Ever wondered where your coffee comes from? Green coffee buyers are essential to the speciality journey. Find out exactly what they do and discover a day in the life of a green coffee buyer.
The coffee industry relies on so many talented and passionate people. People are often astounded when we explain to them the journey that their beans go on from farm to cup, how many miles they’ve travelled, how many hands have been involved. It is said that the beans in your cup of coffee have been handled by at least nine different people on their way to your local cafe of your kitchen.
That may capture the essence but merely scratches the surface. there are also mountains of farm-work, processing, trade, logistics, red-tape, quality checks, re-checks, shipping, more checks, storage, roasting, testing, packing, deliveries, training, cleaning, maintenance, grinding, brewing, exchanges of cash and, hopefully, satisfied drinking at the end too. Millions of people contribute to over 2.25 billion cups of coffee being consumed in the world every day. When we put it like that, there can be an awful lot of pressure on your talented baristas’ shoulders by the time they’re serving your much-needed morning brew!
Speciality Coffee Careers In Focus
We’ll be taking a closer look at some of the many roles involved in keeping the coffee world brewing. We know that so many passionate people, perhaps even like you, have been interested in moving upwards or sideways in a coffee career. A lot of people are even taking the leap from other industries to work in coffee, which has become easier as the it has evolved to require more of those outside skills. Just look at the engineering that goes into a modern coffee machine and even computer programmers are becoming crucial.
This week, we’re looking at a really essential cog in the speciality coffee wheel. It’s a role on which, so many things rely such as quality, price, story, traceability and more. The green coffee buyer, can be a pivot to the success of your brew. To help us dissect this role and understand why it is so important, we’ve turned to our very own green coffee buyer. Lynsey Harley has navigated the globe on the hunt for great coffee, today she shares with us her experiences in the life of a green coffee buyer.
Interview With A Speciality Green Coffee Buyer
Q: Hey Lynsey, thanks so much for pulling the curtain back on what seems like kind of an unknown role in coffee. We know how important baristas are, we see machine engineers, account managers and even roasters. So, in a nutshell, what does a green coffee buyer do?
L: A green buyer is the one who determines the green coffee range, the quality and quantity to buy. They are also the main contact point for the farmers or exporters, and really lead the quality program for a coffee roastery.
Q: Where does this role fit into the speciality coffee journey?
L: I guess it’s near the start, but not quite the start. We rely heavily on the farmers, producers and exporters to bring amazing green coffee to the market, but we work with all of them to find what we are looking for.
Q: How important is the green coffee buyer to the coffee journey?
L: They’re super crucial. The relationships you build with your origin partners give you better access to different coffees and you need that variety of options if you want to serve the best coffee all year round. As your relationships grow, they will begin to know what we are looking for which makes you better at sourcing what you need. A trusting relationship is key, and that takes time to build up. You need not only to be a talented coffee taster, but you must also be a good judge of character.
Q: How did you become a green coffee buyer?
L: After a few years of delivering coffee training and then roasting, I had an urge to move on like most people do, and buying was the next path that really attracted me. I became qualified as a Q grader, won the UK Cup tasting championships, and started my Q Instructor journey. I had all the tasting components, but none of the buying experience, so I started by doing the Cup of Excellence competitions, and building up my knowledge from there. Then as my knowledge of the market and my relationships grew, so did my ability to understand what it takes to become a speciality green coffee buyer.
Q: Can anyone become a green coffee buyer?
L: Yes, but it will take time. Being a roaster will definitely help, as you are in the right place to become an expert in coffee as a raw material and for taking that next step. You kind of have to keep stepping backwards in the journey from what goes in the cup.
Q: Is it for everyone?
L: No, it’s not as fun as it looks! I know how excited people are about it when they learn about it and want to take the leap. Travelling for work is anti social, and exhausting. Its starts out fun; taking flights to new and exotic countries, staying in hotels (sometimes with armed guards), visiting coffee farms. Then you repeat that every few months in a different country, it’s a cycle like anything else. Plus, people are relying on you to do a pretty important job, buying coffee by the tonne.
I don’t travel as much as I used to, but I prefer it that way, it’s important to maintain a healthy work life balance.
Q: What are the best parts of the job?
L: The people. You meet some incredible people and it’s very inspiring. It gives you such a positive feeling and makes you appreciate what you do and why you do it.
Q: What are the most challenging parts of the job?
L: Weighing up the commercials on buying that coffee. You might absolutely love it, but if it’s not quite right for your customer and you have to say no, it’s a bit sad. I sometimes buy a few spare bags for myself, something a bit different that I know will be too expensive to sell but is nice to have for my own consumption… the benefits of having your own coffee roastery!
Q: What’s your favourite memory from your experience as a green coffee buyer?
L: Probably my first time on a coffee farm, I think most people never forget that. The smell of coffee flowers are just amazing.
Q: Where is your favourite place to buy green coffee from?
L: I love Guatemala, the coffee is spectacular, the people are friendly and the food is just delicious.
Q: What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in your time as a green coffee buyer?
L: The amount of different processes you can buy now and in smaller lots. It’s not actually that good for the producer, you need to buy the full range of coffees, there’s a home for every coffee.
Q: What changes would you like to see in green coffee production?
L: A complete removal from the C price (commodity pricing set by the market) and paying the producer a sustainable price for the coffee they gave grown. In speciality coffee you pay a premium price that’s often twice as much as even Fair Trade. This ensures that farms are rewarded for producing excellent coffees and helps them to do so year after year.
Q: What one piece of advice would you give to anyone who wants to become a green coffee buyer?
L: Be prepared to fund some of the initial trips to farms yourself to build up your experience, this will be invaluable as you push your career forward. It’ll climatise you to the craziness of life on a farm tasting hundreds of coffees without the pressure of having to make an important commercial decision at the end.
Hopefully you found this article helpful if you were interested in becoming a green coffee buyer or just wanted to learn more about it. We now know that it is one of the most integral roles in the coffee journey, and the skills required to make it successful.
To be a green coffee buyer you have to love travel, people and of course, coffee! So start today if that sounds like you, skill up on your tasting abilities and commercial savvy. You too could be traversing the mountain ranges of Ethiopia or Brazil trying to find the next best cup.