Part I: The pillars of our green coffee trading strategy. What, why, and how we buy.
Why is this coffee so good?
First of all, coffee is green when it's purchased, did you know that? It actually looks like a seed from a fruit that was grown and harvested from a plant that was cared for. Linking it to the farmer / producers that sold it to us is easy when it looks like that. Linking it back to a farm is harder when we turn it brown and put it in a bag with drawings of lasers on it. The lion’s share of the work that goes into procuring the raw material–green coffee–that ends up in your bag of roasted coffee happened thousands of kilometers away and through a sometimes labyrinthine network of laborers and brokers. This post is about uncovering ‘the why’ of how your roasted coffee came to be and why it’s so good. We will explain the main reasons as to why we choose the green coffee / raw material we do, which we then turn into the drinkable product you know and love.
Tasting relationships in the cup
Our two main pillars for buying green coffee are quality and relationship. A ‘quality coffee’ can mean a lot of different things depending on who you ask and within what specific context. Are you talking about the physical quality of the green coffee? Are the green beans (more accurately, seeds) more round and shiny? (They shouldn’t be. ) Are you talking about how a roasted coffee performs when it's analyzed for quality control? Or are you asking about the quality of the brewed / extracted final product? When it comes to talking about the quality of our green coffee in relation to how you experience it, we are mostly talking about a certain flavor profile that favors complexity (there are several/many discernible flavors), a bright acidity (the quality of ‘freshness’ and vibrancy on the palate; not its pH level) that is balanced with a good amount of sweetness (preferably no ‘acid bombs’). Generally speaking, professional cuppers (coffee evaluators) determine quality by looking at eight different factors: aromatics, cleanliness, sweetness, acidity, body/mouthfeel, flavor, aftertaste, and balance. Out of these, we at Tunnel are laser focused on flavor, acidity, and balance.
Generally speaking, professional cuppers (coffee evaluators) determine quality by looking at eight different factors: aromatics, cleanliness, sweetness, acidity, body/mouthfeel, flavor, aftertaste, and balance. Out of these, we at Tunnel are laser focused on flavor, acidity, and balance.
It’s pretty straight-forward to outline and talk about quality, but quality is only one half of our purchasing equation. Equally as important are the relationships we’ve cultivated with the people responsible for growing, processing, and moving the green coffee that becomes your browned beans. And this is when talking about our approach to buying becomes a bit of a rabbit hole. But we’ll try to keep it as simple as possible.
Any great relationship is based on trust and it’s no different when it comes to sourcing green coffee. For us, trust is initially built through clear and timely communication, delivering on the metrics that have been discussed (e.g. sending curated sample offerings based on the type of coffee we’ve asked for and not just a FedEx box full of samples that have been thrown together to see ‘what sticks’) and, receiving coffee in good order at its destination warehouse. There are inherent risks when shipping goods across oceans, but a lot of risk can be mitigated through using trustworthy dry mills, packaging green coffee in good materials, timely delivery to the port through trusted transport carriers, and ensuring export documents are expediently handled so the coffee doesn’t sit at ports, which are often prone to high temperatures and humidity (huge nemeses to green coffee quality).
After the first successful purchase cycle, trust is maintained through consistency of good communication and follow through on successive deliveries.
We have a lot more to say about our purchasing philosophy, which we will unfold in future posts for this series about green coffee. We’re gonna use philosophy to describe our decision-making process for buying green coffee because there’s a whole complex world happening behind the colorful bags of roasted coffees you buy from us and we think that giving you deeper insights into it will help you enjoy your espresso or filter brew that much more. We liken sharing this story to when a food lover is enjoying a multi-course dinner complemented with the service team sharing the chef’s journey in creating that dining experience. Not only does this give the diner an appreciation for all the hard work that went into the creation of the experience, they learn exactly how their food was produced. And doesn’t knowledge and transparency taste good? We think so.