Being a professional coffee roaster involves much more than perfecting your roast profiles. One important element of maintaining an efficient and profitable roastery is fine-tuning your green bean ordering. Failure to get it right can mean you’re left with stale beans, paying too much for a last-minute supply, or scrambling to fulfil an order.
To learn more about what green coffee purchasing involves, I spoke to some roasters about how they handle buying coffee. Read on to find out more.
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Bags of green coffee beans. Credit: Sofía Newton
The first step in ordering green coffee beans is knowing your own needs. Don’t estimate your volumes. Instead, keep track of how much you buy, roast, and sell in an organized manner.
Kelleigh Stewart is the owner of Big Island Coffee Roaster, an award-winning Hawaiian roaster. She recommends creating a spreadsheet to record information about the beans you buy, including the purchase and sale prices as well as roast information such as percent shrinkage.
She says, “The data can be arranged by coffee type, such as single origin espresso, natural process, direct trade, by origin, etc.” This will help you keep track of what is popular and what to order next.
Kelleigh also recommends keeping track of the name of the farm, harvest month, the altitude at which the coffee was grown, and percentage humidity if possible. Recording as much information as you can will help you determine any issues with your roast, as well as creating a full record that will help you plan future orders.
It’s important to factor in the reduced density when you place a green bean order. Remember that coffee loses density during roasting process and that the roasted beans will weigh less than they did when green. In general, the darker a roast, the more density it will lose. But don’t guess – keeping accurate records of shrinkage in a spreadsheet will help you know how much green coffee to order.
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Roasted coffee beans. Credit: Sofía Newton
Calculating How Much Coffee You Need
What formula should you use to determine how much coffee to order? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. The right amount of green beans is specific to your roastery. But you can do some basic calculations to give you a starting point. Before ordering, consider the following:
- Your volume of sales on average. Determine this by reviewing the last three months of sales and taking any anomalies into account. If you’re just starting out, try to project a realistic amount for the first month based on any orders you have confirmed and anticipated weekly sales.
- Storage space. Do you have enough room for the amount of beans you’re considering ordering, or would they get in the way and make your roastery less efficient?
- Cash flow. The economies of scale may make it cheaper to buy a large amount, but would that put you in the red or prevent you from paying bills on time? If so, those bulk beans may work out to be more expensive in the long-term.
- Freshness. You may have a huge warehouse and infinite funds, but it’s still not a good idea to buy a large amount of beans unless you have the sales to keep stock moving. Stale beans will impact final flavor and profile.
- Consumer demand. Is the type of bean you’re considering popular? If so, it may be worth stocking up. But if it’s a more refined taste, it may be better to buy smaller amounts to avoid beans going stale.
Coffee beans from Chiapas, Mexico. Credit: Sofía Newton
Consider Your Purchasing Model
If you’re ordering beans directly from a producer, you’re dependant on their harvest schedule. So, it’s a good idea to have a chart of harvest seasons and perhaps use two or more producers in different regions with different harvest times. This will also allow you some security if there is bad weather or other unexpected event in one region.
If you’re working directly with a producer, establish a good relationship and encourage them to let you know of any delays or issues with the harvest. Knowing about any anticipated problems ahead of time can let you better plan alternative sources of stock.
You should be prepared to place an order three to six months before you need them, depending on where you and they are based, to allow time for processing, any customs issues, and delivery.
You may prefer to order beans from a coffee broker. The benefit of buying beans this way is that a broker will likely have a reliable supply of coffee throughout the year and you can place your order with less notice than required by a producer, sometimes just a few days in advance. If you’re unsure of your needs or just starting out, this may be the best way to purchase green coffee beans.
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Freshly roasted coffee spills from the roaster. Credit: Sofía Newton
Plan For Unusual Events
Even if you prefer to work directly with producers, it may be worth establishing a relationship with a broker in case of emergency.
Nicolas Cabrera is the founder of Lost Sock Roasters, a roastery in Washington, DC. He tells me that “you have to take into account the unexpected. There may be an event, a new client, a one-time massive order that you suddenly get hit with and you need to be prepared for that with backup green coffee inventory.”
This means ordering more beans than you need, but not too many that they’ll go to waste. It’s impossible to suggest how many extra beans to order – like with your basic order, you’ll need to work this out for yourself based on your volume of sales, amount of supply space, and cash flow.
Kelleigh says, “Overshoot the quantity you think you’ll need. If you have extra, you can use it for blends, training, sales, roast experiments, etc.”
Freshly roasted coffee beans. Credit: Sofía Newton
Buying green coffee can be a little more complicated than it may first appear. But if you keep accurate records, regularly evaluate your own usage, and make good business relationships with brokers and producers, you can keep the right amount of beans in stock.
Remember to keep track of harvest schedules and place your orders in good time. And if you keep an eye on the news and weather conditions in the region of origin, you’ll be better informed about any unexpected delays in getting a hold of your coffee.
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