It's Harvest Season in Ethiopia! Read the Latest Harvest Report Here.

How to Master Coffee Procurement: Best Practices for Specialty Roasters

You need to learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist. Know the dos and don’ts of this old school process and discover Algrano’s new way of doing it. Nail it and you’ll be able to access more green coffee in less time.

Green coffee procurement is the method of discovering and contracting coffee from a supplier following a set of defined purchase terms. It often involves formal written requests, also known as invitations to tender, and offers or tenders. 

To be honest, it’s a jargony way to refer to coffee sourcing. The main difference here is the formality. That’s why the process has been in the realm of coffee traders until now.

So why is the procurement process important for specialty roasters today?

  • Because of direct trade
  • Because producers are used to this language and respond to it fast. 
  • Because the industry is facing a shortage of coffee in certain countries. 
  • And not to be pessimistic, but because climate change is making the coffee supply more unpredictable.

These are the reasons why Algrano decided to revamp the process and created Coffee Requests. This is a digital tool to put coffee procurement in the hands of those leading the direct trade movement: specialty roasters.

The Ultimate Coffee Offer List At Your Fingertips

Coffee Procurement for Green Coffee Buyers on Algrano
Imagine that you need to find a unique coffee for your seasonal single-origin espresso. Now imagine that you can access sh*t tons of coffee that fit that category from hundreds of producers in a few minutes. YASSS!

This is what green coffee buyers (talking to you too, head roaster) can do with Algrano’s Coffee Requests. This simple procurement tool connects your roastery to all Verified Sellers on the platform by filling out one single form. 

With this tool, coffee suppliers can handpick offers on the platform that they know fit your description. Or they can offer something that’s not in the marketplace. 

But wait. Are they not already listing their best coffees online? 

The reality is that, without having certainty about demand (and therefore what’s more likely to sell), producers can only offer some of their best coffees. But their online inventory is far from the total. In the context of a marketplace, listing all coffees would also cannibalise their offers. 

Digital Curation Tech for the Fourth Coffee Wave

All You Need to Know to Do a Great Coffee Procurement Job
Coffee Requests is a tool for roasters to receive offers (existing and new) curated for them by those who know the coffee inside out and better than anyone else: the producer.

Yes, better than traders. And better than the Algrano team too. 

Coffee Requests: Because Only Roasters Know Exactly What They Need.

But whenever there is new technology and whenever there is a change in the industry, people need to change with it. Now, roasters need to learn how to use new coffee technology and adapt to a different context. 

This goes beyond roasting technology.

The coffee industry is transitioning to the Fourth Wave and specialty coffee is becoming mainstream. We’re moving from an age of romanticising the beans to an age of professionalisation.  

“Many third-wave actors are coming to accept that economy of scale is needed for success. For them, it means moving away from the ‘passion project’ characteristic of the third wave and towards a more commercial focus that can yield long-term profit,” writes the International Trade Centre in the latest Coffee Guide.

In this transition period, direct trade is growing and artisan roasteries need to be lean to be competitive.

This means that coffee roasters must embrace the role of green coffee buyers. And they need to do it as professionally as they can.

Algrano's Direct Sourcing Guide: How to Communicate With Producers, Plan Your Inventory and Build Direct Relationships [Free Download].

Stop Beanscrolling. Do It the Algrano Way.

A tool like Coffee Requests holds incredible potential for overstretched roasters to find the best coffees for their specific needs without wasting time scrolling through offer lists. 

There is no need to learn ins and outs of coffee contract specs or to write a formal green purchase program.

But to receive the right offers, a roaster has to create requests that are clear, specific and targeted. Go to the point or, in Spanish, “Vaya al grano”. 


Because producers won’t understand you otherwise. Or worse. They’ll ignore you.

"Sometimes, roasters make a request that covers too many countries. But prices are very different from one country to the next. It would be good if roasters could know, for example, the NY market price and the differentials for conventional coffees. At a minimum, those price levels should be respected." - Jonathan Duran, International Sales Manager of Coopeagri in Costa Rica

Check Coffees From Coopeagri

Jonathan Duran of Coopeagri Coffee Cooperative, Costa Rica.

"To give you an idea, that would be US$2.27/lb. We just sold a Hard Bean Quality (78 points) at US$2.90/lb. So US$2.27 for Guatemala would maybe be a Washed Robusta? When we received that, we didn’t reply because there was no way we could offer that." - Adrian Cabrera, Commercial Manager at San Miguel Coffees, Guatemala

Check Coffees From San Miguel

Adrian Cabrera of San Miguel Coffees, Guatemala.

Learn the Rules Like a Pro, So You Can Break Them Like an Artist

Cupping coffee for quality evaluation is only one part of coffee procurement.
Learning how to procure coffee digitally will bring artisan roasters on par with commercial green coffee buyers, who have been writing procurement letters for decades. 

Because commodity coffee is about standardisation. And specifying standards makes coffee procurement smooth.

The standards are much less, erm... standardised in specialty. This is what makes it exciting! 

At the same time, this makes it even more important to detail the coffee you are looking for. The saying goes: “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist”. 

Think about screen sizes. Commodity-grade coffee beans have fewer intrinsic flavour attributes. Hence, a good cup quality relies on an even roast. And it’s easier to roast evenly if all the beans are of the same size.
That is why the commodity standard for screen size in Europe, referred to under the European Preparation (EP) norm, is 50% of the coffee above size 15 and no more than 5% below size 14.

Specialty roasters, on the other hand, have diverse roasting styles and experiment a lot more with roasting techniques and adapt to different screen sizes.   

Small batch roasting to find the sweet spot allows specialty roasters to switch the gas off mid-roast or change the airflow settings to smoothen heat absorption. Roasting machines got a lot better as well!  

This means specialty coffee roasters are free to experiment with different screen sizes. Bigger beans are prized, so buying smaller ones can even reduce the coffee price. The main thing is: everything has to be clearly stated in the request/procurement form.

Specialty Coffee Roasters Embracing the Role of Green Coffee Buyers.
Best Practices Approved by Producers

After speaking to many coffee suppliers on Algrano, we came up with a list of criteria to specify as well as some dos and don’ts to consider. 

Digital coffee procurement doesn’t have to be excruciatingly detailed. But if you learn the standards, you’ll know when it’s important to mention them. Following this list will help you get more offers in less time. 

Give it a try when you finish! Login to your roaster account, create a request and see what happens. In the end, you’ll be a wiser, better and stronger green coffee buyer. 

Coffee Procurement Best Practices

  1. Narrow Down Your Origin Target.
  2. Provide a Small Cup Score Range.
  3. Write the Post-Harvest Method, Even if It's Not Your Priority.
  4. Certifications and Volume: Set in Stone or Flexible? 
  5. Price Etiquette: Know what the Bare Minimum Is.
  6. Have Realistic Delivery Expectations.
  7. List the Desired Green Coffee Grading Specs. At Least Partially.
  8. Ask About Green Coffee Preparation and Defect Count.
  9. Take Your Pick: Packing Options for Green Coffee Beans.
  10. Specify Your Preferred Quality Approval Term.

1- Narrow Down Your Origin Target.

Coffee Procurement for Green Coffee Buyers on Algrano
Since the launch of Coffee Requests, Algrano has seen many enquiries that range over multiple origins, making the request incredibly open-ended. It’s like shooting in the dark.

Check the Origins Offered on Algrano.

This happens because many roasters find the tool useful when:

  • They don’t have a clear idea of what they are looking for. 
  • They are trying to maximise the offers they receive. 

When it comes to the number of origins, less is more. Keeping it low according to certain criteria helps suppliers understand what you need. It also creates less confusion about prices.

For example, if you want smallholder-certified coffee, you can target:

If you want a low-acidity coffee for espresso at a lower price point, choose:

For espresso with more fruit, try:

New post-harvest technology has blurred coffee profiles. Pretty much any kind of cup profile can come out of any producing country. But traditional profiles are still a good pointer for procurement. They provide a solid starting point.

2 - Provide a Small Cup Score Range.

Coffee Procurement for Green Coffee Buyers on Algrano
Some roasters write requests with cup scores ranging from 80 to 100 on the SCA scale. That’s pretty much anything. 

And it’s incredibly confusing from a producer’s perspective! It covers all of their coffees and gives them zero guidance on what to offer. 

The best way to avoid this is to provide a score range:

  • Group the quality score by two (for example, 80-82 points or 82-84 points). This gives suppliers a clear idea of what your expectations are. It also allows for variation in cupping results between you and the supplier, which is likely to happen if you’re not calibrated.
  • Use the main quality "jump scores" as a guide. For example, at 85 points a producer will know you are looking for a micro-lot. At 87 points they know you need something unique, potentially a special process. 

Write the Post-Harvest, Even if It's Not Your Priority.

Coffee Sourcing: Best Practices
Many specialty roasters choose coffee based on cup quality. According to this logic, processing methods can be an afterthought. But it’s definitely not an afterthought for producers. It impacts the volume they can offer and the final price too. 

If you don’t care what the processing method is, state this clearly in your request and allow for more price variation. If you’re looking for experimental coffees, you should also write this in the request, listing the types of post-harvest methods you are open to.

Not All Roasters Source Coffee Based on Quality Alone. Read the Story of Blum Kaffee in Switzerland and Boledu Coffee in Ethiopia.

Certifications and Volume: Set in Stone or Flexible?

Coffee Procurement for Specialty Coffee Roasters and Green Coffee Buyers
These are two topics that are often flexible for specialty coffee roasters. 

You can source pretty much any size of micro-lot for a limited-edition coffee. And some roasters want to buy green coffee sustainably from certified producers even if they’re not certified themselves.

In terms of volume, producers might not have the coffee you want in the exact lot size you are looking for. Knowing if you’re flexible defines if they’ll answer your request at all. 

  • Try to specify your volume as a range with an MOQ (Minimum order quantity).

When it comes to certifications, the coffee price will remain higher than the price of a conventional coffee even if you’re not paying for the stamp.

That is because following the strict standards imposed by certifying bodies increases the overall costs of production.

  • Make your need (or not) for certification crystal clear. Some producers farm organically but are not organic certified, for example. Others can only sell the coffee certified if the transaction goes through a cooperative. 

Price Etiquette: Know What the Bare Minimum Is.

Learn How to Discuss Coffee Prices With Farmers.
Requests are a great way to discover price options from different suppliers. They can even land you a more affordable deal. But there is etiquette to follow here.

Blog: Why Roasters Should Negotiate Prices With Growers

Producers won’t consider requests with prices that are below the commodities price and that don’t take into account differentials as a minimum. 

How You Calculate the Minimum Price for a Coffee Request

To have an idea of what the minimum price should be, look at the ICO’s flat prices. ICO tracks the real price paid for coffee contracts close to the delivery and makes for a relevant price discovery tool.

  • Step 2: The subtraction will give you an approximate differential that you can apply to the futures price at your expected delivery month (or the month closest to that as possible).

Example: Let’s say you want to buy a coffee from Central America for delivery in March 2023.

Look at the current c-price for March (US$2.1575/lb on the 4th of October) and then at the ICO price for Other Milds on the closest day (US$2.5448/lb on the 3rd of October). 

Subtract the futures price from the ICO price (US$0.3873/lb). That’s the approximate differential. 

  • Step 3: Now, the current futures price for March delivery is US$2.0925/lb. Add the differential to that. You’ll get US$2.4798/lb. That’s your minimum.**

In summary:

Differential = ICO flat price - c-price 

Minimum price = c-price at delivery month + differential  

This is not to say that you should be using commodity prices as a guide for specialty coffee. Use this as a guide. That’s the bare minimum a producer will entertain.

Using the Specialty Coffee Transaction Guide for Price Discovery.
You’ll find a better price reference in the Specialty Coffee Transaction Guide

The guide only shows retrospective data and might not account for the most recent market fluctuations. But the price of specialty coffee tends to vary less.

According to the guide’s 2020-21 edition, the price of commodity coffee beans rose twice as much as the price of specialty coffee.

*Brazilian Naturals: Angola, Brazil, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Colombian Milds: Colombia, Kenya, and Tanzania.

Other Milds: Bolivia, Burundi, Cameroon, Costa Rica, Cuba, Democratic Republic of Congo, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, India, Jamaica, Madagascar, Malawi, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Uganda, Venezuela, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

**All price data was collected on the 4th of October 2023.

Have Realistic Delivery Expectations.

How long does it take for green coffee to be shipped and delivered to my roastery?
Asking a producer to deliver coffee next month is not realistic. But how long does coffee delivery take?

In rough terms, three months is the quickest turnaround when you buy coffee FOB. That is when you buy a full container.

If you need a small volume to be added to a shared shipment, order to delivery will likely take at least four to five months. 

To build a sound timeframe, roasters must take into account:

Coffee Procurement: Consider Coffee Processing and Sorting

  • The stage of the harvest at the origin.
  • The post-harvest time.
  • The green coffee resting period.
  • Dry-milling and sorting.
  • Time preparing to export.
  • Transit times.
  • Custom clearance.
  • Movements between warehouses.

Below is a summary of how long it takes to receive coffee according to each stage of the harvest:

  • Before the harvest: Best for sourcing blends or big volume lots and beating the competition. On the downside, producers might not have a good overview of what they can offer.
    • The harvest itself can last more than five months depending on the country. 
    • Usually, there is a good amount of coffee being processed by the end of the first month. 
    • You might want to wait until mid-harvest though. Cup quality is usually better when cherries are selected during peak season. 
  • Drying can take anything from 10 to 40 days. 
    • Washed coffees dry faster than naturals and mechanical drying is quicker than solar. 
  • Resting usually takes around 2 weeks. In this period, coffee is stored in parchment so that moisture levels inside the beans can stabilise. 

In Summary: Minimum waiting time: around 6 months (custom shipments) to 8 months (shared shipments). 

What Are the Estimated Transit Times to Algrano’s Main Ports in Europe?

  • Early in the harvest: You are still ahead of the competition and producers have a better idea of their volumes. 
    • The harvest is underway and the coffee is being processed, so you wait a bit less. 
    • The turnaround will be of around 4 months (custom shipments) to 6 months (shared shipments).  

  • Mid-harvest: There will be some coffee ready here but probably from the early crop, which might not be the best in quality. 
    • If you get a sample and you are happy with the quality, you’ll only have to wait for dry-milling, shipping and transit. 
    • You’ll be waiting at least around 3-4 months (custom shipments) to 5-6 months (shared shipments).  
  • This is also a great time to enquire about micro-lots and high-altitude coffees, which take longer to mature.
    • Producers will have a better idea of which processes are yielding good results. They will have been cupping the coffees and will have a grasp of the final cup quality. 

  • Late in the harvest or after the season: Turnaround time is shorter. 
    • You can get your coffee delivered from 3 months onwards (custom shipments) to 4 months (shared shipments). This is assuming there are no problems with the documentation, container availability, etc. 
    • The problem here is that a lot of coffee will be sold out. Procurement at this stage is usually less successful, especially for big-volume coffees.

List the Desired Green Coffee Grading Specs. At Least Partially.

What is the grade of your green coffee?
It’s only important to specify the coffee’s grading if you’re asking for coffees on the low end of the specialty spectrum or commodity-grade beans. 

Each coffee-producing country has its own grading criteria. They take into account processing methods, screen size, the number of defects, altitude, density, etc. 

The Coffee Guide lists some examples and the ICO also illustrates classification with useful guidelines.

There is no exhaustive list currently online and standards change over time, as you can see in this article

  • If in doubt, list partial characteristics such as altitude, screen size and cup quality to give suppliers the necessary information.

Ask About Green Coffee Preparation and Defect Count.

How is your green coffee being prepared at the dry mill? What is the defect count?
The final number of green coffee defects correlates to how much the green beans were cleaned at the sorting stage. 

The more a coffee is cleaned, the more costly the sorting. So specifying the number of defects will help suppliers know if they can offer the coffee you want at the price you required.

Most people in specialty coffee today will agree that these standards are very strict and expensive to produce

And what’s more: you can still get great cup quality with a higher number of secondary defects! 

Are there different or alternative standards? Damn right there are!

The European Preparation standard has a different stipulation for defect count, with a maximum allowance of 8 type-two defects per 300g sample. This is different to the American Preparation, which allows for 23 defects. 

  • If you are unsure, ask the supplier how they prepare their green coffee and their defect allowance for different qualities.

Remember: Primary (or type 1) defects have a significant impact on the cup. Secondary (or type 2) defects have a minor impact on the cup.

Take Your Pick: Packing Options for Green Coffee Beans.

Green Coffee Bean Packaging Options
Today’s standard for specialty is to ship green coffee inside jute bags with a high barrier inner liner, like a GrainPro bag or Ecotact bag, in sizes that range from 60 kg to 69 kg. 

  • If you don’t specify your choice of packaging, you will receive coffee with the standard high-barrier bags as Algrano ensures that as a minimum.

But as the sector develops, more options are available. 

As the new options have been developed with quality in mind, they are more relevant for micro or nano lots and will also add to the final FOB price.

Specify Your Preferred Quality Approval Term.

Coffee Sample - Approval Terms. What is SAS Replace?
Sample approval terms are a great thing to include in your digital green coffee procurement, especially if the producer will send you new samples direct from the origin. 

In coffee, the approval term is referred to as SAS or Subject to Approval of Sample. This can refer to the PSS or Pre-Shipment Sample or to the Arrival Sample.

As the fulfilment of the contract depends on sample approval, green coffee buyers have four options: 

  • SAS PSS: If the Pre-Shipment is approved, the contract moves forward.
  • SAS Arrival: The contract goes through only if the Arrival Sample is approved. This is not commonly used in specialty as the risk to the exporter is disproportionate.
  • SAS, NANS or “No approval, no sale”. A rigid approval term (yes less than SAS Arrival). It implies that the contract will be cancelled if the quality of the PSS is different from the one of the offer sample. 
  • SAS, Replace or Repeat: This is producers’ favourite approval term (Algrano favours this too!). It implies that if the PSS isn’t approved, the producer has the responsibility of providing a different coffee that satisfies the buyer’s requirement. 

Luiza Furquim is the Head of Content at Algrano, the world’s leading direct trade platform for green coffee. Originally from Brazil, she worked as a reporter in Sāo Paulo until 2016. Then, she embraced coffee as a career, working for an organic coffee farm and roastery. She started as a barista and began roasting when she moved to Manchester, UK, where she is currently based. Having visited coffee producers in Africa and Latin America, Luiza is passionate about sharing their stories and bringing them into the spotlight.

Luiza Furquim, Head of Content at Algrano.

Follow us