You may have heard the term “new crop coffee” in the specialty coffee sphere. But few people actually know what it means, and why it’s so important in the coffee world. Here at Fratello coffee, our work revolves around new crop coffee. While it’s important that our coffee arrives to you freshly roasted, it’s equally important that the green coffee we roast is of the utmost freshness, too. New crop coffee is essential for delivering fresh coffee with exciting flavour notes.
New crop coffee, “fresh crop” or “current” crop, refers to coffee from the most recent harvest. When we talk about new crop coffee, we’re not talking about coffee in the roasted form–we’re talking about green coffee.
For those who may not be aware, coffee is the seed of a cherry, which grows on shrub-like trees. The real prize of these bright red cherries is the green coffee seeds inside. Around harvest time, the cherries are picked ripe, with various different processes to remove the seed from the cherry. After processing, they’re dried to achieve an 11 per cent moisture content before they’re packed and shipped to roasters.
“Old” or “past” crop coffee, on the other hand, is simply the green coffee that’s leftover once the new harvest arrives. Let’s say a roaster has some extra Ethiopia Yirgacheffe kicking around from April of 2021. Once they get a new Yirgacheffe in April 2022, the one from 2021 is now considered “past crop.”
Ideally, the roaster would roast and sell these green beans within six months of harvest. Unfortunately, a lot of low-level roasters let green beans sit on the shelf beyond the 1-year mark before roasting them. This can be due to logistical errors, like ordering too much at a time, or a disorganized stock room.
Technically, green coffee takes many years before going bad. But the quality of the coffee begins to noticeably suffer about a six months to year after harvest. Roasted past crop coffee can have a vegetal, woody, or cardboard-like flavour. To retain its flavour, it’s important to roast the specialty coffee within 6 months of harvest.
To provide new crop coffee from all over the world to customers, roasters have to do a bit of planning. Most coffee producing countries only have one harvest a year, with the exception of Colombia and Kenya. Not all climates are the same, so harvest time is different for every origin. Countries North of the Equator tend to have harvests from September to March. Countries South of the Equator have their harvests from April to August. Crop to Cup has a handy tool for the harvest-curious. It tells you what coffees are being harvested as we speak, which are en-route, and which are available now.
To truly experience new crop coffee, try out our Bolivia Buena Vista, with delicate notes of apple and chocolate. This new microlot feature comes from the Caravani province, just North-East of La Paz. Specialty coffee production in Bolivia is rare and coveted. Coffee farmers face steep competition with neighbouring cash crops, making it difficult to survive. Bolivian coffee culture is growing, however, with improved agricultural practices and a bigger demand for specialty coffee.
For more new crop coffee, stay tuned for our Kenya offering!
While it’s important to purchase green coffee in season, it’s equally important to preserve its freshness in transport and in storage. At Fratello, we take freshness to a whole new level. We buy 100% of our green coffee in GrainPro bags to preserve freshness and to protect it from cross contamination. Once the green coffee arrives at our roasting facility, it goes straight into storage silos. This protects the beans from shifting temperatures and humidity, keeping them fresher for longer. We purchase our green coffee with new crop in mind, ordering enough to last 6 to 12 months.
Apart from delicious, complex flavour, it’s important to use new crop coffee because it’s easier to roast it to perfection. Freshly harvested coffee has a certain moisture content, usually about 11 per cent, that makes it predictable to roast. Roasting coffee well is certainly an art, but it’s also a science. Roasters need to know the moisture content of the bean to roast it to perfection and avoid burning it. If the moisture content falls below 8 per cent, this throws off the roasting process and leads to inconsistency.
What separates Fratello Coffee from many roasters is our finely tuned quality assurance process we have implemented. Our Q Grade certified head roaster ensures the roast profiles being utilized are enhancing the flavors we originally wanted them to. As coffee slowly ages, the moisture content changes which could mean a slight tweak or adjustment to the roast profile is required. We taste all of our roasts to ensure our profiles are always up to date.
While roasters in the specialty coffee world prefer new crop to old crop coffee, sometimes leftover old crop coffee is inevitable. The initial Covid-19 lockdowns left roasters with a surplus of unused green coffee, forcing them to roast more creatively. Though it takes more energy and attention to roast well, past crop coffee can still be delicious.
Past crop coffees can make delicious dark roast blends in particular. Some of the chemical compounds responsible for agey flavours found in past crop coffee can be roasted out. The downside is that you’ll inevitably lose some of the desirable flavours.
In a way, roasting new crop coffee is an homage to the hard work of coffee farmers. Great coffee starts with passionate producers. What happens during farming, harvesting, and processing has a huge effect on the ultimate flavour. It takes an incredible amount of farming and harvesting knowledge to produce delicious coffee. To mismanage green coffee and let it go stale would do a disservice to that hard work.
Great specialty coffee holds the same prestige as fine wine. When wine producers have a great crop, they are hailed as masters in their field. Just as with coffees, unique fermentation processes can instill bright, exciting flavours. Because there’s a disconnect between roasters and producers, many are unaware of the brilliance of coffee growers. Roasting is only half the battle. So next time you’re enjoying a cup of your Bolivia, make a toast to the incredible work of coffee producers!