Green Coffee - The SM Experience

No, not that kind of S&M. Glenn relates his experience as a Canadian ordering green beans from the well-known Sweet Maria's, based in California. Sweet Maria's is head and shoulders above many other purveyors in the quality of both their greens and the information that they provide to their customers. Glenn points out a few cost-saving measures when ordering from north of the border.

SM of course, refers to Sweet Maria’s web site at They sell all kinds of coffee and espresso making equipment and are widely known for their dizzying choice of carefully cupped, green coffee bean offerings.

This article is aimed primarily to Canadian home roasting enthusiasts who want to place a green bean order with this very well known American web retailer.

Trans-border transactions can be iffy at times, as we have to deal with customs and tariffs, duties, brokerage fees, shipping and things like “bio-terrorist hazards”.

Editor’s note: Did you know that Canada is America’s largest and most important trading partner? And that Canada is America’s largest supplier of oil? Is this relevant? Perhaps not, but I thought you would like to know.

So, despite the closely linked economies, shipping something across the border may or may not be easy to do.

For green coffee beans we are in luck. There are no duties on green coffee imported from the U.S into Canada.

Hurdle number two is currency. If you want to buy something in the U.S. you have to use Uncle Sam’s dollars – not Canadian wooden nickels.

You would be well-advised to use a credit card rather than cheques or bank drafts and your Canadian credit card company card will automatically convert the bill to Canadian dollars.

The third hurdle is shipping and is perhaps, is the most important detail you will have to watch for. Shipping is expensive. Sweet Maria’s is located in California. I am located far, far away in Ontario. Even with pooling our orders with friends, 37 lbs of beans cost a staggering $60 U.S ($70 CDN) in shipping alone. Ouch!

That was the bad news. The good news is that the Canadian dollar has been soaring in value so that at the time of ordering, there was less than a 15% difference between the two countries currencies. Even after all costs (including shipping), the beans were still reasonably priced in Canadian dollars.

There were no brokerage fees as we chose to use the United States Postal Service (USPS) Air Post service. Spend the extra $2.00 for insurance.

Be very careful about using couriers because there is a very good chance that you will be hit by extra brokerage fees. In any case, using courier was outlandishly expensive and we chose something that was far more economical.

The parcel was received in 8 days, which is exceptional according to Maria. Yes, there really is a Maria at Sweet Maria’s. There were no Canadian taxes or any other fees. Shipping USPS ground rather than USPS Air would result in significant savings, however delivery times were quoted in weeks. Perhaps we will try that option in the future.

Should we abandon our Canadian retailers? No, not at all. Buy local first. The beans I needed were just not available in this country.

Did the package survive the trip? Yes it did, however I am thankful that SM reinforced all of the seams of the cardboard box because it needed it. Inside the box, only one of the Ziploc bags had split and a small amount managed to escape. They were last seen co-mingling with foam peanut remnants at the bottom of the box.

Was the ordering process problem free? No - there were some glitches. I hate web based email forms and sure enough, it became apparent that my first email did not arrive and this delayed things a bit. Because this was a first time order, Sweet Maria’s also had to confirm a few details.

Sweet Maria’s was absolutely great in accommodating my special shipping request, however I did complain about the split packaging and Maria said that it would be difficult to accommodate my second request to reinforce the packaging with packing tape. They would try - they said.

All told, it was a positive experience and I would not hesitate to reorder at some point.
Just watch those shipping fees!

The beans? The beans were good and you can tell they are fresh by smelling them.
This web site has more information about green coffee than any other that I have seen. Cupping notes, date of the offering and other information tells exactly what you are buying, how old it is and what it should taste like. Canadian retailers would do well to emulate SM’s way of doing business if they are serious about retailing green coffee.

Glenn is a regular contributor to Coffeecrew and likes to irritate his neighbours and spouse with clouds of blue smoke and chaff. The Coffeecrew is committed to improving the coffee retailing experience for consumers.

Also see “The Green Coffee Rant” article on our website.