How to Import Coffee Into the U.S.A

Vietnamese Coffee Exporter

Figuring out how to import coffee into the U.S.A is pretty simple since there are few specific restrictions. Coffee importers may need extra caffeine to meet consumers’ ever-growing demand for that great cup of coffee. Different varieties and styles are grown around the world. 

How to Import Coffee

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. Depending on what coffee product you want 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. 

U.S.A Customs Coffee Regulations

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, basic requirements 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:

  • Include a commercial invoice listing the purchase price and tariff classification of your items (a packing list)
  • Present a Bill of Lading that details the items in the shipment
  • Mark the Country of Origin on each coffee product.
  • Complete a Country of Origin Certificate (required by the International Coffee Organization).
  • Complete your Importer Security Filings (ISFs)  at least 48 hours before scheduled departures.
  • Purchase a Customs Bond that covers the value of your shipment’s required tariffs and duties.
  • File a CBP entry form within 15 calendar days of your shipment’s scheduled arrival in a port of entry.

A well-documented shipment is less likely to be pulled for spot inspections that could create a delay in port. If something is out of order, you risk thousands of dollars in penalty fees for storage at port or 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 or destroying the shipment completely.

What Are Coffee Grades?

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/rejected 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, mainly in terms of what kind of defects are thought to bring down the quality of a batch of green coffee beans. These include:

  • Broken beans
  • Black beans
  • Spotted beans
  • Beans with holes
  • Immature beans
  • Presence of sticks/stones
  • Dried pulp husks

Coffee Roasting Matters

We have focused a lot on coffee beans but remember the roasting process, 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 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 consist of equipment and personnel.

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