Part 1 – Planning
This is Part 1 in a series of posts called “What Does A Green Coffee Buyer Do”. See also Part 2: Reporting.
Many coffee professionals listen to a coffee buyer talk about travel to exotic countries, and dream of doing the same one day. It is a fantastic job and I feel so privileged to be able to do this work, but there are many misconceptions about the life of a green coffee buyer. It is a role that carries a lot of responsibility, there are many sacrifices, and often the coffee buyer leaves origin disappointed they couldn’t support more producers, or buy all the delicious lots.
In this series of blog posts, I will take you through the Ethiopia 2018/2019 crop, and all the tasks involved in getting coffee to your door. I hope to give you a glimpse of what it means to be the physical link between two very different realities in specialty coffee: origin and the market.
Months before I book my first flight to Ethiopia I get started on planning. This is the stuff that few people see. It isn’t glamorous, but it is absolutely essential to ensure the success of any buying season.
The rainy season is coming to an end, cherries are starting to take form, and in some areas they are already changing color. Some farmers, those who know their land and trees well, are already picking the first cherries so they don’t exhaust their trees’ nutrient storage. The first delivery of cherries to the washing stations is always an uncertain time. Farmers often don’t understand why the price is so different from harvest to harvest. Questions arise: is it the government, the exporters, the managers at the washing stations or the buyers who dictate how much they earn?
In August and September I start to really focus on the upcoming harvest. These are crucial months to get a sense of the current situation in Ethiopia and all the countries/markets that we supply. We need specifics: specific volumes, profiles and prices from specific suppliers for specific clients with specific timelines.
Exporters are preparing their washing station teams for the first deliveries. Production goals have been set. Some stations are being refurbished, some are still in construction, everyone is frantic to have them completed as soon as possible. The clock is ticking.
Defining the buying strategy
Back in Oslo, I begin the buying by reviewing the data:
- How much did we buy last year?
- What profiles sold well, what didn’t?
- Where did the different profiles end up in the world? Can I expect the same this year?
- Are there any new trends that we need to be aware of?
- Have senses and preferences changed in the market?
- Have any customers grown in volume to the point they could do direct shipments?
- Did all shipments work out as expected last season? Why not and what should we do about it?
- Will any customers come to visit our partners this year?
- Are all producers/suppliers still supplying?
- What is the current political situation in Ethiopia?
One foot in each world
By October the harvest has started, and so has the Christmas rush for all the coffees we have in our warehouse! I am split between two worlds. I spend much of my time on the phone or email with customers, supporting them in their busiest time of year. I am also on the phone or email to our partners in Ethiopia, and the Tropiq team in Addis, to understand if it will be an early or late harvest this year and if the political situation is stable enough to travel to the regions I need to visit in November.
In October I have to confirm:
- Meetings and visits with all partnering suppliers;
- Our customer expectations for volume and quality this year;
- Our company’s purchase projections for Ethiopia;
- Which customers will travel to Ethiopia with me in November? Do they have their travel itinerary? (Green buyers are also travel agents!)
I am still reasonably relaxed at this stage. My customers have clarified their needs, I have the latest information from our Tropiq team on the ground and I’m feeling good about the upcoming harvest.
But my sense of calm won’t last long.
My life is about to get crazy.