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  • Jon Ferguson

Engaging the Coffee Sampling Process

As direct trade sourcing strategies have become more common in the industry, the demand for a more detailed understanding and organization of the green coffee sampling process has become an important and exciting focus of discussion for roasters and importers. Having clear communication about the sampling process will help set clear expectations and protect both the buyer and seller from unforeseen situations (i.g., delayed approvals of samples leading to late shipments). For this article, we will reflect on the green coffee sampling stages, from the cooperative back to the roaster.



Stages of a Green Coffee Sample Request

Requesting samples for building a unique coffee offering sheet is an exciting and challenging venture. The kind of sample requested from an importer, exporter, or producer plays a significant role in the planning and strategy for fulfilling coffee offerings. To do so, recognizing the established sampling processes and terminologies are helpful in executing a successful coffee purchasing strategy. The following information is in reference to The Coffee Exporter’s Guide – Third Edition, a wonderful resource for buyers and exporters.


Coffees being sold on a coffee contract for future inventories have often not been harvested or processed for final cupping analysis. Selling coffee before it’s picked or processed requires a great deal of knowledge and understanding of what a coffee is expected to taste like from a specific region, cooperative, or producer. Below are sample stages that normally occur when selecting a specific coffee for a contract.


Type Sample

Type samples provide a general profile of the physical and sensorial quality expectations of a coffee to be contracted. Type samples are usually offered prior to or during the early harvesting months of a specific coffee origin. These samples represent the potential and expected qualities that come from a specific region, cooperative, or producer. Type samples are used to help establish an initial contract, which includes a form of written protection for the buyer stated in the terms of the contract, such as SAS (Subject to Approval Sample) or NANS (No Approval, No Sale). It is important to re-iterate that type samples are only a representation of a coffee style and quality level, not the actual production lot which the contract will deliver upon.



Offer Sample

Offer samples generally represent coffees that are ready to ship. At this stage, the contracts have been written and the final coffee is available for the physical fulfillment of contracts terms outlined for specific quality attributes ranging from the physical grade to cup sensory attributes, while also outlining the number of bags and delivery months stated in the contract. If a cooperative’s coffee is available and has not yet been contracted or purchased, offer samples can be sent to buyers to directly represent the actual coffee to be shipped since they are now readily available. However, offer samples can be stored in parchment which still requires dry milling, sorting, and further grading, so it is important to follow an offer sample with a pre-shipment and/or an approval sample.


Pre-Ship Sample

The pre-shipment sample is the completely finished green coffee product. The coffee is hulled, sorted, graded, and ready for exportation. This is the final and fully processed representation of the coffee being shipped to the buyer. Pre-ship sampling should be evaluated by the buyer in a timely manner. Coffee should not be shipped until the pre-shipment sample is approved. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that the buyer actively evaluates pre-shipment samples for coffee to be shipped in a timely manner. If the buyer is not punctual with the approval of a pre-shipment sample, it could lead to prolonged delivery, challenging the ability of the exporter and importer to meet the delivery terms outlined in the buyer’s contract.


Arrival Sample

Arrival samples are taken directly after coffee lands at the buyer’s country port of entry. These samples are pulled immediately from the containers prior to storage. Arrival samples are valuable in that they help protect and inform the buyer of any potential damage which may have occurred during shipment. As with the pre-shipment sample, timely approvals help expedite the release of coffee to its port warehousing facility or final inland destination.

Arrival samples are often the final step in the approval process. As they say, no news is good news, but providing feedback to exporters or cooperatives helps recognize their successes as equal to their occasional challenging results. As noted by our team in Jaen, feedback is most often only given with arrival samples that have concerns, but rarely provided when the coffee arrives successfully. To help build a stronger supplier relationship, emailing the producer group or exporter with notes on the arrival sample quality, even if the results are perfectly calibrated with the pre-shipment sample, can be a valuable email that is greatly appreciated.


Appreciation for the coffee sampling process

The green coffee sampling process continues to integrate a wider net of the supply chain actors as direct trade becomes more common. With a growing demand for quality and transparency, it is an exciting time to participate in a more active understanding of the handling of green coffee samples throughout the buying process. Ensuring clear communication between your exportation and importation partners often results in fewer delays and a more calibrated coffee experience.


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