Buying the world’s best green coffee beans

I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t go out at night, I don’t play golf nor badminton, I seldom watch movies (just DVDs at home, coz there’s not really a good movie house around here). So, as you can see, I don’t waste money on useless things. So instead of throwing away money on vices, I spend it on something I really enjoy, something that also makes other people around me happy.

So every now and then, I treat myself by buying some of the world’s best coffee from online shops.

These coffees are usually from South and Central America, Africa, and some parts of Asia. In the US, coffee can only grow in Hawaii. Australia has also recently started growing coffee and selling them on a commercial scale.

Because the US is perhaps the Philippines’s closest business partner, I find it easier to buy from online shops there. Shipping items, in my experience, is fastest and cheapest between the Philippines and the US. So aside from coffee, I actually buy a lot of things from online shops based in the US — books, CDs, cameras and accessories, computer stuff, and anything else interesting I can find on ebay or Amazon.

The average coffee beans range from $5 to $7 a pound. These are already specialty grade, the best of the best. From what I read, you can’t even buy these coffees in their countries of origins. So when you go to Ethiopia or Guatemala, don’t expect to be able to find the best Yirgacheffe and Huehuetenango coffees there, because the best of the harvests are sent to the US, Europe, Japan and Australia. Only those that don’t qualify as specialty grade, meaning the 95% of the harvest, are sold in their home countries.

A few coffees are in the $10-$30 range, like the Jamaica Blue Mountain and Hawaiian Kona. But some are really pricey, like the Gesha coffee from the Hacienda La Esmeralda in Panama, which won the top prizes in coffee competitions these past few years. Don’t be surprised if they fetch prizes of over $100.

Most homeroasters’ one-stop shop is Sweet Maria’s, which sells the widest variety of green beans I’ve seen, complete with scoring and cupping notes. It also sells everything else a coffee lover needs — roasters, grinders, brewers, espresso makers, coffee books, and tons of accessories. It’s also the one-stop shop for anybody wanting to learn about coffee as it has lots and lots of articles about coffee that the owner named that section “Coffee University.” In the coffee forums I’m in, I have yet to read a complaint against SM’s green coffee offerings. So if you buy there, it’s guaranteed it’s great coffee.

But I can see they’re not too comfortable shipping to the Philippines, coz the Philippines is not even listed in its checkout system. I had bought a few items from them (selecting Poland as my country after entering other address information, hehe), though, but shipped to a third-party address in the US, JohnnyAir in this case, so that JohnnyAir then brings my stuff to Cagayan de Oro, where I pick them up and pay the shipping cost. That’s basically how I also bought green beans from such online shops as The Captain’s Coffee, Coffee Bean Corral and Coffee Storehouse.

But shipping that way is costly. We’re on a budget, right?

Here’s one Pinoy solution so you can save — the balikbayan box. Shipping a balikbayan box from the US to Pinas is reasonable, or so I heard. (I don’t have the exact figures, though.) Problem is, it’ll take quite a lot of green coffee beans to fill one. You may have to spend a lot on the beans to save on the shipping. Uh-oh, not a very “on a budget” solution. But if a few hobbyists could group their purchase, then it may be easy to fill a balikbayan box. But another problem, this hobby has a very few following. So far, I can still count by my fingers on one hand the people I personally know who roast coffee at home. Or, talk to relatives or friends who regularly send balikbayan boxes to the Philippines. They may accommodate your 15 or so pounds of green beans.

But my friend Dante, a lawyer practicing in Makati, is generous enough to resell me some of his coffees he buys in bulk, shipped, along with his other purchases, by balikbayan box. Now, don’t ask me Dante’s email or cellphone number coz I don’t wanna abuse his generosity. You have to find your own Dante.

Most of my purchases though, I have them shipped by air direct to the Philippines. The US Postal Service’s rates is much cheaper than FedEx’s or JohnnyAir’s. They have a flatrate envelope that could accommodate 3 lbs of beans for $11, and a flatrate box that can fit 15 lbs at $37.

The only shop I found willing to ship directly to the Philippines is Invalsa. They also have an ebay presence and you can find bargains from them every now and then. Problem is, the Bolivian brothers who own the shop, who are now staying in Boston, sell only Bolivian coffees. I want variety.

But my greatest online discovery of all was, courtesy of forum members at CoffeeGeek, being led to the Green Coffee Buying Club (GCBC). This is some form of a cooperative, roasters all, composed of amateurs and professionals. Some have access to the biggest green bean importers in the US, so they can get bags of beans. Then they distribute the beans at retail quantity but at wholesale price, for very minimal fees for the efforts of the distributors who order the bags, repack them into smaller quantities, then going to the post office to ship, and even filling up customs forms so they could ship to the Philippines.

So at GCBC I order either 3 lbs or 15 lbs, to avail of flatrate shipping. 3 lbs can last you a few weeks, but 15 lbs of coffee can last for a few months. They sell $3 – $5 a pound at GCBC. With a 3lb order, I pay a little over P1,000; for 15 lbs, P4,000 to P5,000. Still not cheap, but reasonable.

So there, you know where to go for the world’s best coffee.


5 Responses to “Buying the world’s best green coffee beans”

  1. Benson on December 23rd, 2008 11:33 pm

    Bob, If we ship our beans thru balikbayan box will the items (green coffee beans) be assesed with taxes?

  2. Bobby on December 23rd, 2008 11:48 pm

    afaik, no!

  3. Elsa on December 28th, 2008 6:52 am

    Sige, if plans to visit next summer push through I might be able to handcarry some green beans for you. But, of course, I will crash your home for a free cup(s) of freshly roasted/brewed coffee. And it better be the best!!!

  4. Bobby on December 28th, 2008 6:59 am

    Oh la la! I’ll remember that. And yeah, DaHaSa81 can have coffee here as always. Linda and Beth and Tita and a few more did have their cups of joe here once.

  5. Mindanao Bob on March 11th, 2009 8:22 pm

    Balikbayan boxes are never assessed with taxes. Nothing to worry about.

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