Want to know a great secret in the coffee roasting world? Coffee brokers. Coffee brokers are vital to a thriving coffee industry — they ensure quality control, offer a lifeline to farms, assume the purchasing risk for roasters, and share information between growers and roasters. To think of it in more relatable terms, the coffee grower and roaster are like artists perfecting their respective arts; the broker is like a museum curator who must be an expert in their field (and have refined taste buds!).*
Long-term stability for growers and roasters
Coffee brokers offer both growers and roasters long-term stability by purchasing multi-year coffee contracts (i.e., committing to purchase coffee that is not yet grown). These multi-year contracts give growers security, knowing they will be able to sell their coffee, and roasters security, knowing they can expect to purchase their beans within a certain price range. Basically, brokers keep the supply chain steady. Brokers also exchange information both ways, allowing the roaster to request specific processing methods, and sharing new techniques between growers.
Facilitation and quality control
Once coffee is purchased, coffee brokers are responsible for ensuring that the export, import, and delivery processes are seamless and quality controlled. While this may sound like a simple task, it is anything but. In addition to customs paperwork and transport logistics, brokers are also responsible for ensuring the veracity of all coffee contracts as well as the quality of the beans delivered to roasters. Quality taste testing pre-release may sound trivial but it is critical! If a broker sends a stale or subpar coffee to a roaster, the roaster will be out of coffee and the grower’s reputation will take a serious hit. Brokers must essentially ensure that the grower’s work is preserved through delivery — which sounds easy but coffee is a food product and there are so many opportunities for things to go wrong between export and final delivery.
Matchmaking, diversity, and communication
Now, my favorite reason to love a great coffee broker — they are great matchmakers between roasters and beans. Coffee brokers know their roaster’s requirements, roaster’s values, and their roaster’s customer’s tastes. This means that a good broker only sends roasters coffees that meet their quality criteria. In addition to scaling down the coffee options from innumerable to only those which are likely to be a good match, brokers, who have the ability to purchase large quantities of a single coffee at one time, also give smaller roasters access to coffees they are unable to purchase directly, either because of country export restrictions or minimum quantity constraints. Finally, a good broker keeps the roasters and growers connected by sharing information, not only about the coffee, but also about important initiatives on farms, which the roaster can then further share with their customers.
While there is much more to a coffee broker’s job than mentioned here, we felt it was important to share this information given the sometimes fixation on direct trade. Direct trade can be wonderful for a grower as can using a great broker. The bottom line, when the parties involved respect and value the work of the others (growers, roasters, and brokers), it creates a win-win-win situation. Now, time for more coffee…
*Coffee brokers also work with the financial aspects of coffee, and with coffee traders.