Editor’s Note: Managing inventory onsite or in a warehouse is a crucial part of operations in a roastery, and the tighter the protocols the better. Weekly meetings, physical bag count, monitoring consumption, and staying connected with your trader are all essential parts of successful green coffee inventory management. When procedures are clear and followed to the letter, these tasks become part of the regular workflow that keep things running smoothly. Part 1: Managing Green Coffee Physical Inventory and Part III: Pro Tips for Green Coffee Inventory Management are recommended reading. You can also watch an off-the-cuff conversation between Sandra Loofbourow and Chris Kornman on this topic here.
Having read Part I of this series, you should feel prepared to manage physical inventory in your roastery and warehouse, as well as pending releases and active contracts. With these protocols in mind, you’ll have plenty of warning before running out of a coffee.
Here, we’ll discuss how to find and contract new coffees for your menu. 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. Here’s a quick look at best practices for requesting, receiving, analyzing, and contracting delicious coffee for your inventory.
A Note on Communicating with your trader:
There’s a theme in this series: having clear and open lines of communication with your trader can make things easier for everyone!
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. You’ll also get into an easy flow of samples, evaluation, feedback, and contracts that keeps your warehouse full of fresh and tasty coffees with no stress.
1. Plan Ahead
Tracking consumption pars and monitoring inventory is crucial to the success of any business. An important part of this process is understanding when to start booking more coffee. If you’re contacting your trader when you’re out of coffee, you’re too late! Make sure both you and your trader know when to start talking about offer samples and allow yourself enough time to roast, cup, and make your decision. Keep in mind that quicker decisions improve your chances to secure 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.
With open and clear communication with your trader, a precise understanding of your inventory needs, and tight protocols, you can get into a flow of samples and contracts that reduces stress for everyone. No one wants to run out of coffee; no one wants to be long on a coffee. Plan to review your inventory regularly, communicate clearly with your trader, and taste fresh samples often!
For more detailed information on how to manage your physical and contracted inventory, check out Part I.
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 you need it to arrive
- How long to hope it to last (3-6 months is a great place to start)
- Price point/range
- Cup score/coffee quality/certifications (org/FT/etc)
- Flavor profile
- Position (spot / forward)
With this information, your trader can put together a shortlist of coffees to sample out. A calibrated trader should be able to target your needs and send between 3 and 6 samples that hit close to the mark. Asking for 10 or 15 samples when you are only looking to book one coffee is likely unnecessary. It’s important to value everyone’s time and resources – yours included!
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. Be sure to ask your trader for this info if it’s something you’re interested in!
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, rather than labor intensive and onerous.
Finally, keep communication open: let your trader know when samples arrive at your lab, when you anticipate cupping and evaluating them, and when they can expect to hear back from you with feedback. 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.
Roasting samples on a barrel roaster is a skill and can be an art. These roasts should be light enough to allow the character of the coffee to shine through. Using automated roasters can help limit variables in the roast, but also removes the sensory experience of smelling and seeing the coffee as it goes through the various stages of roast. 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.
Pro tip: A quick turnaround on offer samples can make all the difference. Coffee is scarce, and specialty coffee even more so. 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.
5. 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! Traders don’t expect you to accept every offer, but they do want to know why a sample didn’t work out for you.
What about bad news?
Real life is messy, and situations change. It’s important to be upfront when your needs or expectations change. No one wants to be long on coffee, but only when you share your difficulties with your trader can you find a solution together. Contracts are binding, yes, but your trader wants to find solutions that work for everyone. Similarly, if you see yourself running out of coffee sooner than expected, tell your trader immediately so they can start sampling your fresh green! Having stop gaps in place to prevent emergencies is crucial, but things happen. When they do, your trader is here to help.
You’ve evaluated your samples and picked a winner. Great! 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.
7. Start profiling and enjoying that coffee!
Not all stories have a happy ending, but hopefully, this one does. After a flurry of emails, samples, and cuppings, you should have a tasty coffee ready to bring home. Now to enjoy the exciting challenges of Quality Control and Assurance!