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Origin to Roastery, A Shipping Story

Hello there! Matt here from the DRWakefield Logistics Team. If you have clicked through to this article, you are probably a bit curious about how that wonderful bean we all know and love arrives on our shores or in your roasteries, cafes or shops. Wonder no more! Grab yourself a brew, sit back and enjoy the voyage, flight, and road trip.

The Journey of Coffee

The journey of coffee is wonderful and varied one. It can be as straightforward as taking a gentle stroll to the shops or as challenging and tumultuous as climbing Mt Everest.

Once a contract has been negotiated and agreed, the wheels are set in motion. The logistics team will send shipping instructions to the supplier at origin – this will outline details such as POL (Port of Loading), POD (Port of Destination), shipping line options, required documents etc. On receipt of the shipping instructions, the supplier will then despatch the PSS (Pre-Shipment Sample) to our QC (Quality Control) team for approval and depending on the result (approved or rejected), the shipment will progress or pause. If rejected, this could delay progress.

Once approved and permission to ship is granted by QC, we can get this coffee moving! During the wait for PSS results, the supplier would have sent coffee bag marks for approval by the logistics team (this can also happen after PSS approval). Once approved and produced, the coffee is bagged and sealed.

Example of bag marks for approval

Let’s pause our journey here for a moment and look at some challenges that can crop up during this phase;

  • PSS not being sent for several reasons such as late crop, preparation taking longer due to poor weather or coffee being unavailable.
  • PSS being rejected repeatedly due to poor prep, or lower quality or score than expected.
  • Bag marks being incorrect.

Of the three issues mentioned, the two relating to PSS can cause significant delays – in some cases months!

Stuffing and Loading

After the beans have been bagged and sealed, we then need to secure a vessel booking and container and get said container stuffed (yes, stuffed/stuffing is a technical term) and to the vessel. Straightforward right? Maybe, maybe not, let’s take a closer look.

Under our instruction, the supplier at origin will have to contact the shipping line to make a booking, (often done online these days). Said booking will come with a container (very handy), which will be delivered to the supplier’s premises for stuffing. To give the coffee the best possible chance to arrive in the UK in the state it’s intended, the container is lined internally with kraft paper – all 6 sides! The container is then stuffed, and desiccant bags are added to absorb any moisture build-up during its journey. Once the container is sealed, it then makes its way to port to meet the intended vessel.

YES, it’s on the boat – job done, right? It is rarely that easy. In between booking space on a vessel and the container from the container yard to the stuffing point and back to the port, a whole host of things can ruin your day.

  • Trying to book a vessel – no spaces available
  • After booking a vessel – the shipping line advises that there no containers available
  • No hauliers available to move the container from the yard to the stuffing location. Depending on whether this shipment is booked FOB or FOT this can be a nightmare
  • Vehicle breakdowns
  • Vessel delays, or omitting POL meaning container must be re-booked onto another vessel (responsibility of the shipping line)


Ok, we’ve now got the box (another term for container) to POL and the exporter has arranged export customs clearance. Now, there is just the matter of loading the box onto the vessel. Depending on origin and or size of the port this could be onto a feeder vessel which would then take the box to the mother vessel located at a larger port close by for the onward voyage to the UK. Why the feeder vessel? Some ports just aren’t big enough or deep enough to facilitate the larger vessels that often make the transatlantic or transpacific sailings, so they must be moved to meet those vessels at a nearby, larger port.

Once “shipped on board” a SWB (Sea Waybill) or OBL (Original Bill of Lading) is issued by the shipping line, the decision on which will have been in our shipping instructions sent at the beginning of the process. SWB & OBL are quite different:

A Sea Waybill is evidence of a contract of carriage and receipt of the goods being transported; whereas a Bill of Lading acts as the contract of carriage and receipt of the goods. The Bill of Lading also serves as a document of title affording ownership to the party in possession of it.

Soon after the vessel has departed, the supplier/exporter should send all supporting export documentation relating to the coffee we have purchased and shipped over to us. 

Generally, the loading and sailing stage of the process is quite straightforward and requires little to no involvement from us, although, yep, you’ve guessed it, things can go wrong. If or when they do, it could be very costly or disastrous or both! 

  • Container delayed getting to POL, and misses the load/sailing 
  • Inclement weather delaying loading of vessel 
  • Vessels being rerouted (often a longer route) adding days or weeks to transit time 
  • Congestion in shipping lanes slowing progress and increasing shipping time 
  • Stormy weather causing vessel to roll or pitch too far and loose containers to Davy Jones Locker (incredibly rare) 


We will pause here for a moment to look at timescales. Earlier, I spoke about shipments being delayed by weeks or months due to PSS delays. I have included two infographics below to further illustrate the point. The first is Example A from origin to London in a pretty good 2-month time frame, from instructions being sent to the container arriving in the warehouse. In stark contrast, we have Example B, a shipment from origin that took 1 year! Yes, sometimes shipments have a longer transit time, and looking at the graphic, you will notice that it took 6 months alone for PSS to be received and approved and a further 2 months to obtain booking confirmation. The point of this is that not all delays are down to the actual moving of the coffee but can also be influenced by the processing of the coffee and or poor communication.   

Landing and Loading

Let’s assume that the vessel carrying our container has successfully navigated the seas, and arrival at our shores is mere days away. Using the documentation received from the exporter, we would then need to pre-alert our import clearance agent and warehouse to the arrival of the container. This enables them to enter all the data, cross-check paperwork, raise and resolve any queries with us and carry out the customs pre-entry. This is all so that once the vessel has docked and the container is off-loaded, the customs clearance process can begin straight away, and delays can be kept to a minimum.

Delays at the POD can be costly and can accrue very quickly. Two of the most frequently encountered charges are demurrage and quay rent.

  • Demurrage refers to the charges applied by carriers (shipping lines) within the terminal when containers are left at the terminal for longer than agreed
  • Quay rent is a fee that the terminals themselves will often apply, for the space being occupied by a container outside of the time allowed

After the container is cleared and off the quay, it is taken straight to the warehouse. Once at the warehouse, a team of people get to work de-stuffing the loose bags of coffee from the container and palletising them straight away so that they can be safely stored. All the while, they count the bags received, weigh the entire consignment pallet by pallet, and document their findings, all in order to check that what was shipped is what was received.  

CWT, Tilbury

A secondary purpose is also to check the condition of the bags. One of the main issues of container shipping coffee and other beans/grains is moisture buildup and mould. This is because of the transit time and varying temperatures during the voyage. If damp bags are found, we will be notified, and we would then separate and deal with them.

The Warehouse

The coffee is de-stuffed, all accounted for and stored in the warehouse awaiting its onward journey. At this point, a few samples are drawn from a few bags and sent to the QC team to make sure that the coffee contracted and shipped is what we asked for and is of the same standard as the approved PSS. 

When that time eventually comes, the bags will be picked by warehouse staff and loaded and secured onto a pallet for transport. Quick and easy? Not quite! Say a customer asks for 10 bags of coffee from five different origins; these could be located in different areas of the warehouse; high, low, and sometimes 2 or 3 columns back. Some picks can of course be straightforward, but many will require more time and effort than one would first assume. 

Once the bags are secured to the pallet, the consignment is ready to go. Depending on the quantity and weight of the entire load, a van or truck will come to collect and depending on the requirement of the customer, said van/truck may need to be equipped with a tail lift.  After the vehicle is loaded, the pallets of coffee are whisked away to their respective destinations.

We are nearly there folks! Just like when getting the container from stuffing location to port we are not in the clear yet. Similarly to origin, the below issues often occur; 

  • Vehicle breakdown 
  • Awful traffic (especially common for London deliveries) 
  • Held at customs  
  • Road closures and or accidents 


Unlike at origin, however, when issues or delays crop up during a last leg delivery, the situation can often be managed or solutions sometimes found. For example, if it is early enough in the day and a vehicle breaks down, if safe to do so, and another vehicle is available, we can request that the available vehicle goes to the breakdown location to transfer the goods from the broken-down vehicle to the other, then be on its way. 

If it is a plain sailing delivery and issues are avoided or conquered, once delivery has been made, it is finally JOB DONE! 

I hope I have been able to provide you with some valuable insight into how that lovely bean gets from producer to roastery or café and some of the challenges often faced during the process – some more regularly than others. From getting the PSS approval to navigating the waves to being held up in traffic on the M25, every shipment has its simplicities and difficulties, and like fingerprints, no two shipments are exactly the same.