Quality Coffee Doesn't Grow on Trees, You Know.
WRITTEN BY Heath Cater
04 May 2017

The process and practises behind sourcing our green beans can sometimes be a little bit hard to decipher. After his return from one of his many procurement trips, this time to Africa, we asked Heath Cater, our head of coffee, to share a few thoughts on this side of our business.

Central America, South America, Africa… who else gets to have stamps and visas from so many amazing places, with such rich histories? Green bean buyers. Hannah Hofmann, Fraser Lovell and myself, Heath Cater, make up the procurement team here at Coffee Supreme. We count ourselves pretty lucky to be able to jump on planes, travel through amazing countries while meeting countless hardworking individuals, in our work of sourcing and delivering some of the best coffee from around the globe to your doorstep.

Often we get asked how this side of the business works. Social media allows roasters to depict a certain, sometimes romanticised, image of what it means to travel to origin. Beautiful scenery, cherry-laden coffee trees, and artfully scattered beans on the cupping table by no means represents all that we do on our sourcing trips.

We Down Here, which means everywhere we go is Up There! Long travel, layovers, jet lag, we've had it all. Who’s complaining? It’s just a footnote to the amazing stories we come back with. Friendships formed over a cupping table or a cheeky afternoon rum, the learning and connections made on these trips is worth it all. Connection is at the heart of what we do, the links made between people through the social and ritual aspects of coffee. So it only makes sense that we approach buying the same way.

Our main role when we are sourcing is to cup through hundreds of coffees to make selections for our filter offerings, single espressos and our range of blends. This can mean long days and evenings tasting many coffees, sometimes followed by frank discussions over price and quantities. That’s the selection side, the business bit.

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We also exchange feedback with brokers, producers and exporters, about how their coffee has cupped throughout the season at our roasteries. This is an open and honest conversation about what was good and what wasn’t. This information is then used to improve practices year to year. It’s important we give real feedback, since the producers are sometimes not present to taste the coffees themselves. The best part of the experience is often sharing a bag of coffee with the person who grew or processed it, that has been shipped down our way, roasted and then returned for them to try. It seems like a small thing, but the joy and excitement it brings to these producers is priceless.

Over the years we have learnt a huge amount from the people we buy from. We aren't farmers and would never pretend to know as much as the people who have carved a living out of farming coffee for generations. What we can offer is an insight into the industry their coffees are sold into, and how they are received by our customers.

As a company with operations in Australia and New Zealand we are in a position to buy increasing amounts of coffee from the producers and suppliers we have built relationships with. Along the way we find new producers to start working with. We ultimately want to find a home for much of the coffee produced on the farms we work with, rather than cherry pick the best lots when it suits our palate.

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We try to remember that consumer trends can move quickly, while changes at farm level are much slower, and take a lot of investment. It’s important that we act responsibly in our role as buyers, by providing carefully thought-out feedback.

We are excited about the future, but realise that producer’s costs rise just like ours do; labour, fertiliser, fuel, it’s the same around the world. But when coffee prices stagnate, it’s hard to inspire producers to keep delivering quality coffee. This is an industry-wide issue and one we feel we can play a small part in improving through better understanding, paying the right prices, and committing to a long-term buying strategy.

We are buying and roasting coffee from an extremely diverse range of countries, cultures, currencies, pricing and quality systems. The variety of people we work with have different personalities and expectations that need to be considered. Our role is to carefully negotiate the complex series of events that somehow, against all odds, have to happen to form the link between producer and consumer, and get great coffee into our customers’ cups every morning. It’s interesting, and challenging, but that’s why we love it.

The imagery in this story was captured by Hannah Hofmann on her recent procurement trip to Central America.

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