Murundo Coffee Washing Station, Mahembe Sector, Western Rwanda (May, 2015)

It’s become apparent… I should explain.

This past few days I’ve been in Gothenburg attending the inaugural Re:co Symposium — an event conceived of in order to challenge industry leaders, provoke thought and raise the questions that will help drive the specialty coffee sector forward.

Delegates were provided with a healthy number of coffee breaks as a way to fuel discussion, and at each of these the recurring question posed to me, most likely as a result of this Instagram post two months ago, was ‘So, what are you doing now?’.

To bring the majority of you up to speed I’ve spent the last four years working with Workshop Coffee Co., helping to build the organisation from an solid idea into a thriving, multi-location, high quality roasting company. Most recently my focus was on developing our sourcing programme; delving deeper into the processes that allow us to access the best coffees on the planet, and it was here that I found a degree of enjoyable challenge and reward that had been missing from my work after 15 years in coffee retail.

After a lot of discussion, and with the blessing of the company’s owners, on April 30th I finished my tenure as a Workshop employee and founded my own company. I’d be running independent coffee sourcing projects and programmes for quality-driven roasters, and Workshop came on board as my first client.

In the snippets of interchange that pass as conversations at trade events, I did my best to explain what I was doing. My excitement to describe to friends and colleagues my change in role meant hurt the clarity of my message, and a few people didn’t quite grasp the idea (which was completely my fault). ‘Ah, you’re going in to importing!’ or ‘Great, do you have coffees in stock right now?’ were common responses. Which lead me to this post. I should explain… better.

I think importers do great work. A number of them are good friends of mine, and collectively they’ve been crucial in both helping build Workshop to where it is today, and in developing my understanding of the mechanics of coffee trade. While I think importers play a very important role in our market, I don’t want to be one, nor do I want to compete with them.

I’m not interested in compiling a portfolio of spot coffees, then shopping them around to potential customers (though I am extremely happy that this resource exists when irregularities of supply leave us short on coffee). If I was, I’d choose to work with one of the many fine importers with which I’m fortunate to have a great working relationship, and who’s efforts I admire.

I am interested, however, in working with pro-active, quality-driven and forward thinking roasters, who are keen to plan out their year of coffee, targeting origins, regions, flavour profiles or indeed relationships with particular producers, and make the switch from passive list buying, to active sourcing. I’m well positioned, through a hefty travel schedule and contacts around the globe, to be an asset to these companies providing a connection between producer, exporter and importer.

So, the proposition is reasonably simple; if you’re currently buying spot coffees from an importer’s list, and are happy with how that’s working, then by all means you should carry on as you are. It’s a solid, dependable and sensible way to supply your business.

But, maybe you’ve been working like this for some time and find that you want to pursue a more detailed, in-depth understanding of the coffees you buy and the people who produce them. Maybe you’re starting fresh as a roaster, and want to distinguish your from business from that of your neighbours through a more exclusive coffee range. And maybe you want to leverage the benefits of having an experienced cupper and green coffee buyer working on your behalf at exporters’ cupping tables in Kenya, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Costa Rica, Guatemala and beyond.

If any of those items resonate with you and your business even remotely, then perhaps its time we spoke? Location is no obstacle, and most volumes can work.

Reading back, it was naively ambitious to try to condense the above sentiment into the pithy, short sort of catch-up interactions that take place at trade event coffee breaks; perhaps the Re:co Symposium stage would have been a better place to deliver it from?

But that’s an entirely different proposition.