. He explains that it’s important for roasters to do their own research and to taste as much coffee as possible before making a choice.

“When roasters try to only go to famous farms or origins, they may miss a great point of sometimes finding something unique that is just for them,” he says. “The idea is to get a deep understanding of origin, taste a lot of origin and to get as many samples before choosing the coffee – you will learn a lot from that.”

As soon as a coffee shipment arrives, Danilo will do a tasting for quality control and compare notes from the initial sample roast. 

“The coffee may have aged a little from the time when I first tasted it, so I need to taste it again before I develop the roast profile to check if anything has changed, such as a new aroma or any missing flavour notes,” he explains.

“You need to understand the difference between how you taste coffee and how your customers are tasting coffee.”

For this, Danilo advises roasters to be diligent in taking notes on everything such as the scores, tasting notes, and aroma. When you taste so many different types of coffee, it’s important to set up a simple system or use tools such as Cropster to keep track of data during the whole sourcing process.

There are also the customers to consider. When choosing green coffee, try to step into their shoes and think about whether they’ll be as excited about the coffee as you are. While the funky natural coffee with high acidity from Kenya might be enjoyable to you, is it something that your customers have previously shown a preference for? 

“You need to understand the difference between how you taste coffee and how your customers are tasting coffee,” Danilo explains. “I may have a preference but my preference might not be the same as my customers’. Therefore, I need to know if I’m going to impose my taste on the customer or if I’m going to help them figure out what’s good and what’s not.”

sustainable coffee packaging
No matter how good the green coffee, it will quickly lose quality if it’s not packaged correctly after roasting.

AT MTPak Coffee, we understand how much time and effort it takes from sourcing top-quality green coffee to crafting the best roast profile for consumers. Whether it is for sample roast or production roast, we offer a range of sustainable packaging options that can be fully customised to meet your needs, reflect brand identity, and showcase your commitment to the environment.

For information on our coffee packaging, contact our team.

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