Transparency, sustainability, and community are three words that embody the modern specialty coffee industry.
The connection between roasters and producers is often at the forefront of the sector and can be a unique selling point for coffee offerings.
That said, building a relationship with a producer often requires a roaster to undertake origin trips. These allow roasters to make valuable coffee connections, try new offerings, and gain first-hand insight into the production process.
However, it is important for roasters to understand not only what they want to achieve through the experience, but also how to behave during origin trips. For instance, it is essential they carefully consider the local cultural norms and traditions, as well as the political environment.
As they are a significant investment of time and money, find out how roasters should behave during origin trips in order to make it a success.
Why should roasters make origin trips?
Visiting a coffee farm has numerous benefits from the producer through to the consumer.
Specialty coffee roasters are continuously looking to expand their knowledge of the product they buy and the people behind it.
More so, an increasing number of consumers want to know every detail of the coffee’s “story”, and ensure farmers and producers receive a fair price for their crop.
When sourcing coffee in the past, many roasters had to rely on the information provided by green coffee suppliers – much of which was often unverified or untraceable.
That said, advancements such as digitisation across all industries have made transparency along the coffee supply chain much easier. Notably, some mobile apps can help coffee professionals track and monitor all farm functions while keeping detailed inventory and traceability.
However, making a trip to origin can allow roasters to perform quality control checks on the spot, provide insight, and suggest modifications to achieve the flavour profiles they desire.
Additionally, they can troubleshoot issues they have come across while roasting the green coffee.
Beyond that, there is a significant monetary advantage to visiting origin farms, as roasters can deal directly with the farmers. This helps shorten the supply chain and may eliminate inefficiencies along the way. Roasters will have the opportunity to discuss targets and goals in terms of quality and yield, and negotiate production volumes and sales prices for future harvests.
This relationship also allows farmers to voice their concerns and difficulties in producing a crop.
Clear, transparent communication between roasters and farmers builds a strong business foundation, and can give consumers insight on the mechanics of the coffee trade.
A growing number of roasters are also sharing origin experiences on their social media platforms, making specialty coffee accessible to millions of people.
Origin trips are now considered essential, not only for a roasters brand but also for the farmers and producers who grow the coffee.
What roasters should consider before an origin trip
In most cases, roasters will have to travel to a foreign country to meet with coffee farmers.
Each coffee producing country will have its own culture and traditions, so roasters should be prepared to experience things that may be outside of their comfort zone.
It is important for roasters to remember that producers are putting time aside, especially for them.
Therefore, it is essential they consider the country’s cultures and traditions in order to ensure interactions with locals go smoothly.
Language spoken by locals
As coffee is often grown in remote areas, there may be nuances in the native language spoken at large and the dialect adopted in the growing region.
Best practice would be to hire a translator who is able to convey not only the word but also the meaning and emotions behind what is said.
Culture of the region
“Good manners” are often subjective: what is considered inoffensive in Kenya may be different in Colombia.
Roasters should take the time to research the region and take note of correct greeting procedures and table manners to avoid offending their hosts.
How business is conducted in the area
As the foundation of an origin trip is to conduct business, roasters should understand common practices upheld during these transactions.
For instance, some regions in Africa exchange gifts as a display of good faith, while others share a beverage. Knowing how to approach these situations is an effective way to build a strong relationship.
More so, roasters must understand what they want to take away from the origin trip. For example, if it is an exploratory trip, it is recommended roasters plan an itinerary and schedule meetings with the different farmers.
Another practical tip for such trips is to have appropriate storage space to bring samples back from the farm.
Another reason for visiting origin would be to build a relationship. If a roaster has been working with a farmer, a physical visit is a much appreciated courtesy.
Producers often appreciate contact with roasters who visit origin as it provides them with a chance to establish mutually beneficial and long-lasting relationships.
Through origin trips, roasters will be able to get insight behind the product they are serving to their customers – deeper insight than data provided by the importer.
How should roasters behave during origin trips?
When undertaking an origin trip, preparation is of the utmost importance.
In addition to the usual travel and accommodation fees, there are a number of factors roasters should consider.
Having brewing equipment on hand could prove to be a valuable asset.
Some coffee farmers may have never tasted the fruit of their labour, and sharing a cup with them could be an intimate experience for them.
More so, it allows roasters to show them how their hard work translates into the final cup, which may inspire them to adapt more innovative farming practices.
Know what to look for
The purpose of the trip will determine what a roaster looks for.
While most roasters may not be experts in coffee processing, it is highly recommended they gain an understanding of it.
Visiting the farm allows roasters to look at the different stages of production, from pulping, dry or wet fermentation, washing methods, and drying processes. Therefore, it is vital to understand the connection between these steps and the final product.
Knowledge will enable the roaster to make constructive recommendations to the farmer that may help improve the quality of production.
Respect cultural differences
Cultural aspects may influence a variety of factors during an origin trip.
Roasters should anticipate this and do their research regarding manners and the respectful way to dress.
Origin trips are a unique opportunity to fortify relationships and learn how procedures live and work. Therefore, it is crucial that interactions between both parties are respectful and fruitful.
While not all specialty coffee roasters are able to visit origin, the benefits of meeting coffee farmers in person are great. It can strengthen and develop relationships with the people who produce coffee, and contribute to forming a stronger brand image for roasters.
At MTPak Coffee, we offer a range of sustainable packaging solutions that will reflect all the hard work that has gone into producing your coffee, whether single origin or a coffee blend.
Our range of coffee bags is made from 100% recyclable materials, such as kraft paper and rice paper. Our line also includes low-density polyethylene (LDPE) options that are lined with polylactic acid (PLA). As a result, all our coffee bags are recyclable, compostable and biodegradable.