10 Questions With Ozone Green Buyer Roland Glew

We're always looking for ways to show off what goes on behind the scenes to bring you your favourite cup of coffee so sat down with our Green Buyer Roland who's responsible for travelling the world to find all the amazing coffees we share with you.

We're always looking for ways to show off what goes on behind the scenes to bring you your favourite cup of coffee so sat down with our Green Buyer Roland who's responsible for travelling the world to find all the amazing coffees we share with you.

1. Can you describe your role as a green coffee buyer at Ozone and how you got into the coffee industry?

I started out as a customer in 2008 and tried becoming a barista in 2010. Unfortunately, I wasn’t a very good barista, but I got the chance to become a roaster in 2011! I became the Head Roaster in 2015, at which point I was more involved in selecting the coffees we buy and arranging logistics and all the practical parts of the process. I became the green coffee buyer at the start of 2021 and it’s been super interesting! I choose the coffees we buy for Ozone Coffee and manage that process, from meeting coffee producers and maintaining relationships with our suppliers through to arranging the shipping and making sure we always have fresh, great tasting coffees ready to roast in the building.

2. Could you walk us through the process of selecting coffee beans for Ozone? What factors are most important to you when making these decisions?

Most of the coffees we buy are the result of long term relationships – with coffee producers, millers, exporters and lots of other people who make the process possible. That means that each year, we have a good idea what coffees we want and I’ll make a plan for the next year. Before the harvest begins, I’ll talk to the producers we buy from to see what they have available, the prices and any changes we need to make to my plan. Once the coffee is harvested, I’ll be sent a little sample of the coffee – about 200g usually – which we’ll roast and cup. We might make some changes at this point if we’ve not enjoyed a particular coffee or found something super exciting we weren’t expecting. There are a lot of factors to consider when we choose a coffee – of course, it has to be delicious; we need to know where it’s from and the people we’re buying from; the price and how much is available; how similar or different the coffee is to our other lots – what the process is, where it’s from, what varietal – anything which would be interesting for our customers to taste.

3. Sustainability is a core value for our brand. How does your role as a green coffee buyer align with our commitment to sustainable sourcing?

Sustainability means working for the long term and that’s what our relationships with producers are all about. We all want to see improvements in the environment and societies of coffee producing  countries – the producers want it too. They face a huge uphill struggle to achieve positive impact, however, when their coffee farms are constantly hanging on by a thread. Coffee farming is not financially viable for many people doing it right now, but it is for our producers because they have focused on quality, we’re able to pay the price that deserves and build trust that we’ll keep coming back every year. By doing that, they’re able to invest in their communities and their environment, be that building schools, installing renewable power generation or offering housing to workers – they see the benefits that these investments make because they’re also on the front line facing challenges from climate change and socio-economic change on a daily basis. 

4. Tell us about your most recent trips. Where did you go, and what were your primary objectives during these visits?

In early August I went to visit Bolivia and Peru. Bolivia is a country which produces incredible coffees but where it is very difficult to be a coffee farmer. Most of the producers are very small scale and have to achieve exceptional quality (and prices) to make it work. Our exporter, Agricafe, also processes coffee cherries for local farmers and has some farms of their own too. This visit was about spending time with the Rodriguez family who own Agricafe, cupping together, learning about the new work they have done to improve quality (they have invested a lot in this and are incredibly innovative!) and also visiting some of the new small producers we’re working with.

Peru is next door to Bolivia, but very different in many ways. It’s our third time buying coffees from there and my second visit, so I particularly wanted to spend time with each of the small producers we buy from. Because you only visit once a year, relationships in coffee take a long time to build up! Last year when I visited Einer Saldivar (who produces El Cedro), I had had an accident the day before and twisted my knee. I had to hop for half an hour up a steep mountain side to get to the farm (it was worth it!) to meet him for the first time – and this year as soon as he saw me he asked how my knee was!

5. During your farm visits, what specific criteria do you use to evaluate the quality of coffee beans and the practices of the coffee producers?

There’s loads of technical things you can look for, but as a general rule, it’s doing the basics incredibly well and an eye for every little detail. Passionate, knowledgeable, interested, engaged… it’s not about what they’re doing now as much as the journey they’re going on. If they’re passionate and always striving to push themselves and do their best, even in the smallest, seemingly inconsequential things around the farm, then I want to be there with them.

6. How do you ensure that the coffee producers we work with are paid fair prices for their crops? Can you provide examples of initiatives or negotiations you've been involved in to support fair compensation?

It’s impossible to apply a rule and guarantee the prices paid are fair. The cost of living can vary so much even within one country, or from a big farm to a smaller farm… it’s not achievable even for huge businesses and certainly not for a small coffee roaster like us. It’s also not a good way to think about things. We, as coffee buyers (and particularly those of us from Europe and the US) shouldn’t be trying to tell a producer what a fair price is – they need to tell us. We negotiate in a very transparent way – I’ll tell producers exactly how I’ve scored their coffees quality, what we use the coffee for, who our customers are, whatever they want to know. Then we can agree a price which works for both of us and where we both know that the other person will want to continue the relationship next year. You know this is paying off when you visit year on year. When I first visited Arbar, a tiny micromill in Costa Rica, in 2015, we had just begun buying pretty much all their coffee and their eldest son, Esteban, was working in cattle whilst his dad Carlos worked as an electrician – coffee wasn’t paying the bills up to this point. When I go back now, Esteban is working in coffee and his younger brother and mum are both involved and excited about the farm. They’re showing tourists around, they’ve planted a new plot of land… they’ve worked really hard and took a chance and it’s paid off for them. I’m super proud we’re part of their success story.

7. What are some of the challenges and opportunities you've encountered in your role as a green coffee buyer, especially when it comes to sustainability and ethical sourcing?

There’s always more good people I’d like to buy coffee from, but can’t. Having relationships means looking after those relationships first and only buying from new producers when I know there’s an opportunity to do so sustainably. Occasionally I’ve had to end a relationship too, because it’s become unsustainable for either them or us. It’s a very hard decision to make – there’s so much impact on people’s lives – but you need to take it very seriously, be very honest and really challenge yourself on whether you’ve done everything you can to repair the relationship.

8. Our customers are increasingly interested in the origin of our coffee. Can you share some unique stories or experiences from your most recent trip that highlight the relationships we have with our coffee producers?

It’s really important to remember that there’s a lot more than one person involved in producing a coffee – it’s always a team effort. When I was in Bolivia, I met Ivan who is Argentinian and used to work in the wine industry. He’s just arrived this year to work at the Agricafe mill where they process the coffee. There are rooms next to the mill, which we stay in, and a little staff kitchen where we eat (Roxy is an amazing cook!). Over dinner, Ivan and I had a long (and very technical) conversation about fermentations, wine, beer and coffee. We really geeked out! As well as all the coffee talk, I shared some beer recommendations and we got some Argentinian wine recommendations! Our roasting team has taken it upon themselves to hunt them down in the UK…

9. How do you stay updated on the latest industry trends and developments in sustainable coffee production? Are there any emerging practices or regions that you find particularly exciting?

There’s no easy way – you just have to be open minded and curious. I’m lucky enough to visit amazing farms with incredibly knowledgeable people, so I definitely take advantage of that by asking them lots of questions. I love the work at El Equimite in Mexico which does Bioynamic farming and Keyline design – they’re helping another nearby farm set up using the same techniques and I’m excited to see the first production next year, hopefully!

10. What advice do you have for consumers who want to make more sustainable and ethical coffee choices when they shop for coffee?

It used to be easy to spot the people who were doing a good job and those who weren’t, but that’s definitely harder these days. There’s always an element of having to take a chance and trust that someone is being honest with you, but don’t be afraid to ask questions. If anyone reading this has questions about the coffees we buy, the producers, the prices we pay, the messy reality of it all, why we buy from somewhere (or don’t)… just send us an e-mail and we’ll do our best to answer. We’re super proud of the people who produce our coffee and love talking about them.