Roaster Restoration – Part 3

Faversham & Felixstowe, Oh My!

When I was hired by Coffee Bean International in 1982, my first job was as a brand manager for ‘Jericho America’, our line of imported coffee and tea equipment – both commercial (we directly imported and distributed commercial coffee grinders) and household (similarly, we directly imported and distributed container-loads of French presses, airpots, filter-papers, brew cones, and so forth). As a small Pacific Northwest specialty roaster in those very early years, we were chronically rich in great ideas but short of money, so I wound up learning to do most of the complicated work of running an import business on the fly, and on a shoestring – I think I could have written ‘Managing Letters of Credit, CIF Price Quotes, Freight Consolidators, and Customs Brokers for Dummies’!

In fact, Coffee Bean International for many years was the exclusive importer into North America for Hario® in Japan – we discovered them in the early 1980s, virtually unknown outside of Japan – with all of their cool siphon brewers, drip cones, and much more. A great company to work with; very deserving of all of the success they have earned today. (Photo is a portrait of the artist as a young man, selling Hario products at an extremely early Fancy Food Show.)

As the 1980s went by, Coffee Bean International’s profitable growth as a specialty roaster far out-distanced our profitability as an importer, especially when some of the larger housewares importing businesses began to see a market in what we were doing and – using their substantially greater buying power and better-developed channels of distribution – began to undercut us in the marketplace. But the lessons I learned about importing and exporting have stayed with me, and have proven invaluable over the intervening decades as I have pursued my slightly insane passion for discovering rare coffee roasters overseas and importing them back here to Oregon for my collection.

As I mentioned earlier in this blog, I discovered my latest project roaster – a rare ‘Whitmee’ 14 lb per batch shop roaster dating from the late 1910’s or early 1920’s – on-line from a seller in the U.K. Unintentionally misidentified by the seller as a being one of Whitmee’s later 7 lb machines, when I discovered it last winter the roaster was holed up in a rural outbuilding near Faversham, in Kent. Faversham is a small, historic market town located somewhat off the beaten track about 50 miles east of London, hard by the A2 highway as it makes its way toward Canterbury. After I had negotiated the deal and transferred the money to the seller, I owned the machine – but without a clear idea of exactly how I was going to get it to Portland. Not the first time this has happened to me, and probably won’t be the last! But my philosophy is that if you worry too much about the details in life, nothing will ever get done. Sometimes you just have to trust yourself – and trust in the kindness of strangers – to make things happen.

My first good break was found in the help of my good friend Keith Holdup, a great fellow I met several years ago. Keith is a retired green coffee trader of renown from the London area that I have come to know and respect for his love and his knowledge of all things coffee – and his amazing tolerance for me and my never-ending quest for inane coffee knowledge, some eight time zones to his west. Keith helped me with the negotiations, being a friendly phone call away from the seller instead of an impersonal e-mail away. Keith also used to collect coffee roasters (imagine someone doing that…) and has a great understanding of the old British roaster manufacturers that allowed me to better know what I was letting myself in for.

The seller of the Whitmee, as it turned out, was able to make a recommendation for a crating and freight-forwarding company. I opened a line of communication with them, and after securing the dimensions and approx. weight of the roaster from the seller, was able to get a quote on having the roaster hauled out of the shed by a crew and taken by truck to Felixstowe, where it was taken apart and palletized. It was arranged by the forwarder that the roaster would travel from Felixstowe consolidated into a 20’ ocean-going container aboard a ship headed from England to the United States, via the Panama Canal. The port of arrival was to be Long Beach, California, where it would be deconsolidated and pass through customs.

So far, so good. Now I had to find a decent customs broker in Long Beach that could wrap their head around processing the paperwork for a single pallet of used coffee machinery, instead of an entire container load of shoes or something similar. Of course, it’s the same amount of time and paperwork for a broker to clear a pallet as clear a container, so I was charged full-bore by the customs broker – but that’s just the way the system works.

It took several weeks longer than projected to get my roaster through customs, without any sort of explanation from the I.C.E. folks, of course. Could be that they were just backed up, and had to process the larger shipments before they had time to worry about my measly little roaster? Or perhaps they thought that the ton of old chaff and coffee chips my roaster was spackled with was some sort of illegal substance? Who knows?! Eventually, they got around to passing my Whitmee roaster through customs, and assessed my duty (a little over $200). From that point on, it was a short truck trip up the coast here to Portland, where I finally got to rent a trailer and go claim my lovely little Whitmee.

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