What is a green coffee buyer and how to become one

A green coffee buyer is a person who works for a coffee roaster and buys green coffee from producers around the world. This person knows a great deal about coffee, from fruit to cup. The coffee he buys is the coffee the consumer will drink for breakfast.
Recently I was researching to see what exactly a green coffee buyer does, as a friend of mine told me he would just love to have this kind of job after seeing few episodes of the “Dangerous Grounds” who was aired by Travel Channel.
I was astonied of the lack of information. I searched NCA (National Coffee Association - North America), I went to SCAA website (Specialty Coffee Association of North America), I took a look on Coffee Reviews and other places I thought may have a clue and I found not a line.
I then went in baristas forums and lurked around, reading post after post. I then found some interviews posted on blogs and other very short infos, here and there and I came up with the following:

green coffee
green coffee

1. Big Industry - luck of professional education

Coffee industry reports over 10 billion in revenue and a 5.2 annual growth only in North America. At a global level, coffee is the second trade commodity after oil. People around the world drink almost one and a half billion cups of coffee every single day. There is nothing else that we drink as much besides water. Starbucks alone employed 149.000 people in 2011, according with Wikipedia.

So, why there isn’t a school for coffee?????
Most training in the coffee industry is on the job. That means you get a job in a coffee shop and learn as you go.
If you get luck, you may encounter a manager that knows more than you do and is willing to share.
If you get even luckier, the company you work for gets your job related interests seriously and develops them.
From the consumer’s perspective, a green coffee buyer can make the difference between the heaven and hell.

Todd Carmichael samples coffee right on the spot
Todd Carmichael samples coffee right on the spot | Source

2. At first, it was a barista...

It looks like most coffee buyers, if not all, have started out as baristas. Here is a
“Step by step practical guide to green coffee buyer career”
1. Become an insider. That means get a job at a coffee shop.
2. Learn as much as you can. That means get to know coffees, roasts, techniques. As many as you can.
3. Cupping and grading. That means test as many coffee as you can so you can train your palate.
4. Get a business degree. This is highly preferred.
5. Become a roaster. That means that after you have been a barista for a while, it is time to move on. The next best job: roasting.
6. Become a buyer. That means find a small company in need for a buyer and offer your services.
But let’s see what is that is required from such a job and who’s most likely to get it.

“Starbucks coffee buyers spend about 18 weeks each year visiting coffee growers and suppliers. These relationships are critical to our future success – they solidify our role as champions of quality and progress at every level of the coffee business. It is because of these relationships that Starbucks gets the first pick of some of the world’s best coffee crops. Many of our relationships with farms and suppliers go back more than 20 years.
These relationships are based on mutual respect. In our quest to purchase the best coffee in the world, Starbucks works with farmers to ensure long-term stability within the arabica coffee market. In order for Starbucks to succeed, farmers must succeed as well.” Starbuck website

3. Green coffee buyer - there isn’t a job description

....just buying green, quality coffee....

A Green Coffee buyer is one of the most uncommon jobs in the coffee industry and beyond. But the importance of such duty is inversely proportional with its occurrence. Because on the shoulders of such person lay the responsibility of our morning cup of coffee. He is the one that can make or break your day.

According to Equal Exchange, a coffee company that promotes Fair Trade programs, a green coffee buyer position revolves around international travel and direct contact with the coffee producers. A green coffee buyer is responsible for improving the quality of coffee while developing relationship with the coffee growers.

The company mention above advertise that their coffee buyer will work closely with a quality control team probably composed of graders. There are also other responsibilities and requirements to fill this kind of position.

But, there isn’t a job description that you can relate. I could only find a list of requirements for one particular company that was posting the opening for the job. Accordingly, the green coffee buyer has to possess the following qualities:

  • fluent in english and spanish

  • cupping experience

  • roasting experience

  • strong communicator, written and oral

  • trade and business experience and/or understanding

  • physical endurance, including high altitudes

  • international travel experience

In other words: fluent spanish speaker with a great experience in cupping, grading, roasting coffee, able to do international travel sometimes in less then favorable conditions. Once hired, a green coffee buyer would have some or all of the responsibilities mentioned below:

  • Negotiate contracts with coffee suppliers

  • Develop and maintain relationship with suppliers

  • Process sample and grade coffee

  • Import green coffee

  • Get involved in social media

  • Other office duties as need it.

What they mean is the buyer must travel in countries where coffee is produced to research and buy good coffee right from the farmers and bring it back home to share it with the world on blogs, company’s website, and other medias, without losing contact with his international connections. All while taking care of papers and making sure he complies to all rules and regulation of the world, industry and own company.

coffee buyer
coffee buyer | Source

“When I'm asked what I do and my response is 'coffee buyer,' it is often met with varying degrees of curiosity and confusion. Because the new school of coffee buying that I so luckily belong to is a completely new way of approaching the occupation. Long have coffee buyers traveled to origin (as we call a coffee-producing country) to secure deals with producers and establish supply-chain security. But it's no longer that utilitarian anymore. The new guard, led by smaller roasters, now visit farms to develop connections and relationships with farmers, to ensure quality, and encourage the prosperity of coffee farmers and roasters alike. Large-scale roasters/buyers have since changed their outlook on origin travel to mirror that of smaller roasters.”
huffingtonpost.com

4. The good part....

....for the candidates and for the consumer is that the coffee industry wants to deliver better products.

The usual way to buy green coffee, for most of the companies, especially for the very large roasters, is to try the samples sent by exporters from the country of origin. Basically, the company would have it’s people in, say, Brazil. These people would contact coffee growers and promise to buy their coffee. They would collect samples from different farms and send the to the company. The buyer would then decide, based on the samples sent, which coffee to buy, from which farms. And that is all there is.

Lately, a whole new category of green coffee buyers have emerged: the passionate, exotic, eccentric, altruistic, well intended, and sometimes tough guy or girl that travels a lot and brings back the most tasty coffee beans.

These people belong mainly to small coffee roaster that are locally own and also sell locally. They may have a website and/or a shop or two around the neighborhood. But their fame is larger than their size. They take pride in their work, delivering a kind of specialty coffee that is usually single origin, organic and Fair Trade certified.

These companies need a very skilled person that can travel the coffee world for them and come back with the best possible beans And that’s not all. When he finds a good source, he is in charge with maintaining and developing a good relation with that particular farmer, making sure all the money he pays goes to the farmer and workers and not to the middlemen.
He is also interested in how that coffee was grown, what kind of chemicals if any were used, how were the beans dried and so on.

These green coffee buyers are represented, in extreme, by Todd Carmichael in reality show called “Dangerous Grounds”.

The good part is that consumers have better options, maybe the best since coffee made its way out of Ethiopia some 700 years ago. The market now offers many more coffees then before. Some of them have reached the grocery stores, others are sold on little shops and even more are advertised online. Most of these coffees are single origin and taste great. They are like little gems that have been discovered and proudly showed to the world.

Todd Carmichael travels the world of coffee...from Dangerous Grounds aired by Travel Channel starting fall 2012

Comments 2 comments

DDE profile image

DDE 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

An interesting insight to What is a green coffee buyer and how to become one, I am glad I stopped by here, another learning lesson for me.


cameciob profile image

cameciob 3 years ago Author

DDE, thank you.

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    “Today, those who desire to be a serious candidate for this position should be able to speak Spanish fluently, have a well trained palate or have a knack for finding depth and flavor in everything they drink or eat, be able to write well and be comfortable with being a public speaker. You should not be fearful of traveling in dangerous parts of the world and have a certain comfort level with rough travel as you will spend countless hours in a chicken bus, on the back of a truck, in a canoe or on a horse, camel or donkey.” http://artofmanliness.

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