Specialty coffee buyers visit the communities and estates in coffee-producing nations, known within the industry as coffee origin tours. This five-part online guide describes the purpose for hosting a coffee origin tour, and outlines steps to organize one successfully.
Part 4: Travel Itinerary
Any coffee origin tour itinerary should focus on commercial activities that provide access to sources, evaluation of coffees available for trade, and information that can be used to market the coffees in a consuming country. Travelers are investing business resources to participate and expect a return. This should not be without cultural experiences in the country. The culture of each coffee-producing origin is what helps to make it unique. Culture makes coffee marketable, so cultural activities on the tour are essential. Design activities that promote interaction with the people and experience of the place.
The duration of a coffee origin tour is generally five to seven days but varies depending on the size and remoteness of the location. As a rule of thumb, one week, including visitor travel time, is a reasonable timeframe. A week is more accessible to busy professionals than trips lasting ten days or longer.
Travelers should be greeted at the arrival airport by a member of the host organization or a driver holding a marked sign. Origin tour participants have traveled several hours, sometimes many days, to reach the destination. They will be tired, disoriented, and unfamiliar with the language and customs. It is in the host’s best interest to make the arrival as comfortable and effortless as possible for the traveler.
- Driver or project representative waiting for pickup, speaking the same language as the traveler if possible.
- Be prepared to assist the traveler with any issues at customs or immigration upon arrival.
- Assist the traveler in buying water or food on arrival, get a SIM card for voice/data communications, and exchange money for local currency.
- Provide a briefing package of information about the week ahead. Include a schedule of activities, contact information for organizers, and any relevant security information.
The daily program of a coffee origin tour should begin at a reasonable morning hour (08:00) and extend to an early evening hour (18:00), as would a typical work day. It may be necessary to begin very early or end late on some days, but these occurrences should be limited to one or two days during the trip. Evening events should be optional, with two or three hosted dinners available during the week. Travelers often need time to check in with their businesses and families or may prefer to skip some activities in favor of a quiet evening. Some late-night dinner parties are appropriate but should be kept to a few – once or twice throughout the trip.
The first morning after arrival should include a group briefing for the host and participants to be introduced to each other. This is a one- to two-hour meeting where introductions are exchanged. It will include an overview of the country, industry, culture, and daily agenda. Time is allowed for any questions from participants.
Each morning, coffee should be served with breakfast. These should be from the regions or communities/estates visited on the trip. Do not allow coffee service to be an afterthought or rely on hotels or F&B providers to serve coffee. Carry fresh roasted coffee sufficient for the needs of the group. Include grinding equipment, brewing equipment, water, and cups. Bring ample coffee, best representing the origin to consume each day.
There should be cupping activities on all or most mornings. Cupping sessions may include whatever number of samples are available. In some origins, this may be two dozen or more samples representing available lots. In others, it may be six or fewer samples per day, representing the regions visited on the trip.
The cupping environment and procedures should conform with international standards. Get as close as is reasonably achievable. Sample coffees available for sale (lot samples) or generally indicative of the quality of each region or farming group (type samples, if off-season). Draw a connection between the coffees sampled and the places visited on the trip. Cup coffee from the farms or regions visited that day. Include participation from the region’s farmers, where practical. It is helpful to be aware of what coffees are available for sale (or if not, when) and the origin or seller of each coffee in as much detail as possible.
Visit farming communities, estates, and processing facilities throughout the local region. It is important to include time for meetings and communication between the farmers/exporters and participants on the tour. Each is likely to have questions of the other, which leads to a better understanding between buyer and seller and more productive trade. Activities that provide a meaningful and authentic experience are most successful in post-trip surveys. Stops at cultural landmarks or convenient tourist attractions are encouraged so long as they do not interrupt coffee business activities. The mix of culture and business events on each coffee origin trip will vary based on location and goal. As a guideline, tourist activities should be a brief recess from business activities rather than the focus. It is reasonable to allow extra private time to explore or shop for souvenirs before departure.
- Keep program hours between 08:00 and 18:00 each day and limit long stretches of travel, early starts, and late evenings.
- Plan coffee activities, including cupping, for each morning. Prepare coffee for the group each morning and use the opportunity to educate travelers on a region or elements of the program.
- Include farmers/exporters in the program. Allow ample time for meetings and exchange of information between visitors and farmers. Avoid gift-giving, where possible.
Food and water
Meals should be served at regular meal times in the morning, afternoons, and evenings. Coffee origin tour visitors prefer typical meals served within a region. Special arrangements to serve “Western-style” meals or other foods that travelers eat at home are unnecessary. Do ask if any travelers have dietary restrictions (customary, religious, or medical) that may need special advance arrangements at meal stops. Potable water should be plentiful and available at all times during the trip. Bottled water should be accessible at all rest stops and destinations, during car trips, and at lodging accommodations. Carry extra water necessary for coffee brewing and any remote meal preparation.
Modern, international business hotels are recommended for nights spent in arrival/departure cities. Urban lodging should be clean and include air conditioning and other modern conveniences. Field accommodations should be the best available, noting that most coffee-producing communities lack business hotels. Notify travelers in advance if Western-style bathroom facilities are unavailable at the destination. Travelers may bring bedding or other items like mosquito netting if they know the expected conditions.
Traveling long distances by car or bus along poorly maintained roads should be minimal. The trip route should be planned efficiently to limit the number of ground transportation hours necessary. When not possible, reasonable accommodations should be made so that travelers are comfortable. High-quality vehicles with enough space for attendees are preferred. Expect up to three persons plus one driver per ordinary passenger vehicle or a larger hire car or coach with ample excess seats. All vehicles should have an operable seatbelt for each occupant.
Communications and Translation
Collect all travelers’ email addresses and mobile phone numbers before departure. This is to stay in contact while traveling to the coffee-origin tour country. If mobile phone service is available within the tour country, distribute local SIM cards with data service. This may not be necessary if international roaming agreements allow travelers to use their phones. Set up a WhatsApp or other social network chat group so that everyone can stay in constant contact (e.g., between cars while on the road) and share photos.
A translator (or translators) may be required to facilitate communication between the visitors and coffee producers. Translators should be familiar with coffee technical (harvest, processing) and sensory terminology to avoid miscommunication.
Be sure to document the trip. This may include the participation of a staff journalist. Otherwise, enlist the cooperation of travelers to provide photos of each stop and activity. Coverage of the event may be a future editorial or promotional opportunity for the coffee origin. It may assist in enlisting future travelers or outside funding to support later trips.
Emergencies and Security
Reasonable security precautions should be taken for each trip, as are appropriate for each region. As necessary, security contractors should escort the trip through dangerous environments. Vehicles should not travel at night or in poor weather conditions. The agenda should be changed in the event of poor road conditions, weather, public disturbances, or any other factor that may jeopardize the safety of the travel group. Tour leaders must communicate with drivers and participants to be informed of any changing conditions. For larger groups, institute a ‘buddy system’ where two people are paired and told to stay together for safety and to notify the group if one is missing. Count your participants before leaving each rest stop so no one is left behind.
Prepare an emergency first aid kit with supplies and medicines for superficial injuries and illnesses. Develop a communications and logistics plan to transport participants to medical facilities in the unlikely event of injury, illness, or natural disaster. Severe conditions may need medical evacuation to a neighboring country for treatment. Tell participants to enroll in a travel medical insurance program with evacuation coverage. These policies are inexpensive and an ordinary contingency for those frequently traveling to developing nations.
Organizing a coffee origin tour is a challenging and detail-oriented task. When planned thoughtfully, it can be an effective export market tool in the toolkit of coffee-producing nations that build positive experiences and long-lasting trade relationships.