Seasonality of Coffee?

growing, harvesting, processing, cupping, purchasing

Postby jmc on Mon May 21, 2007 12:52 pm

Word up KRS Schooley &GDub...Chris, the soundbitin' of the press can create new problems and is very frustrating, but I think any discourse on great coffee is good for everyone...especially when we have so far to go with the "general coffee drinking public" in terms of education and appreciation. Here is the article btw:
http://www.chicagoreader.com/features/s ... ts/070330/
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Re: Seasonality of Coffee?

Postby Chris Kornman on Thu Apr 08, 2010 6:54 am

I just wanted to bring this thread back up in light of Mr. Schooley's post (http://forums.roastersguild.org/viewtopic.php?f=14&t=7) over on the new RG forum. I have little to add that hasn't been eloquently said already above, but I was wondering (and since I'm too lazy to dig up my RG password, I'll posit the question here) if "arrival" is any more accurate a marketing term than "seasonal," as freshly arrived coffee doesn't necessarily mean fresh coffee... I've known coffee to arrive fresh in the States after sitting for a few months at a port at origin, and it sure didn't taste very fresh. It's just that, well, coffee is a fruit, and there is a season in which it is harvested. Is there a better term that doesn't confuse the consumer and effectively communicates the idea of drinking a cup'a that doesn't taste like paper & old socks because of its age?

Anyway... read up, and fire at will.
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Re: Seasonality of Coffee?

Postby Tim Dominick on Thu Apr 08, 2010 10:29 am

Coffee is a fleshless drupe by the time it is processed. We are left with something closer to a cherry stone than a juicy bing cherry. While it is not incorrect to say coffee is a fruit that is harvested during a particular season, it might not be the most apt way to convey what we are receiving and converting into roasted coffee.

It makes sense to provide details such as harvest period, just as MASL, soil type, processing style and any number of details that can be collected. These are simply objective details about the coffee. Giving something an "in season" label is entirely different because it is subjective. "Arrival" is a statistic, though I must agree that "arrival" cannot convey anything about the quality.

Since any number of factors can decrease or prolong the length of time a coffee will remain vibrant it seems like determining "in season" is a genuine moving target. I can understand the spirit of the idea, however it is entirely impossible to be date-certain with coffee. If you say 180 days off harvest, does the coffee drop 5 points on day 181?

With tomatoes it is very clear...the season ends when a killing frost eliminates the crop. The fruit picked on the evening before the frost is the terminal end to the season. Peaches go out of season when the last pieces of fruit hit the farm stand. Mushrooms emerge when the conditions are right and go dormant when unfavorable conditions return. Since the seasonal food movement shares a great deal of room with localvore concepts, it is quite apparent to these consumers when it is time to move on to the next crop. The food is simply unavailable from their local supplier. Seasonality with fruit/veg/fungi is imposed by nature not by marketing or the subjective tastes of people, no matter how tuned their palates may be. This is where things can get confusing with coffee because it is not cut and dry.
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Re: Seasonality of Coffee?

Postby Jesse Crouse on Thu Apr 08, 2010 11:52 am

Tim wrote:
Since any number of factors can decrease or prolong the length of time a coffee will remain vibrant it seems like determining "in season" is a genuine moving target. I can understand the spirit of the idea, however it is entirely impossible to be date-certain with coffee. If you say 180 days off harvest, does the coffee drop 5 points on day 181?


Does milk kill you a day after its "sell by" date?

I guess it could... :? , but the date still exists. From what I have read in this forum; the most "date-certain" anyone has been is between 9 and 12 months. I believe that it is great to have standards to hold yourself to, and since we don't have the FDA creating regulations on how long we can sell coffee for consumption, we have to self-govern.

My point is, I think most people would agree that it is a moving target, but hell, that is what makes it exciting.

To me, printing something such as "in season" on a label, and having literature about what that means helps customers get excited on a year to year basis. Just as I would get excited if I saw "2008 Cosecha" written on a Spanish wine, when I loved their 2007. It helps promote the changes that the whole supply change underwent during the previous year. And hopefully, the customers notice.
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Re: Seasonality of Coffee?

Postby nick on Thu Apr 08, 2010 12:12 pm

Thanks, TimD, for your last post. It's helpful to remember that when we seem to want to talk about how coffee is more like fresh produce than a can of peas... that it isn't really THAT much like fresh produce either.

It's something I've been thinking about a lot lately, and ultimately, to me, it's boiled down to this: Must the values, principles, or standards for our coffee quality... be turned into a label, brandTM, or marketing device? Isn't it enough to have super-delicious coffee?

Some coffee roasters have a strict rule about nobody is allowed to sit on the coffee bags, and that's a very good rule. When will the first "No-Sit Coffee" labels start showing up?
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Re: Seasonality of Coffee?

Postby Vince Piccolo on Thu Apr 08, 2010 1:46 pm

Nick I TM'd "No Sit Coffee" so please get permission before using it in the future. :lol:
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Re: Seasonality of Coffee?

Postby Christopher Schooley on Thu Apr 08, 2010 10:37 pm

Tim Dominick wrote:Coffee is a fleshless drupe by the time it is processed. We are left with something closer to a cherry stone than a juicy bing cherry. While it is not incorrect to say coffee is a fruit that is harvested during a particular season, it might not be the most apt way to convey what we are receiving and converting into roasted coffee.

It makes sense to provide details such as harvest period, just as MASL, soil type, processing style and any number of details that can be collected. These are simply objective details about the coffee. Giving something an "in season" label is entirely different because it is subjective. "Arrival" is a statistic, though I must agree that "arrival" cannot convey anything about the quality.

Since any number of factors can decrease or prolong the length of time a coffee will remain vibrant it seems like determining "in season" is a genuine moving target. I can understand the spirit of the idea, however it is entirely impossible to be date-certain with coffee. If you say 180 days off harvest, does the coffee drop 5 points on day 181?

With tomatoes it is very clear...the season ends when a killing frost eliminates the crop. The fruit picked on the evening before the frost is the terminal end to the season. Peaches go out of season when the last pieces of fruit hit the farm stand. Mushrooms emerge when the conditions are right and go dormant when unfavorable conditions return. Since the seasonal food movement shares a great deal of room with localvore concepts, it is quite apparent to these consumers when it is time to move on to the next crop. The food is simply unavailable from their local supplier. Seasonality with fruit/veg/fungi is imposed by nature not by marketing or the subjective tastes of people, no matter how tuned their palates may be. This is where things can get confusing with coffee because it is not cut and dry.


Tim,
Those last 2 sentences I think sum it up brilliantly along with the "moving target" comment.

Chris, I totally agree with you about your issues with using "arrival" in a marketing sense. My one comment would be that arrival would at least more accurately indicate that these are your newer offerings since that is the spirit behind promoting "seasonality". Also, I don't imagine that you would promote/sell the coffees that you mentioned as sitting too long in port and what have you as arrival or seasonal since they pro'lly would be rejected anywayzzz. But, you do in the end help strengthen my main point which is, as Nick says as well, why do we need to attach trendy buzz-word labels like this to our super delicious coffee? I just don't think we need a singular term. Is that really what the mission behind craft/specialty coffee is?

and one last thing, Chris. You will have to re-register for the RG forum anyways as all members have to for the new one. Please do, we could really really use some more voices over there.
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Re: Seasonality of Coffee?

Postby Chris Kornman on Fri Apr 09, 2010 11:55 am

Thanks, fellas, for chiming back in on this oldie/goodie.

Christopher Schooley wrote:why do we need to attach trendy buzz-word labels like this to our super delicious coffee? I just don't think we need a singular term. Is that really what the mission behind craft/specialty coffee is?


Let me say, before I type anything else here, that I abhor empty rhetoric. I don't want to be the guy selling you smoke & mirrors... and while I wonder sometimes how much of our lexicon in specialty coffee is hyperbolic, I do know that I can tell a difference between coffee showing signs of age, and coffee that is vibrant. I'll also be the first to remind a drinker of the complexity of the path from, ugh, for lack of a better phrase, crop to cup. Seasonality as a catch phrase, as a marketing strategy that stands alone, or as a crafty method of moving product, is qualitatively devoid of merit.

That being said, coffee that is roasted & freshly prepared while in its prime, I believe does merit distinction. The nebulous nature of this, per an individual coffee's life span and the intricacies of shipping/roasting/preparation, seems to be what is making this difficult for us as an industry to arrive at a common terminology. And you guys raise a 100% valid point: why do we need a singular term? Maybe we don't, and I'm not sure anyone's trying to force the industry to conform to that sort of homogeneity (but my perspective is admittedly biased).

I suppose if what you want to convey is that the cup you are drinking was harvested in the current season, "recently arrived" or "fresh crop" works just fine. But I question whether those of us who are attempting to enlighten our colleagues & customers by promoting the idea of timely & ethically sourced beans which have been meticulously picked, (sometimes washed), and processed, are doing ourselves and our consumers a disservice by not at least implying that there is more to their bag of beans than just how recently it arrived in the general area of consumption. It seems to me that the term "seasonal" effectively and tersely communicates this idea in some small way better than other options that have been offered.

The trick is summarizing without over-simplifying, which in the end isn't really possible... but we'll probably keep trying.
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Re: Seasonality of Coffee?

Postby Christopher Schooley on Fri Apr 09, 2010 2:36 pm

That being said, coffee that is roasted & freshly prepared while in its prime, I believe does merit distinction


I just want to reiterate (as I have in this thread a couple of times) that this point is not what I am debating. I one hundred percent agree with you. Not that that's what you're saying, Chris, but I do believe that this is important to note. Thanks again for your thought and input into this topic.

One other point that I want to bring up, and which has been touched on a little in this thread, is that by using the seasonality term, we unfairly put even more of the burden of a coffee showing its best attributes on the coffee itself while shrugging off the responsibility of the Roaster/Holder of the green coffee to help maintain a coffee's quality. Processing plays a large role in how a coffee holds up, but I would say that something that lends a great deal to a coffee falling out of season is improper handling once it is our hands.

those of us who are attempting to enlighten our colleagues & customers by promoting the idea of timely & ethically sourced beans which have been meticulously picked, (sometimes washed), and processed, are doing ourselves and our consumers a disservice by not at least implying that there is more to their bag of beans than just how recently it arrived in the general area of consumption


You did a good job right there of beginning to describe the complexities of what makes a coffee more exciting within a certain time frame in about one sentence. You start to tell the story right there without using the buzz word and without simply implying it. There's more to it, that's really all you have to say to start the conversation which can be a succinct one. We can imply a number of things about coffee, but I don't think that that's what any of us are really interested in. Let's just be totally honest, using "seasonality" is an attempt to align our product with the legacy of farm fresh produce and also a culinary trend. I get it. Theirs' is a sexy hotshot world and we do toe the line and frequently actually take an active role in what is going on in that world. It just seems silly to use their terminology when it is not really applicable just so we can imply that we are aligned with what they are doing. What I'm trying to say is that a word doesn't align us to that world, that fact that we know a great deal about our ingredients does.

Although, I have been working on a sous vide roasting method, very gentle and none of the volatile compounds are lost during roasting. It actually adds freshness to the coffee.

Honestly though, Chris, thanks for your input. I'm happy to actually have discussions on these things. I do hope that this doesn't come off as me trying to tear anybody down. It's just something that really puzzles me.
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Re: Seasonality of Coffee?

Postby Andy Schecter on Fri Apr 09, 2010 5:45 pm

Christopher Schooley wrote:I have been working on a sous vide roasting method, very gentle and none of the volatile compounds are lost during roasting. It actually adds freshness to the coffee.


You are joking with us, right?

Throw your vacuum-packed greens in a tank of 140F water and voila! -- 16 hours later, you have delicious, fresher-than-fresh roasted coffee? 8)
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Re: Seasonality of Coffee?

Postby nick on Wed Apr 14, 2010 5:25 pm

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Re: Seasonality of Coffee?

Postby Christopher Schooley on Sat May 08, 2010 11:08 am

So, Zell blogged about this as well and there are some responses there, but I wanted to maybe send this whole discussion in a new direction because I feel like it's just kinda going in circles right now.

The people who are for using seasonality as a term for coffee are saying what's the harm, we want people to think about coffee differently then they do right now and we want them to experience coffees when they are at their best, right?

I do agree, but...

The people who are against it are saying that the harm is that the concept doesn't really totally apply to coffee and that it's misleading and could create mistrust with consumers as well as it belittles the importance of proper processing and handling.

The direction that I would like to see this discussion go in is research. There has been a little discussion already about research done on handling and packaging and how that prolongs coffee's lifespan or protects it from premature aging. I think that we should be looking at a number of different things as well. Besides water activity, moisture content, and packaging and storage, what other variables play into the aging of coffee? Do certain varietals hold up better? Does higher altitude translate to a longer life, or does it create more of a swing and impact of environmental inputs?

It was very interesting to listen to Dr. Tim Schilling at the annual RG membership meeting in Anaheim talk about the Global Coffee Quality Research Initiative and how little research actually existed on coffee quality. I think that perhaps this aging and its impact on quality question is something that I would like to see the GCRI look at closely and that we should all support these efforts in every and all ways that we can. Again, I'm not trying to make a coffee immortal, but I think that we can all agree that more could be done to protect it from premature aging. I think that rather then saying that one coffee is in or out of season and saying that a coffee is better at a particular point in its lifespan, that we really need to be looking at why. This is an opportunity to view coffee on its own terms rather than using comparisons with other products that don't totally apply.
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Re: Seasonality of Coffee?

Postby Christopher Schooley on Sat May 08, 2010 11:28 am

Also, I just noticed that tomorrow it will be exactly 3 years since this thread first started.
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Re: Seasonality of Coffee?

Postby Vince Piccolo on Sat May 08, 2010 2:05 pm

Chris. Thanks for bringing this up.

I am all for seasonality and what it brings.

What I don't like is the fact that we are marketing green coffee as a fruit. And we need to eat/drink/buy what is in season. I don't think green coffee is like fruit; rather I feel it is more like a seed. It was a fruit and is processed into a hard clean seed or bean.

We need to test the theory of a 3 month fresh green coffee is better than a 10 month frozen green coffee. We also need to test the theory that fresher is always better in green, I actually believe that some coffees arrive too green and need a little more rest and some are great when they're at their freshest.

I do like the fact that we can now lower our green coffee inventory and only offer what is current in harvest. It has made managing inventory and keeping inventory costs down quite drastically. But I feel that to say all coffee is best at it's freshest is premature and without scientific merit.

Some of the best coffees I've had over the years have been very fresh green coffee as well as coffees that have been frozen when fresh and roasted months later. I have had on occasion the frozen coffee score higher than the same coffee when it was fresher as green.
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Re: Seasonality of Coffee?

Postby SL28ave on Sat May 08, 2010 5:37 pm

If something tastes "prime" for only three certain months out of the year, consistently... then, the flavor is seasonal. Three months is a season. Six months is a season. It could be a trillion other things too, and the seasonality would still stand, no?

iiiGreat research ideas!!! Minds are open. Go! Go! Go!

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Re: Seasonality of Coffee?

Postby nick on Sun May 09, 2010 8:59 am

I'm certainly biased, but I'm apt to agree with Trish and her quote from the article I posted above, when she says, "Seasonality can kind of mean whatever a roaster wants it to be."

Therefore to me it really boils down to the marketing and branding of the coffee and/or coffee company in question. Isn't it really ultimately about differentiation?

Coffee quality itself was, at one time, the main differentiator, and it was pretty much enough. In 2006, if you were in Chicago or Portland or wherever and you knew your shit and wanted top-quality whole-bean roasted coffee, it was pretty much a no-brainer whose coffee you were gonna buy.

Today, if you're in Chicago or Portland or New York or Seattle or wherever, you can find top-quality roasted coffees available from a number of top-tier roasters... in the same city, sometimes in the same shop. It would make sense that, to compete in this new market environment, companies would come up with their own ways to differentiate themselves.

So as for me and the company we're trying to put together, we've decided to stick with always trying to offer great coffees. New-crop is pretty much always going to be better than the same coffee, 10-months later, so obviously, we're gonna be jumping all over the new-crop stuff when it's available. But if a coffee is still kick-ass a handful of months later (albeit, not as great as it once was), then we'll celebrate that kick-ass-ness all the way to the bottom of the cold coffee cup.

As folks have already repeated, "seasonality" mirrors what's going on in the food-world in general. Whether it's an appropriate appropriation or not is, I guess, at the heart of this discussion topic. However, there's another topic in the food-world that's perhaps more sticky and potentially even more controversial when you try to apply it to coffee: local. :twisted:
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Re: Seasonality of Coffee?

Postby lukeharris on Sun May 09, 2010 6:23 pm

nick wrote:Today, if you're in Chicago or Portland or New York or Seattle or wherever, you can find top-quality roasted coffees available from a number of top-tier roasters... in the same city, sometimes in the same shop.


That's great. I wish I still lived in one of those places. My problem is that I live in a small, remote city of ~70 000 people in Northern BC. I love my job and the lifestyle is great but you can't get any coffee worth drinking here unless you do it my way: I get it flown or driven up from Vancouver every 2-3 weeks thanks to some very generous retailers and friends. I generally have a few pounds going at once, and I drink them in 2-3 weeks. I brew using pour-over and press methods in my office, trying to educate the masses one at a time. 2-3 weeks is not ideal, but it's the best I can do. In this context, freezing is great...

Vince Piccolo wrote:We need to test the theory of a 3 month fresh green coffee is better than a 10 month frozen green coffee.


...unless you're in my shoes. When I was working with Café Imports it became pretty clear that freezing green for months to years is fine as long as you plan to use all of the roasted product within 3-4 days. Otherwise, other preservation methods are better.

My view based on the data I helped collect (which, I confess, were far from straightforward, and my statistical methods were total bunk: http://www.roastmagazine.com/backissues ... treal.html) is that if you have access to climate control then you should store green in jute. If you are storing in a warehouse then you need a really good hermetic storage solution.

For reasons that remain mysterious we were unable to get data logger humidity and temperature numbers from jute and hermetic bags that were shipped from origin, however, if you can get your hands on them, the at-origin data from the Café Britt trial done with GrainPro in Costa Rica are worth seeing. As far as I am concerned, unless you're using climate control, proper hermetic storage is key to maintaining green quality over an extended period because it absolutely mitigates the damage done by fluctuations in temperature and humidity. In this sense I really think that coffee seasonality is a real and quantifiable phenomenon.

I agree that freshness over a period of months may be debatable in the context suggested by Vince...

Vince Piccolo wrote:We also need to test the theory that fresher is always better in green, I actually believe that some coffees arrive too green and need a little more rest and some are great when they're at their freshest.


...but I don't think you can argue freshness of "in season" coffee compared to coffee from the previous harvest. Past-crop is past-crop, and faded is faded. I hate that papery taste!

One final note regards the "greenness" of green. If you look at the article I mentioned above, Costa Rica B cupped out really well even though it had a moisture content of 13.9%. What was most interesting about this is that Andrew Miller had cupped it at origin months before, and he said it tasted exactly the same after months in hermetic storage. So in this case a very green coffee tasted wonderful, and this was preserved--including high moisture content--over months using an hermetic bag.

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Re: Seasonality of Coffee?

Postby Tim Dominick on Mon May 10, 2010 9:32 am

Vince Piccolo wrote:I do like the fact that we can now lower our green coffee inventory and only offer what is current in harvest. It has made managing inventory and keeping inventory costs down quite drastically. But I feel that to say all coffee is best at it's freshest is premature and without scientific merit.


This is a practical and logical reason to keep it current, and I'd bet the driving force behind a lot of this move to "seasonality" Thanks for calling a spade a spade.

I think there was a time not so long ago when even the "super hero" roasters went way too long on coffees and ended up with an inventory that was crushingly expensive to manage and losing quality as the days passed. Nothing more sad than a 90+ point coffee on it's last legs.

A seasonal approach is a rational and natural reaction in a tight economy, in addition it offers a very good marketing opportunity. Ironically it is a very similar buying strategy most very small and newly minted roasters take if they are buying off a spot sheet. Importers are also handling their inventories along these lines as an adjustment to a credit crunch. Buying less means less old inventory, but it can be adapted as a marketing strategy as well....win/win
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Re: Seasonality of Coffee?

Postby Demian L on Tue May 11, 2010 9:04 am

This has been an interesting discussion both here and on other parts of the interwebs.

One thing I'm concerned about is consumer perception. Just to play dumb consumer devil's advocate: "You're telling me coffee is like wine but then you're telling me it's seasonal?" Coffee doesn't benefit from aging but it's like wine? Wine isn't a "fresh" product but coffee is and it's supposed to be as complex as wine?"

Also, is the seasonality debate just another super-specialty echo-chamber debate? Does this issue matter all but the nerdiest of coffee drinkers?

Last, it seems that the coffee industry has a problem with innovation. There are plenty of technologies out there, as mentioned in this thread and elsewhere, that prolong green freshness. Why aren't they being adopted as quickly as they should?
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Re: Seasonality of Coffee?

Postby Christopher Schooley on Mon May 24, 2010 8:39 am

My point this whole time has not been the concept (of pushing a coffee when it is amazing), but the term (which no matter what is loaded and not totally applicable), and Geoff Watts (I'll give him full credit here as it was his post over in DZ's blog which made it pop out for me) solved that problem. I actually could get behind using “Prime” instead of “Seasonal”. It’s really kinda perfect and I can’t believe it didn’t come to mind earlier. It tells us just as much and more than what “seasonal” tells us without the baggage and misconception that come with using "seasonal". It is more malleable for use with more coffees that are at their best for different periods of time (um, every coffee). It says that this coffee is amazing right now and it also encourages the consumer to then inquire what makes this coffee “prime”, opening the door to better understanding. I’m personally going to use “prime” from now on.
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Re: Seasonality of Coffee?

Postby Sean Starke on Wed May 26, 2010 8:40 am

Vince Piccolo wrote:We also need to test the theory that fresher is always better in green, I actually believe that some coffees arrive too green and need a little more rest and some are great when they're at their freshest.


Very true. Brazil is a perfect example: even though the harvest begins in mid-May you generally wait until late August/September to ship "new crop" coffees because the coffee in just too green and "fresh"; July and August shipments are always assumed to be the previous crop or perhaps a blend of crops to maintain the cup at an even level.
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Re: Seasonality of Coffee?

Postby SL28ave on Wed May 26, 2010 11:25 am

Sean, that's not bad! Seasonality exists when speaking about 3 months after harvest. With some other countries, the consistent first arrival of the showcase EXEMPLAR coffees 12 months after harvest has got to change. Who does the wait help? Who does it not help?
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Re: Seasonality of Coffee?

Postby Sean Starke on Tue Jun 01, 2010 6:57 am

I think the wait is often simply a function of the farmers inherent urge to wait just a little longer before selling.
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Re: Seasonality of Coffee?

Postby Jimmy Oneschuk on Tue Mar 08, 2011 12:21 pm

Speaking for myself, the benefit in seasonal coffee, is to convey some of the excitement I feel as a retailer for coffees I know are just around the corner. Certainly, roasters and baristas out there must be excited for new crop Ethiopians that are currently somewhere between Africa and your roastery/cafe this time of year? The seasonal distinction is an attempt to convey my excitement. In this way, I feel a seasonal label is maybe less important than "coming soon" signage that "Ethiopia Amaro Gayo is arriving in four weeks." It is this anticipation that is a powerful tool in getting consumers excited. Capturing any emotional potential in your product is important. Tearing down the walls between consumer and origin is more complicated than just labeling a coffee as seasonal, but I find it is helpful in an overall process.
Jimmy Oneschuk
 
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full name: Jimmy Oneschuk
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: espressolab.ca

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