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How to Prepare for a Coffee Sourcing Trip

Lush green of coffee tree leaves, bright reds and yellows of ripe coffee cherries — traveling to origin to source coffee is indeed filled with picturesque moments, but for the experience to be successful, it requires a bit of preparation. Ally Coffee has two sourcing trips lined up for Central America: Costa Rica and Guatemala February 25th- March 2nd followed by El Salvador and Nicaragua March 4th-9th. Contact your Account Manager for further details, or fill out the Contact Us form on our site to open an account.

To be ready to travel to origin and source exceptional coffees, here are some things to keep in mind.Bourbon in Asserí, Costa Rica

Big Picture Planning

Before you start packing your suitcase, it’s important to ask yourself a few questions:

  • Why travel to origin to source rather than buying spot coffee or having producers send samples directly to your roastery?
  • What do you want to learn?
  • What questions do you have for producers?
  • What can you tell producers about your business and how you roast and connect with your customers?
  • How much coffee are you prepared to buy?
  • Are you looking to fill a specific menu slot/blend component or just exploring?

The different languages, food, transportation, weather, customs, cultures, animals, plants, and coffee at origin can be as overwhelming as they are wonderful. Doing a bit of self-reflection before embarking on a sourcing trip will help you make the most of your time on the ground.

Health and Safety

Check with your local health department or on the US Center for Disease Control’s website for advisories regarding the countries and regions you are traveling to. Make sure your immunizations, including standard shots like tetanus, are up to date. If you take medications, make sure you have enough for your trip. Common over-the-counter drugs like pain killers and allergy medicines may not be available in remote farm locations.

Please inform us if you have any allergies! Often, our producer partners invite us to share meals. We will let them know in advance to ensure that everyone can safely enjoy the food at origin.18 Conejo biodynamic farm in Marcala, Honduras

Packing

Layers, layers, layers. On all sourcing trips we go up and down in elevations as we travel between mountain farms. The weather and temperature change quickly. Bring light rain jacket, sunscreen, hat with brim, warm layers, and short-sleeved shirts. Pants and sneakers/hiking boots are always recommended for walking on farms.

Don’t bring anything you wouldn’t want to get dirty. Farming is a hands-on business, and the coffee fields range from dusty and dry to muddy and rainy, while the wet mills are always sticky and gooey and the drymills are always covered in chaff.

Gear

It’s best to travel as light as possible when sourcing at origin. Your phone is the only camera you’ll need, and if you choose to bring another camera be aware that we are often in damp and dusty conditions. If you travel with laptops and other electronics, know that we may go for hours without access to charging plugs.

Do, however, bring a notebook! A small notebook is great for taking down the details of farms and for recording notes at the cupping table.Lunch on Katia Duke’s family farm in San Isidro, Runias de Copan, Honduras

Food and Drink

Traveling to origin to source coffee is different than traveling to origin for other reasons, like vacations or exploration. As the trip organizers, our focus is to connect with farmers, cup coffees, visit facilities, and help you make the best decisions when selecting the green beans for your roasting business.

Of course, our producer partners also want to share the best of their local cuisine and beverages. Be prepared to try new dishes and experience palate-widening flavors beyond the cupping table. Sometimes we will eat in restaurants or at our hotels, but often our hosts go above and beyond to offer us exceptional home cooking. We recommend trying everything!

Advice from the Ally Team

Our Account Managers regularly travel to origin to accompany clients on sourcing trips. Here are their recommendations:

“Prepare to have a good time, enjoy yourself, be kind to your hosts, and try Zacapa rum if you’re in Guatemala!” Dean, Midwest Account Manager.

“Be patient and do a lot of listening. Many times we so excited or focused on the place we forget to stop and listen to the people.” Dane, Northwest Account Manager.

“Bring an adapter for the country you are traveling to and a power strip. It will make you a battery charging hero.” Anderson, US Specialty QC.

“Take lots of notes and pictures because things happen fast! Be careful with street food if you have a sensitive stomach.” Jeff, Southwest Account Manager

“Bring bug spray and leave your expectations at home! A lot of times we go to origin expecting coffees to taste a certain way but most of the time you’re pleasantly surprised by what you find so keep an open mind!” Merisa, Northeast Account Manager.

“Be humble, take notes, and be ready to share something of yourself and your company. Hosts love to know who you are and will remember your visit.” Bram, Ally’s buyer for Central America, and host for the two upcoming sourcing trips.

Talk with your Account Manager if you are interested in sourcing coffee at origin. Or, if you are new to Ally Coffee, reach out via our Contact form. Be a part of moving coffee forward.Cupping with Exportadora Choachapa in Marcala, La Paz, Honduras

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