In a lot of coffee marketing and language, especially within the speciality coffee industry, you'll notice a lot of emphasis placed on phrases like bonds, connections, and relationships—especially longterm relationships. And no, we're not talking about dating within the coffee world and meeting a longterm partner. We're usually speaking about buyer-seller relationships, especially in green coffee buying. So why do we talk about longterm relationships so often? And what does it mean to the health of the coffee industry?
What is a Longterm Relationship in Coffee
When a coffee business enters a longterm relationship, they are making a commitment to another person in the coffee business. Within a cafe context, this can apply to a coffee shop owner and their suppliers. Typically, we refer to the relationships between green coffee buyers (often time they are coffee importers) and coffee farmers - the people who grow our beloved coffee plants.
When a green coffee buyer creates a longterm relationship, they are committing to buying the same coffee from the same farmer for a fixed period of time. Sometimes, this comes in the form of a contract. However, since coffee growing can be very unpredictable climate-wise, it can be hard to promise the same coffees from someone every harvest. For this reason, most of the time it is a matter of trust to repeatedly buy coffee from the same estates.
What do these parties get out of a longterm relationship?
Importers & Coffee Buyers
With this trust, the expectation is that a coffee farmer will commit to selling coffee every year to the importer. They will also expect a level of quality with every purchase. Often time, coffee farmers want to sell their coffee simply to sell their coffee and move on. They do not care about improvement or fixing errors with the coffee they are selling. Importers forming longterm relationships in coffee want to get better tasting and better quality green coffee each time they buy. Usually, they are willing to front costs or invest in research to receive better quality.
Importers also expect that farmers in longterm commitments will get reliable communication. This means a few different things. Green buyers will expect to get updates from coffee farmers on harvest, whether it be through pictures or stories. Green buyers want to be able to access transparency in their purchased coffees. This could be through a farmer sharing information of the names of the producers who worked with them on the coffees or weather conditions in the area. It is useful information for the green buyers to communicate to their own consumers.
Lastly, there are logistical components of a longterm commitment. The farmer will do their best to ensure a timely delivery of the green coffee, and a certain quantity of coffee as well.
Benefits for Farmers
For the farmer, there is financial security. Coffee is a tough market! There are a lot of people who grow, produce, and sell this cash crop. With the promise of a buyer every time, there is financial incentive to keep growing coffee. There is also security that they can be honest about anything with their harvest, regardless of whether the outcomes during growing season are positive or negative.
Through a longterm relationship, farmers can also often expect other benefits from green buyers. Often time, buyers will contribute resources to keep a farm and the community around it thriving. Some incentives that buyers provide include money to maintain infrastructure, as well as funds to improve the education system for famers' families. In the case of weather damage to equipment or crops, buyers will also fund the repairs of the equipment, or to re-grow certain crops and provide certain fertilizers.
Why longterm relationships are important in sustainability
Many may assume that sustainability in coffee, and other fields for that matter, refer to the environment of the coffee industry. For example, having organic fertilizers and composting coffee grounds. In this case, we're talking about the sustainability of the people in the coffee industry. In order for the cycle of the coffee supply chain to be consistent, sustainability is making sure that the people in this industry are able to live a comfortable life while working in it.
Therefore, sustainability in the context of coffee people means ensuring longterm growth and success. By forming longterm relationships in coffee, everyone is making sure that everyone else is supported to keep the coffee industry alive. Longterm relationships require commitment through tough times. This can sound like a lot to promise, but with this trust comes that much stronger of a commitment to make a better product, and a stronger sense of reliability from both parties to deliver.
Forming a longterm relationship can be a little intimidating to initiate at first. It is something that happens naturally, but with the right fit of a partner, it will be an equal amount of effort from both—and a good sign for better coffee for everyone.