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Too Much Choice? Rast Spills the Beans on Sourcing the Best Green Coffee

We asked one of the largest roasters in Switzerland: how do you choose the right coffee when you buy online? Find the six questions Beatrice Rast asks herself. Learn how to narrow down options and find the best coffees.

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Choice Overload: Sourcing Coffee in Times of Plenty


You don’t have to go too far back in time, and coffee was just coffee. The term “specialty coffee” didn’t appear until the mid-1970s. In this outdated world, it was easy to source green coffee beans. At the end of the supply chain, it was all the same. 

Applying the “any-coffee-goes” strategy today would be quite the statement in specialty coffee. Producers have differentiated and developed new processing methods. And the coffee you buy says a lot about the kind of roaster you are. 

In a world with an overload of choices, today’s challenge is another. How do I find the right green coffee among the hundreds of offers available? Do I choose direct trade or importers? Should I care not just about quality, but about the people behind the beans? 

To answer these questions, we talked to Beatrice Rast. She is one of the sisters behind Rast Kaffee and told us what her sourcing strategy is like. Here, you'll learn how she picks the producers she wants to collaborate with.

Green Coffee Samples Algrano

Green Coffee Beans Online: A small fraction of the samples kept by Algrano. With all the choices, it's easy to feel lost (Photo: Algrano)

From Samples in a Suitcase to the World Wide Web


Rast was among the first roasteries to buy green coffee online from producers on Algrano. They’ve learned a lot about direct sourcing

“If I look at how my father sourced just a few years ago, a lot has changed. Back in his days, a salesman from an importer would come by the roastery, open his suitcase and showcase a few samples”, remembers Beatrice. 

“When my father asked about varieties or producers, the response was: Why would you want to know that?” Pioneers like him have paved the way for a new type of sourcing and helped Rast secure Crema Magazine’s Swiss Roaster of the Year Award.

When writing about the 2022 award on their website, the roastery's team explains that their quality strategy starts with “the careful and responsible selection of the producers”.

According to Rast's website, sustainability comes from “personal relationships with the coffee producers and permanent dialogue”.

Beatrice achieves this despite having a lot more green coffee to choose from than her father did. If choices were limited to a suitcase before, today they are as vast as the internet. To narrow down her options and find the right fit, she uses Algrano.

You’ll find below her checklist of six questions she answers when Rast is choosing a new coffee. They start from the roastery's menu, defining who the final customer is and how regularly a given coffee will be on offer. But Rast also looks for like-minded suppliers to make the relationship easier.

  • Who Is Your Final Customer for That Coffee?

A large roastery in Switzerland, Rast buys coffee from more than 30 producers for different purposes. It’s quite an inventory! 

“Oftentimes, we cup something interesting or exotic. Then, we go ahead and order a couple of bags for special editions. This can be exciting, crazy stuff. A lot of our customers are very open and curious to try and experiment with new coffees”, says Beatrice.

To supply restaurants or big customers, there is less appetite for funk. The sourcing process is more structured. “In this space, we’re going more for consistency. These are bigger volumes, and we’re not set up to run the selection process from scratch every year. As a result, we’re building long-term partnerships.” 

  • How Often Do You Want to Sell That Coffee?

If you’re sourcing for the house blend rather than an exotic add-on, there are many parameters. The origin, flavour profile, certification, volume, and price range are always predefined. Unless you're starting from scratch.

“Communicating these interests and needs is crucial. By sharing information with Algrano, you’ll get to a manageable set of offerings in no time”, says Beatrice.

“Sharing information with Algrano” can take many forms. Roasters can set a simple search filter on algrano.com/coffees. Or they can hit a sales manager up and ask for recommendations.

Rast Kaffee Sourcing Green Coffee on Algrano

Beatrice tries to visit producers as much as possible. But with 30+ farmers and cooperatives on their list of suppliers, many relationships are managed online. This is a reality of buying green coffee online that the roaster embraces (Photo: Rast)

  • Are You Convinced By the Cup Quality?

Sourcing at Rast always starts with blind cupping. Usually, they have five to six samples on the table. They focus on a particular origin and have a flavour profile in mind. “The most important factor in the process still is how the coffee tastes in the cup.” 

If the coffee doesn’t convince in the cup, it’s immediately out. Quality is the first piece of a domino effect. And that piece needs to fall for anything else to be considered at all. 

  • What Kind of Farmer Is It?

In round two and beyond, other criteria come into play: Can you identify with the producer? How are they organised? “As we’re a family-run business ourselves, we have a bias to work with other family-owned businesses”, says Beatrice. 

Choosing the type of producer is not as simple as saying "I only buy from smallholders". Many roasters can't rely solely on single farms. But there are many small enterprises out there that allow roasters to support independent businesses (much like themselves) even when they can't source only from small farms.

  • What Is the Producer’s Philosophy?

Rast looks for shared business philosophies. “Sustainability is a key topic for us, whether it’s fair coffee price, forest preservation or community building. We’re not looking for perfection, and circumstances vary wildly,” Beatrice ponders.

“But we’re looking for attitude and ambition. The reality is that sustainability is an immensely complex topic. Also, on the roaster side, we’re far from perfect. Whenever we can contribute beyond just buying coffee, we have an open ear.”

  • What Is the Price?

More recently, coffee prices have become more important as well. “Two years ago, I might have gone almost as far as to say that the price does not matter, but a lot has changed in the past two years.”

The roaster emphasizes that price still always ranks below quality. “Foregoing quality to source more cheaply is squarely against our philosophy and what we believe in”, she explains. “Cutting such corners would be self-betrayal.”

Building Coffee Relationships in the Digital Era


A producer relationship really starts once Rast is past these initial assessments. “This is where the Algrano idea always struck us as clever, right from the start. It is intuitive, matching you with producers that you can identify with and talk to them directly. Because, at its core, the coffee business is a very personal affair, and builds on trust”, says Beatrice. 

One of Rast’s longest and strongest relationships is with Fabrício Andrade from Sancoffee in Brazil. The exchanges with Fabrício started in 2016. First through the Algrano messaging app, then via Whatsapp and email. 

Travelling to the origin and visiting the producer is still the gold standard for direct trade. But such trips are not always doable, especially when sourcing from 30+ producers.

“Here’s where we have a lot more options today. And the pandemic certainly pushed remote collaboration. [We can use] email, Whatsapp, Zoom and Skype, or information we find online about the producer”, explains Beatrice. 

“Plus we’re excited to see that many producers started travelling to Europe themselves. Meeting them here is super valuable as well.” She met Fabrício at World of Coffee in Milan this year, and he visited the Rast roastery in Ebikon a few years back. 

Beatrice Rast - Rast Kaffee in Switzerland

Sourcing green coffee at Rast starts on the cupping table. The coffee has to convince in the cup (Photo: Rast)

Rast Kaffe on Algrano, the best place to buy green coffee beans online

Beatrice with Fabrício Andrade of Sancoffee, one the roaster's longest-term suppliers (Photo: Algrano)

The Ultimate Goal: Equal Partnerships Built on Trust


Embedded in this is the strong attitude that lies under these relationships. Beatrice is clear about what she expects but also allows producers to own their side of the business. She avoids a purely extractivist dynamic. 

“Whether it’s origin trips or other meetings, we don’t see any of these exchanges as producer audits – for us, this is not about control. It is also not about developmental aid. We expect and demand quality, and we’re happy to pay a good price for that, a price that is calculated and offered by the producer”, Beatrice explains. 

“Coffee is very much a personal business built on trust. We're interested in developing partnerships with producers – partnerships on an equal footing.”

The power of simple economics


Rast’s long-term view and commitment are visible from the very first order. Once the roaster decides to work with a producer, there is no gradual ramp-up or testing of the waters with small orders. 

“If we’re convinced, we go all in – we want to be able to source the same quality for at least one year, and in most cases for much longer. The long-term view also allows them to develop the relationships further, optimising at every cycle through support to specific smallholder projects or by increasing volumes. 

Beatrice is convinced that good business leads to a better supply chain. “Our biggest leverage is simple economics – with the right attitude, we can support economic sustainability, which allows investing in social and ecological projects.”. 

Yellow Bourbon Coffee Brazil Fazenda Samambaia

Fazenda Samambaia's Yellow Bourbon is one of the coffees sourced online by Rast for its consistency (Photo: Sancoffee)

Beatrice Rast - Rast Kaffee in Switzerland - Green Coffee Origin Trip - Coffee Roasters

Rast has been putting their trust in producers over many years without ever being disappointed."If you’re buying your coffee closer to the C-price, you are much more exposed to fraud risks", says Beatrice (Photo: Rast) 

A leap of faith that pays dividends in credibility


In the old paradigm, this approach may sound risky. How could a roaster possibly be sure that the producer would deliver what they promised when you didn’t even visit them in person? Beatrice disagrees.  

“It has worked incredibly well for us – we haven’t had any bad experiences in terms of quality or fraud or similar. I think if you’re buying your coffee closer to the C-price, you are much more exposed to fraud risks or misaligned incentives”, warns the roaster. 

“But we’re not trading coffee on the stock exchange. We’re building a network of relationships we can rely on for long periods of time, and we reward quality work.” 

In the early days, there may be a certain leap of faith in the people running the operation on the producer side. A faith that also lies in Algrano’s selection process and monitoring of producers

Once the first coffee is shipped, the producer establishes itself as a reliable partner. This leap of faith transforms into earned credibility. They deliver.

Rast’s relationship with SanCoffee is a strong case in point. Their green coffee orders have continuously expanded over the years, and Rast has more than doubled its SanCoffee volume in 2022 alone. 

Today, they mostly communicate through Whatsapp. Beatrice is still looking forward to having the eventual origin trip to Brazil.

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