Figuring out how to import coffee into the U.S. is actually pretty simple since there are few specific restrictions. Coffee importers may need extra caffeine to meet the ever-growing demand of consumers for that great cup of coffee. Different varieties and styles are grown around the world. Roasted coffee flavors are available from even more places, not just growing nations. Find out where you can import a variety of different styles from and how to navigate the United States Customs process.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulate the importing of coffee, both as green and roasted beans and as ground coffee. Under the Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS) code system, there are different categories that cover the various coffee products available for import.
Take advantage of a successful import market and learn the basics to begin importing coffee for your business.
Americans love their coffee. From mass-market products that keep everyone running to boutique cafes specializing in artisan blends. In 2021, the U.S. imported $7.24 billion worth of various coffees and related products. That’s nearly double that of Germany, the second-largest importer worldwide.
As a consumer food product, coffee falls under FDA regulations. As an agricultural product, it’s regulated by the USDA. Depending on what type of coffee product you are looking to import, you may need to deal with one or both agencies.
All imports, FDA or USDA-regulated, still need to follow U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) inspection requirements.
Let’s begin by covering the basic requirements of the CBP and which business practices you can use to ensure a smooth entry.
The CBP works with Partner Government Agencies (PGAs) whenever one of the products they regulate enters the U.S. or any of its territories.
For all products, but especially for food, there are basic requirements that should be taken care of before items even leave a foreign port. Coffee importers can expedite the coffee customs clearance process by being sure to follow these documentation requirements:
A well-documented shipment is less likely to be pulled for spot inspections that could create a delay in port. If there is something out of order, you risk thousands of dollars in penalty fees for things like storage at port or for additional inspection services.
Worst case scenario, the CBP has to contact other agencies, like the FDA, and have to refuse your product entry. You end up dealing with the cost of exporting your coffee back out or destroying the shipment completely.
Customs bonds are not optional for food imports into the United States regardless of value. They are mandatory and you need them to successfully import food items, such as coffee, which are subject to further federal agency requirements.
There are two main customs bond types you can use depending on the number of coffee imports you do per year. A continuous or single entry customs bond will satisfy CBP entry requirements.
For more information on these bonds, check out our article, “Continuous Bond vs Single Entry Bond: What’s the Difference?”
Like other foods for human consumption, imported coffee is held to the same standard as domestic coffee production. Officially, coffee and coffee beans are a beverage and/or beverage material according to the FDA.
If you are importing whole green coffee beans or roasted beans for processing in the U.S., the facility has to be registered with the FDA. This gives the agency the ability to regularly inspect food facilities and ensure processing and packing procedures are safe and sanitary.
These inspections are to keep importers in compliance with the Bioterrorism Act of 2002 and the Food Safety and Modernization (FSMA) Act of 2011.
In addition to registering processing facilities (if needed), the FDA also requires food imports to file a “Prior Notice of Arrival” report.
The inspection process for imported whole green beans or roasted beans is to determine if any shipments arrive with unwanted insects and pests, mold presence, or other general contamination.
The FDA inspects samples of your coffee imports by looking for compromised beans. The following standards are used to test mixed sample batches of 500 beans at a time. Batches increase in 500-bean or comparable weight equivalents.
Based on these inspections, coffee shipments are given a ‘grade’ which determines their acceptability as an import. If you are importing ground coffee, this process or one like it was likely performed at a foreign processing facility. The results could be placed either on the items’ packaging or provided as a separate document.
|Beans Examined||Entry Approved||Variable||Entry Denied|
|1000||<85||86 - 115||>116|
|1500||<135||135 - 165||>166|
|2000||<185||186 - 215||>265|
In the variable column, the final entry will be determined by an official report submitted to the FDA. Entry may be approved or denied based on factors such as the cause of the rejected beans or the degree of damage.
Coffee shipment inspections may result in additional charges if:
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.
Using the services of a customs broker may smooth out the process and help you prevent both delays and unwanted penalty fees.
In an effort to define specific quality criteria for sales and import services, coffee beans are given a grade between one and nine. The lower the number, the better quality the coffee will be.
Grades are based on the number of defective/reject beans in a batch. The grading system is not a universal classification system because it is based on each producing nation's own standards.
There are some similarities across the coffee-producing world, mostly in terms of what kind of defects are thought to bring down the quality of a batch of green coffee beans. These include:
For import purposes in the U.S., coffee beans graded as an eight or below are not permitted into the consumer market.
The USDA is the other government agency regulating coffee and coffee bean imports. Their main concern is shipments of green coffee beans. The roasting process used on beans to give them distinct flavors eliminates the majority of possible pests.
If your shipment of green coffee beans arrives and is found to contain pests, a quarantine order may be issued.
On the plus side, you can fumigate the beans to get rid of any pests that traveled with the shipment. This may save your product from a ‘destroy in port’ order. However, chances are high that you will need to pay the USDA for the fumigation services and additional storage or harbor maintenance fees to the port while the quarantine order is in place.
At this time, there is no special license or permit required to import coffee or related coffee products. There is a ban on importing fresh, unprocessed, whole coffee fruits with pulp because it’s an exotic fruit fly risk.
Considering that coffee plants don’t do well in any state within the continental U.S., there is no benefit in trying to bring it in anyways.
For new importers looking for a product that sells well and has minimal import restrictions, it's harder to find a better product than coffee. The USDA has no limits on the amount of green or roasted coffee beans that can be imported into the U.S. If you are traveling internationally, there is also no limit to the amount you can bring back to the continental U.S. from anywhere overseas.
The only exceptions are for travelers going through Hawaii or Puerto Rico. These islands have their own coffee productions and so green coffee beans are not allowed entry. They can pass through, however, if a person is just stopping over.
To learn more about green coffee beans and how to import them, check out our article Importing Green Coffee Beans to the U.S.
Espresso is the most broadly exchanged tropical farming item, and interest in this commodity is rising in other countries. For example, China and India, which have generally supported tea, are now getting into the coffee business.
The rising demand for coffee products means there really is no better time than now for someone to enter the market. Let’s look at a few things to keep in mind.
Do you know the top coffee exporting countries in the world? Depending on which products you want to target, it's good to know what the top exporting countries are for both roasted and raw coffee beans.
You might be surprised to discover Colombia is not the top coffee exporter in the world. Take a look at the top five coffee exporters in 2020.
|Exporting Nation||Product Value (USD)||Global Market Percentage|
Brazil has dominated the export industry for some time, both for raw and finished products. Other nations, like Switzerland and Germany, don’t actually grow coffee beans themselves but are instead known for their roasting techniques and unique flavor additives.
As a new importer, you might want to spend some time looking at emerging or rapidly growing coffee markets. You may discover the greatest coffee no one has ever tasted in Costa Rica or even Uganda.
Every summer, coffee importers should be looking for holiday blends and flavored beans for the Christmas season and other special occasions. Holiday blends of coffee consist of two different varieties: celebration specific and seasonal.
First, you have the holiday blends for specific celebrations like Christmas. These types of holiday blends include names like Gingerbread Cookie Coffee or Egg Nog Flavored Beans. Proper branding will be important, but it’s also important to find the right flavor blends.
The second would be seasonal items. The fall season pumpkin spice craze shows no signs of letting up and the flavored coffees are a huge market item.
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:
It can make the difference on whether you end up importing a quality holiday product or just some old beans disguised in holiday packaging.
Do you have a coffee import business plan? Perhaps you plan on entering the business from the very start of the process and doing your own roasting, or you’re just looking to offer clients more variety. Either way, an import business plan can help you achieve success.
A proper coffee import plan includes:
It’s important to communicate with business partners to make sure they know you import desirable coffee beans.
Bean quality, roasting styles, and import tariffs all play a part in budgeting for your coffee import business plan. A large part of the costs depends on the type of coffee beans you get. Here are some factors that help determine your coffee costs:
Some of these costs can be minimized by making smart choices. Work with experienced shippers even if they cost a little more. Lost and damaged goods cost more than what you are likely to save by going with the cheapest provider. Hiring a customs consultant to help you with the required paperwork and a Customs Bond application for proper duty payment is an equally good investment.
Smart investments upfront will save you money in the long term, money that can be profit or be reinvested into your business.
We have focused a lot on coffee beans but remember the roasting process too, which plays into your cost factor. This is especially true if you plan on starting an entire coffee production.
Coffee beans shrink when they go through the roasting process, so remember that when calculating your costs. 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 bean roasting procedures. This would include equipment and personnel.
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. so you aren’t impacted by quota tariffs either.
Other fees, such as processing and maintenance costs and harbor fees, will 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. These additives may be made out of more regulated materials and should be examined on a case-by-case basis.
Seasonal coffee imports containing these items need to consult with a Licensed Customs Broker able to steer you through the coffee imports clearance process.
Licensed Customs Brokers may assist you in achieving customs clearance success in the U.S. They also help you to avoid import obstacles that could penalize your business. 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:
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.
If you are importing from a nation with strict export regulations, a customs consultant may be able to guide you on the best people or departments to work with.
Coffee importers need to be up to speed on sustainable coffee growers and practices. 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 landscapes to make room for more coffee crops. The rising interest in coffee production has pushed the development of coffee and espresso growth into new territories, prompting more deforestation by regions desperate to increase profits and local economies.
Given that clearing forest wood discharges carbon from the trees into the environment, unsustainable coffee and espresso development are truly adding to environmental change. In the end, it will negatively impact the very same product and make growing quality coffee even harder.
The sustainable coffee method, though, involves taking great care and putting thought into where those new crops should go.
Since many coffee crops are cultivated on mountain slopes in South America, efforts should be made to ensure the crops don’t cause erosion and create unintended waterways.
This is the way of thinking for many rising brands and artisan shops, including Starbucks, planning for 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.
Sustainable coffee methods have been formed to combat the problems arising out of the unchecked exploitation of land and workers.
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 three 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.
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.
Many coffee companies and importers are doing exactly that and reinvesting their profits into sustainable technologies and practices for the plantations they import from. Coffee shops all around the world are starting to pay attention to these possibilities.
Studies have shown customers are willing to pay more for sustainably sourced coffee, but there are other benefits as well. But first, why is this important?
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, and not just because of the coffee plant’s intolerance to heat. Coffee is grown in hot and humid environments but needs significant shade. The rising temperatures have made it possible for a fungus called hemileia vastatrix to invade growing 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 harsh 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.
With the issues presented by climate change, coffee quality and production have 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.
Sustainable management is needed to alter that future and maintain an industry that serves as the backbone for many struggling nations.
The United States does manage to produce some coffee of its own, but it can only be grown in two out of the 50 states, Hawaii and California, neither of which have proven profitable large-scale.
Hawaii’s land is too expensive, so coffee farms have to increase their prices to offset the cost. In California, the water shortage makes growing a rainforest crop way too expensive and unsustainable.
Although excellent coffee has been traditionally grown in the territory of Puerto Rico, several years of devasting hurricanes and political strife have dropped production on this already tiny island.
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.
Conservation International is a global movement that promotes the Sustainable Coffee Challenge, which creates a conversation about the problem. Continued imports help donations to coffee farms affected by coffee leaf rust and go toward improving growing and harvest practices to make the industry sustainable and profitable.
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. Many people believe that selective breeding and genetic modification to increase temperature and disease resistance is the way to go. It would mean the same amount or more could be grown on the same amount of land.
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 and importers can play a big part in sustainability efforts. Some 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.
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, This actually improves their ability to continue producing the commodity that the United States and the rest of the world are so dependent on.
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 as producers, distributors, companies, and retailers can be found on the Fairtrade International website.
Learn how to import coffee into the US in a smart and sustainable way. USA Customs Clearance can be your import business partner and help ensure your products arrive safely and pass inspections.
Haven’t fully decided to commit yet? We offer 1-on-1 consulting sessions with our experts in the industry to help you gain a better understanding of the import process as a whole. In just 30 minutes you could be armed with new information to guide your coffee import plans into the future.
Call us today at (855) 912 - 0406 or schedule a consult right now online. Our experts will have you sipping the perfect cup of java in no time at all.
Check out the current global and U.S. numbers for the coffee industry.
|Country||Production in Pounds|
|Projected Growth Between 2021-2025||⇧ 7.6 percent|
|Market Size Value 2021||$107.93 Billion|
|Projected Market Size Value 2028||$144.68 Billion|