The journey from tree to cup can certainly be time consuming. While most natural products tend to be at their finest more or less immediately, some of the more complex food and drink products require patience – think great wines or cheeses.
The logistical nature of transporting raw coffee beans, combined with a necessary rest period, means that new crop coffees are not available straight from the harvest.
In fact, roasting and drinking recently picked coffee is not such a pleasant experience – they tend to have a very wild, green taste to them, although an experienced taster can judge whether the coffee will subsequently develop greatness or not once it has rested.
After drying, the coffee must rest in its parchment (essentially the husk of the coffee) and preferably in wooden silos with controlled humidity. This rest period may take up to two months at origin. A batch of specialty coffee will only be shipped once it has reached an optimum degree of maturity, so that upon arrival in the consumer country (after transport and time at sea) it will be ready for sampling, and then hopefully ready for trial roasting and beyond.
The best coffees must not only have been picked at the finest point of the harvest but must also have settled sufficiently before being roasted, so that the prized aromas and tastes can be experienced at their very peak.
While bulk commercial coffee would be filled directly into a container for transportation to a roasting plant in consumer countries, we receive green coffee in jute sacks, usually of around 60kg. This method always opens up the possibility of tainting or contamination and the raw coffee will decline in quality the longer it is stored – after around 12 months it would start being referred to as “past crop”.
Vacuum packing into small foil packs is one of the preferred new methods for delivering speciality coffees from origin to roaster, but this is limited at the moment by availability and cost. However, the quality of the green coffee remains much higher before roasting and it is much less susceptible to contamination.
So, with that in mind, let’s take a quick look around the coffee growing world.
Central America – harvesting and arrivals
Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama
Harvesting coffee cherries from October through to March.
The best new season coffees usually arrive in the US from around April (El Salvador, Nicaragua) through to summertime of July for fine Guatemala and Costa Rica. If they arrive much earlier than these times it either shows that the coffee was lower grown (ripening earlier) or had been shipped early (when the coffee still hasn’t rested properly).
Caribbean – harvesting and arrivals
Cuba, Dominican Republic
Harvesting coffee cherries from September through to March.
Harvesting coffee cherries from around February-March to June.
The highest grown Jamaican Blue Mountain is harvested a little later towards June, so the coffee arrives around August time.
South America – harvesting and arrivals
Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru
Harvesting coffee cherries from April to October.
Fine Brazil estate coffee usually arrives in December or January, although with changing climatic conditions in the coffee growing regions, some are arriving later in the year. Peruvian coffee can be seen in the US as early as October and Bolivian coffee usually arrives by February.
Essentially grows coffee all year round depending upon regionality, but the main harvest is primarily from October to March, with a mitaca fly crop from April until June. For this reason, Colombia has 2 Cup of Excellence competitions to ensure fairness to the farmers in the differing regions.
New season Colombian coffee from the main harvest arrives around February – March.
Africa – harvesting and arrivals
Harvesting coffee cherries from October to April.
New crop coffees from Ethiopia, particularly those from the Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union, tend to arrive from May to June in the US but like all coffee exports from East Africa, sometimes you just never really know when they’re going to show up.
The main Kenyan harvest is from October to December, but it has a fly crop from June to August.
New crop coffees are usually seen from February-March onwards.
Harvesting coffee cherries from April to September.
Typically, and with fingers crossed, arrival time in the US is either late December or into January.
Harvesting coffee cherries from September to January.
You would expect to see new crop coffees arrive a month or so into the new year, subject to delays from the ports.
Far East – harvesting and arrivals
Harvesting from October to February, with arrivals sometime around April (especially if the coffee has been monsooned).
In general terms, harvests are from June to December but this incorporates Robusta and Arabica production. In Sumatra, for instance, Arabica would be harvested later in the year September to December and Robusta earlier around June.
Papua New Guinea
Harvesting from May to September.