Tick, tick, tick….. boom.

February 7th, 2010

The internet is quite talkative at the moment.  The coffee sliver of the internet anyway.  Lots of talk about seasonality, which is a good thing.

This does beg the question – how long is coffee good for?  Green coffee I mean – we’re still arguing about roasted coffee’s shelf life and a great deal more time and money has been spent on that topic in the last 100 years.

If anything, and we are getting into the realm of personal opinion here, green coffee is trickier because green coffees don’t age the same way.  Each lot is an individual little time bomb.  As much as we can look after it as well as we can in storage/in roasteries – we are still working with an individual fuse whose approximate length was determined before the coffee left the producing country.

I hate it when people talk in general terms about the entire production of one country.  However, in my experience, coffees from Kenya have held up a great deal longer than many Central American coffees.  Regardless of packaging method, and stored in the same environment for the same amount of time.  I know there is a lot of stuff out there on storing coffee (check Roast Magazine for some good articles), but let’s say this isn’t the main issue.

You could argue that they have such pronounced un-coffee like coffee flavours that, while they fade, they continue to be easy to spot.  This may be the case, but it is also the absence of baggy flavour which I find interesting.

We should probably find a better word than baggy.  Mostly because we can no longer blame jute as coffees that are vacpacked can end up tasting as “baggy” as coffees stored in jute.  They may take a little longer to get there, but they get there.  Cupping some very old pre-ship samples (that have likely never even seen jute in their lives) was a pretty definite moment for me.

What I want to know, and this is probably a bit of a list, is the following:

- Exactly what creates the jutey/baggy flavour?  Is it the breakdown of something, oxidation, some other reaction?  I went through Flament’s “Coffee Flavour Chemistry” and came up empty.  I will keep looking!  I am sure R.J.Clarke knows!

- Is it linked to processing?  Geoff Watts once told me a little theory he had, which I won’t repeat because a). I was a touch inebriated when he told me so I might get it wrong and b). It is his theory to tell, not mine and c). He may well have changed his mind.  It was, however very much linked to the results of processing before being stored in parchment.  Please Geoff, if you ever read this, correct me if I am wrong.  I know I am being a bit general there.

- Are we, as an industry, prepared to vary our window of seasonality depending on the coffee’s capacity for youthfulness?  Is this even more confusing to the customer, upon whom we probably thrust a dizzying array of information?

- If we can identify the length of fuse on a lot of coffee, should we store it differently?  Is there one perfect storage environment for all coffees, or should we customise a bit more?

Finally – how much of this stress would be saved if we could just move coffee from origin to roaster a bit quicker?  That, however, is another discussion altogether.

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