The key links of the coffee supply chain
As we’ve mentioned before, the coffee supply chain involves a few key players. The process looks something like this:
- The growers harvest the coffee
- They send it for processing, or ‘milling’
- The resulting coffee beans are shipped by exporters to roasters
- After the coffee is roasted, it’s either sold at the roastery or shipped by exporters to retailers
Did you know that it can take several years for plants to produce their first coffee harvest? The Coffea Arabica tree, for instance, will start to grow fruit after 3 to 5 years, and it will continue to produce for up to 100 years.
Coffee growers are in charge of overseeing this delicate process, ensuring that the coffee plants are taken care of and the proper conditions are ensured for optimal production. Growers are usually on a smaller scale, operating on small farms, and they also harvest and undertake some preliminary processing of the coffee beans.
As we’ve mentioned above, coffee growers often also handle the processing of the beans, if they have the right equipment for the job. Processing the coffee berries involves either a traditional, ‘dry’ method, allowing the berries to dry in the sun, or the ‘wet’ method, which involves water and special equipment. Whichever method, processing involves removing the outer fruit shell to expose the green coffee beans. The process of hulling, cleaning, and sorting the green coffee beans is also known as ‘milling.’
Coffee exporters are the ones responsible for buying the coffee beans from co-ops or coffee farms and selling them to suppliers or brokers. Usually, coffee exporters know the ins and outs of the business and are experts at recognizing quality and picking the best products. They also need to have a license in place to trade internationally, and follow the proper regulatory guidelines.
Coffee suppliers work with exporters, buying green beans from countries like Brazil, Colombia, or Ethiopia, and selling them to roasters across European or American markets. They usually buy coffee in bulk and have long-standing partnerships with different exporters, as well as retailers, acting like intermediaries, in a way. We also like to call them happiness providers, for obvious reasons.