SEASONALITY: WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL?
WHAT IS A SEASONAL COFFEE?
Coffee-is produced in many different countries and this means that the harvests will take place at different times throughout the year. In very broad terms the Northern Hemisphere countries will see their harvests fall at a different time than the countries in the Southern Hemisphere. In some countries like Colombia and Uganda. they benefit from multiple harvests per year. A harvested and processed green coffee bean will naturally degrade over time, usually between six and twelve months. As the bean gets older it loses moisture and oxidisation occurs which can limit the flavours during the roasting processes. Many roasters will organise their coffee offerings to coincide with the seasons. For example, our coffee from Timor Leste usually arrives in the UK in January and once all roasted it disappears from our offering until the next year. Different origins produce coffees with distinctive profiles for example Guatemalan and Costa Rican coffees tend to be fruity and funky, while Kenyan and Rwandan coffees tend to be tart and citrusy. Offering our coffees that are at their prime means that they can be enjoyed at their full potential.
What is The Benefit?
The main benefit has to be freshness. Like any other agricultural product, to get the best flavour depends on the harvest and the time it takes for the product to be consumed. As a buyer, it is very important to hit the sweet spot of harvest, in order to enjoy the complex flavours that are naturally produced. Green coffee is at its peak when it lands in the consumer’s country after harvest. As the time advances, the flavours tend to drop away due to the moisture content dropping. If green coffee is left to sit for too long the bean develops a woody flavour and paper-like mouthfeel, known as the “past crop”. Seasonality ensures that there is a fast turnover of coffees being roasted reducing the danger of coffee spoiling because it has been left in the warehouse or roastery for too long. Seasonality can also ensure exclusivity of coffee lots if they are ‘bought forward’. This means that planning ahead enables the purchasing of coffee from a producer before it is made available as SPOT coffee to other roasters. This allows the marketing of this coffee as exclusive to your own roastery.
DOES IT MAKE A DIFFERENCE?
Yes, very much so. People want their coffee as fresh, flavourful and vibrant as it can possibly be. For example, the difference between strawberries picked right in the midst of their harvest is marked compared to the strawberries picked much later and this is similar with coffee. Consumers of speciality coffee want to know as much information as possible about their product and they want information about its journey from the farm to their cup. Seasonality is an integral part of this story.
What are the potential problems?
Availability is one of the main potential pitfalls. Most coffee regions have only one harvest per year and so availability can sometimes be limited. This can cause problems with customers who really enjoy a certain coffee and then find out that it is no longer available. Also, crops can change from year to year depending on a number of factors such as amount of rainfall, the arrival of the wet season and whether the farm experienced a cool summer or a warmer winter, which all affects the quality of the crop. An exceptional coffee may be purchased one year and then the following year the flavour profile might be completely different due to a range of differing factors. Competition from other roasters, who want to secure the best lots from each harvest, can also impact on availability reinforcing the need to plan ahead in order to secure purchase of the best coffees.
how we approach seasonality
It is important to have a knowledge and understanding of the harvests from each origin in order to plan ahead for the year. Seasonal overlap ensures that there is always coffee available throughout the year but this requires working closely with farmers from the different origins. Working with importers and producers willing to plan ahead is important and this requiressamples of the crop being sent well in advance. It is important to know exactly when each coffee will arrive in the country so that it can be purchased and shipped as soon as possible. Only small amounts of each seasonal coffee are purchased in order to ensure each lot is sold before the peak flavour fades. This usually happens between four to six months of the coffee arriving in the country. However, some coffees can retain their flavour much longer. The rate of disintegration depends on many factors such as soil content, altitude and the processing method. Some coffees can remain "seasonal" for a greater period of time especially when stored in climate-controlled warehouses. The key is to sample and cup as often as possible to ensure that the coffee is still tasting top notch.