Only a few decades ago, visiting coffee farms was relatively uncommon, as many roasters did not have a lot of contact with producers.
However, as the specialty coffee market has grown, roasters have realised the importance of taking a more active role in each step of the journey, from seed to cup.
Whether roasters work closely within a direct trade model or alongside their importers, making a coffee origin trip is often seen as an essential step in developing strong relationships with producers. This, in turn, adds value to the beans a roaster brings to customers.
Roasters can benefit from visiting coffee farms in a number of ways – if they clearly understand the purpose of their visit.
For instance, origin trips can provide roasters with the opportunity to sample a variety of coffees, discuss target and goals in terms of quality and yield. Additionally, they may be able to negotiate production volumes and sales prices for future harvests.
To find out more about what to consider when planning a coffee origin trip, I spoke with the owner of Troubadour Coffee Roasters in Fairview Park, Ohio, Tony DiCorpo.
Why is it important for coffee buyers to visit origin?
As transparency has become essential along the specialty coffee supply chain, it is important for roasters to make origin trips.
In addition to developing close relationships with coffee producers, visiting origin farms can add value to the product for those brewing at home
Roasters can take what they learn from an origin trip to help consumers gain a better understanding of a coffee’s journey from seed to cup – a side of the industry that is less accessible to the masses
“I find it beneficial to meet the producers in person, as well as their workers and members of their family,” says Tony, who is also a successful coffee business consultant. “This helps me get to know them better. I can see their operation, ask questions, and have an open dialogue. Plus, I get to experience the local culture!
Undertaking a coffee origin trip can help roasters gain a greater understanding of the finer details that go into producing high-quality coffees.
This proves particularly useful when roasters pass the details of what make certain coffees unique to consumers.
The education gained from an origin trip can help roasters stay connected with the product’s origins and story. Additionally, it makes for exciting content that can be passed onto customers.
Tony says it puts everything back into perspective and allows you to reconnect with the producers. “I always go beyond being business associates and have become good friends with my growers. They are my family,” he says.
“I’ve stayed on some farms alongside the producers, sat at their tables, and experienced part of their lives with them,” Tony explains. “It’s something I will always treasure.
Things to consider before booking a coffee origin trip
Visiting a coffee farm is certain to be an enjoyable, life-changing experience.
However, there are a few important considerations for roasters to note, as producers will go through much effort to accommodate them.
For instance, to the farmer, a roaster’s visit will represent an opportunity to showcase and sell harvested coffee.
Therefore, before booking a trip, Tony advises roasters to be certain they will be a customer at some point.
“There is a lot of effort and expense for them that goes into hosting you as a visitor,” he says. “So, it helps if they are producing the quality level or using a processing method you are looking for.”
As a result, research into the farm is critical, as they come in many different sizes and settings. A roaster should know the range of coffee the farm offers in order to save time and resources.
Essentially, it would be pointless for a roaster to taste bright, natural coffees when the roastery exclusively offers delicate, washed coffees.
Another critical detail to consider is time management. Moving between multiple farms each day could lead to a roaster missing essential details about the coffee.
“I’ve visited as many as 3 or 4 farms in one day,” Tony explains. “But, you should always determine what you want to accomplish through your trip, and how long your stay is first.
“Typically, a half-day is good, while a day is even better,” he adds. “However, if you are able to spend longer, that is the best option. It will give you a bit of experience from the grower’s perspective.”
When planning an origin trip, it is important for roasters to factor in air and ground travel times to ensure there are no missed appointments or delays.
Roasters are likely to find multiple representatives from numerous companies visiting coffee origin farms simultaneously – especially if fresh crops have been processed and dried.
To get the most of their time on the farm, roasters should confirm the activities of the day. This will also help roasters determine how long to spend at each location.
Tony advises roasters to ask whether the producers plan on doing a cupping session with them.
“This is very important! I’ve discovered several new growers at cuppings. One cupping, in particular, was an exporter in Guatemala, where I bought more coffee than I planned.”
Networking is an essential part of sourcing new and exciting coffees and producers. As such, roasters should ensure they build relationships with other industry professionals when the opportunity arises.
Consider what you want to achieve from a coffee origin trip
To get the most out of a coffee origin trip, roasters should set clear objectives.
For instance, serious coffee buyers will often have a list of what they want regarding produce or marketing content. Alternatively, a first-time visitor on a more casual level may be better suited to choosing locations that are more accessible to the public.
“Producers are often very busy people,” Tony says. “So, to host just one person for even a few hours takes a lot of time out of their schedule.”
For first time farm visitors who are simply looking for the experience, Tony recommends a more tourist-focused coffee-producing country, such as Costa Rica. “Alternatively, you could choose to take a group visit at a farm that offers tours for a fee.”
Depending on the structure and style of the company, a roaster may benefit from joining a trip organised by an established coffee importer.
“Many importers have group trips during harvest season, and have made these arrangements with the farms well in advance in order to bring a small group,” Tony explains. “Those doing direct trade can travel solo, or if possible, join their importers on a trip.”
Regularly visiting coffee farms is essential to delivering more transparency and value to customers.
That is why it is essential for roasters to create objectives and goals to ensure their time on the farm is well spent and benefits both parties.
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