Tiffin Project

Keeping it Fresh – Part Two

by Colter Jones on January 31, 2012

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‘Fresh’ is a term in coffee that has been overused by retailers and consumers alike, to the point that it doesn’t mean anything anymore. What is freshness?

Typically fresh coffee is thought of as a roasted product. It has only been within the last few years that roast dates have become a relevant selling feature of freshness in addition the desultory scribblings that ensure us of a fresh brew. All coffee is brewed fresh if you don’t consider the freshness of the product that you’re brewing or the time at which the coffee was brewed. Technically you could have a coffee that was ‘freshly brewed’ five hours ago.

Seasonality in coffee is a concept that is often overlooked and undervalued because it hasn’t been presented as a marketable selling feature in an industry that is heavily dependent on coffee blends. Blends provide consumers with the appearance of stability, but in reality blends of coffee change all the time. Specialty roasters have combated the blend epidemic by shifting their emphasis towards single-estate coffees and providing as much information as they can about the quality and origin of the coffee. This type of buying practice encourages rotation of small lots that have been farmed within a fairly recent time frame.

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The downside of marketing single-estate coffees for a larger scale retailer is that the amount of coffee is purchased is limited to the amount of coffee that a farm can produce. Typically repeat customers want to buy the same item that they have enjoyed in the past, so being too specific is a very dangerous endeavor for large coffee companies. A company like Starbucks who wishes to maintain the perception of quality amongst their customers has countered by labeling their coffees according to their countries of origin but provide no specific information about when or where they were farmed. This allows them to buy substantial volumes of coffees and stockpile them to maintain a constant supply.

The expiration of green coffee is a debated issue, but typically coffees are at their best closest to their arrival time at the roaster. When a coffee is received there is already a substantial gap between the time that the coffee was harvested and when it arrives typically due to transfer issues. Coffees that are bought at auction can often be problematic when considering that green coffee is not impermeable to the effects of degradation. A high scoring coffee relies on subtleties in flavor when it is judged at origin may lose some of those qualities during transfer. The bigger they are the harder they fall. Transfer issues can be minimized through methods like proper packaging, but the green coffee is still susceptible to degradation caused by time.

Each different region where coffee is grown has a different growing season, which is why it is has become important for coffee companies to predominantly feature coffees from specific areas to provide the freshest coffee possible. Most countries only have one growing season per year, which means that if your company commits to carrying a specific region year-round then there will be a period of time where the green coffee that you are roasting is at least a year old. Featuring coffees that are currently arriving to the roasting facility places emphasis on the importance of fresh green coffee and offering the best quality that each region has to offer. It is important from a retailing standpoint to educate the customer about the importance of an active green-buying program and that periodic menu changes are a measure that helps to increase quality.

~ Colter Jones

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