growing conditions this year

growing, harvesting, processing, cupping, purchasing

Postby Jimmy Oneschuk on Wed Jun 07, 2006 8:38 pm

To get back to the original question, why would it be of any benefit to know the growing conditions...

Perhaps it's the same reason winos like to know what is happening in Bordeaux. When you get your lafite rothschild, you have a sense of expectation, especially if you've been drinking it for the last few years. I just happen to love a few coffees we bring in as much as some people love LR, and I want to know everything about this coffee. Did it sit on the tree too long, what were the patio conditions (if applicable), etc I'm considering making a trip to El Salvador very soon, depending on if the samples I get tomorrow are what I am hoping for, because I'd like to use it for competition. Such has been my approach to coffee from day one - dive in, learn as much as possible, experience as much as possible and prepare to learn things you did not expect (aka: be surprised).

Likewise, for some Oromia coffees last year (esp in ours), they had a problem with ferment and it reflected on the cup.

Additionally, our co-op in Kenya had a poor year, and we ended up selling the coffee on the market (until New Orleans flooded) rather than roasting it ourselves. As it turned out the samples they cupped were not representative of the lots the roaster's group purchased.

Yes, you could know the weather conditions at origin, and it could not mean a damn thing, but in a total system of quality, weather is vitally important. As is knowing how your roaster develops the roast profile of his coffee. Is he or she developing those branch amino reactions? If I don't know, I'm going to get on the phone and chat with him or her, because it matters. I'm not a zen barista, but I am the person responsible for the product at the end of the line (and responsible for the work of my co-baristas). Thus, I need to be in close communication with the people at the other points of the chain.

Rob, did you ask Alistair why he went to Africa? Certainly, he doesn't buy green coffee, nor does he roast (that I know of). But it was obviously important for Alistair to go. For similar reasons, I want to know what is happening at origin. If nothing else, knowing the growing conditions makes the changes in flavour year to year more profound.

And lastly, I've been receiving both green and roasted samples for the past few weeks from my roaster of different coffees to play around with as espresso. I'm currently espresso geek number one as far as his customers go, and he values my feedback.

I hope this suffices as an adequate answer. It seems pretty obvious to me, but perhaps not to others. I couldn't see how I could do what I do and be apathetic to things like annual growing conditions, among other things. I couldn't imagine approaching coffee any other way.
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Postby Robert Goble on Wed Jun 07, 2006 10:15 pm

Great answer jimmyo.

My original question was coming from a "more guns less butter" kind of perspective, and I was a little worried that as a barista (and for baristas in waiting) that outside of romancing the coffee on a sales end for your clients, knowing specific growing conditions was not going to be something a barista could leverage to get something better in the cup (like how you gonna pull that shot or brew that coffee differently knowing anything germaine about the weather.)

Now for a purveyor or acquisitions guy (ie, buyer) -- this information might be leveraged more. But different hats no?

Also --- are we not dealing with micro climates for the most part? Does this make any generalised information about weather or climate useless? Are we not going to simply cup the coffee and buy/or not buy it based on what we cupped? And haven't our brokers or roasters already done this, and if weather info was a factor, wouldn't it have entered the decision tree at this point (again speaking to the barista -- I can't help but think any generalised and even any specific weather data will be completely unutilized but for romancing the coffee to customers). That's where I was coming from and I still remain a little skeptical.

I'd be curious to open the question up -- and ask generally: where does info about the weather or climate come into play (for anyone in the supply chain to answer).
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Postby SL28ave on Thu Jun 08, 2006 2:12 am

I think the main beginning of coffee rationality is the tree with environment. This theoretically gives many different avenues, leading ultimately to artisinal diversity in the cup.

We're mostly working in a fog. What are the climates of the many thousands of valleys? How will the thousands of different tree types react to a climate? What are the effects of flowering and yield? Does every day of fruit maturation affect the end product, like every degree of a roast profile? Is there a heat wave during fermentation? How feasible is it to do complete organic farming in situation X?

In Guatemala a few farmers said that their climate the past few years has been drastically different (possibly from global warming) and they're harvesting a month earlier than usual. My guess is that this change is not good for quality, but who the f*&# am I to say? It is an intriguing conundrum, but is too difficult to engage right now.

My dream is to some day do a grand case study with a truly grand cru producer, even if it's a tiny producer in Ethiopia. To coherently compile the intricacies, including climate, of a specific coffee. To fill the consumer's head and prove the need to wake up! I hope to.

There is a big difference between geeking out with humility and accuracy, and puking out inaccuracies. We all play with this fire from time to time. But I think it is healthy to geek out with all of coffee's intricacies. In a way we have hundreds of years of progress to make in a short amount of time, with limited financial resources. The gap between consumer and producer should be bridged (where it is desired by the producer). I'd like to see more people seriously "dive in", and I wish luck to those that do with encompassing positivity!

I will still be a barista 40 years from now, and I can only wonder what I will have to say and show to my customers.
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