Green Coffee Sourcing Explained | Demystifying Coffee from Origin to Roastery

Picking ripe, red cherries in Uganda

As a two hundred year old, traditional supply chain company, Volcafe had no public face. However, its business was based on hundreds of thousands of face-to-face relationships. At origins around the world, Volcafe field teams worked with vast networks of farmers, in order to source coffee and make coffee farming sustainable.

With its deep roots at origins across the globe Volcafe realized it was in a unique position to close the loop and deliver sustainable, traceable coffees to roasters. More so than importers without origin networks, it was in a position to finally, truly change the status quo of sustainable coffee sourcing. Enter Genuine Origin.

Genuine Origin was launched by Volcafe in 2016 as an Ecommerce business solution for independent roasters in the U.S. By design Genuine Origin leveraged its producer relationships, support and training for farmer innovation, and a firm belief in traceability to source the highest quality coffees from across 20 origins.

“We wanted to build a channel to sell those really nice coffees, those better qualities, to convey the message that we were doing all this work with the producers,” says Genuine Origin’s General Manager Mauricio Jimenez.

QC Cupping Lab at Kyagalanyi Coffee in Uganda

With 99% of Genuine Origin’s team at origins around the globe, it’s easy to conceive how their boots- on-the-ground operations translate into providing independent North American roasters with the best green coffee each country has to offer.

But how, exactly, does the green coffee get from farm to cup? What happens between harvest and 65lb boxes of green coffee showing up at your roastery? Here, we dive into Genuine Origin’s process of sourcing green coffee.

It All Starts at Origin

Costa Rica black honey process

Costa Rica is just one of the origins in the Volcafe network, but it is well known for its variety of high-quality coffees, each featuring distinct characteristics and flavors, from bright acidity to fruity and chocolatey notes. In recent years, the country’s producers have perfected traditional processing methods and have been at the forefront of innovation in processing:

  • Washed — in this process coffee is run through a depulper and the remaining fruit is removed in tanks before it is left to dry. The process is water-intensive and it can be expensive
  • Natural, aka the dry process is the oldest coffee process. Cherries are left to dry in the sun — sometimes on cement patios, sometimes on raised beds — and turned frequently. When fully dried, the dried outer skin and fruit is removed.
  • Honey. In this process, which originated in Costa Rica, some or all of the mucilage of the coffee cherry (or coffee “honey”) that coats the parchment is left on during the drying stage, giving the coffee a sweetness that resembles a natural.
  • Natural anaerobic. This coffee utilizes both natural processing — with the cherry and mucilage left on the bean — and anaerobic fermentation — the beans are placed in airtight tanks and deprived of oxygen, which develops a mix of lactic and malic acid — before being fully sun dried, resulting in super punchy flavors.
  • Termico (thermal). A process created by don Luis Campos of Costa Rica’s Cordillera de Fuego in which ripe cherries are semi-washed, then heated with some of the mucilage left on the bean, leading to the natural sugars breaking down and partially caramelizing to create an exceptionally sweet, fruity, and balanced cup.

Every one of Genuine Origin’s sister companies has its own lab and Q graders to develop and evaluate samples before sending them on to GO’s North American headquarters for quality assessment. At the Costa Rican operations, each coffee begins the same way: with harvesting and cleaning the coffee, before being fermented, if necessary, and dried, either by sun or mechanically.

Q-graders in the Cupping Lab at Molinos de Honduras in Comayagua, Honduras

Quality Control & Contracting

In order to determine how much coffee to contract, GO combines information from several sources to begin building a portfolio. That means “data from past purchases, feedback from our sales team, feedback directly received from customers, and input from our sister companies,” says Jimenez. GO’s sales managers, in particular, closely communicate with customers to understand a coffee’s marketability as well as its forward buying/pre-sale capabilities. “With all this information we try to forecast how much coffee we need per origin, and then we start working on an individual plan for each origin.”

Quality Control Lab at Genuine Origin HQ in Irvington

Once the contract is executed, origin ship GO’s quality control pre-shipment samples, the cupping notes from which will be are used to build the coffee’s online profile — crucial for customers making buying decisions. After the pre-shipment sample is approved, GO can start pre-selling the coffee to roasters, while the team at origin performs further quality assessment before packing and sealing the green in moisture-proof bags to ship to GO’s two U.S. warehouses (located in Pennsylvania and Washington).

Arrival in the U.S.

“Coffee is a living product which evolves, matures, and ages over time,” says Jimenez. “Our customers need to be able to shop with confidence. We want our descriptions to be accurate, so cup a coffee as many times as possible in order to make sure each coffee is consistent.”

Genuine Origin has built a well-diversified menu to satisfy the needs its diverse customer base. This involves offering consistently, crowd-pleasing coffees every year from community lots (think: signature blends from Kenya, juicy naturals from Ethiopia), while also seeking out new, innovative micro-lot coffees, like the natural anaerobic and termico process coffees from Costa Rica. However, Jimenez shares that not every high-quality coffee makes the cut; sometimes, due to roaster preferences, price and projected low profit margins, he has to reject a coffee even when it cups well.

Cupping Table at GO HQ

“There is a reputation that is associated with coffees from certain origins, and people just look for those coffees all the time,” he says. “We need to give people coffees they can use for their blends, coffees when they want to start developing their wholesale program, and coffees when they need to hit a certain price point.”

On the other hand, sometimes a contracted coffee arrives that doesn’t meet the standards of the pre-shipment samples, perhaps due to a problem that arises during production or while shipping. “Coffees can spend anywhere from 60 to 75 days in a vessel,” says Jimenez. “They’re beautiful when we cup them, but sometimes, by the time they land, they change.” In those cases, GO updates its notes and changes the pricing to reflect the new quality.

“In the last year and a half, we haven’t had a lot of cases of coffees not fully achieving the initial expectations,” adds Jimenez. “But it happens every single year — if it didn’t, it wouldn’t be coffee.”

Carcafe Ltda cupping table in Antioquia

Beyond the Bean

Jaguar Honey Logo raising funding for FUNDAZOO

“We are always finding ways to partner with locals NGOs, cooperatives, single producers,” says Jimenez. “It takes time to build a relationship. That’s why we have people on the ground and why Volcafe as a company decided many years ago to invest in all these origins.”

Genuine Origin has recently added the origins of Mexico, El Salvador, and Nicaragua to its roster, and continues to develop partnerships across the globe. “At the end of the day, the objective is being able to sell these coffees at a better price and being able to represent the producers to the best of our ability,” says Jimenez. “With our origin operations, we try to strike a balance between consistency and bringing in new and exciting coffees.”

Sourcing coffee at Genuine Origin starts at the farm. It’s about picking the cherry when it is at its best, sorting with care, patiently processing to bring out the best in the coffee and working together to bring Genuine Origin’s customers the coffees they need. Getting a coffee from the farm to the Genuine Origin website takes a lot of effort and coordination, but once it is online, green coffee buying is effortless. Roasters can find reliable cupping notes, scores and information on every coffee that arrives on www.GenuineOrigin.com. All of the work spent getting the coffee online is done so that roasters can focus on their passion: coffee roasting.

We make it easy for small roasters to buy the trace-able, sustainable green coffee while empowering 50,000+ coffee producers. www.genuineorigin.com

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