Deciding How To Shop for Green Coffee

Discuss roast levels and profiles for espresso, equipment for roasting coffee.
portafalter
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#1: Post by portafalter »

How do you all shop for your green coffee?

As you can see from this post, there are a lot of places to purchase your greens. How do you all stay on top of each of the different green coffee sources?
I find it to be overwhelming to troll through all the shops and almost always experience some level of "buyers remorse" when I purchase some greens, thinking I'll find better beans or a cheaper deal elsewhere.

Does anyone else experience this? Does anyone have advice for monitoring all these different vendors?

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luca
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#2: Post by luca »

There's a lot of chicken-and-egg on this.

For starters, I have no idea how experienced you are, so, apologies if some of this is too dumbed down, but let's make it useful for everyone.

It kind of depends a bit on how much you know about roasting and how much you know about green coffee. If you don't have a framework for either, then you should learn about different coffees first, because you cannot understand different coffees unless they are roasted well. Otherwise how will you know if the thing you don't like about them is because of bad roast instead of bad green? So this rather suggests that everyone needs to start by tasting commercial roasted coffee, not by roasting their own. So you need to at least learn enough about coffee to have some general view on if you want like brazil pulp naturals or washed kenyans or whatever. You need to have some frame of reference of what the green coffee is contributing.

Once you have worked that out, there are sort of two pathways. You could see if you can find somewhere that sells both roasted and green versions of the same things, so that you have their roast to benchmark against. Maybe start by buying some of their coffee roasted and see if you like it. That is probably the best starting point for newbies. If you find something that you like, then at least you know if you buy that green, it has potential to create the roasts you want.

The second, more advanced pathway, is, of course, to buy green coffee and roast it entirely yourself, without having anyone else's roast to guide you. Here, you want to at least have some vague frame of reference of what the green is supposed to deliver. For example, if you are going to roast a classic kenyan coffee, you probably want to have a fairly good idea of what that is supposed to taste like. You need to have some idea of whether the issues that confront you when you taste the coffee are because of bad green or bad roast. Tasting Scott Rao's roast defect kit when it's available my help, too. It may also help to at least read up on SCA green grading and the off flavours that constitute defects. You need to have some sort of framework to evaluate the green that you are buying as opposed to the roast.

So then when you come to buying green, you can check what people are writing about it on their descriptions, work out when the green that you are interested in is harvested each year and when it's likely to arrive at the resellers and you can try to buy fresh crop of the coffees you are interested in.

Commercial roasters buy larger quantities and generally have the opportunity to request and taste samples if they want to. Home roasters don't get to do that, but you may be able to buy the minimum quantity of a bunch of green. The best would be to get some home roaster friends and do a large sampler order together and each roast everything and taste everything together. Then you can buy larger quantities based on what you have tasted.

Every time I dare to suggest that home roasters may buy anything other than the most excellent quality coffee on the market, I get swift and brutal objection from people here, so you form your own view as to the green coffee quality available to you. I would suggest that one thing you could do, though, is to google up the wholesale prices to coffee roasters near you for coffees that you like. If the price for retail sales to home roasters isn't at least double, then that might cause you to raise your eyebrows a bit.

Once you have found some stuff that you like, then you may find a particular vendor's tasting notes and scores more ... reliable than others, and you will probably have a better idea what you are getting into for subsequent seasons of returning coffees.
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portafalter (original poster)
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#3: Post by portafalter (original poster) »

Thanks for the in-depth response!
The second, more advanced pathway, is, of course, to buy green coffee and roast it entirely yourself, without having anyone else's roast to guide you.
This is what I've done since I started roasting, having a decent idea of what most origins "should" taste like. My roasts aren't the best, but I've had a moderate amount of success tweaking my roasts and improving as I work through my bag of greens.

I guess my question is more around the sheer volume of coffee available at each green vendor. I go in knowing I'd like a Huehue from Guatemala and I decide to order from Sweet Marias (my standby), but see beans grown at a higher altitude, fresher, and are rated better available at another vendor a few days later. How do you avoid that? Do you just stay on top of all the green vendors offerings all the time?

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yakster
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#4: Post by yakster »

I usually buy from the same few sources, and follow the greens alert thread, unless I'm looking for something in particular. Sweet Maria's has been very good to me with good quality green coffee, but I shop Bodhi Leaf and Hacea as well, and occasionally Royal Crown for Crown Jewels.
-Chris

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Martin
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#5: Post by Martin »

Luca (+1) has given a starter course on your question. I've been roasting for 20 years and I read his post twice. I'm more of a keep-it-simple sort, and my standard advice to newbies on sourcing greens is to hang out here on HB and do lots of reading and shopping at Sweet Maria's.

SM is comprehensive, user friendly, fairly priced, and instructive. At this point your quest is for learning as much as a brilliant cup. They review their coffees accurately (I suppose)--even if I don't always agree. Ordering and shipping are decent.. Watch out for shipping costs generally because discounted larger amounts can persuade you to buy more than you might otherwise.

Finally, look locally. If you stumble on a shop that roasts, show up at off-hours. If they are not scrambling with service and they see you as a regular they can be helpful.
Heat + Beans = Roast. All the rest is commentary.

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Chert
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#6: Post by Chert »

I had opportunity to visit Lake Atitlan in Guatemala in 2002 and brought home some green coffee from Mission San Lucas Toliman, a cooperative project that continues to pay farmers equitable price for very good coffee and use proceeds to buy land and build houses for people in that area. I brought in 8 lbs green coffee and found a popcorn popper.

Sweet Maria's for small variety and larger supplies of the above mentioned coffee was a staple for a few years. I like a reasonably priced good coffee I can find via Coffee Shrub or Theta RIdge in volume to enjoy over months, sharing much of it with friends, blending and really getting to know it. And some of us have divided up coffees we don't want a lot of but that interest us. See Greens Exchange.

If you can roast small charges you could join the Alliance for Coffee Excellence (ACE) and thereby support their efforts to bring coffees to auction level prices. There are probably more impactful coffee concerns to donate to, but none that offer such quality and variety. I did so for 2022 and will enjoy 200 g samples of varieties from Mexico, Ecuador and Colombia well into 2023. They ship them in small vacuum packed bags.

My large volume Guatemalan this year I sourced from Onyx Coffee Importers. They were helpful in securing a box from the one ACE associated auction I actually could reasonably get in on (One of a Kind Guatemala). I divided the one box I acquired among some home-roasters here on HB . Onyx facilitate a group bid to divide in auction by 4 or 5 buyers I believe. (this is fairly common at auction - see best of panama results for an extreme example) I try to make something special available to other home roasters, currently Daterra Masterpieces Victor anaerobic aramosa on the greens exchange. But that is a gamble that could bring you some really tasty coffee in greater volume than you might be able to use in reasonable time frame. Like Royal Crown Jewel size boxes, such auction lots are a bit dear for a single home roaster without an outlet for highly $selected coffee.
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mckolit
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#7: Post by mckolit »

I keep my green buying simple. I buy what's on sale. Bodhi leaf has a weekly sale and I live close enough to go there and save on shipping too.

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CarefreeBuzzBuzz
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#8: Post by CarefreeBuzzBuzz »

As the author of the list you posted here are my reactions from a United States perspective.

Your roasting and brew methods are unique to you. I would get at least enough for 4 batches of each coffee so you can experiment. If I can think straight, talk straight. Stop the FOMO about beans; not worth your daily enjoyment of coffee. Figure out what you like and shop for that. Likely there is a country of origin, processing style or blend you will enjoy the most. Figure out your limitations. All the blabber on here about green points is useless if you can't taste to a precise level, and can roast and prepare your brews with precision. Learning tasting is worthwhile if you want to put in the time, but honestly it has little to do with buying beans for you at the moment. Your taste skills are what they are today, and if they change your buying can change. To me and my roasting friends, the coffee experience is about the joy of the morning, which means no stress or worry. For me it's also about delivering a cup of joy to whomever is in the house.

A thought about prices - if you aren't running a business, shop for the beans you like and don't worry about the price (within reason). I have found beans that I don't love at the high end and low end of prices, and have found beans I love at both the low end and high end. Think of the morning as your time of joy; not whether you saved a few bucks (which are now lost on eggs). What the morning is about is you getting on with your day with a big smile on your face. You have already saved a lot by roasting and making coffee at home so don't go overboard with that.

Now to be more specific about your question in the context of today. I have purchased coffee from many of the vendors listed.
I started at SM 15 years ago, but today you can get human feedback (by calling) at Hacea or Showroom. To me SM descriptors are now a bit much for the average taster to grasp. To many words, beyond basic tastes. Both Showroom and Hacea have more basic and simpler descriptors. Royal and Genuine Origin are great for larger quantities. I have used others for specific needs at times. For example a fruity Ethiopian called Wush Wush was a coffee many people liked here. My wife like's this in an espresso blend and when the above vendors didn't have it one year I went elsewhere on my list.

Another reason I prefer Hacea and Showroom. They also support Artisan.Plus if you want data on your beans for the longer term which many find helpful when looking back and deciding how to shop in the future. You can make notes and have them for reference. I have found this useful. I also do Roast Cards and Roast Sheets using Artisan's export feature which can be great for notes and reference. (In case you aren't aware I do the online documentation for Artisan but not Artisan.Plus; all of my time is volunteer for the benefit of the coffee community as a whole. I do appreciate the ease at which they make keeping track of information). Keep track of what you like and focus on learning around that before trying to many different things. For example, compare washed and natural coffees, first from the same country and then different ones. Then maybe add Honey processed into the mix. Then once you decide you prefer a processing method, try some other countries. Or start with the country first.

This is a journey not a race, what brings you joy. That's the only way to shop for coffee that will be rewarding.

Let us know how it goes.
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Wbj828
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#9: Post by Wbj828 »

Michael,
To me and my roasting friends, the coffee experience is about the joy of the morning, which means no stress or worry. For me it's also about delivering a cup of joy to whomever is in the house.
Well said!

I have often had the same questions and emotions from the original poster...but you have reminded me why most of us home roasters do what we do.

Thanks for what you do for the community and this post in particular.

Bill

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mkane
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#10: Post by mkane »

We like to shop locally. Royal & SM are just down the road.