Lately I’ve been getting a lot of samples from different roasteries and also attended a few cuppings. One thing I’ve found pretty surprising is the amount of times I’ve given negative feedback about a coffee and been told “oh yeah that one’s past crop, this year’s harvest is really good though.” My ethos for Back to Black has been to brew only the highest quality, fresh seasonal coffee to the best of my ability. So the idea of accidentally buying a coffee that is past crop is something I often worry about.
The use of past crop coffee raises a few questions to me.
Is it still speciality grade?
Like every natural product coffee degrades over time following harvest. It of course varies depending on the quality of processing, how it was transported and how it’s stored. However, the simple fact remains that quality goes down over time regardless. If you re-graded a low 80s scoring coffee nine months to a year on from harvest would it actually still score above 80 and be speciality? If not then we’re we being cheated as customers seeking to buy a quality focused product.
I’ve seen people selling COE winners that were three years old, they just tasted sad,empty and woody. They certainly wouldn’t win any prizes in the state they were in.
Why are Roasteries selling it?
They know it’s not good so why are they selling it, don’t they realise that there are now hundreds of speciality roasteries to choose from? If I get one or two coffees from a roastery and they’re not good I’ll probably never choose to buy from them again, unless I hear great feedback from a bunch of people I respect. Why do roasteries take the risk of me buying some of the past crop stuff and getting a really bad impression of their roasting and sourcing skills?
As a cafe I would never sell coffee that was roasted more than 5 weeks prior, it might still be reasonable but it will likely have lost what made it special. I do this out of respect for my customers and so that I can showcase a coffee at it’s best. Shouldn’t roasteries do the same?
By selling past crop coffee roasteries are essentially charging customers for their poor stock management, they’ve bought too much but refuse to take the loss. I often buy a little more coffer than I need, it really stings to waste it, but we are supposed to be the quality focused end of the market that’s just what you have to do. I’m sure there must be some other use for it, perhaps it could be sold to a commodity buyer or as training coffee.
Should we demand harvest dates on packaging?
It wasn’t so long ago that displaying roast dates wasn’t common practice. As the industry continues to increase quality I think it’s only fair to demand to know when a particular coffee was harvested, month and year. After all its easy to know a rough time of year for each country’s harvest but keeping track of all the fly crops and late harvests is too much if you’re always changing coffees. There are already some roasteries who do this,some miss out the year though which could potentially be misleading.
Recently I was told of a roastery that took some old crop coffee off their website until that country was back in season, that way when they released it on their website again it would give the impression it was a fresh harvest. This is completely wrong and goes against the entire ethos of speciality coffee. The only reason I’m not naming and shaming them is because I’m not 100% sure it’s true yet.
A prime example of why we need harvest dates.
There are of course many roasteries who pride themselves on only using freshly harvested coffee. They’re easy to spot since they’ll likely only have a small offering that changes often. If I had a roastery that’s how if want to run it.
I’m also aware there are many coffees that can taste good one year on, I’ve tasted and been surprised by quite a few. This is a criticism of the coffee that do not age well and the roasteries who knowingly sell them. It’s also a call for some much needed transparency.