July 13, 2017 Posted by

Part of a Process, Chapter IV: Sourcing Coffee

“The real treat is finding coffees that are unique and colorful which I know our customers will love and also the story tied to those coffees. That is, in my opinion, the epitome of relationship coffee.”

Xavier Alexander, Co-Owner of Metric Coffee 

After a coffee cherry is picked and processed, it needs to be tasted, purchased, and exported. As we continue the journey that coffee makes from farm to cup, we pass through a very important stage that represents the bridge between those two shores: sourcing great coffee. In an effort to demystify what goes into this step, Xavier Alexander, Co-Owner of Metric Coffee offered his insight and perspective. Xavier has traveled to the likes of Colombia, Guatemala, and Honduras during his coffee-seeking travels. Here is a quick summary of what the sourcing and buying process entails from start to finish for a small company like Metric Coffee according to Xavier Alexander:

“Metric Coffee has several relationships that we have forged over the years with producers in Colombia, Guatemala, Peru, and Ethiopia, so once the harvest season is in motion, we visit these countries, cup early harvest samples of our coffees, and approve or reject which coffees we are interested in purchasing. We also build blender lots according to our desired flavor profile. After that, we wait a few months until we receive the pre-shipment samples that are cupped and approved or denied before contracts are drafted. Once our coffees are selected, our importer handles the financing and logistics for these coffees and sends them directly to our closest point of contact which in our case in New Jersey.”

After the coffee arrives in New Jersey, the palates stacked high with burlap sacks of coffee are put on a freight train across the country and arrives in Chicago. It’s loaded onto a truck and delivered to 2021 W. Fulton, unloaded with a palate jack, and rolled victoriously into our roasting works.  This is the nutshell version. But let’s rewind, and start with what occurs when a buyer travels to origin. 

At Origin

When it comes to traveling to origin, there is a lot to consider. Flights are booked and buyers are suddenly dropped into a different world. If they are smart, they will have a contact when they arrive, somebody to help them navigate from the airport to the appropriate region or specific farm. 

“The decision to work in the countries that we work in is due to the quality of the work these countries are producing, which makes it that much more of a pleasure to be invested in them. Take for example Colombia. The different microclimates in that country which means that you can varied flavor profiles all within one single country, from more tropical notes out of Nariño, or heartier, sweeter coffees out of the Huila region,” says Xavier.

Mornings can include a hearty yet simple meal followed by cupping coffees. Farm visits involve hiking the hills and valleys where the coffee grows, and visiting with the folks who run the mill. Perhaps there is yet more coffee tasting. Often enough, there are shared meals with producers, hospitality that is always unique yet somehow surprisingly familiar. We’re all just a bunch of humans, after all. If a buyer is not totally exhausted, the night life may have something worth exploring, a local bar or restaurant worth visiting. 

“Besides finding that perfect coffee, my favorite moments are after the cuppings when we go try the local fare,” says Xavier.

But tomorrow promises more hard treks in the mountains, a few mysterious bug bites, endless cupping tables, and long discussions about coffee and pricing. The trip will ideally end with handshakes all around, and perhaps the promise of samples to come. Sourcing coffee requires a great deal of communication, not to mention a firm basis of coffee knowledge and a trained palate to make the kinds of buying decisions that will set a company apart. The journey is just about halfway through, and making the actual purchase will be the subject of the next chapter of this little miniseries.