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What Coffee Importers Must Know About Clearing Customs

coffee importers clearing customs
The U.S. coffee market has a large infusion of imported blends grown worldwide. A mix of documentation is required before coffee beans clear customs. Our customs experts work closely with coffee importers to meet deadlines and regulations in order to keep the supply chain flowing smoothly.
USA Customs Clearance
January 17, 2018
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Coffee importers need extra caffeine to meet the ever-growing demand consumers crave for when they reach for that great morning cup of coffee. Grab a hot cup of Joe and learn everything you need to know about coffee imports.

Managing the Coffee Importers Process

Coffee importers can do the following to expedite the coffee customs clearance process:

  • Mark the Country of Origin clearly on each coffee bag.
  • Make sure a Country of Origin Certificate is filled out.
  • Importer Security Filings need filing no later than 48 hours before a shipment’s estimated time of departure departs from the last foreign port.
  • A Customs Bond clears coffee imports through the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Five days before your coffee imports arrive, you must fill out a CBP entry form.

U.S. Consumers Crave Imported Beans

Today’s coffee connoisseurs demand fresh gourmet coffee beans. Holiday blends and flavored beans are also popular imports. These beans have flavored oils added after they are roasted and before the beans are ground. The four flavored coffee categories consumers crave are:

  • Cinnamon
  • Clove
  • Cardamom
  • Anise

Target the U.S. Coffee Consumer Market

U.S. consumers love their coffee. In 2016, the U.S. led all coffee imports with $5.7 billion worth of coffee imports purchased, which is a 19.5 percent share of the global import market for coffee in the entire world. In 2016, world coffee imports totaled $30 billion. The list of the top 10 coffee importers based on their global import purchase percentages include:

  • United States $6 billion (19.5%)
  • Germany $3.4 billion (11.4%)
  • France $2.4 billion (8%)
  • Italy $1.7 billion (5.7%)
  • Japan $1.4 billion (4.8%)
  • Canada $1.2 billion (4%)
  • United Kingdom $1 billion (3.4%)
  • Belgium $1 billion (3.4%)
  • Spain $986.8 million (3.3%)
  • Netherlands $919.7 million (3.1%)

Still Have Questions About Importing Coffee?

Get help from our coffee importing experts

Top Coffee Exporting Countries to Monitor

Do you know the top coffee exporting countries in the world? You might be surprised to discover Colombia is not the top coffee exporter around the world. Both Brazil and Vietnam export more coffee than Colombia. Take a look at the top 10 coffee bean exporters based on their global export percentages include:

  • Brazil $4.9 billion (15.9%)
  • Vietnam $3.2 billion (10.5%)
  • Colombia $2.5 billion (8.1%)
  • Germany $2.3 billion (7.6%)
  • Switzerland $2.1 billion (6.7%)
  • Italy $1.5 billion (5%)
  • Indonesia $1 billion (3.3%)
  • Belgium $988.1 million (3.2%)
  • United States $931.2 million (3.1%)
  • Honduras $859.1 million (2.8%)

Coffee is a Hot Commodity

Espresso is as of now the most broadly exchanged tropical farming item, and interest for it is ascending in other countries. For example, China and India, which have generally supported tea, are now getting into the coffee business.

Types of Coffee

To truly understand the coffee industry and today’s coffee consumers, you have to know all of the types of coffee and become a caffeine master. Here’s your guide to the types of coffee you should be aware of to successfully be a coffee importer:

  • Straight Up Black Coffee: Coffee served straight up black from pot for the likes of John Wayne and the rest of the cowboys.
  • Coffee with Milk and Sugar/Sweetener: Self-explanatory. Add your desired amount and enjoy.
  • Filtered Drip Coffee: This is coffee that’s placed into an old school paper filter and hot water drips into it to create coffee magic.
  • French Press: Think a fancy plunger that actually presses the coffee beans to distinguish what’s drinkable and what becomes the grounds you throw away.
Coffee Importers USA
  • Percolated Brew: When you cycle hot water through coffee grounds just with gravity, you are using this old school method.
  • Cold Brew Coffee: Think no hot water, but cold water brewing, which takes a bit longer to achieve the end result.
  • Iced Coffee: This is not the same as cold brew coffee. Iced coffee is made hot and then cooled before being served with or without ice.
  • Vacuum Coffee: Two chambers use vapor and pressure to produce vacuum coffee.
  • Espresso: A very popular coffee that is brewed over tightly packed and fine coffee bean grinds. A tiny amount of water is used to make a tiny coffee cup with a big kick of caffeine.
  • Café Cubano: Think an espresso in overdrive with high octane Cuban flavor.
  • Caffe Americano: This espresso is created using hot water with a distinct American coffee flavor.
  • Café Zorro: Take an espresso, add another shot of espresso  and you have a Café Zorro.
  • Doppio: Double shots of espresso served in a special cup called a Demitasse.
  • Ristretto: Espresso made with half the water but the same amount of beans for a caffeine boost.
  • Guillermo: Enjoy two shots of espresso filtered through lime slices. This can be served with or without ice.
  • Espresso Romano: An espresso shot served with a lemon slice on the side.
  • Cappuccino: Espresso served with hot milk and steamed milk foam.
  • Latte: An espresso with steamed milk.
  • Macchiato: Espresso with a smaller amount of milk foam.
  • Café Bombon: A drink from Spain that consists of an espresso with sweetened condensed milk.
  • Vienna Coffee: This is an espresso or coffee with whipped cream and sometimes milk.
  • Chai Late: Espresso mixed with spiced tea and steamed milk.
  • Irish Coffee: Coffee with a kick, the Irish enjoy whiskey, cream and sugar in their coffee.
  • Café Mocha: A dessert coffee, this latte comes with chocolate syrup.

Investigating Holiday Blends and Flavored Beans

Every summer, coffee importers should be looking for holiday blends and flavored beans for the Christmas season. Holiday blends of coffee consist of two different varieties. First, you have the holiday blends for a specific season like Christmas. These types of holiday blends include names like Gingerbread Cookie Coffee or Egg Nog Flavored Beans.

Research Your Holiday Beans

Make sure you are purchasing good quality holiday beans and not beans that are old and being dressed up as holiday beans just to leave shelves. Always do your homework and don’t be afraid to ask questions like:

  • How old are the beans?
  • What’s their holiday flavor?
  • Can I talk to other clients that stock these beans for the holidays?

It can make the difference on whether you find a holiday bean product you use for years and knowing that you found old beans disguised in holiday packaging.

Coffee Importer Musts for Coffee Bean Imports

Next we have some tips for you that will help you hone your craft as a coffee ben importer. DO the following for coffee bean import success:

  • Negotiate a signed contract with a coffee grower looking to export beans to America.
  • Make sure you are named as the representative in the contract.
  • Designate the territory of the coffee beans and make sure it’s exclusive for your use.
  • Outline the form of payment, which details when you pay and any commissions.
  • Open a credit line to avoid hang-ups and pay for fees without cash.
  • The credit line should outline the U.S. ports of entry used to ship coffee.
  • List the documents you need to provide to a customs agent and have them handy during the customs clearance process.
  • Check to make sure your beans have shipped from the country of origin as scheduled.
  • Hire a customs broker to manage the importation of coffee beans.
  • Make transportation plans for your beans to move from the port to the customer.

Still Have Questions About Importing Coffee?

Get help from our coffee importing experts

Creating a Coffee Import Business Plan

Do you have a coffee import business plan? This will give you a leg up on the competition. Achieve a proper coffee import plan by:

  • Fostering import relationships with coffee wholesalers and brokers.
  • Achieving top performing production at coffee operation with brokers within four years.
  • Increasing coffee profits by using technology, new facilities and Licensed Customs Brokers.
  • Communicating to business partners to make sure they know you import desirable coffee beans.

Sustainable Coffee Perks Interest of Consumers

Coffee importers need to be up to speed on sustainable coffee. Sustainable coffee is grown in tropical environments in such a way that nature is being conserved and those that are handling the coffee crops are being paid reasonable wages and creating a good life for those that live in the area. Typically, coffee growers cut down trees and tropical landscape to make room for more coffee crops. The sustainable coffee method, though, involves taking great care and thought where those new crops should go.

Sustainable Coffee Methods

Since many coffee crops are cultivated on mountain slopes in South America, details have to be made to ensure the crops don’t cause erosion and create unintended waterways. This is the way of thinking for many, including Starbucks, in the future as they create sustainable coffee methods. Since a ton of water is used to cultivate coffee crops, sustainable coffee methods also make sure that the wastewater used in the coffee process doesn’t contaminate nearby streams and rivers. This rising interest in coffee production, though, could support development of coffee and espresso into new territories, prompting more deforestation. Given that clearing forest wood discharges carbon in the trees into the environment, unsustainable coffee and espresso development is truly adding to environmental change. So, coffee and espresso will experience the ill effects of the impacts of environmental change in the area, prompting sustainable coffee methods to be formed to combat the problem.

Coffee Import Requirements

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reviews all your coffee imports. You must file a Prior Notice with the FDA before your coffee imports can be admitted. There are no limits to the amount of coffee or tea you can import into the United States. Some coffee imports, though, are reviewed by customs agents at U.S. ports of entry. Your coffee duty, or tax, is based on the price paid for coffee imports. This does not include insurance or shipping charges. Find a Licensed Customs Broker to assist you with finding your correct tax rates.

Follow Coffee Bag Inspection Guidelines

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspect your coffee beans. The FDA inspects samples of your coffee imports based on the following requirements:

  • 100 bags or less: Six bag samples
  • Between 101 and 200 bags: 10 bag samples
  • Between 201 and 1,000 bags: 15 bag samples
  • More than 1,000 bags: 20 bag samples

Coffee bag inspections result in additional charges if:

  • A representative is present with your shipment during inspection
  • Inspections are not performed effectively
  • Incomplete paperwork exists

It is more difficult to clear food through the FDA process that other imports. You should utilize a customs broker to help you maneuver through the customs process effectively. To avoid inspection charges, make sure someone is on site with your coffee imports during the inspection process. If the inspection takes too long, you can get charged for time delay issues and be forced to submit additional paperwork.

Coffee Costs Explained

It all depends on the type of coffee beans you get when you are trying to determine the cost of your coffee. Here are some factors that help determine your coffee costs:

  • Green coffee: This unroasted treat is either Robusta or Arabian. Arabica beans grow in higher-altitude areas, making it a gourmet type that comes with a higher cost value. Robusta beans are higher in caffeine concentrations but have less flavor and are cheaper to import. To learn more about green coffee beans and how to import them, check out our article Importing Green Coffee Beans to the U.S.
  • Organically grown coffee is more expensive.
  • Coffee buyers purchase beans using a quality scale with numbers that range from 1 to 100. Typically beans that core an 80 rating or higher are known as a good quality bean that importers can purchase without hesitation. The higher the score, the more expensive the bean.


how to become a coffee importer

  • Remember that coffee bean costs is based on both quality AND production. If beans are being produced in a high mountain range that takes longer to cultivate, you pay for that cost too.
  • Tariffs and taxes also play into coffee bean costs. This includes warehousing, packaging, freight expenses, etc. You have to play all those costs into your coffee bean importing costs.

Still Have Questions About Importing Coffee?

Get help from our coffee importing experts

Coffee Roasting Matters

We have focused a lot on coffee beans but remember the roasting process too, which plays into your cost factor. Coffee beans shrink when they go through the roasting process, so remember that when calculating your costs too. Find someone to roast your coffee beans and plan a business model around that procedure. If you can’t find a reliable roaster, your business model must also include cost factors for your own coffee been roasting procedures.

Many Coffee Imports Are Tax Free

Tax-free imports are major perks for coffee importers. Most coffee bean imports are duty-free. There is also an unlimited amount of coffee, spices, and tea that importers can bring to the U.S. Other fees such as processing and maintenance costs and harbor fees still apply.

However, there is one exception to the coffee duty-free imports rule. Any coffee that contains syrup or sauces is subject to inspections and special taxes. Seasonal coffee imports containing these items need to consult with a Licensed Customs Broker to steer you through the coffee imports clearance process.

Work With a Licensed Customs Broker

Licensed Customs Brokers assist you in achieving customs clearance success in the U.S. They also help you to avoid import obstacles. Licensed brokers handle all import requirements and forms so you can concentrate on other aspects of your business. Use a Customs Broker to help you achieve customs clearance when:

  • You are importing items valued at more than $2,500. These goods require a customs bond.
  • You are importing regulated items such as chemicals, pharmaceuticals and biological products.
  • Time is critical and the CBP may delay import deliveries.

Other countries have their own sets of rules and regulations you must follow when purchasing coffee overseas. Make sure you obtain the proper import duty, or tax, for your coffee imports. Shipping your imports in bulk will also save you money and time to meet your deadlines.

Customs Bonds are Critical

Customs bonds are not optional for food imports. They are mandatory and you need them to achieve success. All products requiring federal regulations, including food and coffee imports, require a customs bond. There are 2 main customs bond types you can  use depending on the coffee imports you do per year.

A Customs Bond Is Required For Coffee Imports

Secure your bond to be in compliance with import regulations

File the Proper Import Paperwork

It is important to file the proper import document paperwork during your coffee import process. Make sure your paperwork includes:

  • A commercial invoice listing the purchase price, tariff classification of your items and the country of origin for your imports;
  • A packing list detailing your imports;
  • A bill of lading listing the goods in the form of a receipt;
  • And an arrival notice from the U.S. agent of record.

How Sustainable Coffee can Change Lives

The average American coffee consumer drinks about 3.2 cups of coffee per day, with a single 9oz cup averaging about $3 from most major chains. That doesn’t seem like a lot, but assume that 10 people in your office drink 3 cups of coffee every day from the coffee shop down the street. That’s 30 cups per day, which equates to $90 worth of coffee! That’s $630 a week, and $2,520 a month! You can see how those numbers start to add up, even with only 10 people participating. Imagine the impact of 100 people, or 1,000 people! Collectively, the United States consumes more than 146 billion cups of coffee annually. Imagine what could happen if all the funds from those cups of coffee went into making big changes in the world, like pulling people out of poverty or replanting trees to sustain the environment. Well, good news! Coffee shops all around the world are starting to pay attention to these possibilities. But first, why is this important?

Coffee is in Danger

Coffee accounts for almost half of all tropical exports, and many undeveloped areas are entirely dependent on the continuance of this export. The coffee tree is a very sensitive plant that is difficult to grow. It requires a specific balance of sunlight, water, temperature, and soil pH in order to thrive, and sudden changes in any of these could result in substantially lower coffee bean yields, which could make the endeavor unprofitable and unsustainable for small farmers. However, an even bigger problem has been looming on the horizon in recent years. Global climate change has been making the process of growing coffee much harder, but not just because of the coffee plant’s intolerance to heat. The rising temperatures have made it possible for a fungus called “hemileia vastatrix” to invade the area and cause widespread destruction in coffee farms. The fungus causes a reaction in the coffee plants known as “coffee leaf rust,” which causes the gradual yellowing and decay of leaves, leaving the berries exposed on barren stalks to animals and weather conditions. In 2012, an outbreak of coffee leaf rust reached epidemic proportions, and coffee production dropped by as much as 70% in some areas as a result.

Coffee Could Become a Luxury Commodity

With the issues presented by climate change, coffee quality and production has been steadily declining over the past few years, while demand for coffee is expected to triple in the next 30 years. Many places around the world are starting to consume more coffee, and if the trend continues at the rate it has been going, this cannot be sustained. Suppliers would start providing lower quality products in an attempt to keep up with the demand. The price of good coffee would skyrocket as the supply dwindles out, forcing quality coffee to become a luxury that only the rich can afford.

A Customs Bond Is Required For Coffee Imports

Secure your bond to be in compliance with import regulations

Coffee Imports

The United States does manage to produce some coffee of its own, but the tropical crop can only be grown in 2 out of the 50 states. Hawaii and California aren’t exactly ideal for growing the crop, however, so both locations merit extremely pricy, merely average quality coffee. Hawaii’s land is expensive, so coffee farms have to increase their prices to merit using the space that the farms take up. As for California, the water shortage makes it extremely pricy to grow a crop that is traditionally grown near rainforests. Coffee growing regions typically get up to 100 inches of rain per year, whereas California only gets 15-30 inches of rain. The difficulties involved with growing coffee in the U.S. result in dramatic and unrealistic price increases, which can sometimes reach 10 times the price for the same quality coffee from El Salvador, Indonesia, or some other traditional coffee region. Another issue that arises is the sheer demand for coffee in the U.S. Roughly 200 million Americans depend on a cup of coffee to start their day, every single day. With all that demand, we have no choice but to continue to import coffee in order to maintain the market of affordable, great-tasting coffee that so many people depend on.

But How Does Continuing to Import Coffee Actually Help?

This all sounds very bleak, but there is hope! Companies all over the world are starting to make commitments to change things for the better. Conservation International is a global movement that promotes the Sustainable Coffee Challenge, which creates a conversation about the problem, helps with donation to coffee farms affected by coffee leaf rust, and urges coffee importers to pledge to make all their coffee imports sustainable in a given period of time. But what exactly does it mean to have “sustainable” coffee?


Sustainable coffee efforts work with the environment in mind. Coffee farms take up a lot of space, and with the changing temperatures, coffee farmers are tempted to move into territory designated as part of the rainforests, to avoid the threat of coffee leaf rust. With deforestation a major threat, a new solution has to be found—quickly. Though a new solution is still being debated, many people believe that selective breeding and genetic modification to increase temperature and disease resistance is the way to go. In addition to producing hardier plants, coffee farms are starting to reduce or completely abolish the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, making the coffee more organic and the farmers healthier for not being exposed to harmful chemical pesticides. Major companies play a big part in sustainability efforts. Did you know that Starbucks gives away free bags of used coffee grounds for compost on request? Other major companies, including Starbucks, help out by donating new coffee trees to replace the ones affected by coffee leaf rust, and supplying funds to help deal with the losses of previous years. Sustainability doesn’t just stop at the environmental level. There are also social, political, and economic considerations when dealing with sustainable agriculture.

Fair Trade

Both global companies and small local shops have a responsibility to ensure that their business has a reputation that people can trust, and that their workers are treated equitably. Companies that are certified under the World Fair Trade movement are companies that are dedicated to empowering and stimulating the source community, protecting the environment, investing in the future, and providing sustainable incomes for all workers in the supply chain. Over 100 million people in tropical regions are supported by the coffee industry. Fair Trade supports their native lifestyles, and ensures that they continue to have decent paying jobs and healthy lives, while they continue to produce the commodity that the United States and the rest of the world is so dependent on.

Are You Interested in Sustainably Importing Coffee?

Are you a small business owner interested in importing ethically sourced coffee beans, but you’re not sure where to start? Information on the requirements to get Fair Trade certified, for producers, distributors, companies, and retailers, can be found on the Fairtrade International website. Specifics on the importing process can be found in this article, or you could click on the chat bar at the bottom of the page and a representative from USA Customs Clearance can help you get started!

Utilize a Licensed Customs Brokerage Service Today

Contact AFC International today. The skills a Licensed Customs Brokers has can help you improve your importing your importing business!

Clear customs easily and allow us to closely review your imports throughout the clearance process. Our value-added customs brokerage services are critical to your success as an importer.

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17 comments on “What Coffee Importers Must Know About Clearing Customs”

  1. Hello,
    I’m growing coffee in Colombia, I would like to import it to
    U.S. How I can start the process?

    1. Hi Juan,

      There are many steps to go through when it comes to importing food into the U.S. Our best suggestion is to schedule a consulting session with our Licensed Customs Brokers. They’ll give you a complete summary of what will be required to legally import your coffee into the U.S.

      You can sign up for a consulting session at the link below:

      Import Consulting Services

  2. Hello,

    Need help to take coffee into the usa.

    I want to know how much is the shipping price from my country.

    What size of the box do i have to use to put my coffee.

    I’m going to send ground coffee in one pound AND half pound bags.


    1. Hi Felipe,

      One of our customs experts will reach out to you shortly to assist you with your inquiry. We look forward to helping you!

  3. I am growing coffee in the southern part of Mexico and have a plan to import to the united states. But have a partner who is growing coffee in Guatemala and we want to bring those products to US anybody can help us?

    1. Hi Lucas,

      We can absolutely help you with this! We work with many importers that bring coffee into the U.S. One of our customs experts will be reaching out to shortly via e-mail. We look forward to helping you!

  4. For some time i’ve had the idea of import coffee, but seems nobody knows about the proccess of it, paperwork, what i need to do do you know anybody??? live in New Jersey. can you help me with it???

    1. Hi Javier,

      We can absolutely help you with this! We have experience importing coffee of all different types (ground, beans, organic, etc.) and can assist you with importing it. We’ve responded privately with the information you requested. We look forward to working with you!

  5. Hello my name is Jonathan Heiland, I am one of the Customs Specialists with USA Customs Clearance. We will gladly assist you with your import but we will need more information about your shipment. For immediate attention please reach out to We look forward to working with you!

  6. Hello my name is Jonathan Heiland, I am one of the Customs Specialists with USA Customs Clearance. We will gladly assist you with your import but we will need more information about your shipment. For immediate attention please reach out to We look forward to working with you!

  7. Hi
    I am looking at importing coffee from Brazil, but I still have many question about fees, taxes, obligations, shipping….if you guys can share more informations I really appreciate that.

  8. Hi, I’m looking at importing organic coffee to United States. I have identified the growers but do not know the roasting process.

    Would like to get information on import to USA

    1. Good Morning Jeewa! That is such a great question! We would be more than happy to answer that question and any others you might have! I have attached a link to our customs consulting session! We look forward to hearing from you!

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