Importing starts with green coffee that is completely processed and ready for export from the origin country. Typically, shipped in 20 foot containers of 275 to 320 bags (70kb or 60kg) or less. It could also be loaded bulk, therefore enabling more beans to be shipped, lowering the shipping costs on a per pound/kilo basis.
From the USA, specialty coffees are most often purchased by importers or individual roasters via an FOB Contract. FOB (Free On Board) means that the price paid by the buyer includes all of the costs in the exporting country, including processing, inland transport, warehousing, dock fees, export fees and loading the container onto the ship. Ownership passes from the seller to the buyer once the container passes over the rail of the ship. The ships captain prepares the Bill of Lading that you will present to your bank to prove the coffee is now on the ship.
The exporter will need a bank that can handle international interbank transactions. Preferably one that is experienced in export document requirements. If not well established at this type of transaction, the exporter will not want to extend credit to any buyer, but will require payment terms: CAD (Cash Against Documents).
A CAD transaction enables the exporter to have payment deposited into his bank account after presenting to the bank the required documents proving that the coffee purchased by the importer (buyer) meets the specifications in the coffee purchase contract/agreement. The exporter’s bank will determine exactly what documents are required.
These documents may include:
- Ocean Bill of Lading (from the freight liner after the coffee is loaded on the ship)
- Weight Notes to identify the exact content and weight of that content
- Certificate of Origin (issued by the government Customs authority in India)
- Certificate of Fumigation (if required by importing country)
- ICO Certificate of Origin (Approved by the ICO: International Coffee Organization)
- Invoice sent to buyer identify the details of the purchase and $Value.
- Packing List from seller as evidence of the product shipped.
- Other agricultural certificates as dictated in your country
Typically, the exporter will use an Export Broker in the origin country who is expert in these matters and can arrange all of the issues involved in preparing the coffee and the documents for export. If a broker is the seller/exporter, then he will handle all of the required export documentation. The buyer/importer arranges for payment, ocean freight and transport insurance. It’s also the importer’s responsibility for acquiring all import documentation and arrangement in his country.
Of course, finding buyers is the key when importing for resell. For information to identify coffee importers, office coffee service providers and specialty gourmet coffee roasters in the United States, you can purchase a membership list from the Specialty Coffee Association of America or from InfoUSA.com. You can use networking sites like, TradeKey as well.
Note: there are always risks associated with importing. Although the importer may have received samples representing the coffee purchased, in most cases the actual coffee received will match the quality grade, type and source, every coffee lot is different, even from the same region and farm.
There are a few ways to lower this risk. One is to be sure you have a “green coffee contract” modeled after the Green Coffee Association Contract Terms & Conditions. Second, be sure to get an export sample taken directly from the contain prior to its being loaded onto the ship, since once the container is on the ship ownership transfers to the importer (FOB contract terms). Finally, when you purchase is large enough, personally knowing who your buying from and even visiting the country to physically select and monitor the export process is an option.
Author, Steve Josephs is CEO of Intellidon Marketing Solutions, whose family office coffee service business, the Great American Coffee Company, http://www.GourmetOfficeCoffee.com, is a premier Specialty coffee roaster and office coffee service provider in the Denver, Colorado metropolitan business community.
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