Does your coffee shop customise its menu with seasonal coffee offerings? While coffee beans are available all year round, different harvest seasons take place at different times, meaning that some coffees are at their best for limited periods of time throughout the year.
Offering coffees that have been recently harvested and roasted can keep your menu exciting, introduce your customers to new coffees, and grow your customer base. Here’s what you’ll need to consider when customising the coffees you offer according to their harvest season.
Lee este artículo en español Cómo Modificar tu Menú de Cafés Especiales Según la Temporada
What is a Seasonal Coffee?
Coffee-producing countries are located all over the world, which means that coffee harvests for each country usually take place at different times. Generally speaking, Northern Hemisphere producing countries (including Kenya and Central America) will have different peak harvest seasons to coffee-producing countries in the Southern Hemisphere (such as Brazil, Rwanda, and Papua New Guinea). Some countries, like Colombia, will have multiple harvests a year.
A harvested and processed green coffee bean will naturally degrade over time, which can be anywhere between six and 12 months after its harvested. The older a bean gets before roasting, the more moisture it loses, and the more it oxidises. For this reason, roasting and then serving a coffee shortly afterwards means that the coffee’s freshness and flavours are highlighted.
Certain origins will produce coffees with distinctive profiles. For example, Guatemalan and El Salvadorian coffees tend to be chocolaty and caramelly, while Kenyan and Rwandan coffees tend to be tart and citrusy. Offering customers coffees that are at their prime means that customers will be able to enjoy each coffee at its best.
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Benefits of Offering Seasonal Coffees
Stephen Paweleck owns Django Coffee Co., a roastery in Merseyside in the UK. He tells me that a benefit of offering coffee in its seasonal prime is its freshness. “Like any other agricultural product, to get the best flavour depends on the harvest and the time it takes for the product to be consumed… in order to enjoy the complex flavours that are naturally produced.”
“As time advances, flavours tend to drop away due to the moisture content dropping. If green coffee is left to sit for too long the bean develops a woody flavour and paper-like mouthfeel… Seasonality ensures that there’s a fast turnover of coffees being roasted, reducing the danger of coffee spoiling because it’s been left in the warehouse or roastery for too long”, says Stephen.
He adds that seasonal coffees also address the consumer need for transparency and information on their coffee’s origin. He explains, “Consumers of speciality coffee want to know as much information as possible about their [coffee] and they want information about its journey from the farm to their cup. Seasonality is an integral part of this story.”
Selecting Which Seasonal Coffees to Offer
With dozens of origins and varieties available, choosing what seasonal coffees to add to your menu will depend on what you can access, what you’d like to offer, as well as what your customers would respond to. Starting by adding coffee with profiles that resemble the coffees you currently offer can help ease customers into trying something new.
Søren Stiller Markussen is the owner of Stillers Coffee, a coffee shop and roastery in Aarhus, Denmark. In his opinion, consumers are more focused on drinking a coffee that tastes good and has a certain flavour profile than they are on trying seasonal options. “[Customers] rather want to change to another [coffee] which is alike or very close [to] the same taste [they’re familiar with]. And sometimes they try out the expensive high qualities with a certain taste or story.”
He currently offers different coffees from a single farm and producer. “[In] the last three years I have focused on highlighting varietals from different farms and processing methods. We used to serve lighter coffees in summer times as Costa Rica, Panama and Ethiopian coffees. But now our strategy is to bring knowledge to the market about varietals.” He adds, “At the moment I have 14 different varietals from the same farm – which has now become my… trademark”.
What to Consider When Offering Seasonal Coffees
Offering seasonal coffees begins with understanding the different coffee harvest seasons taking place in a year – and ensuring that the person roasting your coffee does too. Stephen says “it’s important to have knowledge and understanding of the harvests from each origin in order to plan ahead for the year. Seasonal overlap ensures that there’s always coffee available… but this requires working closely with farmers from different origins. Working with importers and producers willing to plan ahead is important and this requires samples of the crop being sent well in advance.”
You’ll also need to start with buying smaller volumes from your roaster until your consumers establish a more predictable consumption pattern. For Søren, “the hardest thing is to purchase enough stock… I have tried to manage this and it’s always difficult to get around. Either too much left or too little.”
There’s also a risk you’ll buy too little of a coffee that becomes popular, and that the roaster might not have more of it to offer. Søren says, “Availability is one of the main potential pitfalls. Most coffee regions have only one harvest per year and so availability can sometimes be limited. This can cause problems with customers who really enjoy a certain coffee and then find out that it’s no longer available”. Assuring customers their favourite bean will return in a few month’s time can keep customers coming back for more – as some might return if they think a seasonal favourite will never reappear on the menu.
Once you’ve set a menu and started serving seasonal coffees, you’ll need to manage customer’s expectations on what current and future coffees will taste like across different roast levels. While most seasonal coffees retain their core flavours from year to year, it’s unlikely that they’ll be identical to each other, due to the unpredictable nature of production. Stephen says, “Crops can change from year to year depending on … rainfall, the arrival of the wet season, and whether the farm experienced a cool summer or a warm winter… An exceptional coffee may be purchased one year and then the following year, [have a completely different] flavour profile”.
Finally, you’ll need to find a way to keep the coffee as fresh as possible. This will depend on your roaster, who’ll be responsible for the coffee’s storage, and for regularly testing its freshness. Stephen explains that “only small amounts of each seasonal coffee are purchased in order to ensure each lot is sold before the peak flavour fades. This usually happens between four and six months of the coffee arriving in the country. However, some coffees can retain their flavour much longer. The rate of disintegration depends on many factors such as soil content, altitude and the processing method. Some coffees can remain “seasonal” for a greater period of time especially when stored in climate-controlled warehouses. The key is to sample and cup as often as possible to ensure that the coffee is still tasting top-notch. ‘
Creating a seasonal coffee menu requires careful planning and involves some risk. However, it can also benefit both your coffee shop and its customers. A wider range of seasonal coffees can help your customers deepen their appreciation of specialty coffee, helping them better understand the work that goes into producing it.
Offering seasonal coffees like this will also help your coffee shop develop a reputation as a place where customers can expand their specialty coffee horizons, and learn more about what coffee has to offer.
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Photo credits: Perfect Daily Grind, Kinima Coffee
Perfect Daily Grind
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