Resources for Roasters, From the Field

Monday, February 8, 2021

Our Guide to Buying the Freshest Coffees

There’s a better way to plan an efficient and affordable seasonal coffee program. A lot of people use a static harvest & shipping calendar to plan their seasonal programs, but static calendars can’t account for the wide array of factors that impact arrival times. Our team of experts spans every step of the supply chain; we can help you plan a seasonal program that sources smarter, more reliably and with less waste.

Arrival Times Change, A Lot.

Even with a strong supply chain like ours, there a lot of factors that impact exactly when coffees arrive. These impacts begin in the field, explains PNG Director, Tim Heinze. “Weather changes like droughts can extend the harvest season and storms can flood out dirt roads, blocking the paths that enable coffee to travel from the remote areas where it’s produced to washing stations or dry mills.”

When coffee reaches the dry mill, our logistics team plans the rest of its journey. As we’ve discussed, almost everything about logistics is more complex than most people think. Check out our article from last fall to learn 10 things you might not have known about logistics.

Harvest Calendars Lack Nuance (and Can Cost You More $$)

While harvest calendars can provide a good foundation for planning, says Ross Khaiitbaev, Sucafina Specialty’s Australia Managing Director, they lack the nuance that matters when it comes to devising an efficient coffee program. “Calendars don't differentiate between different grades, processing methods and locations. It’s much harder to source fresh and exciting coffees if your buying practices are too rigid or too last minute.”

Freshness Sells Itself

Of course, you want to buy coffees when they’re most fresh. “The main advantage to keeping things seasonal is freshness. A cup of coffee at peak flavor sells itself in a lot of ways, and static harvest calendars and spot-buying can only get you so far,” says Sam Langdon, Green Coffee Merchant based in London, UK. Before joining the Sucafina team, Sam worked as a specialty roaster for over a decade, including for the well-known roastery, Caravan.

“Sourcing fresh lots and focusing on relationships with specific regions and producers can bring high levels of engagement from customers,” Sam says. “The best way to do that is to plan a flexible seasonal sourcing program that involves pre-booked coffees and adjusts to annual changes in harvest & arrivals.”

Exclusivity is Exciting

“Knowing what you need and when helps you get your hands on some absolute gems before they end up on someone else’s menu,” Ross says.  “Some of our best coffees get snapped up before they even land.”

Planning ahead and pre-booking enables you to offer some of the season’s hottest lots. Even if a coffee isn’t sold out, roasters who pre-book can take delivery as soon as a coffee lands, meaning they can be the first to offer an origin everyone else is waiting for, Ross explains.

“Excitement really sells,” Sam says. “In a business that’s all about preference, word of mouth is a powerful tool for attracting new customers you might not have reached otherwise. There’s no better advertising than customers – and employees! - who are excited to talk about your coffee.”

Seasonal Sourcing Saves

“Planning for seasonal sourcing gives you greater control over quality and a better sense of what to expect,” says Bavo Vandenbroecke. Before working as a green coffee buyer and Green Coffee Merchant with Sucafina Specialty, Bavo worked alongside farmers in Latin America and roasted at several small roasteries across Europe.

Another crucial benefit to booking seasonal microlots is that you know your costs beforehand and can reduce the amount of green coffee that goes to waste. “Overtime, tracking demand and usage can give you a better idea of how much coffee to purchase, helping you reduce waste and overall costs,” Bavo explains.

Fresher coffee also means that you can store your green coffee for longer before it begins showing age, Bavo points out. When you can store it longer, you can also buy in larger quantities, get better prices on high-quality microlots and save on shipping fees.

Getting into the habit of pre-booking microlots can help roasters prepare better. It gives you more time to get to know a new coffee and to prepare labels and marketing materials ahead of time.

We’re Here to Help You Plan

“Our job as traders is to keep those communication lines open and make seasonal sourcing easier,” says Danna Wasserman, Trader & Q Grader. “We work with our clients to help them plan seasonal purchasing, prepare for incoming arrivals and find the best coffees for their lineup.”

Seasonal Sourcing is Available for All Sizes 

Contrary to popular belief, pre-booking seasonal microlots is available to almost anyone, Ross says. “We work with seasonal sourcing clients that range in size from those who supply a few cafés to clients that do multiple containers a week. Both book their seasonal singles well in advance and both see the benefits.”

What makes seasonal sourcing available to roasteries of all sizes is the ability to adjust the ratio of pre-booked coffee to spot buying. Leaving room for spot buying gives roasters flexibility to adjust the total volume they purchase.

With his background working at a smaller-volume roastery, Sam says that complementing seasonal sourcing with strategic spot purchasing can help smaller roasters avoid oversupply. “Spot purchasing allows you to react more quickly to changes in sales,” Sam explains.

Your trader can help you determine what ratio of pre-booking and spot buying will work best for your needs.

Leave Room for Surprises

Overplanning can also have its drawbacks, Ross says. “You might get FOMO (fear of missing out) when you see something new arrive and don't have a slot for it.”  It’s a good idea to leave a couple of slots open for those mystery options.

Our website offers several easy ways to keep abreast of all your latest spot options. You can sort our offerlist by ‘fresh crop’ and ‘arriving soon’ to stay up to date on your options. Sign up for our newsletter and check out our blog posts, where we highlight some of our traders’ favorites, speak with our colleagues at origin and share a wealth of purchasing, cupping and roasting resources like this one.

Seasonal sourcing is a great way to save money on great coffee, build buzz around new arrivals and reduce waste from over-purchasing. Ready to get started? Have additional questions? Your trader is here to answer your questions and help you find a sourcing plan that works for you. Remember, selecting a new coffee can take time. Please plan on at least 4 to 6 weeks from the time you contact an importer to receiving delivery of your coffee.