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House of Coffee / Interest  / Industry Insight: Port of Tilbury coffee hub.
CWT Warehouse

Industry Insight: Port of Tilbury coffee hub.

In this feature we take a look at the tremendous investment in the huge logistical challenge of coffee supplies into the UK. (and we get a little nostalgic, philosophical and we do a tapas joke)

The UK spends over a billion pounds a year on raw coffee and it arrives from all over the sub-tropics. A large portion of this is unloaded at the Port of Tilbury where it is stored into one warehouse.

At House of Coffee we sometimes top-up with stocks of a few sacks and, after our small van is waved through by customs, we find a different world of vast enterprise and heavy industry. The cars, tractors and construction plant, chopped up mountains of re-cyclable metals, timber for new homes in the south east, sheds of raw cocoa beans, giant tubes of liquid gas, and big ships,sometimes cruise liners having a clean up, or huge box-like car transporters.

We find our coffee ‘shed’ on the right just passed one of the giant wind turbines. They call it a ‘shed’ but it’s not like one we’ve seen before !: Inside here is most of the port side raw coffee storage of the UK. Up to 120,000 sacks, most sacks weighing 60 kilos and all under one roof. These sacks are owned by various importers who pay for the warehouse service: These importer/owners will instruct the warehouse owner to release coffee to the buyer (HofC in our case). This is how nearly all our UK raw coffee supplies are held: in just a few locations waiting for the roaster to arrange collection.

Needless to say the Shed is very busy. There is one process that catches the eye because it is extremely physical…..this is where machines can’t do the job: it requires taking sacks from the shipping container and placing them carefully in a neat pile of 10 on to a euro-pallet: A man jumps onto the shipping container and places a sack of coffee onto the shoulders of another man who then allows the sack to drop off his shoulder so as to form a perfectly neat on a pallet. These two, as part of a gang, will offload as many as 1400 sacks from one trailer. And as many as 15 trailers a day.

The Port itself, the size of a small town, is fenced off and there is an un-mistakable no nonsense attitude to customs and safety. Most accidents here, we suspect, are very serious. We have seen a very serious near miss on one of our visits.

Tilbury Port of course has a very important claim to fame: It was here that Elizabeth l pledged to personally stand or fall with our army who were set to face the Spanish Armada.’*

Today, our very heavy reliance on the importation of goods has impacted markets in the UK, both pricing and supply, like no other time since WW2. Coronavirus, container shortages, war in eastern europe and more recently, threats to shipping in the Red Sea to name a few. So we think that places like Tilbury Docks help to frame us in the wider world. We all enjoy coffee often in a matter of fact way when it’s worth remembering that we are priveleged to enjoy the benefits of these huge systems that operate out of sight to most of us.

‘* you won’t find a tapas bar in Tilbury!

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