How We Ship Our Superlatives Subscription

December 01, 2017

Every month Barista Hustle ships coffee to over 48 countries, straight to our subscribers letterboxes. These are beautiful, special, and interesting coffees, coming from roasters and farms all over the world. We’ve had a frozen vintage harvest from George Howell, a rare heirloom Geisha from Talor & Jørgen, unique natural processed coffee from Five Elephant, the relatively unknown Tabi varietal from Koppi, along with stunning coffees from Round Hill Roastery, Manhattan Coffee Roasters, Flight Coffee, Onyx Coffee Lab, Gardelli Specialty Coffee, Coffee Collective, April Coffee Roasters, and Ditta Artigianale.

This is an immense logistical challenge, so hopefully we can help you understand how much work and effort goes into this each month!

Three to four days before the end of the month, our guest roaster has the daunting task of roasting, packing, and sealing anywhere between 800 - 1000 small, ~100g bags of delicious coffee for us. This coffee is then boxed up and shipped express to our fulfilment centre in Hong Kong.

As most roasters part of the Superlatives program are tiny, or not quite equipped, to be up to shipping internationally 800 - 1000 individually labeled and custom declared packages. We looked at employing local hubs in each country, but the import duty and “things-that-can-go-wrong” were simply too much. We needed another solution.

Hong Kong is a free-trade port, has courier planes heading to all countries almost every minute, with the infrastructure and companies in place to deal with the volume we have with Superlatives.

We partnered with one of those companies — DHL — for a number of reasons:

  • Express courier options were simply priced too high for us. We wanted to keep Superlatives affordable and approachable for all our subscribers. Express courier options -starting at $25 for only the most popular countries- would be more expensive than the subscription itself.
  • Between courier options and DHL Packet Plus (which we use) there’s simply nothing that approaches the affordability on one end, or the acceptable shipping times on the other end, while combined with the tracking visibility DHL Packet Plus offers us.
  • DHL were also were able to guarantee us a 48 hour turnaround from the beans arriving in the HK warehouse to being shipped out by plane. This is locked into our contract with DHL, and something that other suppliers just can’t match.

DHL Packet Plus has been the best option we’ve found so far in a compromise between affordability and acceptable shipping times. There are however a few idiosyncrasies from DHL that can seem confusing:

  • All couriers use waypoints to track packages. When a package passes this waypoint, it’s logged, with this point showing up in tracking details either as it happens or after the package has passed.
  • This means the package could already have passed one waypoint, yet hasn’t been logged at the next waypoint. Often it can look like your coffee has stalled in one particular point. It hasn’t — it’s still moving and just hasn’t reached the next waypoint to be logged.
  • This information is often abstracted away by other courier companies. You’ll just see “in transit” rather than the specific waypoints the package has passed along the way. DHL Packet Plus is as transparent as current technology will allow — you’ll see every waypoint.

You’ll also often see your packages heading to Germany first — when often the most direct, logical point to travel to your letterbox is anywhere but Germany.

  • DHL has planes flying courier routes all over the world. Most of them pass through Germany. Often the best and fastest logistical way to ship a package to your front door involves going backwards before going forwards. The alternative is your package sitting in a warehouse in HK waiting for a plane to go direct. Counter-intuitively, this way is definitely faster. Trust the algorithm.  

The journey isn’t over yet though. Your package first has to pass customs before entering the country proper. This part of the process is entirely out of our hands, and has everything to do with volumes going through customs the day your coffee arrives, along with how many customs staff are working.

In addition, DHL do not take care of last mile delivery. Again, this would have pushed the cost of this project past a viable point. This last mile delivery is completed by your local postal service. As with customs, final delivery times come down to volume going through your local postal system, and the amount of staff on hand.

Customs and final delivery, along with Acts of God such as Typhoons, and more human affairs such as worker strikes, are responsible for 99% of delays for Superlatives. As a reference, on average DHL can deliver your packages to Asia Pacific regions and the Americas within 7-10 days, the UK within 4-6 days, and the rest of Europe within 8-14 days. Most of that time is the in-country postal service doing their thing.

We’ve been shipping out Superlatives for over a year now, and DHL have so far been the best solution we've found. That said, we're always on the lookout for something better! We hope this helps answer some of your questions you may have about Superlatives, and given you a glimpse into how we operate! : )


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