• Liquoring - the basics

    At the very minimum the liquor has to be clean. There should be no off-flavours or taints in the cup. The liquor must be reliable and constant: the coffee should liquor the same every time it is tasted. When making up a shipment it is no good tasting a single cup and thinking that the coffee is fine, when many buyers as a matter of course will taste five or ten cups over two or more individual roasts.

    When roasting your own coffee, remember the type of roast your buyer prefers and match it in your own preparation. But also remember that sometimes a lighter roast may accentuate defective liquor aspects that darker roasts tend to hide. Specialty roasters in particular usually roast small batches and taste every batch. This means a coffee will be tasted many times over. If it is unreliable (meaning different or even unclean cups simply 'appear' from time to time) this will be spotted. Bulk users of commercial grade coffee also sample very accurately and will easily spot an unreliable parcel. See 05.03.03 Containers - quality and sampling.

    What constitutes 'quality' is a subjective judgement. Quality is open to many interpretations, but experienced tasters will seldom disagree on whether a coffee is clean in the cup or not. What they may argue about is whether the type and degree of uncleanliness, or off-flavour, is such as to render the coffee unacceptable. Clearly one will be more tolerant of quality defects in a bargain-priced grinder to be used in the general mass market, than one would be of taste defects in a top-priced, supposedly exemplary coffee.

    Experienced buyers have a fair idea what to expect from certain origins and types of coffee. They know what those coffees can be used for. And so a sun-dried natural may present flavours that buyers know, accept and even appreciate in that type of coffee, but that they will absolutely not accept in a washed coffee. For example, the full body and often somewhat heavy, fruity taste of many good naturals does not appeal to buyers who are looking for acidic coffees instead. The experienced liquorer will know what coffee suits which buyer or market - anyone wishing to get into the business of selling quality will have to find this out if they want to make their mark.

    Understand your buyer. Once a quality has been accepted it is most important to understand exactly why the buyer likes and continues to buy that particular coffee in preference to others. There can be many reasons, but the most important to mention here are continuity and mutual trust.

    Continuity suggests not that this coffee is just an isolated happening, never to be seen again, but rather that the seller knows where the coffee came from, how it was brought to the quality the buyer approved, and that within reason the seller can repeat the exercise in future. Of course, like wine, no coffee is exactly the same from season to season. There are good years, and then there are less good to sometimes even bad years. Experienced buyers know this and will never hold such variations against a seller.

    Buyers hate exporters who knowingly ship coffee whose quality is not up to standard. If unforeseen circumstances mean one has difficulty in fulfilling a contract then the best and, really, the only option is always to inform your buyer as soon as you become aware of the problem. The buyer may be able to assist you by granting an extension to the shipping period, or may agree to take a slightly different quality (perhaps against a reduction in price), or may agree to release you from the contract. But the buyer will rightly be furious if the exporter simply ships a slightly different coffee hoping to get away with it. This can cause real and serious trouble, as shipping the wrong coffee disrupts the buyer's supply pipeline. Roasters buy coffee for a specific objective. If on arrival it does not suit, it becomes virtually useless to them. It is no good then to offer a price allowance or discount to try and settle the matter. After all, if the roaster could have used a lower quality they would presumably have bought that in the first place.

    Continuity and mutual trust
    mean both parties understand what is important in the coffee, that within reason they will continue to offer and buy that coffee, and that they can rely on each other to respect their obligations in every respect. Not all obligations are specified in the contract. For example, keeping buyers informed about the status of pending contracts is an unwritten obligation, whether the news to be passed on is good or not so good.
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