From the source
The most common question I get asked is, "where do you get your coffee?" It is hard for people to imagine how such an exotic product can end up in my roastery in Fulshear, Texas. We are actually in a great place for coffee here in Houston, as it is one of the main ports for all Central and South American coffee. Historically, the majority of that coffee passed right through Houston on route to the major coffee centers on the East and West coasts. There are a few companies that choose to keep some of that coffee here in Houston. The green coffee importer I work with is called InterAmerican Coffee (IAC). They are the American branch of a multi-national coffee company with ties throughout the coffee growing world. They just so happen to have their headquarters here in Houston.
InterAmerican Coffee is the main reason I am able to offer such great coffees. They stock hundreds of coffee lots chosen from the thousands of lots that they evaluate every year. Thus, the coffees that I choose to bring in truly represent the best coffees available each year. They also offer coffee tastings, training resources, and general support for us roasters.
So, how does a coffee lot get from the farm to my roastery? Here it is in a nutshell. InterAmerican's work begins even before the harvest as they build relationships with the farms and cooperatives. At the time of harvest, IAC gets a small sample lot, which they roast and evaluate. If this sample meets the standard, they will negotiate a price with the producers or exporters. The coffee will then be shipped to their warehouses around the world where they will again evaluate the coffee by sample roasting and set a price based on the premium they paid to the farmer and the current state of the coffee market. The coffees that they have in their warehouses is what I choose from for my offerings. They give coffee bios of each lot and they send me samples for my own evaluation. When I choose a lot that I want to purchase, it goes on my contract and I can pick it up from their warehouse here in Houston.
As I have deepened my relationship with IAC, I have been able to get access to more exclusive lots. My Brazil: Maurilio Braz Borges is a great example. IAC went to Brazil and bid on lots from a local coffee competition. All of the lots in the competition were from small producers. They sample roasted the lots at origin and sent me their cupping notes. Based on this, I choose the lot from Maurilio Braz Borges. It allowed me to be the sole roaster of this exclusive lot. My hope is to continue to bring in more lots like this.
There is a lot of misinformation in the coffee world these days regarding importers. There is much talk of "direct trade" and how the middlemen are the enemies. The truth is, the majority of coffee roasters, even those who claim to only source "direct trade" work with coffee importers to bring in their coffees. They may talk to the farmer directly, but the importer does the heavy lifting of negotiating with exports, getting the coffee through customs, and having it available in the states. We don't need to cut out the middleman, because they perform an important role in connecting farmers with roasters. I have had great success working with InterAmerican and I hope to continue building a strong relationship as my company grows.