Freezing is only for APEX quality coffees!
Tim brings up a number of interesting points. I try to answer them in the order he set. His mains points, as I understand them, are in Bold.
Freezing is expensive; money needed to pay higher prices; better to improve quality at farm level.
I do not find freezing that expensive in the northeast US: under $0.02 per pound per month – and under $0.12 per pound per year for a one-year supply, assuming a steady drop in inventory each month. I consider that cheap insurance when I pay $4.00 and up for a great coffee. What if the coffee is far more expensive?
What is a great coffee? For me it is a coffee that I score 90 or over in at least two consecutive cuppings. These are the coffees I am in this business for and these motivate me to do everything I can to keep at peak flavor (more on this term below) during the time I offer it, which, with freezing, I can do over the year. This means I buy more from that farmer who has produced this great quality and to whom I have paid a high price, rather than leaving him to find fifteen other buyers (I exaggerate!) who buy fractions because they want it “in season,” adding cost and time for the farmer. For small roasters direct-trade buying small amounts gives them less weight and leverage as buyers. I also buy 86 score coffees and up. I do not typically freeze coffees scoring under 90 points. I keep such coffees in GrainPro. In this case “in season” makes sense.
Regarding what is better to do – improve quality at the farm level or the roasting level: the farmer has his tasks and we have ours – as roasters. I agree that improving quality at origin is critical – but that does not negate that there are really great coffees and farmers out there right now – and we should do everything we can to deliver their coffees to our customers in the best way we know how over the whole year to really get their farm name across to the consumer (we help create farm reputations and desirability); again I am speaking only for truly great lots and for farmers who are, as Price Petersen has said, “compulsive artisans “. I think the balance beam Tim seems to be suggesting between farmer improvements (time & money) and our improvements (ditto) seems weighted on the farmer side! I write as a roaster, not an importer. To use a wine analogy, borrowing a page from Tim, great coffee farmers should be free of exclusive “relationships” just like great wines have become. We certainly have made great strides in brewing over the past two decades; storage is another essential challenge, from origin to roasted coffee.
Finally, assume a small roaster wants to buy one 300 lb. lot of La Esmeralda selling for $50 a pound at auction. That roaster will have very few buyers at any one time and typically will watch the aromatics and sweetness diminish with each month or he will roast amounts he cannot sell. Freezing allows that roaster to sell the same great quality in timed precise small batches stretched over the year and make a profit feeling she served her customer to the best of her ability (a small ice cream freezer would easily fit 300 lbs, by the way).
Vacuum sealing required: expensive; sometimes must do it yourself. Does vacuum Kenya to keep whole year. Great processing insures storage longevity. Not a sign of wood w/2010 coffee cupped recently.
Kenyas, Ethiopians, Cup of Excellence vacuum sealing came at my request many years ago, so I do understand what lobbying for improving at origin is about. Tim is right that we still have to vacuum seal and box a number of coffees we receive. At our simple facilities (we have one sealer, that’s it for mechanical help) it takes one hour to do 855 lbs with two people. At, say, $20 per hour for each person, that is $0.05 per pound, rounded up. We vacuum three 20 lb bags which go in one box. The box is $0.05 and each bag is $0.78. This translates to $0.04 per pound. So a year’s supply of coffee is approximately $0.21 per pound ($0.12 +$0.05 + $0.04) cost over the year. If you pay $4.00 per pound green, that is 5% of cost – cheap insurance for great coffee! At $8.00 per pound green that is 2.5%.
Yes, great processing improves longevity and make for great coffees, as long as they are perfectly ripe. We are in agreement! However, no Kenya, no coffee, period, in my experience retains its aromatics intact over six months after arrival at port, vacuum sealed or not, let alone a year. It is increasingly layered over with wood notes due to chemical breakdown of the oils and the drying off of aromatic precursors. I just have to differ with Tim on this point. Of course, Tim’s Kenya may have had an edge that few roasters can match: his basement naturally at 53 F (12 C) when it arrives and progressively colder until freezing at 32 F (0 C) in the winter; what a cooperative cellar! I would be happy to do a comparative cupping with Tim, using the same coffee, frozen vs. only vacuum-sealed next year; we would have to agree on the exact same coffee in the next week or two and also agree on the exact protocols. I am always excited to learn.
There is no peak for green coffee, but many peaks over time (watching it “open” like a glass of wine).
Tim and I simply disagree on peak flavor for green coffee - that is for coffee which is perfectly ripe; this means, in my book, that the coffee has no “green and astringent” notes just a few weeks after harvest nor does it have any woody notes, something I have become very sensitive to in my search for perfect clarity of flavor. After green coffee has been properly rested at origin it is at this peak flavor. Keeping it in parchment at origin in the right conditions prolongs this peak. Once it is dry milled, in my experience, the green coffee should remain at peak – or very near it (no wood notes, perhaps a slight drop in intensity) for one to three months after – four months at the outside - , depending on bean moisture content and water activity.
Regarding the glass of wine analogy I would rather use it with a cup of coffee: a light roasted coffee opens up as it cools. It should be savored over twenty to forty minutes if it is a great coffee!
Did not make sense to freeze as some coffees did not keep well regardless. Drying, storage at origin, shipping. Freezing like a “band-aid.”
The decision to freeze a coffee very much depends on its quality, including stability. Again, I typically do not freeze a coffee I do not find exemplary. We freeze a small percentage of all the coffee we buy and sell – the exemplary ones which we have put under our Terroir® brand.
I do not understand Tim’s band-aid analogy. I am not trying to patch over the problems farmers have in producing better coffees. Freezing is to support those rare coffees which should be prized by roasters and consumers. To prize something is to treat it as very special. An exemplary coffee is the tip of the arrowhead we aim at consumers to amaze them with how extraordinary a coffee can be – all year round.
Buying less and buying fresher.
We always buy the freshest coffees we possibly can. We make sure all our coffees are truly fine and the very best ones of the year we freeze. We want our customers to have access to the great coffees all year without those coffees degrading: this leads to a more informed customer.