So. I was thinking of doing some blogs on commonly asked questions I get. One of those I hear all the time is, 'so... where do you get your coffee?' So... because this seems to be a common question, lets tackle it!
The first thing we should address is who I get my coffee from. So, most coffee roasters of my size usually go through coffee importing companies. These are companies based mostly in large port cities, which is where they warehouse their large holdings of green coffee. Coffee importing companies are one of the most important links in the overall coffee chain, as they are the ones who are responsible for finding the good stuff and logistically getting here. For companies like me that prefer to purchase direct trade coffees, or coffees from single estates and small coops, your coffee importer is like, your number one guy, the one you need to have the most strong, positive relationship with. Its nearly impossible to try all the coffees out there so I rely heavily on my importer to know what I like and to alert me as to when these coffees are available or when they are almost out.
If you want to take a look at what some common importer websites look like here are a few I have used in the past:
Looking over just the offering page of the first one listed, Royal Coffee, can be very daunting lol. Multiple farms, regions, processing methods, warehouses, supplies., price, elevation, varietal, the list goes on and on. The properties of specialty coffee can seem endless, but that's what makes every single cup special!
The next part is the funnest one: call up or email your importer and get some samples in. The pics below are a few years old but the process is always the same. Get a ridiculous amount of samples, sample roast them up in the air popper, and the cup them all blind. I like to use SCAA cupping sheets and preferably group the samples by region, but its not necessary. You can cup any samples against any other samples you want, just depends on what you're trying to find. From there its just a matter of price and availability. Some popular coffees are quick to go and the price of coffee does depend on the futures market price of coffee so it goes up and down regularly.
The last thing I'll say about selecting coffee is that when I first started I would try to represent most of the popular regions by just picking the best of each country I sampled. Which is a fie way of doing it. But over the past few years, the increase in micro-lots of coffee by planting different varietals and using different processing methods has made this process both archaic and cumbersome. My current process is to just find the best coffees that represent what I feel are common flavor profiles. For example, a common flavor profile for an Ethiopian coffee would be sweet, wild, fruit forward with chocolate and blueberry notes. Well, flavors like that can be hard to replicate but the natural processed Bali's can come pretty dang close. The same with some Sumatrans and Papua New Guineas I have been trying this year. So, instead of just picking an Ethiopian to have an Ethiopian, I much prefer to just have a clean, sweet, berry/fruity coffee from anywhere that does a good job producing that style of coffee.
Hope that helps explain some things. :-)