We take education seriously here at Counter Culture. After all, it’s part of our vision as a company! Coffee is complex, but one of our favorite facts to share is as simple as it is fundamental: Coffee is the seed of a fruit. Like fruits, vegetables, and almost any other agricultural product you can think of, coffees produced in various areas around the world are at their best depending upon the time of the year they are harvested and consumed. Lovers of strawberries know very well the difference in quality between a bland pint purchased in the fall or winter and the sweetness of fresh strawberries in the spring or summer. In this post, we explore when and why there are optimal times for coffee quality.
What makes a coffee in or out of season?
Coffee is a food, and all food spoils at a certain point. Depending upon processing (primarily drying) and storage of unroasted coffee, it can start tasting old—otherwise known as “past crop” or “fade” flavors—as soon as a month after harvest or as long as 14 months after harvest. The simple, short answer is that coffees produced in the northern hemisphere are at their peak flavor from early summer into fall. Coffees grown in the southern hemisphere generally taste best from early winter into spring. For a detailed map of coffee seasonality, see our resource page here.
Can you taste when coffee is past peak quality?
Unroasted or “green” coffee that has started to taste old, or take on “past crop” flavors, will taste woody and/or vegetal once roasted. Sweetness and acidity will diminish gradually, as well. These flavors will start to pop up eventually, regardless of how or when the coffee is roasted.
Why are some of your coffees only available for a limited time while Counter Culture year-rounds are available all year?
The goal of our year-round products like Forty-Six and Big Trouble is to create a certain flavor profile, and we swap coffees in and out to maintain that flavor profile throughout the year while ingredients are at their freshest. Alternately, the coffees that we feel are the most expressive examples of both our producing-partners and place—origin, terroir, etc.—are sold as single origin or limited releases. These are coffees that we feel should shine on their own while they’re at peak flavor.
Are there coffees that are “in season” longer than others?
In general, Ethiopian coffees have had an uncanny ability to hold up longer than many other origins. This is the main reason we can offer Apollo all year: It’s comprised of washed Ethiopian coffees 12 months out of the year. That said, Counter Culture’s Coffee Department tirelessly works with producers, exporters, and importers to improve and prolong the shelf life of the coffees we source. In the past two years, in particular, we’ve made great strides in making sure that all of our coffees taste better longer.
What should I do if the coffee I love is out of season?
For people who love coffees that aren’t offered year round, we encourage taking the time to really taste and note a few flavors that stand out in those coffees. If you need help picking the words to describe your favorite coffees, use our flavor wheel! This can help narrow down which coffee to try next. Customers can also find flavor descriptors on the front of all of our bags and boxes to help find coffees in a profile they may enjoy—even if it’s from a producer or country that they’ve never tried before.
You can also narrow down your taste for different coffees by finding out what botanical variety a coffee is. Find out more about varieties here.
We also strive to make sure that fans of our coffee feel empowered to reach out to us via phone, email, or in person to speak with someone about finding the coffee that’s a good fit for them. Find our numbers at the bottom of the website or visit the Contact Us page for our address and email.
How will I know when coffees will be back in season?
We always want to make sure our customers are in the know about their favorite coffees. Sign up for our newsletter to get the latest information about new coffees and find out when your favorites are back!
Our seasonality map is also great place to start. You can see when different coffee producing regions begin harvesting, processing, and exporting coffee. We also encourage customers to read about their favorite coffees and where they come from on the product pages to see when the peak times are for that particular region of the world. Again, coffees produced in the northern hemisphere are at their peak flavor from early summer into fall. Coffees grown in the southern hemisphere are generally tasting best from early winter into spring.
The good news is that, at any point, coffee is being harvested somewhere in the world. This wonderful for coffee lovers, because it means we should always have access to freshly harvested coffees. Who knows, maybe your favorite coffee is being produced right now? Check out our seasonality map to find out!