Sourcing in Kenya 2017
If there truly is such a thing as treasure hunting in coffee buying it applies to Kenya. Patience, timing and a broad network can eventually get you what you need although without any guarantee. Relationships seem to last the duration of a season and rarely more.
As we begin this sourcing trip I quickly realized that we were out positioned and in trouble. Sourcing great coffee always changes, and there is never a plug and play way to how this all works. Over the years as small roasters globally have entered into traveling and sourcing their own coffees, the big guys adopted their strategies to ensure they will still control the market. Big Importers and Big roasters begin a new direction of simply stationing their coffee buyers to either live or work over many weeks in the cupping labs of Nairobi Exporters. These buyers literally roam the city popping into as many tables a day as they possibly can. Swinging back and forth between a table at Dormans at 9am, 10am at KCCE, 1pm back to Dormans, 3pm Tropical etc etc.
If they control the supply of great Kenyan lots entering into the USA and ensure that all the others are left with scraps of dull Kenyan lots (sourced and secured by the small roaster but not especially not worthy) customers don’t care enough about Direct sourcing to care if the quality is not there. With the large companies buying power, the Exporters have loyalty to only them.
Two days of cupping with over 200 samples cupped, I was seeing only mediocre coffees. And the good ones were simply gone as soon I showed interest. I left Nairobi to the Kirinyaga growing area feeling defeated, knowing we would need to adapt, and quickly, in order to be successful.
On my first night in Nyrei, I had a chance dinner with the team with Cafe Imports. They heard my plea for help, and agreed to help us source coffee in Kenya. Cafe Imports is souring roughly 1000% more Kenyan coffee than Olympia Coffee this year, for warehouses in the USA, Europe, and Australia. With this much buying power I knew that if we allied ourselves with them and joined their cupping tables and moved all our Kenyan coffee this year, we would get more privilege and opportunity with the Kenyan Exporters. Joining Cafe Imports cuppings, allowed us to easily secure the quantity of great coffee we need from Kenya this year. It also doesn’t change how we work in Kenya, once we isolated a great lot on a cupping table of a specific lot we would rewind the story and go back to the Cooperative and Factories who grew the coffee and would make an offer for their coffee. And as usual, trade is transparent through the producer, exporter, importer and roaster.
We still are working on final confirmation on the five lots we have made offers on, so more details will come later.