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Spectrum Purchasing and How it Impacts Sustainability

The specialty coffee industry has been looking at sustainability with altruistic lens for years with the question always looming, “how do I make someone’s life better today?”

We approach sustainability from an environmental, social and economic stance in hopes that value is added at every step of the chain and that producers are getting paid sustainable wages, and consumers are getting great coffee. And this is great! But specialty coffee is, well – special, and we have found ourselves seeking out the most special of special coffees while we leave the rest behind. And we are paying really great prices for that coffee, but there just isn’t that much.

In the search for a really, really small lot of 90+ coffee we have disregarded the remaining coffee leaving the producer to find yet another buyer. Our affect on the supply chain can only be positive and sustainable when we begin looking at all the coffee a producer has to sell and figure out how to use it in our menu at home.

There is a term that is used in the culinary industry that describes what I’m about to write for you. In some areas of the States it is called “rooter to tooter” or “snout to tail.” In my neck of the woods, it is known as “whole hog”. What I am referring to is a type of purchasing model that chefs employ to add one more sustainable notch to their stick. It is not used lightly either, but more by chefs who believe that the entire animal can be used in the kitchen, and should. If we begin to apply this model to the roaster, and really the entire green coffee supply chain, then we begin to see the manifestation of a truly artisanal and sustainable supply chain that the world of specialty coffee can embrace and celebrate.


The Positive Affects

The practice is essentially purchasing a wide spectrum of qualities and grades from a single producer. As green buyers and roasters, we are deepening the positive impact on the producers’ economics. Think about it for a second or longer: If green buyers began to commit to larger quantities and quality spreads from either a single producer or producer groups (based on your actual volume needs and supply availability), then the producer(s) gain more trust in potential buyers and might tend to stay in specialty coffee longer. It is about committing to a producer in low times and bad times. What is more, it challenges us as roasters and baristas to use all of the flavor profiles available across a quality spectrum in order to produce a great product for customers. Going back to the culinary world, there are a lot of reasons one would not want to use certain cuts, or parts in their menu. Some of the names are off-putting, or they may be worried that if you put thyroid gland on the menu it will not sell. The best chefs know how to make use of these different “spare” parts to expand their menu and flavor profile so they are reducing waste and able to assist a producer in utilizing their entire coffee stock. Back to coffee…producers want to work with buyers who can commit to a spectrum of qualities. To cherry pick the best qualities from the farm is to potentially leave large volumes of coffee for a producer to still sell. This can be tough if we as coffee professionals have decided not to have a route for even the 83 scoring coffees out from origin.


Implementing Spectrum Purchasing

Putting this practice into application is not all that difficult either. There are great uses for coffees in the 83-86 range. Coffee directors, roasters, green buyers, or baristas should consider their entire portfolio and supply needs. In many cases, you can use varying qualities and meet the same profile for your blends. Or maybe your customer base prefers a profile that you only find in that 84 Peru you just bought. It is worth it to explore these coffees with your customers during events such as public cuppings, or one- day highlights of “experimental” coffees.

Obviously, or maybe not, we should probably find a better phrase than “snout to tail” or “rooter to tooter” to describe this process. My hope is that we as a coffee industry begin to engage in this model and conversation with our suppliers. Doing so will not only provide a more sustainable model for producers, gaining their trust in the long run, but also challenge us as coffee professionals to make good things happen along the entire quality spectrum. Maybe that is the phrase, sustainable spectrum purchasing…We will be looking at Case Studies of this model that Caravela employs and encourages with their customers in future post. What do you think? Leave comments below or reach out to us at Caravela Coffee.


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