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Having lived in Beijing, Hong Kong, Singapore and Bangkok (and knowing people from all over other regions), I know that it isn't a given that you can get green coffee beans easily everywhere you go. There's no Sweet Maria's around here. It's also getting harder to find anything by googling because of the dominance of snake-oil green coffee extract vendors. So what's a home roaster to do? There are a few ways of cracking this nut. Here are some suggestions for the budding home brewer and roaster.
Best: Make friends with your local roaster (or roaster/cafe)
This has proven to be my most effective strategy. In Beijing, I befriended the roasters at Rickshaw Roasters (website shut down), and bought green beans from them on the side. They were generous and often sent their leftover samples. I paid in cash or by bank transfer and they shipped to me with me bearing courier charges. In Hong Kong, I made friends with the very helpful 華昇咖啡 (Chinese website only) in Sai Ying Pun, and a green coffee trader running Golden Future Trading, who gives me sample bags on the side. It takes legwork, but can be very rewarding. Think about who your favourite roaster is, go visit them and strike up conversation. You might be surprised
OK but not great: Bring it back in sacks
Occasionally I buy coffee from local suppliers, like Sweet Maria's or Coffeesnobs' BeanBay in Australia, put it in my suitcase and lug it home. The problem here is that a) coffee is really heavy and b) it's really voluminous. In fact, green coffee is about 10% heavier than roast coffee (because of moisture lost in the roast process). With international travel usually having my suitcase packed to the brim, this isn't a very sustainable process. Besides, green coffee doesn't last forever.
Terrible: Buy from the people who offer international shipping
There are a few suppliers out there who offer international shipping. The problem is, it's really, really expensive, even when buying in bulk.
Let's take Sweet Maria's for one. Now, I'm a huge fan. So I decided to order a larger bag to economise in bulk and on shipping, ordering 5lb of an Ethiopian Kaffa for $28.93. Happily, Hong Kong is in the drop-down (though Beijing wasn't, and on enquiry they would not ship there. China is usually a special case.) So I checked prices. Shipping for Hong Kong? A minimum of $56.05! Same for Seoul. (How about Singapore or Thailand? Sorry, not options.) This brings the total price per kilogram (for comparison's sake) up to $38.55. Suddenly it's much more economical to buy from a local roaster. Not looking viable.
Trying Hasbean, a UK outfit similar to Sweet Maria's, was similar. Hasbean offers more traditional, on-trend coffees like Yirgacheffes (Kochere, Guji) etc. There is no directly comparable coffee. For 2kg of an Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Konga, which came to 42 GBP or 65.95 USD at today's rate... already twice the price of Sweet Marias. Postage for that 2KG? A whopping 57.65 GBP or 88.40 USD. In total that brings the coffee and postage to $154.35 or $77.20 per kilo... double what Sweet maria's costs. This clearly doesn't work
Conclusion - where do you go?
If you were looking for a happy ending to this story, unfortuantely there isn't one for now. If you've had any luck, let us know in the comments or feel free to get in touch. We're always looking for more friendly suppliers.