When we talk about coffee freshness, most of the discussion is around how to store it, when to grind it and how quickly to consume it. Often summed up neatly on the side of your bag of beans, there are actually some incredibly interesting implications to freshness of roasted coffee that I’m looking forward to getting into in my next piece. But first, I think it’s important to talk about a whole other side to the equation – the freshness of the coffee before it is roasted.
Fruit. Seed. Berry. Coffee.
To start at the beginning, we first must acknowledge that coffee is an agricultural product – a fruit to be exact, and to be even more exact, the seed of a berry from the Coffea plant. Like many fruits, a coffee harvest comes but once a year. Unlike most fruits though, one cannot simply harvest and consume. Coffee goes through many processes before it even gets to a roastery – at least ten processes by a conservative count – and this takes a great deal of time.
Once it has been picked off the tree, coffee can take anywhere from five to seven months to get into your cup. Most green (as in unroasted) coffee stays relatively fresh and tasting consistent for another five to seven months. This countdown depends a great deal on a few things: the quality of the coffee and the way it is processed, as well as how it has been stored. So this leaves a sizeable gap between a coffee’s peak drinking window and the next fresh crop. It’s not as though it becomes undrinkable, and thankfully coffee is not perishable – but with time, it simply starts losing its flavour.
The loss of flavour in an aging green coffee is a reaction to the beans losing moisture content and water activity, most of which is far too science-y to get into in 500 words. Simply put though, as coffee ages and dries its flavour goes with it, so once it is roasted it resembles coffee, but has less and less distinguishing characteristics.
The good news is that coffee grows all over the world, and harvests from different countries are happening at almost all times of the year. We are currently in the middle of harvest season (January 2016) in Central America and picking in Kenya and Ethiopia are just finishing up. Colombia’s main crop (it’s one of the few countries that gets two crops in a year, from different regions) starts in May and Central Africa starts in the mid-summer. Which all means that at any point in the year, there is going to be some damn fine, fresh coffee available for you to enjoy.
Where and When
As a roaster interested in seasonally fresh coffee, this might be a somewhat self-serving point to write about. But I can’t help but hope that one day coffee consumers will think about freshness beyond just the “roasted on” date and think deeper about the farm it came from. And “when” it came from.
Originally posted on Dine.TO