Specialty, gourmet, single origin, organic, shade friendly, fair-trade, the list seems to be endless, but where do the coffees we love, actually come from.
A new shipment of green (unroasted) coffee arrived at our location in West Yellowstone, Montana yesterday. Receiving a shipment always seems tantamount to a miracle considering the distance and intensive labor it takes to grow, process, cup, grade and ship coffee. Almost every day and especially days when we receive a shipment of coffee, I will be asked the same simple (with a complicated answer) question. “Where do you get your coffee?” I am sure that every coffee roasting company in the world will at some point be asked this question.
Initially, I will smile and say “from around the world” hoping that this will suffice and the questioner will enjoy a cup or purchase a bag and move on. Unfortunately this is not the answer that most people are seeking and I then must do my best to shrink the entire coffee industry from tree to cup into a few sentences that will most certainly not do it justice and at the same time confuse and confound my customer. So having said that, I will now try and explain where we get our coffee without getting into too much trouble.Like any product, the further from the origin you are the harder it is to track and explain how it gets to your shelf. About 17 billion pounds of green coffee are produced around the world each year with an estimated 20 million people working to bring us our daily cup. The specialty coffee portion of the industry has been a pioneer in the attempt to properly track coffee so as to improve standards of living, product development, sustainability and organic practices. This continuing quest covers 80 countries of origin and hundreds of thousands of farms, co-op’s, processing mills, shippers, importers, brokers and roasting companies.
The majority of coffee roasters in the U.S. do not import/export coffee directly therefore, they are purchasing their coffee from brokers and importers that make it their business to source and sell green (unroasted) coffee. Even if a roasting company works directly with a farm, mill or co-op they will still make their purchase from one of these companies. If a roasting company has the resources they may visit an origin or tour a variety of farms/co-op’s to develop relationships that strengthen the bond and help with tracing and confirming quality and certifications. Having worked for a grower/producer in Hawaii, I cannot stress enough how important it is to make at least one trip to an origin as a coffee buyer or roaster to fully understand the process from the ground up. I am however realistic that many coffee roasters and consumers lack the means to take long trips out of country.
Needless to say the brokers/importers play a crucial part in maintaining the farm to roaster relationship. The brokers/importers also have the ability to purchase and warehouse coffees from many origins in a central location that the roasting company can purchase and ship from. New York, New Orleans, Houston, San Francisco are all major points of delivery for coffee in the United States. Coffee in some cases is shipped to warehouses in a variety of places for ease of shipping to the roasting company. In the case of Morning Glory Coffee & Tea, Inc. the majority of our coffees are imported through New Orleans and shipped to Kansas City where we can order a variety of grades and origins. These coffees are then shipped freight on pallets in burlap or jute bags. Each bag will be marked with origin, weight, lot, grade and certification markings. Any given pallet will have coffees from a variety of origins. The Pallet that arrived here in West Yellowstone has coffees from the origins of Colombia, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Peru and Sumatra. These coffees will then be roasted to a specific roast profile so they can be blended or enjoyed as a single origin. It is the hope of many a coffee roaster that through the craft of roasting they will create a cup that holds true to and fairly represents all the hard work and many hands it takes to get our favorite coffee to our local shelves.
The truth is in the cup!