When I was first hired
at Tea & Coffee Trade Journal, I was “warned” about the amount of travel the position entailed. Warned? To me, this was not a warning...this was a major perk of the job. After walking countless trade show floors and attending numerous conventions, the allure of travel still hadn’t dwindled.
Eventually, I was presented with my first trip to origin. I knew it would be different than the other trips I had taken, but I wasn’t sure how much these experiences would change my perception of the industry. Before, coffee and tea were mysterious products. They showed up in consuming countries, fell into the right hands and made their way down the chain onto the lips of the imbiber. I had no real connection or understanding of their conception.
Then came India, Costa Rica and countless other tours of coffee estates and tea plantations. I saw the skill in which the cherries were picked; the craft in which the leaves were plucked...and tea and coffee would forever be changed through my eyes.
In a tough economy, nothing is more valuable than a good sales pitch. “My green coffee is the best a roaster can buy,” or “any tea packer would be lucky to have my tea.” All good salespeople know our best attempts are made when we believe in the product, and everyone loves a good story. For almost anyone in the tea/coffee industries, traveling to origin is a way to incorporate more of this story into your sale. Your clients will be able to feel your connection to a particular country, farm within that country or even employee at that farm. Traceability benefits everyone; from the farmer all the way to the businessman waiting in line for his morning cup of Joe.
Numerous associations and organizations now host trips to origin and provide opportunities for tea and coffee professionals to begin to form direct relationships with their suppliers. Take advantage of these opportunities. Get your hands dirty in the soil, tour the facilities, take note of the production processes which you would not normally see firsthand. And use this new understanding to attract and intrigue clients. Offer them something other companies don’t... a background.
People say knowledge is contagious. I say let’s keep spreading it then. Learn from the producer, bring it back and educate your fellow staff, who will in turn educate your clients. With some time and effort, that businessman’s morning “cup of Joe” can transform into a “single-estate, shade-grown Yirgacheffe.” This sounds like a fine business plan to me.