Trade Show Marketing for Coffee Exporters

Download the latest version of the trade show exhibition guide for coffee exporters as a PDF. (4MB)

Why market coffee at trade shows?

WOC Budapest sign

The SCA World of Coffee is Europe’s largest annual professional expo

Coffee is one of the world’s largest industries and most widely-traded global commodities. Seventy or more countries produce and export coffee and practically every other country consumes it. Because of the vast geography and large number of participants involved in its trade, coffee trade shows (also known as trade fairs or exhibitions) become a gathering place to promote products and services, to learn new skills, socialize and develop new business.

At a trade show, coffee exporters can:

  • Build brand awareness as an exhibitor or advertiser. Building awareness is a valuable contribution to an organizational sales effort. It is a foundation for all other sales and marketing effort. Set expectations realistically, however, as sales cycles in the coffee trade are slow and most business identified through coffee trade show activity is not transacted at the event. It may take months or years to complete new business with sales prospects.
  • Hold customer meetings. Industry events provide an opportunity to meet with a large number of existing trade partners in one forum. Use the time to discuss ongoing or new business matters and socialize with customers. In addition to formal business meetings, social activities build trust, which is of critical importance in the specialty coffee niche.
  • Gather intelligence. Use shows to learn how other coffee exporters promote coffees. Visit competitor displays to gauge their effectiveness. Taste coffees from other exporters to better understand the competition.  Adapt good ideas from your competitors for your own marketing plan.
  • Learn. Learn more about coffee, new innovations in the coffee industry, or how to conduct export business better. Everyone can learn something new from attending lectures or skill-building workshops. Trade shows sometimes educational courses that teach attendees to perform better as coffee cuppers, roasters, or baristas. A better understanding the industry from soil to cup will improve selling effectiveness.
  • Develop strategic partnerships. Consider joining or aligning with regional trade groups, barista or roaster associations, or other national coffee associations with common interests. Banding together with others increases social networks and can improve the effectiveness of sales activity.
  • Meet the press. Trade press attend events to cover stories generated within the industry. Form relationships with editors or other media representatives to improve the potential of future exposure for your business or region. Invite and involve trade media in your activities at shows. Making media impressions a key metric for evaluating success of the activity.

Participating as an attendee or exhibitor at an international coffee trade show can cost substantial sums of money. In addition to the direct costs associated with travel and display-related costs an exhibitor, one must also not forget lost time while away from the office. Since so much is at risk, it is important to plan to achieve a positive return on investment. When done right, trade shows can be a profitable investment.

Added value in the specialty coffee niche

Within the coffee industry there are two primary market segments: commodity, currently representing about 85% of the quantity of coffee traded and specialty (sometimes referred to as differentiated), the other 15%. This guide is intended for exporters pursuing the niche specialty segment. Although there may also be some benefits of marketing commodity coffees at trade shows (e.g. when introducing coffee to new markets, or when seeking new commodity traders), much more will be gained by those dealing in specialty.

The ideology of specialty coffee is that every coffee is unique, making value addition possible. This new value comes from tangible changes like improvement in quality or flavor and availability of data or from intangible ones influenced by marketing. In addition to technical criteria, such as plant variety, origin location, and method of processing, specialty coffee buyers want to know where their coffees come from, under what conditions they were farmed, and about the people responsible for its production.

  Commodity Specialty
Ideology Coffee is interchangeable Every coffee is unique
Sensory characteristics Simple “coffee flavor,” low acidity, sometimes inconsistent Complex, distinctive characteristics indicative of origin terror, plant genetics, farm practices and processing
Defects Up-to 10% by weight Low to zero, no primary defects producing off-cups
Trading Electronic futures exchanges or large volume commodities traders, little to no interaction between producer and end-user Relationship-based trade conducted between parties in direct communication, often involving specialist importer/traders. Sometimes sold at auction
Traceability Limited, only to the origin, cooperative, or exporter Potentially traceable to an individual producer or estate
Lot quantity Multiple shipping containers Typically less than full 20t container, often micro-lots 100 60kg bags or less. Nano-lots may be few kg
Packing Jute, 1t big bag, or full shipping container bladder Moisture barrier lining or hermetic sealed (Grainpro, Ecotact) various sizes, or 15k vacuum-sealed bricks, advanced recyclable technology
Price discovery Set by futures exchanges with strict premiums and discounts for origin and quality variation Varies: often set at price premiums above futures markets, sometimes including additional premiums for certification. Sometimes negotiated directly between producer and buyer
Value addition Low price, credit terms, storage options, shipping time Flavor, quality, exclusivity, rarity, authenticity, story, relationship, novelty, environmental and social sustainability, traceability, brand
Trade show goal Identify new customers, find new suppliers Identify new customers, find new suppliers, support existing relationships, add value with brand promotion and social interaction

Unlike in the larger commodity market, trading in specialty coffee requires detailed communication between buyer and seller throughout the season. Specialty trading partners may be in contact regularly by phone or email, and buyers may visit the farming areas of their suppliers seasonally. Relationships are develop over time, developing loyalty and even friendships. These relationships enhance the effectiveness of communication and improve the ease of doing business.

Roasters Village WOC Amsterdam

Roasters’ Village at World of Coffee Amsterdam, a place for business and socializing

Trade shows play an important role in facilitating these relationships:

  • Participation at events puts exporters in contact with hundreds of new potential customers. The exhibition floor, cupping rooms, social activities, even meetings in a hotel lobby, elevator, or shared taxicab offer new opportunities. Always carry business cards and be prepared with a short description of your company’s offerings. (known as an “elevator pitch” for this reason!)
  • Business planning/support. Once trust is established, exporters can meet casually with buyers each year at industry events to discuss ongoing business details. There may no longer be a need for one party to travel to the others’ location (at additional time and expense) specifically for that purpose.
  • Socializing. Do not underestimate the value of social relationships within the coffee industry. Social relationships between buyer and seller help to build bonds that add and customer loyalty. Trust-based relationships allow for greater flexibility in times of trouble or when pursuing mutual goals.

Event selection

There are many coffee events to attend each year. In addition to international, regional and national coffee-focused trade events, there are also food and hospitality industry shows, consumer coffee festivals, coffee pavilions at agriculture trade events, restaurant shows and more. Careful event selection is necessary to make good use of limited marketing resources and time.

International events

Tokyo Big Sight SCAJ

Tokyo Big Sight, venue for the Specialty Coffee Association of Japan exposition


International or regional coffee industry trade-focused events are generally best for exporters seeking to reach large audiences of specialty buyers. These large annual shows draw thousands and possibly tens of thousands of businesspeople engaged in the trade of coffee, related products, and services.

Major industry shows include:

National Tradeshows

Smaller regional or national coffee-focused trade shows draw potential buyers from the surrounding region or country. Hosts of these events may be private for-profit show companies or national coffee associations. Although typically drawing smaller audiences, these may be good options for coffee exporters targeting a geographic region (or country) for new business.

Smaller, regionally-focused events include:

Food and Hospitality Events

Thaifex coffee

Myanmar coffee exporters at Thaifex in Bangkok

Large food and hospitality events, some with hundreds of thousands of visitors, may have entire conference halls or pavilions dedicated to coffee industry suppliers. In some countries, these large events may host annual gatherings and competitions of national coffee associations.

Although the majority of attendees at food and hospitality shows will not have an interest or application for green coffee, the high volume of traffic means that even a small percentage of coffee professionals may make participation an exhibitor worthwhile.

Examples of these food and hospitality shows include:

  • HOST Milan (Italy)

Consumer coffee festivals

Coffee festivals and consumer food shows are best to promote roasted coffee to wholesale or retail coffee buyers. Consumer festivals are generally not recommended for green coffee exporters, as attendees of these shows are not ideal customers for green coffee imports; however, exhibitors appearing or professionals participating at these events may be. Festivals also provide an opportunity to gather intelligence about a market and its trends.

These include:

Istanbul Coffee Festival crowd

Crowd of coffee enthusiasts at the Istanbul Coffee Festival

Export association trade shows

Trade associations in coffee exporting nations also organize national events for the purpose of attracting foreign buyers, hosting national competitions, and gathering domestic stakeholders. Some foreign buyers may attend these shows but are not a primary audience. More likely, foreign attendees are equipment and service providers exhibiting for the purpose of selling to coffee producer/exporters (processing or roasting equipment, packaging suppliers, inputs, etc.). Therefore, the main purpose of attending an export association trade event should be to meet with suppliers and participate in national competitions, educational workshops, and lectures.

Export association trade shows include:

Who are the attendees?

When considering participation in a trade show, learn as much as possible about who will be there to attend and exhibit. Visit show websites to review a list of current or past exhibitors. There is safety in numbers. If a number of competitors are listed as exhibitors, the show may be highly relevant to your business.

Large and established trade show events may also offer detailed attendee demographics in a prospectus for potential exhibitors. Data may include the number of participants, nationalities, company category, and job function. Sometimes, these also include key interests and spending budgets obtained in registration surveys that can be helpful to better-understand the motives and buying potential of a show’s audience.

Beyond the materials offered by show promoters, ask existing customers what trade shows they attend and reasons why. Very often, the shows that your customers attend are the ones that you should attend too.

To exhibit or not?

Once a show is selected, one must decide how to participate: an attendee or exhibitor? There are benefits and drawbacks to each.


A trade show display is not a market stall or living brochure hoping to attract passers-by. A well-organized display (or booth) projects a message. It says that your business is both capable and credible to do business with within a market. It provides a known place of meeting for staff and customers, and a site for cupping demonstrations and tastings. The display functions a base of operations for the duration of the trade event, normally two or three days.

coffee cupping session

Cupping sessions are often an exhibitor privilege

Exhibitors may also have access to privileges not available to ordinary non-exhibitor attendees, such as:

  • early and late access to the event floor
  • cupping or meeting rooms (for hire)
  • lead retrieval systems that scan attendee badges (for hire)
  • listings in printed show guides or on a show website
  • priority consideration as a speaker in lectures
  • reduced advertising rates in related trade publications
  • access to attendee lists and contact information

However, this comes at a significant cost that measured in thousands or 10s of thousands of euros, which may be beyond the reach of small companies. If unable to participate as a single-company exhibitor due to cost, check with a local coffee export association to ask about joining as a part of their group at a shared rate. Government trade programs, NGO market access initiatives may also offer subsidies or other programs to assist small business exporters doing business abroad. If not available, consider sharing a stand with like-minded competitors or customers (importers, roasters) with an interest to promote your products, however these arrangements can be complex.

Time is also a consideration. Planning to exhibit at a large international event should begin 10-12 months in advance. There are several decisions that must be made, logistics to be arranged, and administrative requirements to be met that require extensive preparation. Consider how much time remains until the show begins. If less than four months, it may be better to attend rather than exhibit.


Hotel hospitality suite

A hotel hospitality suite can be an alternate venue for cuppings and meetings

Attendee credentials at professional trade show events are usually inexpensive, while still providing access to the trade floor and many show activities. Attendees can walk the floor to observe competitors or meet with customers and suppliers at or outside the event, but booth-to-booth selling is strictly prohibited. It is not considered acceptable to walk show aisles handing out marketing materials and or green coffee samples, since that privilege is reserved for paying exhibitors. As an alternative, attendees who wish to sell coffee at a trade show may consider hosting an offsite event or hotel hospitality suite.

Offsite events, such as cupping sessions or social engagements may be hosted by anyone. These activities are regularly scheduled by coffee companies maintaining offices or retail locations in the host city of an event. To promote a brand offsite, consider arranging for cupping room space at a nearby customer’s coffee shop or roastery, or hosting a cocktail reception at restaurant for clientele.

Suites at nearby hotels can double as a reception venue and a meeting room away from the busy show floor. Be sure any hospitality suite is within close walking distance to the conference facility, as most attendees of professional trade shows have limited schedule availability.

Budgeting costs

Reserving booth space at an event is a small piece of a coffee trade show exhibitor’s budget. Thoroughly investigate costs before committing to an event, as some additional services (e.g. electricity, or show insurance) may be sold separately. Consider requesting a sample budget from the event organizer.


  • advertisements (show guide, trade media, social media promotion)
  • catering (water for coffee, milk for espresso drinks)
  • display equipment (brewing equipment, grinders, airpots)
  • exhibit (show-provided shell or custom exhibit)
  • furniture rental (chairs, tables, sofa, plants)
  • hosted events (dinners, parties, hospitality suites, cupping rooms)
  • inbound and outbound freight (freight, plus show drayage)
  • marketing materials and supplies (handouts, green samples)
  • services (electricity, cleaning)
  • sponsorships (competitions, show features)
  • supplies (extension cables, cups, paper filters, towels, cleaning supplies)
  • travel expenses (flights, hotels, meals, ground transportation, visas)

The sample budget below compares potential costs to participate as an attendee or small exhibitor (e.g. 3m2 display) at a fictitious coffee trade show for purposes of illustration. Market prices and assessed fees vary substantially by city and event, so be sure to update these costs with real data provided by an event organizer.

  Attendee Small Exhibitor
Exhibit space / attendee registration €150 €3,500
Display costs (modest design, build) N/A €2,500
Insurance (required by show) €250
Freight (in/out) N/A €750
Advertising, sponsorships Optional €1,500
Furniture rental N/A €350
Services (electrical, cleaning) N/A €250
Marketing supplies Optional €500
Lead retrieval system N/A €150
Catering (brewing water) Included in suite €250
Hospitality suite or event €1500 (optional) N/A
Misc. supplies €50 €150
Subtotal €200 attend
€1,700 w/suite or event


Travel (per person)    
Airfare, ground transportation €500-€1,500 €500-€1,500
Hotel (3-days attendee, 5 days exhibitor) €525 €875
Visa costs (if applicable) €100 €100
Meals and incidentals (3-days attendee, 5 days exhibitor) €225 €375
Subtotal Travel (per person) €1,350-€2,350 €1,850-€2,850

What to bring

Marketing materials

When considering marketing materials to bring, remember the saying “less is more.” Paper marketing materials can be costly to produce and cannot be changed once printed. They are also heavy to carry. Be mindful that coffee buyers also do not want to carry brochures from multiple prospective suppliers back to their home offices or respective countries of origin. In some consumer markets, printed materials may be considered environmentally unfriendly and leave a negative impression. The less you carry to a show, the less you will need to carry home.

Where possible, bring a simple one-page (or double-sided) sheet with basic information about the coffee exporter and origin. This should contain relevant facts and some attractive photos of coffee and/or national culture. English language is typical for international business in the coffee industry, however it may be advantageous to translate marketing materials into a local language. Individual business cards with an email address or website are often the best way to receive follow-up inbound calls.

Coffee samples

Bring coffee samples representing lots that are for sale or typical of seasonal availability. Bring the best that is available to offer being sure it is authentic and representative of typical availability. Do not groom defects from samples to make them appear better, as such tactics do not build trust.

It is appropriate to have a small quantity of sample green coffee packs on-hand (150g). Do not bring more than a dozen or two. Some coffee buyers will provide instructions to ship samples to them directly after the event. The cost of shipment may be preferable to the burden of carrying several kilos of green coffee in personal luggage. Be aware are some countries where green coffee samples cannot be hand-carried and must be either roasted or imported using special procedures. Be sure to check with the show host or visit the country’s customs website to review regulations prior to attending.

Sample packaging

Coffee sample packs

Professional coffee sample packs speak volumes about quality to the prospective buyer

Sample packs make a first impression with coffee importers that demonstrates professionalism as an organization and potential ability to deliver promises as a trading partner. They should be rigid or sturdy, sealed and clearly labeled with identifying criteria. Where possible, these should also include the company brand. Labeling should display:

  • Company and contact information (name, phone, email, website)
  • Sample or lot identifying information
  • Lot size, total production size
  • Harvest, ship dates
  • National coffee grade (if applicable)
  • Location (with coordinates and elevation, if available)
  • Community/regional name, estate name, or washing station (if applicable)
  • Variety (if known)
  • Processing method
  • Certifications, e.g. organic, RFA/Utz, FT, others (if applicable)
  • Marked “SAMPLE: NO COMMERCIAL VALUE” in case of any questions upon arrival at custom.


Exhibition halls are large and usually located outside of central business districts. It may be difficult to source needed supplies at these remote locations during the busy few days of a trade show. Suppliers who are located on the show grounds will charge a (sometimes substantial) premium for their services. For that reason, it is recommended that you bring all materials and supplies that you reasonably expect to need during the event with you, or plan to source them in the city of the show during the few days prior. Availability of food and water is also sometimes limited on the trade show floor (or inferior at exorbitant prices due to lack of competition), so it is advisable to pack a lunch or snacks and water bottle to carry through the day.

Consider bringing the following supplies. Even if you do not need all of these at an event, others around you may, which may make you a popular person.

Personal Supplies Office / Coffee Supplies Exhibit and Sales Support
All prescribed medicines, cold medicine, stomach medicines Aprons Batteries (various sizes)
Band Aids Clipboard(s) Bungee cords
Casual backup shoes (to replace heels, dress shoes) Computer/video cables (RGB, HDMI) Business card collection box/bowl
Credit cards, petty cash Coffee sample packs Business card holders
Hand sanitizer, wet wipes Cupping bowls Business cards
Hat, sunscreen Cupping scoresheets Cable ties, zip ties
Lint brush Cupping spoons Cleaners, towels
Lip balm Electrical tape, clear tape, double-sided mounting tape Customer information log
Mobile phone travel SIM card Highlighter Draping tablecloth, sheets
Nail clippers Index cards First aid kit
Pain killers International power adapters Giveaway and promotions (swag)
Phone charger Kettles Hammer, nails
Portable snacks (dried fruit, nuts, granola bars, chocolate, etc.) Notepad(s) Nametag / company lanyard
Sewing kit Packing tape Power extension cords
Skin lotion Paper clips, rubber bands Printed handouts
Stain remover pen Pens, pencils, markers Replacement lightbulbs
Tissues Power strip Ruler, tape measure
Toothbrush, dental floss Reusable shopping bag(s) Sample information labels
Tote bag or backpack (locking, if possible, for security) Scissors Shower hooks (signage)
Travel plans and registration printouts Spittoons Sign holders
Umbrella Stapler, staples Tool kit (various screwdrivers, pliers)
Reusable water bottle Sticky notes Trash bags, trash can
Superglue Utility knife
USB memory sticks Vacuum
Velcro strips
Voltage meter
Wire or string (for signage)
Ziploc bags

How to prepare

Review exhibitor show manual

The first thing that any exhibitor should do is read the show manual provided by organizers. Do this before signing a contract to exhibit, if at all possible, as it contains detailed information about rules, your responsibilities, critical deadlines, and other costs that may be unexpected. Rules and customs vary substantially between venues, sometimes even within the same country, so it is important to assume nothing.

For example, if certain administrative paperwork like insurance forms or health certificates are not filed by specified dates, an exhibitor may face large fines for late submission or be banned entirely from participating at the event. Services (like construction labor, electricity, water delivery, vacuuming, etc.) are typically less expensive when arranged by set dates outlined in the manual. Purchasing needed services and supplies on-site may be at a substantial premium. Read and understand the show manual far in advance so that there are no unpleasant surprises later.

Research the destination

Practically all of the information needed to prepare for any trip can be found searching online at no charge. TripAdvisor, Fodors, Lonely Planet, other travel companies and private blogs all can offer guidance about what conditions and local customs to expect, as well as, what items are best to bring or leave behind. Free government resources like the U.S. State Department Travel international travel website provide detailed information about travel destinations worldwide and can warn of any known threats. For disease advisories or information for travelers with medical conditions, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control travel site.


A travel visa may be required for entry into the country of destination and sometimes connecting countries passed in-transit. Check requirements for transit countries and destinations far in advance of the scheduled date of travel. It may take several months and require significant documentation and/or multiple visits to embassies within your country of residence to obtain travel approval.


Lookup a weather forecast for the show destination during planning when clothes are selected for the trip and again immediately prior to travel. Actual conditions may be different than predicted of a place. Heat spells, winter storms, and heavy rains can make a busy work trip uncomfortable or cause substantial travel delays. Be prepared for whatever may come.


In addition to selecting clothing suited to anticipated weather conditions, also consider what is both comfortable and appropriate in the host country and event venue. Comfortable shoes are important, as both trade show exhibitors and attendees walk long distances or stand long hours on concrete floors. If wearing high heels or dress shoes for some activities, be sure to bring a set of casual backup shoes.

Choose clothing that is professional but comfortable and suited to both indoor and outdoor environmental conditions. Events hosted in Europe and Asia tend to be more formal than those in North America or Australia. Professional high-level conferences and small venue symposiums tend to be more formal than large trade hall expositions. Government and academic conferences tend to be more formal than private sector events. Search for local dress customs to identify any style of clothing to avoid in public, for example, modesty requirements in Muslim countries.


Check with your mobile phone service provider before traveling to determine what roaming rates or other fees may apply for international destinations. Some providers offer international voice and data roaming packages that make international use relatively inexpensive. Others offer temporary rental phones for foreign travel. Alternatively, consider purchasing a travel SIM card in advance or local SIM card on arrival in the destination country.

Travel SIM cards offered by OneSim, GigSky, WorldSim and others provide coverage internationally at reasonable rates. Skyroam offers mobile hotspots that provide similar coverage in many countries. Advanced smartphones equipped with eSIM technology may offer alternative carriers for international roaming without the need to insert a new chip. Options change quickly in this highly competitive field, so do research online to locate the best option available in your area before travel.

Geography and transportation

Study the geography of the destination before travel: where hotels are located relative to the event venue, where restaurants and supply stores are located relative to the hotel? Where are hospitals, train stations, embassies, pharmacies, or places of worship?

Visit travel websites to gain an idea of how to travel from an airport or train station to the hotel and how much it typically costs. Learn what transportation options are available and recommended for travel between the hotel and exhibition site, the reliability of local taxicabs, availability of public transportation like underground or light rail, trolleys, busses and ferries. In some cities (but not all), ride share services like Uber and Lyft may also be available as convenient transportation options through a smartphone app.

On arrival, confirm your research by asking hotel desk staff and request the contact information of a reliable taxi service. In foreign language-speaking countries, have the hotel provide a business card with written address, phone number, and optional directions.


Search the internet for news related to your destination prior to travel. News headlines can provide timely information and warnings about potential complications during your stay. Look for articles about political instability, calls for protests and labor strikes, elections, large sporting events or concerts, recent natural disasters, or other occurrences that may be in your path. Some governments’ foreign outposts offer email mailing lists for visiting citizens to notify them of events. Check the website of your government’s embassy in the destination country to determine if these services are available.


Check a public holiday calendar online for your destination to determine if there are any civic or religious holidays over or near the dates of travel. Holidays may inconvenience travelers, since businesses, services (like couriers for exhibition freight) and government offices may be closed. Travel volumes may increase on public holidays, leading to higher prices, longer than normal wait times for transportation, and long lines at airport security check points.


Determine the local currency of a place, approximate costs of local goods and services (like a lunch, a bottle of water, a taxi ride, and a haircut) and whether or not credit cards are commonly accepted. Check if there is an additional fee for credit card use (charged by vendors or international fees charge by the issuing bank), and also notify your card issuer of travel. Travel notifications may be required by bank card issuers as a theft deterrent. Exchange rates may vary substantially by exchange location, with the best rates usually obtained at automated teller machines operated by large reputable banks. Check online travel resources to determine the best recommended exchange options and how much cash should be carried versus withdrawn after arrival.


Laws of a foreign country may vary significant from your home. You will be required to follow them or face consequences. Check travel sites and resources offered by your country’s embassy and/or the destination country to determine what is legal. In particular, pay attention to customs laws to confirm what commercial goods may be carried into a country for an exhibition and if any special declaration or duty must be paid to be in compliance with local laws. Similarly, confirm that any prescription medicines used are legal abroad (or in-transit). In case you plan to drive, verify road rules and if additional permitting or insurance is necessary.


Determine the local language spoken at the destination, noting that it may be different than the official language of a country. Citizens of small countries bordered by foreign language neighbors may speak multiple languages and English for international business (like the Netherlands). Larger countries with few land borders may speak primarily one (like Brazil or Korea). Create a list of common phrases and words to use is social situations or emergencies (Appendix D: Useful Translations).

Customs and culture

Culture is a word that is difficult to define, but essentially is the set of rules we follow, the meaning of our objects and expressions, and expectations we have for ourselves and others that is learned from our family group. Cultural expectations in coffee consuming countries is usually different than in coffee producing countries. As a result, expectations like “to be on time” have very different meanings for buyers and sellers. Some sellers may consider arriving an hour late acceptable, where buyers may consider anything more than a minute or two after the scheduled time offensive. In some cultures, it is considered offensive to show the soles of one’s shoes to another. The same concept applies for directness of speech, male and female gender roles, hierarchy within an organization or community, and whether or not goals are pursued for the many (such as a company) or for the one (an individual).

Be mindful of these potential cultural differences when visiting a new place and speaking with people unlike yourself. (See Appendix C: Common factors affecting culture.) There is no right or wrong, just different from what may be familiar. Do not be offended if a foreigner breaks one of your own cultural norms, it is likely a misunderstanding. Ask questions to gain a full understanding of the issues and expectations of other cultures to avoid unintended miscommunications.


Food may be unfamiliar at your destination. Do research online before travel to determine what styles of cuisine may be available. Travelers with dietary restrictions or allergies should be particularly careful to investigate the ingredients customarily used and should have a local language speaker write the restriction on paper to show in restaurants.

Where not limited by medical concerns, try something new. New flavors, smells, and textures of food will make you a better coffee cupper. Well-traveled cuppers can draw on a broad set of sensory experiences to better-articulate characteristics in coffee. Every new food experience you have will be added to your library of coffee descriptors that can be recalled later. Alternatively, considering bringing non-perishable snacks for sustenance during the trip.

Air transportation and lodging

Air transportation and lodging should be booked as early as possible. The best airfare rates are typically found between approximately 45 and 60 days in advance. However, discounted fares may be restricted or subject to substantial fees in case of changes or cancellation, so be certain of your travel dates and ticketing rules before making a commitment.

There is greater urgency to book hotel rooms early, since availability for hotels in preferable locations adjacent to the event venue may fill months or a year in advance. Trade events often offer hotel rooms through an official lodging company found on its website. Booking through the host is usually a good idea, as coffee associations (in particular) negotiate discount rates for large room blocks and return savings back to membership. This is not always the case, however, so it is advisable to verify pricing options at the same property through an independent travel agency.

In some cities, renting an apartment or whole home with a group of others may be a preferable option through a service like AirBNB. Apartments are not generally serviced and do not offer the same conveniences of a hotel, like dry cleaning or restaurants on the premises. They are usually larger, however, which is better for company teams of attendees traveling together (or families) and often include a kitchen and laundry facilities that make the overall cost of meals and lodging much less expensive than hotels.

Update marketing materials

Trade shows are gathering places that offers opportunities to meet with existing contacts as well as new ones. Months ahead of participating at a show is the best time to start updating marketing materials.

Coffee samples

Coffee samples should not be an afterthought. They are arguably the most important part of a trade show appearance and must be carefully planned and prepared. Depending on the size and scope of your production, select an appropriate number of samples (perhaps between 5 and 10) that adequately represent the company’s offerings and/or actual lots available for sale.

Package and label each as referenced in (Coffee samples). Where possible, reserve samples (e.g. 5kg) of top performing lots produced each year exclusively for marketing purposes in a sample library. Store the sample under controlled climate conditions and/or in Ecotact® or Grainpro® packaging to maximize shelf life. The sample library of coffee can then be used to demonstrate company products outside of peak harvest and shipment months. Store and demonstrate good (but authentic) examples of products produced by the company. As with pre-shipment samples, do not groom marketing samples to remove defects, as this may be considered misrepresentation. Exceeding expectations by delivery coffees as good or better than promised is always the best path to a long-term customer relationship.

Samples and roasting

coffee sample roaster

Two-barrel sample coffee roaster

Follow SCA-recommended protocols for sample roasting. Sample roasting must be performed within a day to few days (if necessary) prior to

trade show event. This makes sample roasting logistics complex, as it requires roasting immediately prior to travel or after arrival at a third-party location.

Make a plan for sample roasting months ahead of an event. Third-party locations (like importers, coffee roasters, cafes, etc.) in close proximity to a coffee trade event will have limited availability the week of a major show. Many companies will be competing to borrow or hire time on a limited supply of roasting equipment. Do not arrive at the event with green coffee and no plan for roasting. This demonstrates disorganization and makes a bad impression with potential customers.


One of the first and easiest updates is to a company website: make mention of your upcoming event appearance on an events page or in a blog entry. Include event contact information, including the event name, city, dates, a show booth number (if known), and the names and phone numbers of personnel who may attend. This is free promotion for the investment already being made in attendance.

Email signature

Every email message can promote an appearance at an event for free. Including mention of an appearance, for example, “See me at World of Coffee 20xx” in the signature section of your email client. Despite the large size and scope of the coffee industry, there is a relatively small number of professionals engaged in international buying and selling. Many of them attend annual events, so you may be surprised by the effectiveness of this method.


Make mention of upcoming events in a company newsletter or monthly consolidated collection of blog entries sent to email subscribers each month, two months or quarter.

Sell sheets

Produce simple one-page sell sheets with key company facts and coffees available specific to the interests of attendees at an upcoming event. Marketing material handouts should be light for customers to carry. Draft them to include action items that drive readers to view a website or contact salesperson for detailed additional information.

Yemen coffee brochure

A tri-fold brochure provides basic facts about an origin country, cooperative or estate

At international trade shows, it is sometimes appropriate to translate marketing materials into a local language. Be prepared, however, in the event that a non-English speaker requests more information or wishes to conduct business. A professional translator may be necessary to establish and maintain the customer relationship. This is most effective for exporters committed to do business with multiple clients in one particular market.

Talking points

Talking points are helpful for both solo attendees and groups to provide planned, consistent, and concise information to potential customers. Make a list of key selling points about your region, coffee company (including a background story), goals for attending the event, and coffees available for sale (or expected the next season). This ensures that anyone representing the company can answer basic questions and will help to project a positive image as prepared professionals.

Schedule customer meetings

Scheduling meetings at shows with busy buyers (and sellers) can be challenging. Many hope to meet with tens of customers and suppliers during a two- or three-day event, in addition to participating in other conference activities. For that reason, it is important to schedule meetings with firm times and places well in advance of arriving.

A meeting that is not scheduled is unlikely to happen. Contact customers and prospects with whom you have had some prior communication to schedule meetings between one week to one month in advance. Choose a location, such as a trade show booth, hospitality suit or hotel lobby, as a primary meeting point. On arrival, confirm that the space selected is suitable, as these areas may be noisy with convention crowds at the time of the event. Reconfirm the meeting and location by phone, email, or text one day in advance. Although thirty minutes may be sufficient for most meetings, allow extra time for possible delays. There are many distractions at events that may delay scheduled activities, so be careful not to book a calendar completely full.

Download this document as a PDF for more, including preparation checklists, quick reference sheets, cultural factors and translations. Thanks for reading and good luck with your event!