It’s that time of year again. The clocks go forward, raincoats go back on the coat hooks, and umbrellas are relegated to the cupboard under the stairs – for a few months at least.
Of course, coffee can – nay, should – be enjoyed all year round, but as with any seasonal crop, some origins are more suited to summertime imbibing than others. So now that the days are finally getting longer and the weather is (in theory) getting warmer, we asked one of our resident coffee traders, Will Hobby, to shed some light on the vivacious summer blends that are guaranteed to put a spring back in your step.
‘Tis The Season
But first, a little background. What makes coffee seasonal in the first place?
“Unlike tea, which is grown and harvested all year round, coffee has a fairly specific harvest period which varies from region to region,” Will explains. “Because not all cherries on a tree ripen at the same time, the harvest period in a given origin might last a couple of months, which leaves a window of opportunity in which to export them.”
In some origins – Brazil, for instance – this window of opportunity is pretty generous, so much so that one crop will often merge into another. In Tanzania, on the other hand, the export window is only open from October through till March, after which point the quality of the coffee begins to deteriorate. In Kenya, there is also an additional harvest known as the ‘fly crop’, although coffee from this harvest is generally considered to be of an inferior quality.
All In Good Taste
In essence, then, it’s all a matter of timing. But does the climate in the country of origin affect the flavour of the coffee, as well as its seasonal availability?
“The main factors that affect flavour are tree varietal and soil nutrient content, including the levels and types of fertiliser used,” says Will. “Altitude is another influencing factor – the higher the better.”
“Climate doesn’t affect the flavour, per se, but it does affect the growth of the beans. Too little rain and the beans won’t grow; too much rain and the farmers might struggle to dry the coffee. Too much sunlight and the trees burn, damaging their growth; too much shade and they may develop fungus.”
As with any crop, coffee is subject to the vicissitudes of the seasons (drought, flooding and frosts can each have devastating effects on a year’s harvest), as well as any number of pests and diseases, including the notorious coffee leaf rust.
The Perfect Blend
So when it comes to summertime blends, seasonality is the watchword: it all boils down to which coffees have been harvested and exported and are beginning to arrive here in the UK. Of course, we can circumvent Mother Nature to a degree with vacuum-packing or by shipping the coffee in Grain Pro – plastic bag liners that aim to reduce the atmospheric and humidifying impacts of coffee in transit. But coffee, like time, waits for no man, and sooner or later the quality will be compromised, so as a rule, the fresher and more seasonal the better.
If that’s the case, which blends should we be keeping an eye out for now that summer has finally arrived?
“I’d be looking at blends from coffees that are arriving in the country around this time: for me, it would have to be Ethiopian and Kenyan. These East African origins begin to arrive around March/April time and are still great now, and both are full of citrus fruit and berry flavours, with refreshing floral notes”.
How Do You Brew?
Delicious as they are, these delicate blends don’t especially lend themselves to the milky, espresso-based drinks like lattes and flat whites that have become so popular in recent years.
Instead, Will recommends “either a pour-over method, such as the V60, or a French press. They’re perfect for extracting the subtle flavours from these blends, and on a sunny summer Sunday morning, nothing beats breakfast outside in the garden with a fresh cafetière coffee.”
Of course, what constitutes the perfect brew is entirely subjective, and Will is quick to point out that great coffee is in the eye – or should that be palate? – of the beholder.
“There’s a lot of pretentious nonsense that goes along with coffee. The real key is to find a blend and brewing method that work for you, and enjoy it.”
We’ll drink to that.