As specialty coffee roasters continue to look for new ways to expand their knowledge of the coffee they buy and the people behind it, trips to origin have become increasingly commonplace.
It’s no longer enough for roasters to provide quality coffee – consumers want to know every minute detail of its “story”, as well as ensuring that the farmers and producers have received a fair price for their crop.
However, origin trips don’t just benefit consumers. Face-to-face interactions are invaluable for producers who want to create prosperous and profitable long-term relationships too.
To find out more about visiting origin, I spoke with Rafael Silva, a roaster at Sicafe Estate Coffee Farms in El Salvador.
See also: What Is Single Origin Coffee?
Visiting Origin: What Does It Mean?
A few decades ago, visiting coffee farms was relatively uncommon. Many roasters didn’t have a lot of contact with the people who produced their coffee, and instead relied on importers to ensure it was up to standard.
However, as the specialty coffee market has grown, roasters have increasingly realised the importance of taking a more active role in each step of the journey, from seed to cup. It’s now considered essential, not only for their brand, but also for the farmers and producers who grow their coffee.
These trips allow roasters to build closer working relationships with the farmers and meet new producers in the region. By visiting farms, roasters get the opportunity to sample a variety of coffees, discuss targets and goals in terms of quality and yield, and negotiate production volumes and sales prices for future harvests.
Most roasters or green coffee buyers visiting origin will travel at least once a year around the start of the harvest season to sample early lots of coffee.
Rafael Silva is a roaster for Sicafe Estate Coffee Farms in the Cordillera de Apaneca, a volcanic mountain range in El Salvador. Over the years they’ve won a number of prestigious awards for their coffee, including many at Cup of Excellence competitions.
He tells me that in the market for higher quality, specialty coffees, roasters want to learn more about the “story” of the coffee and relay that to their customers. By creating more of an experience around their coffee, they can overtake competitors.
“Specialty roasters look for a lot of information to help them market and sell the coffees they buy,” he says. “This is especially true to single origin coffee, where the beans come from one farm or region.”
Why Should You Visit Origin?
Visiting farms in producing countries has a number of benefits for specialty coffee roasters.
Rafael tells me that one of the most significant is a greater appreciation for the hard work and dedication that goes into producing a coffee lot.
“By visiting origin, roasters can understand how each producer takes care of their plantation,” Rafael says. “[This includes] how each decision is made at the farms, how the coffees are being processed, and how each coffee is dried.”
Face-to-face meetings with farmers and partners at origin are also invaluable. They can help break down barriers, build trust, and provide full transparency about any problems faced in the partnership.
“It’s important to experience everything, not just the coffee,” Rafael says. “To see how the farmers live, to understand all the efforts that go into producing the beans you buy.”
As well as obtaining first-hand experience of coffee production and meeting the people behind it, there is also a distinct competitive advantage to visiting origin. By experiencing the first steps of the journey, you can present a clearer picture of your coffee’s “story”, which will naturally appeal to third-wave coffee consumers.
Innova Market Insights, a food and beverage market research firm, found that 56% of global consumers say a brand’s story influences their decision to buy. Therefore, a well-rounded story surrounding the coffee is sure to attract more customers. This information can be included on packaging, labels, or on websites accessed by scanning QR codes.
Furthermore, you will have greater access to a wider range of coffees, some of which may well be rarer or come from smaller, more exclusive micro lots. This can put you at a considerable competitive advantage as you will be able to offer a unique product to which few other roasters, if any, have access.
However, origin trips also benefit coffee farmers. In an article for Curiosity Mag, owner of Vava Coffee, Vava Angwenyi, states that many roasters visit origin when they discover they’ve been paying unethical and unsustainable prices through importers. To rectify this, they will travel to meet the farmers, learn about their lives, and ensure they receive a fair price.
Rafael tells me that producers often appreciate the contact with roasters who visit origin as it provides them with a chance to establish mutually beneficial and long-lasting relationships.
“Producers have the chance to interact and develop friendships with the people who buy their coffee,” Rafael says. “This helps foster healthier, more long-term business relationships.”
Preparing For A Trip To Origin
Coffee farm trips are often (but not always) organised by professional guides, as they are typically located in remote, high-altitude regions that can be difficult to access.
Hiking shoes and backpacks will help with the difficult terrain at higher altitudes. Furthermore, insect repellent, long-sleeved shirts, trousers, and hats will reduce the likelihood of bites. First-aid kits and international roaming SIM cards are also recommended.
“Pack appropriately for the weather and time of year and bring medicines that you take regularly,” Rafael advisies. “If you are allergic to something, let the producer know ahead of time, especially regarding any kind of food.”
Each coffee-producing country has its own unique culture and traditions, so be prepared to experience things that may be outside of your comfort zone.
“Be ready to be offered food or drinks that you may not be used to,” Rafael says. “Be respectful, and remember that producers are putting time aside especially for you.”
While not all specialty coffee roasters are able to visit origin, the benefits of meeting coffee farmers in person are great. Not only will it serve to strengthen and develop your relationships with the people who produce your coffee, it will also contribute to forming a stronger brand image.
At MTPak Coffee, we offer a range of sustainable packaging solutions that will reflect all the hard work that has gone into producing your coffee, whether single origin or a coffee blend.
Our selection of flexible pouches can be customised to clearly display all the most important information of the coffee’s story, from the coffee variety to the people behind it.