A supply chain represents the intricate string of processes that it takes to bring a product to the consumer.

Here’s how the coffee supply chain works from beginning to end.

The Links of a Coffee Supply Chain

The coffee supply chain is a complex process. Its “links” are comprised of many different positions in the coffee production process:


Growers involved with the coffee supply chain are often small scale, operating on farms that are only 1 or 2 hectares (each hectare= ~ 2.5 acres). In addition to growing, these farmers harvest and do some preliminary processing where they dry or hull the beans as appropriate for that particular grower’s method.


Processors are simply growers with the appropriate equipment to process coffee from start to finish. It can sometimes be a collective effort between growers, other processors, and co-ops where each group pitches in for the equipment and therefore has access to processing at a specified site of their choosing.


Intermediaries are usually involved in many stages of the production process. From buying to transporting to selling, intermediaries wear many different hats- there are sometimes up to 5 intermediary “links” in one supply chain.

Government agents

Government agents are involved throughout the process of coffee production in countries where the government is in control of the coffee trade, like in Ethiopia, for example. If you’re interested in history, check out this article about the birthplace of coffee to learn more about Ethiopia’s historical relationship with the commodity.

These agents are often responsible for buying coffee from processors and selling it through auctions for export.



Exporters are responsible for buying different types of coffee beans from co-ops or auctions, then selling it to the suppliers/brokers. Exporters often bring a level of expertise to the process; they are trained to pick out the best quality product based on their knowledge of the location and local vendors.


This group refers to those who sell coffee beans to roasters in the appropriate quantities at a previously agreed upon price.


It is a roaster’s job to see green coffee beans through the roasting process. Roasteries are often open to the public and sell the coffee right from their store. Others ship the final product out to grocery stores, cafes/restaurants, hotels and other retailers that sell coffee to consumers.


This can define any place that sells coffee products. Aside from big chain grocery stores and restaurants, retailers can be small scale like independent boutiques, catering organizations, or specialty grocery stores.

Coffee Supply Chain Breakdown

Here is the general process of how coffee gets from farm to table:

  1. Coffee is harvested by the growers.
  2. The coffee is then sent for processing (unless the farm doubles as a processor) where the beans are hulled and dry or wet processed depending on the method used for that specific grower/coffee; this step is often referred to as “milling”.
  3. After beans are shelled to perfection, creating green coffee beans, they are shipped to the roasters by exporters to suppliers/brokers/roasters/retailers.
  4. Roasters then roast beans to desired light or darkness. If coffee is not only sold at the roastery, it is then packed and shipped out via exporters to its various destinations.

Every Coffee Supply Chain is Unique

As you can plainly see, there can be many links in the coffee supply chain; conversely, there may only be a few links.

However, no matter how large or small your coffee supply chain is, it is imperative that each link be a strong addition to its chain; each link is responsible and equally important in bringing your favorite caffeinated beverage from the farm to the consumers’ kitchen table.