As a new roasting company, we really want to learn how we can move towards sourcing our own coffee.

What are resources we could look at to learn how we can do this? Where do I start, on a personal level, to learn more about sourcing? 

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Great Topic Jeremiah,
I'm on the same page with this and will watch this post with great interest.
Joe
I'd start here.
Thanks Mike.

I was actually hoping to hear more about 'sourcing' not importing.

How does one go about building relationships with farms/co-ops? Is it possible for a small roaster like me to bring in an appropriate amount of bags? What's an appropriate amount of bags for me in regards to sourcing it?

miKe mcKoffee aka Mike McGinness said:
I'd start here.
Jeremiah,
It's so dependent on your out put. How much green do you need. We are very a small shop. We buy from several sources. Are you talking about direct trade? If so I do not yet know much about that. Sourcing is what we are doing by buying from local sources. We use one for our Organic / fair trade coffees. We use another for our Brazil beans. Soon to be all organic. There are about 5 large what we call "green room's" or warehouses. If you want to know where they are I will get that information for you.
let me know.
Joseph
--
Ambassador for Specialty Coffee and palate reform.

Jeremiah Perrine said:
Thanks Mike.

I was actually hoping to hear more about 'sourcing' not importing.

How does one go about building relationships with farms/co-ops? Is it possible for a small roaster like me to bring in an appropriate amount of bags? What's an appropriate amount of bags for me in regards to sourcing it?

miKe mcKoffee aka Mike McGinness said:
I'd start here.
You know, I like this question and here is why. On a recent trip to NZ I meet a number of really big roasters asking exactly the same question. Its not really about how big, how small you are- but as you said the 'how' in making a direct connection with farming communities.

I would say the very best way to do this might be to talk with roasters based in origin countries. I am not necessarily volunteering here- but obviously we made a concious effort to set up in Indonesia so we could do exactly what you are talking about doing State Side. You could also make a direct approach to either the Specialty Coffee Associations or the Producer Boards in countries such as India, Thailand, Vietnam, Guatamala, Brazil etc. The Spec Coffee Assc at least would be able to hopefully transparently assist you in making contact with growers and not brokers.

The main problem about doing what you are wanting to do could be broken down into a series of mini problems you could address to give you better skills to really achieve what you are looking at wanting to do. Most, if not all genuine small coops or smallholder communities have very little English speaking ability, certainly not enough to do business with. I would say polish up on your spanish (Central-South America) and maybe languages such as Indonesian. I see too many roasters visiting here with good intentions but being pushed, or coaxed, along well trodden routes where the coops the visit are not necessarily much different from buying from a big city broker. I would reckon being able to communicate and go out on your own would be rewarding.

Secondly logistics. Finding a small community in East Java that can provide you with 5000kg of arabica a year, finished to 11-13% is all very well and good- getting that green gold from the volcanic slopes of Java to the States requires a whole lot of skill sets that many roasters would not understand, because they have never shipped from rural developing countries before.

I could go on, and probably have everyone reading fall asleep- I would say do origin trips as a starter and look beyond the boundaries that are set to see what is achievable with a bit of longterm thinking and self development
Awesome. This is what I'm talking bout.

How would one start to learn the skill sets required; language barriers aside?

Alun Evans said:
You know, I like this question and here is why. On a recent trip to NZ I meet a number of really big roasters asking exactly the same question. Its not really about how big, how small you are- but as you said the 'how' in making a direct connection with farming communities.

I would say the very best way to do this might be to talk with roasters based in origin countries. I am not necessarily volunteering here- but obviously we made a concious effort to set up in Indonesia so we could do exactly what you are talking about doing State Side. You could also make a direct approach to either the Specialty Coffee Associations or the Producer Boards in countries such as India, Thailand, Vietnam, Guatamala, Brazil etc. The Spec Coffee Assc at least would be able to hopefully transparently assist you in making contact with growers and not brokers.

The main problem about doing what you are wanting to do could be broken down into a series of mini problems you could address to give you better skills to really achieve what you are looking at wanting to do. Most, if not all genuine small coops or smallholder communities have very little English speaking ability, certainly not enough to do business with. I would say polish up on your spanish (Central-South America) and maybe languages such as Indonesian. I see too many roasters visiting here with good intentions but being pushed, or coaxed, along well trodden routes where the coops the visit are not necessarily much different from buying from a big city broker. I would reckon being able to communicate and go out on your own would be rewarding.

Secondly logistics. Finding a small community in East Java that can provide you with 5000kg of arabica a year, finished to 11-13% is all very well and good- getting that green gold from the volcanic slopes of Java to the States requires a whole lot of skill sets that many roasters would not understand, because they have never shipped from rural developing countries before.

I could go on, and probably have everyone reading fall asleep- I would say do origin trips as a starter and look beyond the boundaries that are set to see what is achievable with a bit of longterm thinking and self development
I think first port of call would be various Specialty Coffee associations in Producer countries. They are going to have a tag (one would hope) on farming communities. Granted this would be real tip of the iceberg kind of stuff, however it would be a start. For instance I know in Indonesia there are quite a few larger producing communities linked in with the Assoc here. It would be a start, as ultimately the bigger farmi9ng communities are already pretty well organised and do not necessarily have outstanding coffee, but it would help you to learn the ropes- and the communication/trust aspect with fairly little risk to you. They (the associations) would also be able to assist in the export process- export licenses, taxes and other logistical issues that would be pretty impossible to deal with if there was no help available at origin. It would be a start.

From here I would then say step two would be origin visits- where you meet those farmers and communities you are already dealing with and then expand your network once on the ground...as being here makes things obviously a lot easier

Jeremiah Perrine said:
Awesome. This is what I'm talking bout.

How would one start to learn the skill sets required; language barriers aside?

Alun Evans said:
You know, I like this question and here is why. On a recent trip to NZ I meet a number of really big roasters asking exactly the same question. Its not really about how big, how small you are- but as you said the 'how' in making a direct connection with farming communities.

I would say the very best way to do this might be to talk with roasters based in origin countries. I am not necessarily volunteering here- but obviously we made a concious effort to set up in Indonesia so we could do exactly what you are talking about doing State Side. You could also make a direct approach to either the Specialty Coffee Associations or the Producer Boards in countries such as India, Thailand, Vietnam, Guatamala, Brazil etc. The Spec Coffee Assc at least would be able to hopefully transparently assist you in making contact with growers and not brokers.

The main problem about doing what you are wanting to do could be broken down into a series of mini problems you could address to give you better skills to really achieve what you are looking at wanting to do. Most, if not all genuine small coops or smallholder communities have very little English speaking ability, certainly not enough to do business with. I would say polish up on your spanish (Central-South America) and maybe languages such as Indonesian. I see too many roasters visiting here with good intentions but being pushed, or coaxed, along well trodden routes where the coops the visit are not necessarily much different from buying from a big city broker. I would reckon being able to communicate and go out on your own would be rewarding.

Secondly logistics. Finding a small community in East Java that can provide you with 5000kg of arabica a year, finished to 11-13% is all very well and good- getting that green gold from the volcanic slopes of Java to the States requires a whole lot of skill sets that many roasters would not understand, because they have never shipped from rural developing countries before.

I could go on, and probably have everyone reading fall asleep- I would say do origin trips as a starter and look beyond the boundaries that are set to see what is achievable with a bit of longterm thinking and self development
Can anyone speak to how companies like Intelli or Stumptown operate this?
Jeremiah Perrine said:
Can anyone speak to how companies like Intelli or Stumptown operate this?

My best guess is they spent years growing their companies and developing relationships within the world coffee communittee. Duane didn't start Stumptown a decade or so ago and immediately find himself off visiting and getting coffee at source. Gotta learn to crawl, then walk, then run before running with the Big Dogs!

If you really want to know how Stumptown or Intelli do their thing get to know Duane and Geoff and talk to them...
That's what I want to do; learn how we can do now what we can do now, and how we can grow into something larger.

Clearly they spent years building their companies. If you'd paid attention to my original question you'd see that I want to learn HOW to move TOWARDS sourcing. I don't expect to do it now, nor do I expect to do exactly what Duane or Geoff do at this point in their companies abilities.

So back to my original question, stated in a different frame: What are some practical ways a small roasting company can begin the practice of sourcing?
From sourcing from sources who now source directly or as close to the source as possible. For instance smaller amounts from Shrubs, full bags Cafe Imports.

Earlier you stated you weren't interested in hearing about importing but rather how to develop relationships directly with farmers so you can directly source coffees. How ya gonna get it into the States without importing it? Importing is part of the process of direct sourcing. As far as building a relationship with a farmer seems to me it starts by meeting them or at least dialoging with them somehow, just like any relationship. Going there, where ever there is seems ideal but not realistic for a small company. Getting big enough as a company to afford many thousands of dollars a year in travel expenses obviously takes time.

Back to my answer in nutshell: "If you want to learn how to do what someone else is doing, get to know them. Walk in their footsteps. Ask them to mentor you."

Notwithstanding Alun already gave some very specific steps to take, I'd not expect Barista Exchange to be a good resource to really learn about direct sourcing coffee, not the focus of Barista Exchange. Think about it. While there may be tens of thousands of kick ass Baristas there are relatively few out there direct sourcing coffee, be they also a Barista or not.

Jeremiah Perrine said:
That's what I want to do; learn how we can do now what we can do now, and how we can grow into something larger.

Clearly they spent years building their companies. If you'd paid attention to my original question you'd see that I want to learn HOW to move TOWARDS sourcing. I don't expect to do it now, nor do I expect to do exactly what Duane or Geoff do at this point in their companies abilities.

So back to my original question, stated in a different frame: What are some practical ways a small roasting company can begin the practice of sourcing?
Thanks Mike.
That's what I would like to do. But how approachable is Geoff and Duane? It's not like I can just call'em up to say hey.
Unless you have their cell #! ;) That would be handy.

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