At Ally Coffee, we evaluate hundreds of green coffee samples every week. Here is a brief guide to understanding sample types, terminology, and how both are used for green coffee contracts.
Stages of Sampling
1. Offer Sample — Sample supplied by the producer, cooperative, or exporter to offer a particular lot of coffee for sale, whether it is a microlot of a few bags or large community lot of several hundred bags/full container volume.
2. Pre-shipment Sample — Representative sample gathered prior to shipping coffee. Sample is blended with coffee from each bag in a lot to represent the coffee that is being loaded onto the ship.
Sometimes, an Offer Sample may be also be a Pre-shipment Sample, representative of the lot that is ready to ship. In the case that significant time has passed between the evaluation of the Offer Sample and the container stuffing (ie more than a month) or in the case that a lot has been blended or subdivided and is meaningfully different than the Offer Sample, the Pre-shipment Sample serves to confirm that the coffee that will ship still meets quality expectations.
3. Arrival Sample — Representative sample pulled from coffee after it has landed in the warehouse.
Kinds of Samples
1. Type Sample — Sample indicative of the generally available quality from a given supplier.
2. Representative Sample — Sample pulled from all (or a set percentage of) bags in a lot of coffee as a homogenized representation of that lot.
Quality Control: Why Evaluate Samples?
Cupping coffee can be fun — a chance to discover flavors “hidden” in the cup. Cupping coffee can also be tedious, assessing dozens of similar coffees for inclusion in spot inventory, to confirm the absence of defects, or to check for consistency.
Cupping to evaluate consistency across the lifecycle of a coffee is a learned skill. The infuriating (or magical) thing about coffee is that the same coffee never cups the same twice. Evaluating coffees from Offer through warehouse Arrival is not a matching game of expecting that the samples will cup identically, because that almost never happens. Assuring quality through sensory evaluation — the main reason for cupping — means confirming that a coffee is free of major defects and has not lost its baseline quality (by tasting stale, sour, papery, stewed).
Coffee that tastes different now than it did a month or two ago does not mean that it is defective; there are specific sensory markers for defects in coffee due to problems like underripe harvesting or mold during processing. Coffee that is not defective often tastes slightly different than it did in the previous cupping (ie changes in flavor descriptors), which is natural and normal of an agricultural product.
Sample Approval and Green Coffee Contracts
The trade organization the Green Coffee Association sets standards and mediates disputes related to the coffee trade. Their contract document offers the following:
In classical economic terms, price is a function of the four primary economic utilities; quantity, quality, time, and location. A good contract will clearly define all these contract parameters.
In the specialty coffee trade, the “quality” utility of price is determined by sensory descriptors, which often includes cupping notes and scores, rather than the physical descriptors, like screen size and defect count, used to indicate quality in commercial contracts.
Contracts involving sample approval bear one of the following approval terms:
‘SAS-NANS’ — Subject to approval sample, no approval no sale (the approval sample can be either a Pre-shipment or an Arrival Sample, as specified by the contract)
‘SAPS’ — Subject to approval pre-shipment sample
‘SAPDS’ — Subject to approval pre-ship and arrival sample
‘SASR’ — Subject to approval sample — replacement
Know Your Needs
Sample evaluation must always begin with the end in mind. It is exciting to cup samples to explore and learn, but the primary function of sample evaluation is to determine if a coffee will fill a need either as a stand-alone product or as part of a blend.
All Spot inventory samples are representative Arrival Samples. The same suppliers frequently ship several lots or containers per harvest and provide the same coffee year after year across harvests. The sampling process might differ when buying a coffee for the first time versus confirming its consistency for continued use in or as a specific final product.
Talk to your Account Manager when requesting samples and when contracting coffees to make sure you understand the approval terms and the steps involved in complying with those terms in order to get green coffee as efficiently as possible! Ally Coffee ships the industry standard 200g green samples; if your needs differ, such as larger sample size or roasted samples, please inform your Account Manager. We ship 100g samples for our most special limited edition coffees, like Geisha microlots.
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