By Catherine Franks
We recently shared a bit more about why we specialise in single origin coffees. This has led us into doing a deeper dive into origins - where we have been exploring over the past year and where we hope to go next.
So this week I spent some time speaking with our Head of Coffee (and green coffee buyer) Ludwika Kopczynska about coffee origins and also about seasonality. There is quite a lot to say about both of these topics so this week we will focus on origins but do come back next week for a deep dive into coffee seasonality.
Thanks to Ludwika for contributing to this article.
Cath: We roasted coffees from quite a lot of different places in the past 12 months - what new origins did you get most excited about last year?
Ludwika: The coffees from Timor-Leste were the ones that stood out for me. A really small importer (Karst Organics) have sourced the Tau-Rema coffee we are currently roasting. They have been working incredibly hard in one of the toughest financial and political situations for developing a specialty coffee market. The quality of coffee from this origin has traditionally been low due to traditional processing and growing methods. When we started cupping their samples from Timor four years ago they stood out as much better than any coffees we had cupped from that origin before. Sadly they still fell below our buying standards but then the year before last there was a big jump in quality. Unfortunately by the time we recupped the coffee (we always do this to be sure of our decision) the coffee had been snapped up by someone else who had noticed how good the coffee had gotten. So last year we were careful to cup the preshipment sample quickly and we jumped on it and contracted this coffee so that we could roast it for our customers.
Cath: What new origins are we hoping to explore this coming year or in the future?
Ludwika: We have been following closely what has been happening in India and last year started getting some samples which have really started intriguing us. Last year we didn’t buy as I think we only sampled them once they were older or we didn’t have a spot for them. But this year we are watching out for the preshipment samples and fingers crossed there may be something for us to bring you. India is famous for it's earthy Monsooned Malabar but this origin will really blow your mind with its complexity, unusual flavours and a clean finish you would never have associated with coffee form this origin if you haven't tried it over the last 2 years.
Cath: When sourcing our coffees, have you noticed any change in where they are coming from?
Ludwika: Definitely - you can see over the last few years origins emerging that had not been producing specialty coffee previously. Timor is a perfect example. They were growing coffee but it was probably just being sold to get burnt in Nescafe so we had not really tried or considered the origin. Then when you get a small company like Karst who dedicates so much time and resources and everything really into developing some production for the specialty market, suddenly that coffee appears on your radar.
Cath: Can you explain what is the benefit of producing coffee for the specialty market?
Ludwika: The benefit for us of course is to get to try new interesting origins. The first time we tried Chinese coffees we noticed the distinct and unique flavour profiles in those coffees, different form any other origin. It is still mysterious as to why - nobody really knows what makes an Ethiopian coffee taste like an Ethiopian. It is not simply the varietal or the elevation or the climactic conditions which influence the flavour.
Cath: The benefit to the coffee growing community is obvious in terms of financial benefit (better income) but are there other benefits?
Ludwika: of course there are also less tangible benefits like traceability. On the consumer end traceability is great because we get to find out more about where our coffee is from but on the producers end it is also great as they get to see where their coffee goes. Producers getting to see their name or farm on bags of roasted coffee, getting recognition for their work and making connections with the consumers is brilliant in and of itself but it also informs producers on what is marketable and profitable for them and can give them valuable feedback. An example was Rwamatamu who the year before I visited had seen where their coffee went for the first time. Before that all their containers just disappeared somewhere going into some massive scale commercial roasting. Specialty coffee is a tiny player in the market where most coffee just gets sent off into blends and the producer does not know where it goes.
So why are specialty roasters so excited by exploring different origins? Well we can't speak for others, but for us it is much more than just a novelty value of getting coffee from different places.
When considering the special attributes of different origins, it is interesting exploring why certain origins taste the way they do. Flavour is down to so much more than just the varietal. I remember a coffee we cupped as sample of last year that was a Brazilian varietal grown in Ethiopia. It had that 'Ethiopian' flavour! It was so fascinating to experience that varietal with characteristics that were so different from what we would have expected. Research is happening into the soil and microorganisms, fungi and all of the different factors that can contribute to the flavours we taste in coffee. It is a fascinating topic and we are looking forward to learning more. This is definitely going to feature in a future blog post.
It is important to remember that excellent coffee, or coffee with excellent potential, is being grown in many places all over the world but the growers need access to the specialty market to access that financial premium from the quality of what they are producing. We have seen that with the Perus we have roasted via the Falcon Peru Project, the Ugandan coffee from Omwani and recent coffees we have roasted from Myanmar, Timor-Leste, China etc.
One thing that is for sure, we are going to keep exploring as many different origins and coffees as we can. If you would like to find out what we are roasting next, do sign up for our newsletter (you can do this from our home page). We write once a week and share what is new and exciting in our roastery.
You can also try all of our current origins in our Variety Pack, hit the link below to see what we are currently offering.