Is the “origin party” finished?

party aftermath on coffee farm
  • The “coffee origin trip” and parties associated with it have historically been a cornerstone of the specialty coffee experience
  • Now, financial pressures mean travel is less of a priority and when buyers do visit farms, it’s for businessthe origin trip now prioritises a net gain for both sides
  • Meanwhile, producers are picking up the slack with better communication and outreach

IN THE early days of the third coffee wave, the origin trip was an iconic rite of passage that still remains a milestone for many specialty coffee actors today. Travelling to get a first-hand experience of where coffee is grown and harvested was a dream come true for many young baristas and roasters seeking a closer connection. 

Now, with rising costs and a changing coffee sector, those who are able to make these trips are approaching them in a different way. 

These trips would often form part of larger programmes, and were undertaken through partnerships or sponsorship by green coffee importers, for example. Usually elaborate affairs, they would include parties, inclusive accommodation, organised travel and plenty of cuppings and farm visits. 

Companies would see the value in splashing out on sending competing baristas – who leveraged influence and a large social media following – or potential or existing clients. It was perceived as a good return on investment. 

Now, less time and money means that the status of the origin trip has changed. 

“Coffee travel has become more like attending the SCA Expo now – not all buyers go to all origins every year, but when they do it’s more for networking and keeping the relationship in place,” says Tracy Allen, owner of coffee consultancy company Brewed Behavior

Once a ritual for those seeking to elevate their knowledge and connection to coffee, rising costs and shifting priorities have relegated it to those who can still afford it, or for whom it remains a business essential. 

The specialty crowd has tightened its belt and revised its priorities   

Increasing financial pressures have forced many roasters and traders to cut corners, and for the most part, travel is no longer topping the priority list. 

“I think it was first the pandemic that forced us to slow down against our plans – and then the realisation came that a lot could be done remotely,” says Yanina Ferreyra, Green Bean Buyer and International Sales Manager of Project Origin.

Over the years, many actors in the specialty industry have also grown up and have busier schedules than they used to. Some of the more experienced travellers might also be experiencing travel fatigue, and feel less convinced of the necessity to keep travelling to coffee-producing countries. 

Meanwhile, many coffee producers have picked up the slack and are taking it upon themselves to forge closer connections with key markets.

“Back in the day to ‘meet’ a producer you really needed to travel,” says Yanina. “But these days we’re seeing an increasing number of producers coming to tradeshows, or having the means to communicate online with final consumers.”

It’s not that coffee trips have disappeared entirely, or that they don’t hold value. But for many businesses and those who work in them, it’s now less about the partying or tourism, and more about maximising value for all stakeholders.  

“When coffee travels are booked by a company, they tend to be very business-focused,” says Yanina. “We taste coffees, visit farms, and have honest conversations about the sustainability of specialty coffee. But these days we’re looking at economic sustainability. Producers have bills to pay, and we have investments we expect returns on – we’re looking for a win-win situation.” 

Coffee travel is now more business than pleasure   

People are still excited to travel to coffee origin and the sense of reverence is still palpable – like a pilgrimage to the source. But with rising costs, inflation and increasing supply chain pressures, it’s not a luxury that everyone can afford.

For those who can keep it up, mentalities have nevertheless shifted, and each trip has a targeted purpose. These days, it’s less about being a tourist and more about forging and building business relationships. 

“Clients visit producers to buy coffees almost as much as they do to learn,” says Yanina. “It’s good to remind them that producers are also trying to make a living, and that as much as they love hosting, we need to make sure we’re not just coming to walk on a farm.” 

“Think of the reverse scenario – roasters and baristas don’t regularly host free visits, tours or parties as part of their business. It’s important we understand that we’re taking up someone’s time, who’s also making a living from coffee, just like us.” 

On many modern origin trips, visits and meetings are tightly scheduled, meaning less time for leisure and more for research, planning and buying. 

“Brewed Behavior’s origin ‘Green Buyer’s Education Track’, which includes travel to origin, requires a minimum three-year commitment between buyer and producer,” says Tracy. “This is to ensure that the ‘one and done’ days are behind for the producer.”

Instead of simply hosting visitors looking to experience a coffee origin – and hoping that a relationship comes out of it – many coffee producers have become more comfortable with doing business, and knowing the value of their product overall.

Ultimately, as the coffee industry grapples with the accumulated financial pressures from recent years, it has had to tighten its financial belt and ensure that any travel has a net gain. 

Although travelling to origin will always remain a pilgrimage to the source of sorts, for many in the sector, the changing face of global business may mean that it is restricted to fewer people in the future.

Coffee Intelligence

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