Handling Central American coffees in San Francisco is distinctly different from the business in Brazil. In order to secure the Central American planter's crops, the importers find it necessary to finance his operations to a large extent. Consequently, the Central American trade is not a simple matter of buying and selling, but an intricate financial operation on the part of the San Francisco importers. Practically all the coffee coming in is either on consignment, or is already sold to established coffee-importing houses. Brokers do not deal direct with the exporters; and practically none of the roasters now import direct.
In recent years San Francisco has adopted the practise of buying a large part of her coffee on the "to arrive" basis; that is the purchase has been made before the coffee is shipped from the producing country, or while in transit. This practise applies, of course, only to well known marks and standard grades. Coffee that has not been sold before arrival in San Francisco is generally sampled on the docks during unloading, although this is sometimes postponed until the consignment is in the warehouse. It is then graded and priced, and is offered for sale by samples through brokers.
San Francisco is better equipped with modern unloading machinery and other apparatus than either New Orleans or New York, even more liberal use being made there than in New Orleans of the automatic-belt conveyors both for transferring the bags from the ships to the docks and for stacking them in high tiers on the pier. Another notable feature of the modern coffee docks is that the newer ones are of steel and concrete and, as in New Orleans, are covered to protect the coffee from wind and storm.