The coffee industry is made up of many individual relationships that depend on mutual trust and good communication. To better understand what producers value in their business relationships with buyers, and how buyers can improve in their practices, we asked the community.
Based on the responses to an Instagram post and conversations with industry players, here’s some insight into what producers value in green bean buyers.
Lee este artículo en español ¿Qué Valoran Los Productores de Los Compradores de Café Verde?
Sacks of coffee at a warehouse in El Salvador. Credit: Fernando Pocasangre
What Makes a Good Green Coffee Buyer?
Stephany Dávila is a coffee producer and trader based in Guatemala City. She summarises what a good green coffee bean buyer looks like for her. “An ideal buyer cares about you in a personal way and doesn’t see you as another supplier,” she says. “The success of long-lasting relationships lies in creating and strengthening bonds of friendship. They should also speak honestly, and give feedback that you can use to improve.
“An ideal buyer will realise that coffee is an agricultural product, and that there can be variations year after year. But they will not reject you just because the score of your coffee decreases a little in a specific year. On the contrary, they will support you and explore the options with you so you can improve. The perfect buyer will also support you by paying on time, or even paying a part in advance so you can operate. Lastly, they will be interested in explaining to you how their business works so you can grow together.”
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Workers sort coffee cherries at Finca El Paraiso in La Libertad, Huehuetenango, Guatemala. Credit: Urisar Ferneldy de León for De Leon Coffees
Others highlighted that producers may look for different qualities at different points of their business. A representative from Siempre Verde Farm says, “We’re small producers from Ecuador, somewhat new to the coffee industry. In our opinion, the right buyer looks different depending on where you are as a producer.
“For us, it is important to work with a buyer who can provide technical advice and can offer good recommendations for improvement of processes. The better the coffee we produce, the more successful the buyer can be with our coffee. We appreciate buyers who can tell us why our cupping scores came out to be the way they did.
“And we also appreciate buyers who can provide a good rationale behind the price they put to our coffee rather than just giving a number. The more exposure we get to the industry, the more we see the importance of developing relationships with roasters to also learn about coffee from their side of the industry.”
A view from a coffee farm in Honduras. Credit: Perfect Daily Grind
Daniela Maya Fernández is the Director of Specialty Coffee and External Trade at Grupo Accresco, in Colombia. She says that a good buyer should have “experience and knowledge with humility. They should debate with respect for the raw material. They should be knowledgeable [on many aspects of the industry], from sensory and physical quality, to viability of seeds and water activity.”
She continues, “Good coffee deserves a good price. Negotiations based on quality would be perfect, but it’s still very subjective and the long supply chains end up adding costs to coffees that maybe aren’t consistent with the value. This has forced buyers to develop negotiation skills, and knowledge becomes a major tool to get a fair price.”
A coffee buyer and a producer at a farm in Guatemala. Credit: Devon Barker
Daniela tells us that the ideal buyer is a good roaster. “If the buyer is the roaster, it means that that’s where the chain ends. It’s not another link of twenty or so steps before reaching the consumer,” she says. “And by saying ‘good’, I don’t mean using expensive coffees or having the trendy roasting machine. I mean that the roaster has clearly established operations, a market, good products, and that the rotation is smooth, efficient, and sustainable.
She also mentions the buyer’s responsibility to ensure quality, saying that “safekeeping coffee is very important. Since the beans are non-perishable, there’s flexibility. But perfect storage conditions help to ensure the value (and price) of the base product.”
Let’s look at some of the factors that were repeatedly mentioned as qualities that producers value.
Coffee buyers cupping coffee at a farm in Honduras. Credit: Perfect Daily Grind
Paying Well & On Time
Many of the producers we spoke to emphasised the importance of receiving a fair price for their coffee, but the most important financial issue seems to be receiving timely payment.
Stephany tells me, “In the case of exporting, negotiations are usually CAD (cash against documents) but payment is rarely done on time. So I would say [that a good buyer should] speed up payment once the documents are received. Some clients I work with pay a part in advance once they confirm the trade, and the other part when the coffee arrived. This helps to control the risk for both parties.
“Fifteen days is perfect… But I’ve heard about and experienced situations when two months pass and they haven’t paid. There, you can see the difference between a perfect client and one that is not… A letter of credit is perfect when you don’t know the client, or you can even ask for an advanced payment from one party to mitigate the risk. But sometimes it’s complicated.
“Sometimes you find clients who tell you that they want to wait for the coffee to arrive to confirm quality. Then the [moment of] shipping arrives and they tell you they need to unload. Then they unload and they tell you the person from QC isn’t available for a week. You understand that there’s cashflow involved and I’m not saying they don’t want to pay you. It’s simply not ideal to receive payment after two months or more. The best timing would be payment after two weeks, maximum.
If you work with someone who you don’t know, it is safest to do CAD through a bank, so you don’t face the risk of issuing documents without a guaranteed payment. But that is more expensive.”
Francisco Quezad and Federico Calderón of Montenegro Farms talk with roasters at Finca La Labor, in Guatemala. Credit: Ana Valencia
Njoki Njoxx says, “I am a producer from Kenya. My idea of a perfect buyer [is one] who pays above the market rates. This enables me to sustainably continue farming coffee and allows me to provide employment to the community around me.”
Maria Pacas of Cafe Pacas tells us that they appreciate a buyer “who understands the cost structure of a farm, recognizing that by buying specialty and non-specialty coffees at fair prices (above cost of production) is what will make coffee farming sustainable.”
Jorge Arrieta is an agriculture engineer at Vista al Valle, a micro mill in Lourdes, Naranjo, Costa Rica. He says, “For trustworthy clients, we work by cash against copy of documents. And we’ve been paid by our client in a 15 days to one month period after sending the documents. We have had a client paid us two months later… that’s why, even though the process is a little tedious, we use letters of credit with less trustworthy clients.”
Washed processed coffee drying in patios at a farm in Honduras. Credit: Perfect Daily Grind
Cesar Samaniego Minaya of Finca San Francisco in Peru says that the perfect buyer is “someone who works closely with farmers and knows the work and time that the farmers have to invest to produce a speciality coffee.” They say that “this establishes a fair trade and [they are likely to] pay a fair price for the green coffee, which promotes the improvement of the farmer’s quality of life and motivates them to improve the quality of the coffee.”
Herbert Peñaloza Correa of 575 Cafe in Tolima, Colombia, simply says that the best buyers are “the ones that are true to their commitments” and pay on time.
Coffee buyers, producers, and other guests at a farm in Honduras. Credit: Perfect Daily Grind
Daniela says that there is mutual benefit to paying in a timely fashion. “Being able to pay in shorter terms allows importers to lower their prices, maybe having the possibility to be fairer with prices at origin. Big companies bill at terms of up to 90 days!
“In an ideal situation, if the roaster buys coffee from a [small-scale] producer, they would not expect the same financing that a big company would give.”
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Buyers talking with producer Nilton Almeida at Fazenda Sao Fransico, in Brazil. Credit: Julio Guevara
Several people mentioned that they appreciate knowing buyers being transparent, which includes allowing contact between the producers and roasters to discuss requirements.
Rodolfo Ruffati is a green specialty importer with Productor Coffee. He says that buyers should “pay well, pay quick. Be honest and direct. Give us feedback on our quality.”
He also says, “Let us talk to the roasters. We started importing ourselves because the importer buyers didn’t want us to talk to the roasters. All we wanted was some feedback on our processing and some recognition. They took our coffees and kept us in the dark. Now we sell direct to roasters and payment takes a bit longer, but we have positive relationships where everyone contributes their share in the production chain from our farms to the customer’s cup.”
Coffee cherries on a tree at a farm in Honduras. Credit: Perfect Daily Grind
Simon Mungai Ruoya tells us that a good buyer is “a transparent one who is ready to take the risk and go the extra mile on setup projects.”
A representative from Café Cultura Boyaca, a Colombian coffee shop, also mentioned transparency. They say, “I think that you need transparency in sales and purchases, to modernize it a little. With blockchain, we could trace the coffee and also reach a fairer price for our work. In addition, the buyer should have a good customs officer for small exports and good logistics.”
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A coffee buyer at a farm in Honduras. Credit: Perfect Daily Grind
Good Communication & Accessibility
The importance of good communication was emphasised throughout the responses to our question of what makes a good buyer. Without clear and regular communication, it can be hard to have a productive business relationship.
Erlin Barillas, a producer in Western Honduras, says that they value “people who are interested in working as close with farmers as they can, in order to make strong ties in importer-producer relationships.”
Luis Obregon says that a good buyer is “one who is accessible. Sometimes an email carries all the hopes of a group of producers, who have struggled to offer a good product…”
Daniela tells us that ”successful business relationships with good communication can make the supply chain evolve, flow, and improve. [With good communication] the producer can evolve into the perfect supplier.”
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A coffee buyer and a coffee farmer talking and walking at a coffee farm in Guatemala. Credit: Devon Barker
Great coffee is a result of collaboration and mutual support. By understanding what producers look for in a green coffee bean buyer, importers and roasters can be more mindful of their own business practices. If you’re a buyer, consider implementing procedures that emphasise good communication, timely payment, and transparency in your interactions with producers. It could result in better coffee and higher prices for everyone involved.
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Written by Hazel Boydell.
Comments have been translated from Spanish by Laura Fornero and edited for clarity and grammar.
Perfect Daily Grind
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