Getting Started With a Green Coffee Supplier
You’ve been Googling. And it’s not helping. Not that the search results are lacking. In fact, as is so often the case when one Googles, there are so many results you’re having trouble sorting it all out.
Green coffee supplier: 87 million results. Green coffee trader: 41 million results. Green coffee importer: 37 million results. And holy moly, all you want to do is “purchase green coffee” but that phrase produces 600 million search results!
You’ve tried clicking on a few things but that only leads to more questions and fewer answers. But never fear, you’re here, and I’m going to review a few things to help you if the only thing you know right now is that you want to purchase green coffee (or think you want to purchase green coffee).
Are You a Home Coffee Roaster, Or Do You Want More?
To begin with, we’ll assume that once you get your hands on some green coffee beans, you plan to roast them so the roasted coffee can be ground and brewed into the beautiful beverage we all know and love.
In the unlikely event that you need a green coffee supplier for some other reason, to manufacture green coffee bean extract for example, I can’t really help you because I know nothing about that. (By the way, “green coffee bean extract” produces 159 million search results. Good luck with that.) But you … you are going to roast coffee, if not now, then in the not-too-distant future.
Once upon a time we used the moniker “home coffee roaster” to refer to hobbyists who roast coffee mostly for their own consumption and maybe some extra to share with family and friends. But we’ve seen many coffee roasting businesses that begin at home, or more than likely, in the garage.
Truth be told, rare would be the “home roaster” who doesn’t harbor thoughts and dreams about turning their hobby into a business one day.
So, the “home” label isn’t that helpful. It’s probably best to focus on volume rather than trying to label what you do. Also, we won’t be talking about how you are roasting your green coffee beans. That’s another blog. I don’t care if you’ve paid a few thousand dollars for a Ikawa Pro sample coffee roaster or if you’re using your great grandmother’s Griswold cast iron pan. For our purposes here, all that matters is that you’re turning green coffee beans into brown coffee beans.
Understanding Green Coffee Prices
First, we should talk about prices as they relate to the volume of green coffee beans you buy.
Almost all green coffee arrives from coffee growing regions in bags weighing 60-70 kilos (approximately 132 – 154 pounds). If you’re just starting out you might pick up a 60 kilo bag now and then eventually, but that won’t happen right away and when it does it won’t be the only way you buy green coffee.
Note that 60 kilos is the largest amount of green coffee that can be shipped via FedEx. Heavier full bags from Central America and Colombia must be shipped on a pallet, which is expensive when you’re buying one bag at a time, more than the cost of your coffee in many cases.
So, initially you’ll be looking for a green coffee supplier that sells green coffee in smaller amounts, which means someone somewhere along the way had to break down the 60-70 kilo bags into smaller amounts and repackage them. In the same way that we pay more at the grocery store for cut fruit than we do for whole fruit because somebody must be paid to do that work, you will pay more per pound for less green coffee. A coffee that might cost you $4.00 per pound if you’re buying 132 pounds might cost twice that per pound in smaller packages.
Point being, and by way of managing expectations, when you’re just starting out roasting coffee you’ll be paying near roasted coffee prices per pound for green coffee and you probably won’t be buying from a green coffee importer. In fact, your first green coffee supplier might be a coffee roaster too. It’s not unusual for coffee roasters to do a little business selling green coffee beans to people who are just roasting a pound or two a week. The most likely candidates are roaster retailers who store and roast green coffee inside their coffeehouse. This is a great way to have access to a wide variety of origins but don’t be surprised if you’re asked to pay the same prices for a pound of green coffee that you would for a pound of roasted coffee.
The Difference Between Green Coffee Importers and Suppliers
The world of green coffee traders is much smaller than you might guess, and the search results suggest. Most of the green coffee suppliers you’ll find online are not green coffee importers. They buy full-sized bags from green coffee importers and then sell that coffee in smaller amounts at prices that reflect their participation in the supply chain.
Some of the obstacles around buying full-sized bags from a green coffee importer have nothing to do with price. Storage can be an issue. 132-pound sacks of green coffee are not only heavy, but they can also take up a bit of room and should not be stored in places that are too hot or too cold or, most importantly, where the green coffee beans can be contaminated by odors or pests. And freshness matters. As you slowly roast that 132 bag, roasting 250 grams a few hundred times, the coffee isn’t getting any younger.
Finally, green coffee importers are wholesale operations that don’t charge tax because they are selling business to business, so you won’t be able to buy green coffee wholesale until you’re selling the coffee you roast. Even if your green coffee supplier claims they are selling small amounts of green coffee at wholesale prices, this might only be true relative to the full-blown retail price for roasted specialty coffee. If you want to understand what wholesale green coffee prices will look like as your business prepares for pallet-sized purchases, check the “full-sack” prices quoted by green coffee importers. In recent years, more and more green coffee traders have started openly quoting these prices on their websites.
Once you start selling roasted coffee you’re likely ready or close to ready to buy 60-kilo bags of green coffee. The next goal will be to buy several bags at once, including 69 and 70 kilo bags, all stacked on a pallet. The first time a coffee roaster buys green coffee that ships on a pallet is a milestone, even if it’s just four or five bags. But there are a few things to keep in mind.
Things to Keep in Mind Before You Start
Carriers (trucking companies a.k.a. not your green coffee trader) don’t like anything out of the ordinary as they define ordinary, and they charge extra for “deviations” that are very common among small roasters. Don’t have a loading dock so they need to use their liftgate? They charge extra. Is your coffee being delivered to a location not zoned as commercial? They charge extra. Is your location not accessible by an 18-wheel truck? They charge extra. These are known as accessorials and when you’re planning your first pallet order be sure to review these closely and include these in your shipping costs.
But when that time comes, rather than being annoyed at the expense, stop to consider how far you have come that you must think about accessorials because you’re about to purchase green coffee in full-sized bags stacked on a pallet. Hopefully, you’ll be looking back on a great journey and looking forward to the day when multiple bags turn into multiple pallets at a time. Who knows, one day it might be multiple containers each year while working with a green coffee trader who is bringing in coffee just for you. That’s a great goal to have as you begin your coffee roasting adventure.
The second time you must pay for accessorials, then you can be annoyed.