|Freshly Roasted does not necessarily mean Fresh Coffee|
|Written by George Howell|
© 2007 The George Howell Coffee Company
The new frontier: year-round harvest-fresh coffee.
When we think of coffee freshness, we always think of roasted-coffee freshness. Taste coffee in most offices or from the new portion-pack coffeemakers and you taste the traditional flat flavor of “stale” coffee. But there is an even more radical flavor of STALENESS that most coffee aficionados are not aware of. Awakening consumers to this particular flavor of staleness and opening their taste buds to a new dazzling world of fresh coffee flavors will revolutionize the way quality coffee is traded, transported and stored worldwide and raise living standards once and for all for countless coffee farmers committed to quality. Terroir Coffee is at the cutting edge of this revolution, setting standards for other quality roasters in the US to follow. The current practice is equivalent to transporting fine wines in wine sacks! It harms quality farmers by accustoming consumers to dreary thick woody dull flavored coffees.
What causes raw, green coffee staleness?
After coffee beans—really fruit seeds—are properly dried and uniformly conditioned to the right degree of moisture content for stability, they are at their peak of expression. The beans contain the maximum amount of volatile aromatic oils locked within the their cellular structure. These oils make each coffee unique and give them their special added value. From here on it is downhill, for some coffees rapidly, for others more slowly (on that, another article). Next to nothing has ever been done to preserve this highpoint for exceptional coffee; it has been all about mere acceptability of a commodity product. Green coffee is shipped and stored in woven jute or sisal bags, which have been coated with petroleum-based batching oils to increase fiber yield and facilitate the spinning process. Green coffee is traditionally kept in these bags for the year or more it takes to consume them (fine coffee is harvested once a year). And so the green coffee devolves—exposed to oxygen, changes in the environment and to the bags themselves….
What is the character of green coffee staleness?
First to disappear, by evaporation, are the coffees' aromatic oils, the core of any fine coffee's unique expression. Next to go is sweetness, while lignin, which forms the cell walls of the coffee bean and is the chief non-carbohydrate constituent of wood, ages and imparts an ever-increasing generic flavor of aged cedar wood once the coffee is roasted. This is the common flavor thread found in most “quality” restaurants and cafes today.
Many consumers seeking high-quality coffee have actually acquired a taste for this kind of stale coffee (much like coffee drinkers in parts of the Middle East, such as Istanbul, who have a far more extreme acquired taste, preferring a harsh iodine-medicinal taste in their coffee, caused by overly humid coffee-growing conditions). The vast majority of top-rated quality restaurants in the US actually cater to the acquired taste of deadened generic woodiness coated with dark-roasted caramel and carbon flavoring. It is the safe thing to do.
Solving the raw coffee staleness problem requires changes from coffee producers and from coffee roasters and Terroir Coffee is leading the way.
Terroir Coffee and Brazil's Daterra Farm have led the way in changing how coffee producers package their coffee. Fresh green coffee is immediately packaged into airtight, vacuumed bags, which are then thermally sealed, and boxed for shipping. In 2002 Daterra Farm and Terroir Coffee compared the same coffees arriving from Brazil by ship this way against other packages, including jute bags. The difference was stunning and Daterra is now shipping all its fine coffees this way. Terroir has been working to spread this technology, first perfected by Daterra, to other producers. Our Colombian coffees have been vacuum sealed at origin for the past two years. All our 2007 Cup of Excellence coffees have been shipped to us this way. As for those green coffees still arriving to us in jute they are immediately re-packaged into vacuumed airtight containers on arrival here at our plant. This storage method dramatically softens the aging process that takes place over the months of storage but does not halt it. Another action is required!
STORAGE IS KEY! The final step to producing a year-round harvest-fresh coffee experience is deep-freezing the hermetically sealed green coffee . Only Terroir Coffee is doing this. As Latin American and East African coffees age this year, from the time they were harvested, around last winter, to this coming winter and late spring, the difference between our coffees and those of all other roasters widens. We firmly believe the added labor and cost is well worth it. What you taste in May is what you taste in January: harvest-fresh flavor. For the first time, our special packaging and storage allow year-round full appreciation of harvest-fresh single origin coffees. This empowers consumers and farmers alike.
As consumers start seeking the still barely-explored dazzling coffee flavor spectrum of single-origin coffees, a new world of regional coffee offerings, to be sold like fine wines and teas, will emerge. Quality craftsman-farmers will benefit worldwide; they will begin leaving the shadows of anonymous commodity-blended coffees and acquire identity, and through it, economic sustainability with dignity. It's time they had an address!