This piece was adapted and condensed from previous work by Sandra Loofbourow.

Green Coffee Inventory Management:

Inventory management may be one of the less glamorous jobs in a roastery, but it is also one of the most crucial. Good inventory management should reduce stress and increase both quality and profitability. In addition, be sure to have good storages practices to ensure the longevity of your green coffee.   

Note: the volumes and pars we discuss here will nearly always be in reference to unroasted green coffee. When using roasted coffee as a reference point, remember to account for the weight lost during the roast process – usually about 20%.   

Here’s what roasters should keep in mind when examining their green coffee inventory: 

royal coffee warehouse

1. What are your menu needs? 

The more clearly you understand your menu the easier it will be to supply coffees that work within it. There are two things to keep in mind here:   

First: What is your brand identity? What mission drives you, and how do you want that reflected in your coffees? Having a precise understanding of what you’re trying to do with your coffee menu will help you and your trader understand what coffees might fit on your menu.   

Second: Who is your customer base, and what do they want? The better you’re able to serve your customer base, the more loyal they will be. Get precise about the kinds of customers you’re looking to attract and how you’ll retain them. How can your green coffee choices influence customer loyalty?  

This brings us to the next point: 

2. Volume projection/consumption 

Understanding how much coffee the roastery goes through on a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly basis is crucial to managing green inventory needs.  

If you’ve been roasting for more than a year, look at annual sales trends: getting a feel for when roasted coffee consumption goes up and when traffic dies down can be incredibly helpful for planning for green coffee management. If you’re using roasting software like Cropster, use historical roasting data to inform your decisions. Quality preservation is also key to ensuring the longevity of your inventory. 

Note: Even the most accurate data tracking will have occasional oversights and errors. Schedule time (weekly and/or monthly) to do a physical count of green inventory. When in doubt, do a physical count!  

3. Plan Ahead/Seasonality 

Coffee is a seasonal crop and keeping fresh coffees can be an important factor in maintaining the quality of a menu. Understanding when coffees are arriving to the local port or warehouse, and how quickly coffees are aging out is crucial to keeping things delicious.  

 Be sure to allow for enough flexibility in your menu to allow for fresh coffee. This means:  

  • Build time to sample fresh coffees throughout the year  
  • Allow enough flexibility in your menu to allow for different origins to make an appearance  
  • If a specific coffee, or type of coffee is critical to your menu year-round, make sure you’ve got enough to last you from one season to the next 

Like managing physical inventory in your warehouse, green buying requires frequent check-ins. We recommend that most roasters should have enough coffee booked to get them through the next 3-6 months of roasting Regular communication with your trader about inventory needs will help you keep your position (i.e., coffee you own, whether in your warehouse or somewhere else) balanced with your financial fluidity. 

Royal Coffee Warehouse in Oakland CA

Contracting and Booking Coffee: 

 When should you start looking for fresh lots? That depends on how accurate your inventory tracking is, how tight your turnaround time on samples is, and how clearly you and your trader understand your menu.  

 With a trader that understands your needs, you can collaborate on inventory management – you’re not alone. Over time, your trader may start to anticipate your needs and look out for coffees that work for you on their arrival tables. 

 1. Plan Ahead   

Keep in mind that quicker decisions improve your chances of securing the coffee you want. We recommend you return your results within a week of receipt of samples, or at minimum communicate your intended timeframe to your trader.   

 2. Contact your trader with specific requests   

Being clear and direct with your coffee trader is crucial. When crafting an email or picking up the phone to talk about new contracts, be sure to include these details:  

  • Quantity: bags/lbs/kgs etc 
  • The time period you’re planning for:  

When do you need it to arrive  

  • How long to hope it lasts (3-6 months is a great place to start) 
  • Price  limit or range  
  • Cup score or coffee quality indicator 
  • certifications (org/FT/etc) 
  • Flavor profile   
  • Position (available now (spot) / available later (forward)  

 A calibrated trader should be able to target your needs and send a few samplesthat hit close to the mark. Asking for 10 or 15 samples when you are only looking to book one coffee is likely unnecessary.  

 3. Receive and Analyze Green Samples  

Here’s a great article series about what green analysis entails (Moisture / Screen Size / Density / Defects). Remember, we do a lot of this analysis in-house at Royal – especially if the coffee is a Crown Jewel 

Decide what additional analysis needs to be done in-house, and apply these protocols to every sample that comes in. Create standard operating procedures (SOP) for sample management that are efficient and informative, but most importantly make them sustainable. Processing samples should be easy and quick. Be honest about when you anticipate processing samples and how interested you are in the samples received.  

 4. Cupping Offer Samples  

After green analysis, or receiving green specs from your importer, it’s time to roast and cup.  

These roasts should be light enough to allow the character of the coffee to shine through. As always, find a system that works for you, that’s easy to apply to all samples and stick to it.   

Cupping offer samples may be the most important part of the whole process. Document your experience at the cupping table carefully by taking notes or using a cupping form so you’re able to explain your experience to your trader and maybe even the producer. Calibrate with folks on your team and discuss the qualities of each coffee as well as how well they fit into the vacancies on your menu.  

5. Approvals  

You’ve evaluated your samples and picked a winner. Call or write to your trader as soon as possible – remember, these coffees go fast! Be as specific as possible: confirm the price, how many bags you need, and what kind of release schedule you’re looking for. Written and verbal communications are binding, so be ready to commit.

Pro tip:  Quick approvals of offer samples can make all the difference. The longer it takes to get feedback on a coffee, the more likely it is that someone else has already snatched it up! Any delay in getting back to your trader could mean losing out on those fresh lots.  

6. Rejection Feedback  

When declining an offer, be as specific as you can: why didn’t this coffee work for you? What were you looking for instead? Traders want to know why they missed out on this opportunity to book coffee for you so they can offer something closer to your needs next time around. Be direct – this is just business. 

Here is an ebook to guide you through the typical “accept/reject” communication and dig into the art of providing better feedback on green coffee samples. 

What about bad news? 

Real life is messy, and situations change. It’s important to be upfront when your needs or expectations change. Contracts are binding, yes, but your trader wants to find solutions that work for everyone.  

green coffee jute bag

Seasonal offerings & Labeling: 

1. Use coffee in more than one menu position    

Simplicity is key and having coffees that perform multiple roles on your menu can be a great way to limit the number of coffees to maintain in inventory while keeping the same number of Stock Keeping Units (SKUs). One way to do this is to get a coffee that works as a single origin and forms part of a blend. Another is to have multiple roast levels of the same coffee or to dedicate one roast style for drip and another for espresso.   

2. Label sustainably   

One of the surprising obstacles to a rapidly rotating menu can be label limitations. If coffee labels are very specific, have long lead times, or are expensive to re-design, it can disincentivize keeping fresh new coffees on the menu. Labels should be specific but may need the flexibility that allows for replacement options without label redesign and the lengthy process of approving new SKUs and UPC labels. 

Tip and Tricks: 

Focus on flavor profile over origin: Don’t limit yourself to coffees from one particular origin to perform a specific role on your menu. Each origin can have a distinct profile that’s nice to feature and maintain on a menu. But each of these origins has a profound diversity as well!  

Maintaining certified coffees fresh throughout the year can be a real challenge. Royal Coffee prides itself on maintaining a wide variety of certified coffees – almost 40% of our total inventory.   Framing your needs in terms of flavor profile – say, a chocolatey base, or an acidic highlight – can increase flexibility.