A Coffee Buyer Has the Most Glamorous (and Toughest) Job in the Coffee World

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Richard)

What does a coffee buyer do? This might seem like a silly question to ask. “Buy coffee,” is the easy, most obvious answer. But in the coffee world, a green coffee buyer’s role is complex and multifaceted.

Green coffee buyers are the ones who travel to origin countries to source coffees — “green coffee” to be precise, as it’s the coffee which hasn’t been roasted yet. Of all the jobs in the coffee industry, the coffee buyer’s definitely comes in as the most glamorized. Just imagine traveling the world to taste coffees and decide which ones to bring back. Of course, being a coffee buyer isn’t always a rockstar, jet-set lifestyle.

In a world where specialty coffee companies have put the focus on quality over price, this role has become an essential part of the coffee supply chain. Being a green coffee buyer involves not only evaluating coffees to find the best ones (and that means cupping a lot of coffees), but also understanding the entire coffee trade — from keeping track of inventory to maintaining relationships with producers to ensuring the quality of the coffee that ends up in the hands of a roaster.

They also need to be able to think fast, make good decisions, and communicate well with others.

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With a lot of time on the road — traveling to exotic places — it’s no wonder some people think so highly of the coffee buyer profession. But working within the coffee supply chain, it takes less of an Indiana Jones character and more of a business-savvy individual than some might think.

Coffee buyers manage supply, quality, cost, risk, inventory, budgets, and all kinds of partnerships across the business. In other words, if you’re interested in becoming a coffee buyer, be sure to know a thing or two about spreadsheets and operating a business.

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Interested in becoming a coffee buyer? This isn’t a profession you just wake up one day and decide to apply for. Green coffee buyer jobs are coveted positions, and the competition is stiff. There’s no one way to get into the business, but because the job requires a solid understanding of the coffee industry and business as a whole, one thing is for sure: You need a coffee background before becoming a coffee buyer. That means starting in the coffee industry and working your way up — a lot of coffee buyers start out as baristas.

The best thing you can do is to entirely immerse yourself in the world of coffee — read books, do your research, learn as much as you can about the entire industry. Along the way you can do things like become a certified Q Grader so you can professionally cup coffees and take SCAA’s coffee buyer certification course.

Speaking a language that’s used in origin countries is helpful as well. And of course, be ready to taste coffee. A lot of it.