April 24, 2018

The Key Theme at SCA Coffee Expo 2018? Micro Lots


Looking for insights into what’s going on in the coffee industry? The SCA Specialty Coffee Expo, one of the third wave coffee industry’s biggest trade shows, is where you need to go.

Held this April 20th to 22nd in Seattle, it featured thousands of visitors, exhibitors, roasters, producers, manufacturers, coffee cuppings, competitions, lectures, workshops, and more. So, we at Perfect Daily Grind packed our bags and headed off to find out the latest trends.

There were many remarkable things at Specialty Coffee Expo (such as the full-fledged specialty espresso bar inside a car trunk), but the one word that came up, again and again, was micro. Micro lot coffee. Micro roasters. Micro-sized equipment for micro batches.

Lee este artículo en español ¿El Tema Principal en el SCA Coffee Expo 2018?: Micro Lotes

sca expo

The Specialty Coffee Expo celebrated its thirty-year anniversary. Credit: Ana Valencia

Coffee Lots Get Even Smaller

As I stopped by the GrainPro booth to view their hermetic coffee bags, designed to maintain coffee quality during storage and transportation, I noticed that they were using Specialty Coffee Expo to launch their newest product: a 15-kilo bag.

Coffee has traditionally always been transported in 60- and 70-kilo bags, but the 15-kilo size is a response to customer demand. Diego Lara Lavarreda, Global Coffee & Cocoa Senior Specialist at the company, explained that it was developed because of “increased interest in micro lots and the capacity of actual roasting machines.”

You might also like: Micro Lot vs Macro Lot: What’s The Difference?

In particular, it was a solution to the needs of third wave roasters. “12- to 15-kilo bags allow [those] roasters to handle individuals bags, one by one,” Diego told me. And Philippe Villers, President and Director of GrainPro, added, “You have to meet your customers’ needs.”

guatemala booth

National coffee associations and coffee producers demonstrated their coffee’s distinctive profiles. Credit: Ana Valencia

Micro Roasters Need Smaller Equipment

But it’s not just smaller hermetic bags that micro roasters need. It’s also smaller roasters.

Specialty Coffee Expo and its European counterpart, World of Coffee, are the number one places for roaster manufacturers to showcase their latest releases and this year was no different. We saw a wide range of roasters of different sizes and with different capacities.

Sara Hunt, Marketing Coordinator at The San Franciscan Roasters Co, took the time to show me her company’s brand new 10 lb roaster. She explained, “We just want to offer as many sizes as we can since we want our clients to succeed… some people need to roast 6 lb at a time, but they are not ready for an SF-25 [the company’s 25 lb machine].”

As the number of third wave micro roasteries continues to rise across the globe, roaster manufacturers are looking at ways to better meet their needs – which means greater diversity in size and features without sacrificing quality.

Check out Micro Roaster? Here’s What Producers Want You to Know

The newly launched 10 lb San Franciscan roaster. Credit: San Franciscan Roaster

Micro Lots Allow for Processing Innovation

Micro lots don’t just affect roasters, however: they also change how producers work. And again and again, I heard that micro lots are encouraging producers to experiment with processing.

Juan Vargas of Fazendas Klem, Brazil placed third in the 2017 Cup of Excellence: Brazilian Naturals. But he doesn’t process all his crop as naturals. He told me, “The market is requesting different processing techniques. We are constantly trying new fermentation processes for our best coffees.”

“Best coffees” is a significant comment: it’s the high-quality micro lots where producers are taking the most meticulous care over processing. This could mean anything from following rigorous drying standards to experimenting with fermentation.

“Producers are looking at small machines to process small quantities,” João Alberto Brando of Pinhalense stressed. Almost one year ago, Pinhalense launched a specialist mill designed for honey coffee. “We’ve been investing in this kind of machinery to answer this new demand for producing micro lots,” João Alberto explained.

You might also like: Micro Lot Coffee: How to Limit Risk & Improve Quality

honey coffee

Honey processed coffee slowly dries. Credit: Angie Molina

Are Consumers Going to Demand More From Their Coffee?

João Alberto added that “[new] processing methods done on a small scale will bring new flavors to the cup.” And as consumers get a taste of new and high-quality processing methods, they’re slowly developing a thirst for these flavors – something that, in turn, is placing more demand on producers to refine their processing.

Jeff Courson is an Account Manager with green importers Ally Coffee. When I asked him about the current consumer palate for specialty coffee, he told me, “It is changing. It is still developing… The expansion of specialty coffee shops is helping expand the palate of actual consumers.”

And so too is the trend of “producers trying anaerobic and lactic fermentations, developing completely new cup profiles.” Generally, Jeff explained, the specialty coffee consumer wants a “clean, sweet coffee.” However, with farm-level innovation in processing, he predicts an “expanded” consumer palate and that “coffee consumption will get more and more technical.”

Discover more! Read: How Does Fermentation Affect Coffee Flavour Development?

CEO Bruno Tavares Borges and Africa Buyer Micah Sherer at a cupping of Ethiopian lots at Ally Coffee’s booth during Coffee Expo. Credit: Ally Coffee

Micro lot coffee: it’s not just about smaller lots. It has an impact on coffee quality, processing methods, equipment, prices, and more. It opens the door to greater experimentation – and it should also encourage us to think more deeply about the prices we pay, as both quality and costs rise to produce these exclusive coffees.

And as I wandered through the SCA Specialty Coffee Expo, it became clear that it’s being embraced by coffee professionals across the supply chain. I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to seeing the impact of this growing trend in coffee shops, at coffee farms, and on coffee prices over the coming year.

See you in 2019, Specialty Coffee Expo!

Enjoyed this? Check out: Micro Lot Coffee: How to Limit Risk & Improve Quality

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