Coffee is a cultural juggernaut. So much so that it's presence in our lives has been commoditized and taken for granted. Much the same way tomatoes in January have become a "given" in America, instead of a technological and logistical wonder (even if inferior in taste to the seasonal real deal), coffee is just...there. Always waiting for you when you need it.
So it's not really a surprise to us, when we run out of a coffee, to hear, "When are you going to get that in again?" It's a legitimate question, and a teaching opportunity on our part that we often miss. So here I am to answer that question.
Coffee as a Crop
Photo Credit: CoffeeResearch.org
The simple answer to "when" is also sort of depressing: never. Sort of.
Much the same way you will never have that exact tomato you grew in your garden that one year - when it was so, so good - we will never have the exact coffee ever again. We may, and often do, have bags from the same farm again, but they were grown in a different year. That means different soil conditions. Different weather. Different winds and pests. Different processing challenges. These changes are subtle, and in most cases not even perceptible to us, but they are real. Even bags from the same year and the same lot are subtely different. Why?
Because coffee is an agricultural crop. Coffee is a tropical evergreen, and only flourishes in the tropics, much like citrus or avocado or any other tropical plant. New plants can be grown from seed (which I have tried before and am trying now, but have yet to succeed) or started from cuttings, just like any other plant. This means that it's possible to keep a coffee tree even here in Illinois as long as you protect it from freezing (just don't expect any quality fruit).
Just like citrus, the coffee tree will produce flowers for fertilization, which then produce coffee fruits known as cherries. Just like fruit trees, coffee must be pruned and trained for optimum yield. Inside the cherries are two seeds, and those extracted seeds are what is shipped to us, roasted, and brewed for drinking.
So, just like yields and quality of corn and soybeans up here in Illinois are different from year to year, so too the coffee crop is different from year to year. From deluges to drought, the weather is a big player in coffee flavor from year to year. Plus, since the areas where coffee is grown tend to be very poor, there are infrastructural and other stability challenges as well. All that means that cup consistency can vary from year to year, and is in fact the biggest challenge for any growing region.
Getting Used to Growing Seasons
Image Credit: AldoCoffee.com (See also: https://legacy.sweetmarias.com/coffee.prod.timetable.php)
Additionally, the growing season for different regions is also different, which makes a region's availability cyclical. A specific region is basically always ready around the same time of year, at least for the latest, fresh crop. Since we try very hard to only buy fresh crop coffee, if we run out sometime during the year, that means we might have to wait for that coffee to become available again.
For example, Ethiopia is a big favorite of ours at Mad Goat. Wet-processed Ethiopians generally become available sometime around May, with dry-process coffee becoming available sometime around June or July. In between if we run out, we might have the opportunity to buy some previous year crop if there is any left, but we might just have to wait too. Keeping certain coffees always in stock is one of many challenges for a green coffee buyer, and that's true at Mad Goat too. But we sort of like the seasonality of coffee as a crop, so don't sweat it too much if we run out. It gives us a chance to try new things and teach our customers about the agricultural nature of coffee.
So next time we're out of your favorite coffee, feel free to ask when it's coming back, but also think about trying something new or checking what we have that's new and exciting!