If you thought running a coffee shop was hard, then I think being a coffee importer is even harder. Don’t get me wrong, every step in the coffee value chain has its challenges. But when we were recently invited for a cupping session by Harvestbelt, a specialty coffee importer based out of the UAE, I was unable to fathom the amount of work that went in to ensure a timely supply of high-grade, traceable and ethically sourced green coffee for the UAE market.
Before I elaborate on how fruitful our day was amongst people who have a genuine love for the industry, I want to give you a basic idea about green coffee importers. They are the link between the producers and roasters. They work with the farmer to grow the finest cherries, process the ideal beans and deliver greens from enigmatic origins, which can be quite burdensome for the latter to deal with.
There is an estimate of more than 25 million coffee farmers in the world according to Livelihoods. The number is staggering, but the question is — how do you know which farm to source from?
This process starts from the origin with producers, growers and exporters, and building a relationship with every stakeholder from the origin is key. Key to not only discovering new profiles and coffees, but also to match your roasters’ needs with quality being top priority.
Vishnu Rajendran, Green Coffee Buyer and Sales at Harvestbelt, had a few things to say about why green bean importers are crucial for roasters, “Coffee is harvested in different origins at different times throughout the year and and it’s very important to source them at the right time which is why a purchase forecast in crucial to secure to top lots i.e. good quality lots.”
It’s a “first come, first serve” model. Coffee lots are prebooked, and curated to match the needs of a client. Vishnu explains the advantage of this, “It all boils down to offering the best in this competitive market where quality and consistency are key.”
There are other factors that could affect the coffee quality, price and on-time delivery. To this, Tarek Mikati, who heads business development at Harvestbelt, had a few things to add, “It’s very important for a green buyer to know what is happening at the origin. We talk to our partners regularly to understand the crop development, climate, political situations, and logistics.
In addition to Harvestbelt’s commitment to quality and traceability, the role of a green coffee importer is vital to roasters receiving top-notch coffee on time. Tarek explains, “Communication is key here, we create synergies between different producers with export facilities helping us source high quality coffees with traceability and organized shipping. This model is carried out across multiple origins.”
The greens have to be sold within the region and Vishnu also provides samples to roasters to try and pin-point their requirement. He explains this process, “Following up is important to understand what kind of coffee our clients are looking for. We also receive pre-shipment samples from our producer partners, we cup different lots from different origins to see which coffees are suitable for this market.”
But if I still haven’t answered why importers are required, Tarek continues and gives two big reasons, “Importers fill the gaps in the coffee industry by assuming the risk of buying whole shipping containers when many farmers need that financial backing and many roasters can’t afford an entire container. We study and connect with producers, sampling their coffees each season and overseeing their process starting at the harvesting level. In other words, we keep the coffee market moving!”
Amongst us, a friendly figure listening to the conversation back and forth also delved in the discussion. Siddhant Mithary works very closely with Vishnu and recently completed a Q processing course. Starting out as a coffee roaster, moving into a quality and sales role for Harvestbelt was a no-brainer for him to work with coffee producers.
Siddhant’s strategy is finding the right client and pairing them with coffee that matches their criteria. He adds, “Getting certified was tough but well worth it. Now I can dig deeper with our partners (producers) looking closely at crucial processing parameters and making sure that the upcoming lots are well taken care off, and it all starts from picking the cherries.”
Joining us in this insightful discussion was Andy Anderson, Editor-in-Chief of FLTR Magazine, Lameen Abdul-Malik, Founder of From Coffee With Love and 100 Ideas Cafe, and Shehzeen Jamil, Co-founder and Managing Partner at Sippy Beans and the Head of COFE Market at COFE App. Houseful indeed, but what matters most were the right attendees for the session.
Laid on the cupping table were coffees from Guatemala, Brazil, Ethiopia, Colombia, and Costa Rica. A wide spectrum of flavors notes from Brazilian chocolate to Ethiopian florals. The sound of slurping started in no time, some strong and some weak. The pros were utilizing the cup to spit the coffee out while the novices were using the same to posit the spoon. We knew we had a long way to go when the Harvestbelt’s team finished cupping 16 coffees in no time.
Commitment. Quality. Traceability.
Values are a set of guiding principles for a company. In Harvestbelt’s case, there are three fundamentals that stem sustainability on either side of the coffee value chain.
Commitment is dedication. It can be small or large, global or local. This is what is needed to retain, build and advance the coffee value chain.
Quality starts from the origins, extends beyond the final cup and encompasses everything in between. You only get one chance in making an everlasting impression, and this is how you do it.
Traceability recognizes the efforts of the producers, locks down on the origin of the coffee and assures the buyer that it was ethically grown.
To conclude, Tarek stated something of value that made quite an impression, “we can never quantify the hard work put in at the origin. Every stakeholder involved is tirelessly working around the clock to make sure you taste the difference, and this is the difference that we want to deliver to our clients.” An everlasting impression.
Meet the team:
Tarek Mikati heads the business development at Harvestbelt today, but it all started with him mastering the art of commodity trading in 2005. After several years of successfully developing and expanding various brands based out of UAE, his current focus is sourcing the finest specialty green coffee for the UAE market.
Vishnu Rajendran is your go-to-contact for green coffee. His experience in this industry speaks volume starting with a post graduate in Coffee Quality Management to becoming an expert in Green Coffee Quality Control with some of the biggest names within the coffee industry. He is a Green Coffee Buyer and Sales at Harvestbelt.
Siddhant Mithari started his career as a coffee roaster, but his true calling came knocking when he was employed for quality control and sales at a coffee importing company. He has armed himself with a Q Processing Generalist course recently to make sure his clients are sourced with the right coffee. His also develops content and plans marketing activities for Harvestbelt.
Fouad Ibrahim is dynamic and enthusiastic, like his role at Harvestbelt requires him to be. He currently handles operations and logistics, and is the backbone in making sure the coffee reaches their partners in record time.
Harvestbelt had a successful run at the World of Coffee Dubai 2023 with some of their producers and roasters brewed coffee in their brew bar. Some of the names include Cafe Rider, Hermoso Coffee Roasters, Falcon Coffee Roasters, The Santuario Project, CATUR Coffee Company, SMC Specialty Coffees.
Harvestbelt has recently opened an impressive new facility in the heart of Dubai Investment Park. You can find them here and get in touch via email@example.com.