What is Coffee Seasonailty ? Part 1

11 June 2021

Welcome to part one of the Seasonality blog post. In part one we will investigate what seasonality is.

Seasonality is a word that's thrown around a lot in Speciality coffee. It has very different meanings from person to person, so here I plan to try and explain 3fe's philosophy on what's fresh and what's not.

Seasonality does not mean the first coffee off the tree, in fact the early part of the harvest the quality can be not as good as the later part. In fact the maturation of the highest elevation trees is often the last of the harvest and the reason we talk about elevation is the slow and steady maturation of these coffees.

It's also not the first coffee off the boat. Quite often when coffee arrives it is too fresh and too lively and needs a little bit of time for the coffee to “calm down” and lose some of its intimal greenness. Anecdotal evidence leans towards again the higher elevation / more slow maturing coffees needing the most time.

It's also not the first coffee on the website or wholesale price list. When a container of coffee arrives there often is a mixture of coffee from different farms (a mixed container). This container is curated to fulfil the needs of 3fe for the whole year. This can be a coffee that we know from experience and working with the farm will be part of Momentum and it can be a 1 bag of funky processing lot that we know will be at its best in 6 months time. So when coffee goes on the website / wholesale offering we have thought six months before where this might best sit on the offering and have planned out from that container what we will need over the coming weeks, months and year.

Seasonality is what's best in the cup. This comes from long term relationships with coffees and producers who have consistency of harvest and processing to make sure that we know in advance how the coffee will rest and age over a season.

When dealing with a new farm and relationship it's normally a gentle step into a few months supply of coffee to see how the coffee will age and develop over time.

I love a war story and I often tell the time of a 18 month of Kenya Gethumbwini that was tasting out of this world. I was praying that it wouldn't run out as it was tasting so good, along with a Cup of excellence from Honduras that was in the roastery at the same time and within 6 weeks the coffee was ageing and tasting baggy. Both were freak occurrences that shouldn't not have happened, but both show the seasonality is not as simple as fresh off the tree.

There are broad brush rules that we at 3fe follow that do describe seasonality. Coffee is seasonal from the current harvest year (in a later blog post I will share a picking time delivering time in a seasonality calendar). The harvest year is from Delivery to Delivery (so coffee lands in July you expect that coffee to be gone by June the following year.

What is most important is that we should not lose sight of what's in the cups of coffee we drink is the best dictator of seasonality and it's a decision best made in the cupping lab of a roastery and from the experience of working with a farm for many many years and not from a 280 character soundbite tweet or a fancy marketing spin message.

In part two we will take a look at coffee harvest and coffee delivery times and try to unravel them .