Acquired taste postscript: old green coffee
It is only in modern times that green coffee arrived to consumers’ shores in relatively fresh condition. Green coffee was “past crop” on arrival, due to long journeys over the ocean and poor storage conditions throughout well into the twentieth century. Think shades of faint sepia photographs drained of color after being left in the sun far too long. Many of the coffees’ aromatics and oils were long evaporated or transformed into different modalities of woody notes. The silver lining was that better quality coffees aged more gracefully than poorer qualities.
There are a couple of remnants from those days; one is Monsoon Malabar. It has the color of white bones and tastes strongly of wood soaked in gin from long contact with the ocean air. The other is Aged Sumatra, held for several years, until deep golden brown and, once roasted, tastes of strong sweet pipe tobacco and cedar. Terroircoffee.com carries the latter sometimes when we can find good quality…..
Unintentionally aged coffee is prevalent even today. Until very recently coffee blends and origins had some woodiness in them due to being packaged in open laced jute bags for one year long storage times, (almost all countries harvest only once a year).
I remember how The Coffee Connection would get calls from mystified customers every late spring when new crop coffees were just arriving. They would ask why the coffee had so dramatically brightened up. I felt so relieved, but there were those who missed the mellower woody notes…..
The newest generation of quality coffee roasters are moving towards “seasonality,” where better packaged, smaller lots are purchased and held for a far shorter time, to be replaced with coffees harvested more recently. This narrows the range of coffees a roaster can offer at any one time but offers better consistency. Nevertheless coffees age month by month and at different rates depending on their physical character. The best solution these days is to freeze the green coffee immediately upon arrival and defrost only when needed. Aging is stopped completely. This is how we store all our Terroir brand coffees. A small few are beginning to emulate us.
Freezing is no guarantee since green coffees can arrive aged. Our Sumatra leaves Indonesia with high moisture content but in pristine condition and arrives on our shores substantially aged. It is by far our most rustic coffee; it is also very popular. Sumatra’s natural herbal notes harmonize well with the woody flavors of age.
Many consumers in fact prefer some age in their coffee. It adds a mellowing woody flavor to the cup which is often perceived as fuller body. I received, for example, a note from a customer preferring a Guatemalan coffee we had some time ago to the one we offer now. I suspect it was the slight age from poorer packaging during shipment in those days that was being missed. Terroir’s current Guatemalans are extra refined in their layered flavor transparencies and have no trace of age Our GHH Select brand coffees, on the other hand, are stored in our warehouse in GrainPro bags which protect the beans from any fluctuations in humidity, thus prolonging their life while still transforming towards woodier notes.