company - education - coffee

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Freezing Green For "Vintage" Coffees?

Wine is a beautiful thing. It is one of the products in this world in which the grower can create a bottle of wine and enjoy it year after year and watch it grow, mature, and change with time.

Coffee is not wine in that regard. Coffee is much more like produce in that it is a perishable product meant to be consumed with as little interference from the deteriorating effects of heat, moisture, and most importantly time. Freezing cannot increase the flavor of the coffee over time but makes it possible to keep coffee fresh until it is roasted.

I am all for freezing green to keep it fresh, but are so called “vintage" coffees a good idea? You could approach coffee like wine and vintage it. You could even save it for your kids to try, but why do this now when we have so much to look forward to?

At this point in time, our industry is still in its infancy. Since freezing obviously cannot increase the flavor of the coffee over time, why hoard it? One of the greatest things about this time in coffee is that we are at a point where we have everything to look forward to. If we want the coffee industry to continue to progress in the direction of product quality, what use is there in freezing coffee to be used several years from now? I see only detrimental effects to the industry from this. Every successful business has return customers. How can farmers be expected to create a consistently good coffee if they cannot rely on return customers? How can a farmer expect a return customer if the company buying it just freezes it to be sold when the company chooses and does not continue to buy that coffee year after year? If we want to continue to see consistently good washed coffees year after year, we must retain the seasonality of the coffee business and give farmers a chance to perfect their craft so that it is more repeatable. Especially at this time when so much growth is happening, this is important.

Vintage coffees also create false demand. If a roaster chooses to freeze a coffee for years to come, it creates the demand for consumers to buy that coffee when the roaster chooses to roast it, not when the coffee is still in season.

Everyone has favorite coffees that they want to continue to have again and again, but “vintaging” coffees means that at such a pivotal point in time as is now, farms that produce consistently good washed coffees will remain few in number.

It would be great to fill a vault with all the best coffees you have ever had. To take the best from each origin and make an all-star cupping table would be great. On the other hand, each year the coffees that come to the CoE cupping tables get better and better. Each year I taste coffee, I continue to taste new coffees that amaze me.

Not only would “vintage” coffees put another question mark in how the farmer will consistently be able to sell his coffee, but it will also cost much more for consumers. Freezing coffee costs a lot of money and why would the consumer want to pay for that cost if the coffee can be used faster and ultimately take less money to freeze ? I am willing to take the chance that next years coffee might not be as good, in order to assure that the next 10 years of coffee are.