This is the fourth in an eight-part introductory blog series about Specialty Coffee. Read the other posts here. Sign up to the newsletter for more on coffee, its origins and stories. This blog post talks about the environmental conditions required for specialty coffee to flourish.
Climate and altitude – Arabica
Right conditions to flourish and grow
Specialty coffee grows in special climates and areas. It grows within the coffee belt – the tropics of Capricorn and Cancer. 30° north or south of the equator. It is here that that there is frost free, yet cool climates (15-24 °c) ideal for growing Arabica coffee (the fifth post will focus on the differences between Arabica and Robusta coffee).
These cooler temperatures, usually on volcanic and fertile soil provide perfect conditions for a slowed photosynthesis of which slows the coffees maturation rate and gives them more time to develop and grow.
The seasonality of coffee derives from there being “one” harvest period for coffee.
After a “dry spell” season, the hit of consistent rainfall and moisture, activates a harvest season. The mountainous areas in which coffee grows, means great drainage; imbuing coffee cherries with deeper flavours.
Quality over quantity
In contrast, coffee grown in higher temperatures grow faster (increased rate of photosynthesis) leaving less concentrated flavoursome coffee cherries. There are also higher yields per tree.
While as consumers, we may be more familiar with the roasted brown coffee beans.
Coffee is a seasonal produce.
Although coffee is available all year around, this is because there are coffee cherries growing in different regions of the world, at all times of the year.
This means you might only find Rwandan coffee beans for 5 months of a year, or for areas that have the climate and conditions to grow coffee all year around (ie Brazil and Colombia) this means that coffee, is harvested and available in different quantities all year round.
Seasonal coffee, like Mangoes
It’s like Australian mangos. I only eat them during our summer months. So outside those times, any other mango available to me… I raise an eyebrow.
I am sceptical that they have been chilling in a freezer for months (pun intended); or they’re probably not Australian and have been imported (from countries that have the right environmental conditions to thrive).
But hey they’re available, but knowing where my mangoes come from, allows me to further appreciate the months that I can eat them. Plus it tastes better when they’re fresh.
It’s similar to coffee, you can get Rwandan coffee beans for about 5 months of the year (not exact) and the other months you can find other origins.
While at some places/roasters you can find Rwandan coffee beans all year round, more often than not this means that the roaster is storing them for longer periods and not using them before their “best before” date.
But hey, there is no “due date” so they can, right?
Well yeah, but as consumers, through regular consumption and development of your palate, in particular with black coffee, you come to realise that coffee that exceeds their “best before date” tastes “aged.” Which is sort of like woody-ish “blah” tasting coffee.
Some people drink that stuff up, though when you’re paying premium prices for premium coffee, you expect premium high quality coffee. Recognising the seasonality of coffee, you recognise that coffee for most – is not a year round “job/income” source and those working in the industry, would be best to diversify their income streams. For example by harvesting other plants; and milk pasteurisation (read more on how a cooperative in Rwanda uses milk as an alternative income source in off seasons).
By Karyan Ng