This time of year, we are all very aware of seasons. Coffee also has its seasons. For the beans to be created, coffee trees must first develop beautiful and aromatic flowers. These flowers will give way to cherries which will eventually be carefully selected. These cherries will be processed to yield their seeds. These seeds will then be roasted and consumed as 'coffee beans.'
This rhythm is, of course, unavoidable and necessary. Just as there is an ideal range of ripeness for the cherry to be picked, unroasted coffee will have a freshness window which happens to last several months.
The Global Picture
Some coffees will be best in summer and fall, while others will shine in winter and spring. Coffees that are in their seasonal prime are referred to as 'fresh crop' while those that are sold after their best months will be called 'past crop.'
Specialty coffee must be produced within the band of latitudes known as the 'tropics.' Some of these regions are north of the equator, some are south, and others are smack dab on top of it.
Summer and Fall Coffees
Coffees that are grown north of the equator are typically harvested between December and March, depending on altitude and latitude. After processing and a resting period, these coffees will be ready to roast from spring to late fall, with some of the highest grown options lasting into early winter.
Late Winter and Spring Coffees
Anything produced south of the equator will conversely be roasted in late winter, spring, and sometimes lasting into early summer. In the same way that the continent of Australia has a warm Christmas and a cold July, the coffees produced in regions of the southern hemisphere are on a completely opposite schedule.
Some growing regions, like Colombia, have two harvests per year. Because of the proximity to the equator, the seasons take on a very different pattern. The coffee trees behave as if there are two of every season per year.
Coffee is Fruit
It stands to reason that, if other fruit products must be sourced from different parts of the globe during different times of the year, coffee should follow suit. We need to be ok with the fact that regional offerings will change throughout the year. In fact, it is an opportunity to explore the full spectrum of global coffees.
Familiarize and Be Empowered
Take some time to locate some of your favorite growing regions. Note whether they are north, south, or on top of the equator. If you see a roaster offering coffees all year that should only be seasonal, allow that to inform your opinion of their commitment to freshness and quality.
Not only will this information help you identify the seasonally diligent roasteries, it will also give you an idea of what to expect and when, region-wise. As an empowered buyer, you can be confident that what you are investing in is fresh and a good example of its region.