How the Baltimore Bridge Collapse Upended a D.C. Coffee Chain’s Business

The collapse of Baltimore’s Key Bridge has disrupted the supply chain for Compass Coffee, a D.C.-based roaster that imports most of its beans through the Port of Baltimore. The crash is expected to cause delays and extra costs for many other businesses that rely on the port, which is responsible for about 52 million tons of imports and exports annually. The U.S. Small Business Administration has received more than 1,000 loan applications in response to the upheaval. With the port closed to most vessel traffic, hundreds of products, including coffee, tofu, and cars, now have to be rerouted to different parts of the country. Three temporary channels provide limited access to the Baltimore port.

Compass gets its coffee beans from Kenya, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Brazil, Guatemala, and Colombia. Those beans are loaded into shipping containers — 42,000 pounds in each — and sent out to sea. They arrive at the Port of Baltimore, which receives more than 8% of the nation’s coffee beans. Only the ports in Newark, New Orleans, Charleston, Oakland, and Houston imported more beans annually before the bridge collapse. Compass uses imported sugar to make simple syrups and their 12-ounce coffee bean cans are made by a company that imports its steel through the port.

Once Compass’s beans are unloaded at the Port of Baltimore, they get trucked to a warehouse about 12 miles northeast of the city. That facility also stores beans for other coffee companies, ranging from behemoths like Starbucks to small businesses like D.C.-based subscription service Cam’s Kettle. Inside, 150-pound bags of coffee are stacked on wood pallets. The beans wind their way to Compass’s 18 D.C.-area cafes. Others go to wholesale and grocery customers, and some are sold to customers to brew at home.

The bridge collapse disrupted this process, and the coffee, sugar, and tins needed somewhere new to go. Some vessels carrying beans were already at sea when the bridge collapsed, and shipping companies rerouted them to the Port of New York and New Jersey in the Newark area. The roaster had to decide where to route the beans that hadn’t yet shipped, considering factors like the size of each port, its availability to accept cargo, the cost of transporting products from there to D.C., and the timing of it all.

For now, Compass has kept prices the same for its customers, but Haft hasn’t ruled out raising prices in the future. The diversion has been expensive, and the company expects to pay $3,500 per container for the trip from Newark to D.C., plus an extra $10,000 on sugar in the next three months.

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