What is fresh crop coffee and
why does it make a difference?
What is fresh crop coffee and
why does it make a difference?

Fresh crop in coffee can be hard to quantify. That is to say, “freshness” in coffee is more qualitative, not quantitative. There is no set number of days, weeks, or months that suddenly makes green coffee no longer fresh. First, it helps to mention that coffee as a crop is seasonal.

Just like you would not go to the local farmers market or grocery store looking for a perfectly ripe, flavorful tomato in the winter, you would not expect green coffees to be fresh from certain growing regions in certain seasons of the year.

So, how long is coffee fresh post-harvest? Generally speaking, green coffee is considered “fresh” as long as a new harvest season hasn’t started in the region that coffee came from. Also, it's worth noting here that "green" coffee refers to unroasted coffee, which is how coffee is typically bought and shipped from origin to roasting companies. The freshness of a coffee can be identified by its taste after the green coffee is roasted. Like the ripe summer tomato you went to buy at your local farmers market, coffee that is fresh off of harvest will be vibrant, flavorful, and expressive. Coffee that is aged, or “past crop,” will often taste papery, flat, monotone, and lack acidity or vibrance. Like our winter tomato, past crop coffee will simply lack a lot of complexity and depth of flavor.

Coffee Storage

Okay, then how does one avoid roasting past crop, or aged, coffee? Roasters can avoid this by moving through all of the crop of green coffee they bought, or choose to freeze the remainder of their green coffee to preserve freshness and roast at a later date. It is important to note that green coffee, when frozen, should be completely sealed and in a freezer only with other green coffee, otherwise the coffee could take on flavors from whatever else is in the freezer. Coffee stored on deck for roasting is usually stored in large polyethylene bags within burlap sacks, but sometimes it is stored only in burlap bags. Coffee, when stored in these polyethylene bags and/or in burlap sacks, can take on the flavors of the bags they are in (plasticky, papery, burlap). This effect is accelerated when the coffee is stored in these bags in an area without temperature regulations.

Coffee harvest seasons in Colombia

Because of the geographical location, land area, and topography of Colombia, it has the special distinction of more or less having coffee harvests all year round. Situated partially on the Pacific and partially on the Atlantic on the northern tip of South America, Colombia has two dry seasons and two wet seasons every year. Therefore, Colombia’s coffee harvests happen much of the year, and arrival to coffee buyers around the world happen much of the year.

Common Colombian coffee varieties and their tasting notes, and a note about Colombian terroir

Although Colombian terroir (the characteristics imparted on the coffee from the soil and environment in which it was grown) creates coffee on the whole characterized by a medium body with slight viscosity, a varying intensity of citrus acidity (depending on the altitude), higher cup sweetness and clarity, Colombian coffee comes in many varieties, or genetically distinct variations of a species of coffee. In this case, Colombian specialty-grade coffees are subspecies of the species Arabica. Colombian coffee varieties most commonly found include, but are not limited to:

  • Typica - A long seed (bean) that produces a round, sweet, and clean cup of coffee, Typica is sort of like a grandparent to many modern coffee varieties. More modern, developed varieties produce a more complex cup.

  • Bourbon - Pronounced “burr - BONE” with emphasis on the last syllable, Bourbon is a sibling to Typica, and as such a grandparent to other varieties of coffee. Thought first to be planted on the Island of Reunion (formerly known as Ile Bourbon), it produces a sweet and distinct cup of coffee. Bourbon matures quickly when compared to Typica and has smaller, more plump cherries (the fruit that grows around the coffee seed, or “bean”). There are many mutations of Bourbon growing in Colombia and around the world, including Red and Yellow Bourbon. These two mutations are thought to have come together to form Pink Bourbon, which has grown in fame and notoriety on the world coffee stage and the competition stage in the last few years.

  • Caturra - This variety is a mutation of Bourbon, and is noted for being more resistant to diseases and for having the potential of higher yearly yield. It generally has less clarity in the cup than Bourbon, and has a mild body with a fairly bright acidity.

  • Gesha - First identified in coffee forests in Ethiopia in the 1930s, it is commonly spelled interchangeably as “Gesha” or “Geisha” because there is no way to translate from Ethiopian dialects directly to English. It was found close to a mountain whose name is most commonly translated from Ethiopian to English as “Gesha.” It is of Ethiopian Landrace lineage, so it tends to share many qualities often associated with Ethiopian coffees. It usually has high florality, balanced juiciness, and a specific tactile, and often scores very high when assessed. It’s also very rare as it’s picky and can be difficult to grow, which is why it is often super expensive when roasted to sell.

  • Castillo - A cross between Caturra (the male parent) and Timor (the female parent) varieties, Castillo was developed by Cenicafe, the agronomist arm of Colombia’s Natural Federation of Coffee Growers (FNC)  in 2005. It is super high yielding and is known for bright citrus acidity and expressive aromatics.

  • Colombia - Also sometimes specified as Variedad Colombia (Colombia Variety), this variety was produced by Cenicafe in 1982, by crossing Caturra (the female parent plant) and Timor (the hybrid male parent plant) varieties, although it has taken on other crossings or mutations since then .It is known for its resistance to rust and generally high yield, which it was designed for. Many reputed it to have saved the coffee industry in Colombia from leaf rust, or “roya,” when it was developed. It is characterized by a full body with plenty of lower notes,while also having a sweetness and brightness.

  • Tabi - This variety was developed in 2020 by Cenicafe, it’s known for similar characteristics to the Bourbon, Typica, and Timor it derives from. “Tabi” means “good” in native Colombian dialect Guambiano. It grows well in high altitudes, which is great for the high up growing regions in Colombia.

  • Brief history of coffee and coffee processing in Colombia

    Colombia has about 300 years of coffee history, arriving to the region in the 18th century. Local legend tells of Jesuit priest Father Francisco Romero charging his congregation with planting coffee seeds as penance in order to achieve redemption, and as such coffee spread from the church in the Department (Province) of Santander and began to be produced by 1850 in Cudinamarca, Antioquia, and Caldas.

    Here is a brief timeline of important dates in Colombian coffee history:

    Late 19th Century - Coffee production exceeded 600,000 bags, making it the primary export of the country

    Turn of the 20th Century - A change in the market turns from large-production, large land area farms, to small producers growing in the West Zone of Colombia. This made the West Zone a leader in the development of coffee in the country.

    1927 - Federación Nacional de Cafeteros (FNC), or the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia, is born. This organization was and is dedicated to supporting coffee growers and representing their rights.

    1938 - Cenicafé is born, and exists as the agronomist arm of FNC. As stated above, this organization is the reason we have such rust-resistant varieties as Colombia and Castillo.

    1959 - A Café de Colombia office is opened in Tokyo.

    1982 - Variedad Colombia (Colombia Variety) is created by crossing the female parent Caturra with the male parent Timor, in order to create a rust-resistant variety ahead of the rust, or “roya”, getting to Colombia. This variety is often credited for saving coffee production in the country.

    1984 - Café de Colombia’s logo is created, making the group identifiable the world over.

    2005 - Cenicafe develops the variety Castillo, known to be super high yielding and for bright citrus acidity and expressive aromatics.

    2020 - The variety Tabi is developed by Cenicafe, known for its ability to grow very well in high altitudes.

    Experimental innovations in processing

    In recent years, Colombia coffee producers have been truly helping to lead innovation in coffee processing in the industry. Before around 2000, most Colombian coffee was washed processed coffee. In the last 20 years, producers have been moving toward honey, anaerobic, and co-fermentation processes, in which coffee is fermented in low oxygen tanks alongside fruits/herbs or macerated fruits/herbs, as well as yeast inoculation techniques, increasing cup quality and expressiveness. Producers such as Wilton Benitez and Diego Bermudez in Colombia truly lead the charge, with advanced anaerobic fermentation and thermal shock anaerobic coffees as well as new, innovative experimental processing methods being worked on seemingly every season.

    Learn more about Fresh Crop here!

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