Coffee Bottlenecks and Slim Offerings

It’s been tough to see our list of green coffee hover around 20 options this past week. What’s holding up broader coffee options?

By this time next week our list will be expanding. And a couple weeks from now you will see restocks on current origins and new ones coming in. But since we usually have over 40 options, this is indeed a record low for us.

We know people choose us for the way we source coffee and for quality. While having a broad selection matters, I know the most important thing is not quantity. After all, is roasting coffee even worth it if the green bean doesn’t have the potential to be great? What would be the point of tons of options if the coffee wasn’t good? (Reminds me if a few restaurants I have been to… too many options, all bad).  

The main focus of Sweet Maria’s is thoughtful sourcing through our relationships with farms, coops and partners, and careful quality analysis to select the best lots. After the last 3 days of cupping new crop Kenya lots in our lab, that focus is foremost on my mind. I can say with certainty, no other home roasting supplier sources like we do.

Also this is historically the time of year in harvest cycles when new arrivals are less frequent, and since our buying focuses on current origins it makes sense it dips lower this time of year. Not this low usually….

Green coffee jute bag from upcoming Buno Dambi Uddo lot stenciled with a drawing of Land Cruiser, a common site in Ethiopia.
Green coffee from Dambi Uddo lot stenciled with a drawing of our Land Cruiser

But yes, sub-20 options still seems rough so I thought I would explain more … although I bet you hear an echo from your news source, and basically any other business at this point. 

The number one issue is logistics right now. The entire system is strained and the bottlenecks are slowing down deliveries. I can actually see the Port of Oakland from the roof of Sweet Maria’s warehouse and know the situation there. And last week I visited the port at Long Beach to see how the container ships are parked in and out of the breakwater waiting for weeks to unload. 

Actually, the real issue isn’t here. The ports in China have huge backlogs. We have had our Burundi and a Rwanda shipments trapped there for over a month waiting to be re-loaded on a ship to Oakland. We started using other ports like Houston for our Colombias (coming to the list this next week too). But trucking backlogs and costs in the USA are a huge issue too. 

On our side, staffing has been a problem too. Keeping our crew healthy and keeping things positive has been as challenging for us as it probably has been for you. We actually used temps this past week as we work hard to reduce the delay from the time you place your order until we ship it. It helped us knock a couple days off. 

And we are excited about Angelique managing workflow now. She comes to us from the busy hospitality world with fresh perspective and a lot of energy! 

If you have a stash of green coffee, do check out Dan’s latest green coffee forecast on incoming lots. And maybe hang tight for a week or two to see what we have just around the corner. There are some gems!  -Thompson 

11 Responses

  1. I think most people can understand being in a post covid world. Just keep working on getting some fresh beans. 😀

  2. CORRECTED:

    You and your team are amazing, and we are grateful for every single bean. You set the standard on so many levels. Thank you!

  3. I’d rather have slim pickings of current crops than a wealth of coffees with undisclosed age/arrival dates (like other green vendors)! I’m not saying other green vendors have burned me in the past with selling past crop/faded coffees. (That’s totally what I’m saying, though.) 😉 Thank you all for not skimping on quality and keeping high standards, even if it means waiting a bit longer for some coffees.

    1. Ha ha – well it is indeed really hard to have an extremely broad selection, keeping so many coffees in stock and manage the freshness of them all. It’s like impossible actually. What’s crazy is that the big importers with huge list of Spot coffee (meaning in-stock in their warehouse), which is the easiest source for roasters / green vendors, have a lot … I mean A LOT of past crop coffee on offer. One has euphemistically named them “sunset coffees”. ha ha. But if you want to have a super broad list and, for example, you want to find Guatemala in January for your web site, there is plenty available, and it will all likely be quite papery / baggy. But it all gets sold eventually … every coffee finds a home. Mysteriously.

  4. Dear Thompson,
    I am going to copy and paste an email I sent to you, but unfortunately followed up by a surrogate. While the blog is a good one, I think the issue here is beyond logistics and it has to do with your business structure and how it has evolved over time. Below is my original email and reply from your staff.
    ***
    On Sun, Feb 6, 2022 at 7:30 AM Sisinnio Concas wrote:

    Dear Tom,

    I have been a customer of yours for about 20 years now, since I ever started roasting coffee here in the US (1999). I have always been satisfied by the quality of the coffee, selection, and prompt service.

    I would like to make the following observations.

    First: It is taking extremely long times, by today’s standards, for you to process and ship orders. This order is an example. By now, years back, you would have already shipped it out (using the same shipping services). For the first time in 20 years, I placed an order from one of your competitors.

    Second: The coffee selections are becoming extremely limited. Long are the days where you would be directly coming back with novel varieties. This competitor I mentioned above seems to have a good choice of Brazilian coffees, which you no longer tend to offer. They are the base for me to make Italian espresso blends. I placed the order on 2/5/2022 and it is already out of the door. I will keep you posted about the coffee quality offered by this vendor.

    I hope you take into account the opinion and observations of a very loyal customer of yours.

    Sincerely,
    Sisinnio Concas

    ***Reply from Vivian***
    Info Sweet Maria’s Customer Service (sent by [email protected])

    Feb 7, 2022, 6:20 PM (4 days ago)

    to me
    Hi Sisinnio, thanks for the feedback.

    We’re hoping to get back to our usual fast turnaround soon! Order influxes, covid, and general staffing shortages have seriously impacted us as well as other small businesses. As for our slim offerings list, here is a link to a blog post Tom wrote addressing the issue.

    Thanks for understanding!

    Best,

    Vivian

    1. Thanks for the feedback – I understand your perspective and feelings on this. It’s thought provoking. There’s a couple things to highlight here. For me, running a small business right now, at least doing so in our area, is very challenging compared to 2 years ago, 5 years ago etc. You might notice most services are taking longer to ship and deliver goods. (I ordered subaru parts from a dealer and received a notice that they will ship in about 2 weeks, and they can’t answer the phone currently!) Have you noticed that in your dealings?
      In other cases, even big box stores are missing all kinds of things from stock. That’s because there is an issue at the ports with vessels and containers. You can google this and read more. Oakland port is not congested but the issue is thousands of abandoned and empty containers in the the yard whose owners have simply found it too expensive to retrieve them, or they are out of business. It’s pretty amazing. On your issue of Brazils, the better high elevation coffees are arriving right now, if they can land and get transported out of the ports. The cheap “grade coffees” is SS, FC 16+, have been around. That’s commercial coffee pretty much, or proprietary blends that score 82 or so. We just landed a container of small farm lots that I am excited about, definitely these were the best producers we had last year, and the PSS samples were really nice. So if someone has a really large selection of Brazils before this, I would hazard a guess they blended type, large farm, or holdover previous crop. Shipping from Brazil has been some of the slowest and most expensive containers from coffee origins. Again, it’s something you can google and read about. It’s pretty fascinating and unprecedented! If it wasn’t frustrating too, I would be enjoying it more. As for us, 6 new additions went up last week and 6 this week so +12 overall, (with a couple dropping off in the meantime I am sure.) The excitement never stops lol.

      Anyway key points on our offerings is we stay with current crops and don’t have huge backlogs because we sell through our coffee at a rapid clip. Of course that means a lot for quality but also a weak point … like a Brazil container we want and need taking an extra week to unload because the trucks at the port can’t get to it! Anyway – I have 20+ kenya farm lots on the cupping table I need to get to so back to worK!

      Anyway thanks again – valuable comment! Definitely sharing your message with the team here to discuss this ….

    1. Same here! Just discovered this page and the coffee outlook page.
      Glad to see Burundi Kayanza Gahahe is making its way back.

    2. We are too! Container should be landing in the next few days. Fingers crossed!

      New Coffee Outlook should go up today btw, and shows most of our Ethiopia and Kenya selections.

      Best,
      Dan

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