Coffee News: from Seed to Cup

Producers & Importers: How to Sell YOUR Coffee to Roasters

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Producers, you know how amazing your coffee is. But how do you convince roasters?

Sure, once your beans are on the cupping table they’ll speak for themselves. Yet when you’re messaging a roaster on WhatsApp or approaching them at a coffee festival, you need to speak for them.

That means you need to share the stories you carry with you. You need to help your listener make a personal connection to the world you come from. You need to assist them in truly discovering your coffee.

I spoke about this at Let’s Talk Coffee 2016 in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Industry leaders like Tracy Ging of SCAA/The Coffeewoman and Daniele Giovannucci of COSA set out to answer some of the biggest questions facing the coffee world today, and my job was explain how important storytelling is for selling coffee.

And now I’m going to share with you some of my most important tips.

Spanish Version: Productores e Importadores: Cómo Vender TÚ Café a los Tostadores

lets talk coffee

Joel ben Izzy speaks on the importance of storytelling. Credit: Elliott Schofield/Sustainable Harvest Coffee Importers

How to Find Your Story

The key to a successful pitch is telling the right story. You might think you don’t have a story – but believe me, everyone has one. You just need to ask yourself the right questions.

Try answering these ones. Give yourself time to think about them – at least 30 seconds per question.

  • Can you tell us about a name associated with your coffee?

Maybe it’s the name of your co-op, a particular blend, a place, or a person.

  • Can you take us on a journey to a particular place that would be found in your world of coffee?

Help us approach that place, and make it as vivid, sensory, and real as possible.

  • Can you introduce us to one person connected to your organization who inspires you?

Perhaps you find the founder, a teacher, a friend, or a farmer inspiring.

  • Can you describe what happens at the best time of year to visit your world of coffee?

Use sensory details to make it real.

  • Can you tell us about a challenge your world of coffee has overcome?

There are many problems in the world of coffee.  And a problem, when told in a way that makes us care, is what makes for a good story.

Now you’ve got all the information you need to tell your story. Don’t worry if you’re not sure how to make it one yet – we’re going to look at that next.

coffee farm

Find the story of your coffee, and bring it to life for your listener. Credit: Neil Palmer (CIAT) via Flickr

How to Tell a Story Well

Storytelling can seem intimidating, but there are just a few secrets to spinning tales that capture the imagination of your listeners. Here are the six key actions to help you do that.

  1. Evoke sensory details: Smells, sights, sounds, tastes, and feelings – these all make a story real. Don’t neglect a single sense!
  1. Solve that problem: Solving a problem is what makes a story. It needn’t be a big problem, but you do need to find a solution – temporary or permanent.
  1. Ask permission: This can help you capture the listener’s attention – something that’s vital during busy events! Ask “Hey, can I tell you a story?”
  1. Approach the story: Don’t start in the middle of somewhere – instead, choose the beginning and lead us into it.
  1. Take your time telling the story: Don’t rush in. Both before and during storytelling, give the listener enough time to take it all in and you enough time to build up the details. In this way, you can lead your audience on a journey.
  1. Practice: Try telling your story to a friend or colleague before you meet the roasters or importers. Grow comfortable in the story and ask your listener for feedback. But at the same time, don’t memorize a script! Make sure you can tell it confidently without sounding rehearsed.

hot coffee

Coffee is a sensory experience. Capture the sensation of it for your audience. Credit: waferboard via Flickr

SEE ALSO: Producer Interview: Direct Trade Is a Two-Way Street

How to Engage and Learn From Roasters

When you meet roasters, the expectation is that you try to sell them your coffee. Of course, you want to do that – but not straight away. No, the first step is to engage them. And one of the best ways to do this is by asking questions. If you work with a translator, they can also help you with this.

Asking a roaster questions won’t just make them more interested in you. It will also help you know which stories to share. And the stories that come out will be much fresher. Like coffee once it has been roasted, freshness matters. It’s best to not simply recite memorized words, because the strongest stories are when you’re telling your personal truth and making a personal connection.

Here are some questions to start conversations with roasters:

  • Of all the coffees you roast, which is your favorite? Why?
  • Can you tell me about a producer you built a good relationship with? What makes that relationship work?
  • How did you become a coffee roaster?

With those three, you have plenty to get you started. Keep a list of story ideas as you get them. You’ll find the list grows quickly – and it will serve you well when visiting roasters!

lets talk coffee

Engage your audience. Feature photo credit: Elliott Schofield/Sustainable Harvest Coffee Importers

In today’s world, we only have a short amount of time in which to get a business partner’s attention. By telling them a story that appeals to their interests, the solves a problem, and that evokes the senses, your coffee will stay in their mind long after you’ve had to leave.

Written by Joel ben Izzy, Traveling Storyteller and author of The Beggar King and the Secret of Happiness.

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