company - education - coffee

Friday, October 17, 2008

Jute free since 07

I know 'in season' is marketed as a cutting edge deal or at least that's the pitch. In an industry full of so much gimmicky nonsense and blatant chicanery, it is a good start. The thing that I want to know is what about the handful out there who aren't going the jute route? Where do we fit in this whole in season model?

There are two roasters local to our area who are adamant about not storing coffees in jute. We are very happy to to be one of them so excuse our barismo bias. Are there any others in North America whose entire storage is vacuum packaged?

If you want in season, you have to keep the coffee as close to the farm gate as possible and the concept that freshness is only a byproduct of time is a bit of a generalization. Time is only one of several factors that affects freshness. Setting a sell by date on milk would be silly if it were not stored in a proper container, away from contamination, and then kept at stable appropriate temperatures.

Why do we assume green coffee is so immune to age that it can sit in jute bags for months in open warehouses and say that the coffee will be fine? How can we even begin to account for the conditions of storage the coffees endured in transit? The fluctuating humidity and wildly changing temperatures are as fickle as ... well, the weather.

If we are going to trademark every term about quality, let's start with accounting for how the coffee get's here. Was it really fresh and in season when it arrives 3-4 months off milling and wasn't protected in some degree from the factors that act as catalysts for degradation?

This week provided an affirmation of just how difficult this issue is. I had to rejigger my whole roasting profiles as the new vacuum packaged at origin coffees began arriving. The Kenya Kiandu was our most recent lesson in how freshness makes a huge difference. After moving through an excellent batch, we began working through a bag that had lost it's seal at some point during transport. It was not the same coffee. The sweetness was there but the roundness and freshness of the coffee was no longer there. It just wasn't as dynamic and was a bit on the tannin side of the equation. That's still better than the wood and paper notes you see as a coffee really turns the corner and you have to move darker to balance the coffee.

I am profiling the Guatemalan coffees that have just arrived which were vacuum sealed at origin like the Kiandu and I will honestly say, I intend to work to have every coffee we source jute free from this point on, before it's arrival. It isn't cheap but fresh coffee doesn't begin and end at the roast date on the bag, it starts way back at the mill as that coffee leaves parchment and begins the long journey here.