Buying coffee is the nicest, but it's also the most difficult thing to do.
At least as your aim is to buy the world's best coffees, .... for normal prices.
What are the world's best coffees, what are things we are looking after, what are normal prices and where are we situated now, the month of April and beginning of Spring? An answer to all these questions in this coffee blog post below:
Best coffees: most roasteries say they buy the best coffees the planet has to offer. I think it's all relative, but let us start with dividing coffees into categories and also look at cupping scores.
Basically we need to begin with the basis of all coffee selection and that's the difference between robusta and arabica. Robusta is about 30 to 35% of all beans in the world and we buy 0,0 grams of it. Simply because it tastes bad, say a mix of rubber, tar, horse shit and ashes. No, i'm not kidding. Some people say that they tasted some good robusta's already. Ok, it's their personal opinion, like i have mine...
Arabica is divided in a lot of varieties. Basically there are typica's and bourbons, with a small geisha side step. The typica's are mostly boring, flatter, less fruity and dull. This doesn't mean that we only aim for bourbons, but we can say that 90% of what we buy is bourbon. On the geisha variety we come back later, when talking 'price'.
If we taste coffees, what we do via cupping, we give them a score. Almost all conventional/commercial coffees, so what you find in supermarket coffees or Nespresso capsules, score in between 80 and 84 points. Specialty coffee starts, for us, around 84 points. For our Roast ED, Decaf DAN and Brazil IAN, this is what we aim at, with a 86 points ceiling. 86 points and above is the score when we are looking for single origin coffees or the basis for our Mister LGB blend. Of course everybody can argue these points, but there's a general understanding we have a relatively steady consensus on this, worldwide.
So the higher the score, the better, what does not say anything about taste characteristics and if the beans stay fresh and tasty over time. Also: very often you prefer to drink an interesting and well brewed 86 points coffee in stead of a super clean 89 points cup.
For us Kenyan and Ethiopian coffees are the most important origins and coffees we try to offer all year round. For these two countries we aim at a solid 87 cupping points. Some years it's hard to get there, but last year's Ethiopian harvest for example was exceptional and we easily finished with 88 points on average.
What are we looking after?
We think coffee is fruit and are mainly looking for fruity notes in the coffees and no negative by-flavors. Some coffees have a bit more body and less acidity, which makes us think faster into the direction of espresso. Cleaner and more acidic - think Kenya - or more floral - think Ethiopia - are possibly more suitable for filter roasting. What we like a lot is clean coffees. I know for some people it's hard to understand what we mean with 'clean' and i guess the best way to explain it is by saying 'coffees that have no bad tastes, defective and negatives notes'. When a coffee turns too old it often starts to taste 'woody' and that's a good example of 'not clean'. Another example of 'not clean': most Brazilian coffees taste very earthy or they are full of quakers (unripe picked beans, very often caused by bad picking or poor soil conditions which limit sugar and starch development) which give them a very (pea)nutty taste and not enough body.
What is a cheap, normal or too expensive?
A question difficult to answer but we are our own worst judges and very picky in terms of quality.
The prices for green/unroasted coffees went up dramatically over the past 6 months and our prices for our entrance blend Roast ED vary around 6 euro's a kilo. For Brazil IAN we go a bit higher. For Decaf DAN we go up once more and Mister LGB and single origin coffees start around 9 euro's a kilo and 11,5 on average. We can go up to 17 euro's per kilo for crazy coffees, in terms of special taste or high cupping score, but there it ends.
So no Pink Bourbons or Geisha the last years - maybe this could change in the future - cause all the lots from these varieties we tasted over the last couple of years were either old or too expensive. The last thing we want to do is making our business snobbish and that's what you do when you ask the double of money for a coffee that's (maybe) a little bit better. Yes we can taste the small differences, and we don't want to underestimate our clients, but probably there are very few who are capable of doing so.
And believe me, there are a lot of very expensive geisha lots out there that are cupping 85 points at best and are still sold to roasteries who are bragging with the 'geisha' or 'gesha' label.
What about seasonality?
We think seasonality is an underestimated thing in coffee. While we thrive to bring the beans in their peak season we also offer some origins whole year long, mainly Brazil, Guatemala, Ethiopia and Kenya.
Brazil: the Brazil IAN is not our most refined coffee, but a good solid smooth coffee that is served in a lot of bars, restaurants or people who like easy going coffee. Between the summer and new year the quality drops a bit, but at the price we sell it for it's a very good value for money espresso coffee. You want to drink this for filter? Why would you? Better go for African or the more refined Central American coffees.
Guatemala: most years there's a good selection of Specialty stuff out of there, but mainly we buy to coffee to blend into our espresso blends. New harvests mostly starts around may.
Kenya: the one and only king of filter coffee. Plenty of fruity flavors and a high acidity makes this coffee beter with some more water - yes you can go up to boiling water while filter brewing. We have all of the greens packed in vac pack and stored in a cool basement or warehouse, to keep it fresh whole year long. New harvests land in between the end of May and the beginning of July.
Ethiopia: when you start with more taste, it's easier to keep a lot of taste for the remaining of the year. The new harvest mostly lands around april. The naturals start out with a bang, but fade easier, while the washed lots are peaking by the end of the year and tend to keep their cleanliness over a longer period.
For this spring and summer we've been cupping a whole lot of coffees and already reserved 7 Ethiopian, 8 Kenyan, 1 first-ever Ugandan and 1 (mid season) Colombian lot. Guatemala is a bit later this year with also the other Central American coffee samples on their way to our cupping tables.
Enjoy the coffees and don't hesitate to mail me your questions or remarks at firstname.lastname@example.org