A deeper understanding of the coffee supply chain and the chance to connect and build relationships with producers while being exposed to the issues they face daily are just some of the ways roasters benefit from origin trips.
From an importer’s perspective, visiting coffee farmers is crucial for making purchasing decisions that contribute to the growth of the business and the development of the coffee’s quality. Furthermore, origin trips can help ensure long-term purchasing commitments from roasters, as importers are able to guarantee a quality product.
As transparency has become essential along the specialty coffee supply chain, origin trips have become more important. Roasters and importers can take what they learn from the 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. That said, how do coffee farmers feel about origin trips? And how much do the communities benefit from the tourism?
To learn more about how origin trips benefit producers, I spoke with Kenneth Bukoso, a specialty coffee farmer in Uganda, and Anne Smith*, a producer based in Central America.
Learning from deep-rooted coffee culture
While it is believed the trade of coffee began in the 15th century, it has been grown and consumed for much longer. It is only within the last few hundred years that coffee was consumed globally, and due to aspects of colonisation, the way it is brewed has changed over time. Different cultures may believe they brew the coffee in the “correct” manner, some with the use of complex techniques, equipment, and rules, while others use more traditional and conventional methods.
“While an origin trip allows roasters to see the scale of work that goes into growing, processing, and exporting coffee, it also exposes them to local brewing methods,” says Kenny, who works with coffee growers and tourism in Mt Elgon, alongside Zukuka Bora Coffee. This can help roasters understand coffee is more than a raw material and how intricately it is woven into the lives of those who grow it. Watching how a culture that has brewed coffee long before most can be a vital learning experience, and play a part in deconstructing the power dynamics within the industry.
“Roasters can also get the information about the coffee direct from those who grow it,” Kenny continues. “They can understand how the farmers are benefiting from the industry and learn about the challenges they, and buyers, face.” The ability to communicate directly with farmers and see how the industry affects the community allows roasters to bring that information back to consumers who purchase the beans.
This is particularly important as the price of coffee continues to rise. Roasters will be able to explain to consumers why this is happening, which can help to increase customer loyalty. More so, hearing about the impact climate change has on coffee communities may help encourage consumers to reduce their own carbon footprints.
Promoting local tourism
In addition to coffee, Kenny has the desire to see the tourism industry in his community of Mount Elgon, and origin trips play a part in that. “Coffee tours are a highly effective way to promote the tourism industry here,” he explains. “When roasters or importers visit, they need accommodation and food. Every purchase they make benefits the community. Plus, when they make additional excursions, such as hikes, even more money is given to the grassroots where coffee is grown.”
Coffee origin trips provide additional opportunities for the community in the form of translators and tour guides, as well as through the souvenirs they can sell. While origin trips can bring great opportunities for coffee growers and communities, there are things roasters must be considerate towards when visiting. Anne expresses that sometimes, too much expectation can be placed on the producers, especially with larger, organised trips.
“We, and many others, have been offered to be involved in hosting roasters to stay in our farms through organised trips,” she explains. “The expense of accommodation and food can often be placed on producers, and it is often expected to be of a four or five-star standard. We’ve also known of producers who have had to hire external caterers to come in to achieve this and they have had to absorb the cost themselves.”
Oftentimes, any costs involved are expected to be absorbed by producers, as they have the ‘opportunity to host potential buyers’, and producers may even have to pay a premium to host these guests. While the experience in itself is a bargain for many roasters, it can come at a high cost for producers.
Anne says it comes back to how often producers are expected to subsidise the industry. “Some people just come for a cheap trip and have no purchasing power within their organisation. Or they only buy small amounts. Hosting random people can be expensive and time-consuming, and most of the time, the thousands invested are unlikely to be returned anytime soon.”
By contrast, Anne admits they recently hosted roasters who have been purchasing coffee from them for over six years, and the trip was extremely special. ‘This was different as we have a long-standing relationship with them and know them well,” she says. “Their visit didn’t feel like a work visit. It was more like we were hosting friends – who happen to buy our coffee.”
Important considerations to have before visiting a coffee farm
So next time you are planning a trip to origin, it is important to consider the impact and expectations you have from the producers and what your intentions will be for the trip. Visiting to learn or establish long-term relationships is essential, but you need to be realistic.
There is nothing wrong with visiting producers, even if you are not in a position to purchase coffee or can only purchase small amounts. However, you must also value the time producers are giving up to host you and share their expertise. Furthermore, you should be willing to compensate them for it to help to cover their expenses. On top of that, investing in the local community and tourism industry, as you would on any other trip abroad, can contribute to the local economy.
In addition to working closely with our packaging clients, MTPak Coffee is committed to supporting coffee producers at origin. While participating in PRF El Salvador 2023, MTPak Coffee founder, Mark Zhou was honoured to take part in the Sourcing Trip Experience (STE) in order to develop a greater understanding of the supply chain, as well as the importance of direct trade with farmers.
Our range of packaging options is made from renewable materials. Our coffee boxes are made using 100% recycled cardboard, while our sustainable coffee bags are made using kraft paper, rice paper, or multilayer LDPE packaging with an environmentally friendly PLA lining. Additionally, we offer a wide range of customisation techniques, including spot UV with a glossy, satin, or matte finish, embossing and debossing, as well as hot foil stamping in a variety of colours.
We also offer our clients a quick turnaround time of 40 hours and 24-hour shipping time in addition to low minimum order quantities (MOQs) for those looking to remain agile while showcasing a commitment to the environment.
Get a quote on sustainable coffee packaging now!
*This name has been changed at the interviewees’ request to remain anonymous.