Do you ever wonder why your local coffee shop doesn't carry your favorite coffee variety year round? When it comes to small coffee companies, it boils down to three main points: harvest season, economics and freshness.
Disclaimer: I am not a coffee farmer, so I won’t be able to break down the intricacies of farming coffee trees. We are simplifying a very complex process.
Generally speaking, there are two methods of getting coffee beans from tree to roaster. The first method: the farmer picks the fruit, processes it, and ships it in giant containers without much focus on distinguishing beans based on when they’re harvested. While farmers that specialize in getting quality coffee to the specialty coffee market will ship 50- or 150-pound jute bags filled with beans that have been harvested at the same time.
Most coffee producing countries harvest their beans about three months out of the year, with the exception of Colombia and Kenya. Colombia’s climate essentially allows them to grow all year round while Kenya has two picking seasons, with the second being a shorter season.
When coffee is harvested, it’s a slow process done primarily by hand called selective picking. After the coffee is picked, it takes several weeks before it’s packaged and shipped across the world. So once the supply runs out, there won’t be any more coffee from that farm until the next season. Local shops may buy a limited quality of green coffee beans depending on how much coffee they go through and their capacity to hold and roast coffee.
Another factor is how much coffee the roaster sells and their capacity to store the coffee. Most will only purchase enough coffee to last a few months. Green coffee tastes best if it is used within 6 months to a year of delivery and stored in a climate-controlled environment.
For larger chain coffee shops, this doesn’t appear to be the case. Since the coffee is more commercialized, they acquire coffee from multiple farms within a country. Because they tend to roast to a darker level (even their “light” roasts), any differentiating tasting notes and uniqueness to the coffees are muted. This allows them to create a more consistent and uniform flavor profile for their coffee drinks.
So, if your local coffee shop runs out of your favorite variety, ask for recommendations. They may be able to offer you something with a similar flavor profile. Or venture outside of your comfort zone and ask for a sample of something you haven’t tried before. Most likely, they’ll enjoy talking through the options with you.