We take coffee education seriously because we believe that understanding the why and how of coffee is important when making better consumer decisions. In this post, we will take you through why Specialty and seasonal coffee isn’t just delicious; it's good for you, the farmers and our planet.
Why Does Coffee Seasonality Matter?
Coffee is complex, but one of the most important things to remember is that it comes from the seed of a fruit. Like any fruit or fresh produce, it is at its best depending upon the time of the year it was harvested and consumed. Irish lovers of Wexford strawberries know the difference in quality between a bland punt purchased in winter and the sweetness of strawberries in the spring or summer months.
Factors Impacting Seasonality
Coffee seasonality is an alchemy of farming practices which involve different varieties, knowledge, traditions, technical practices and environmental conditions (soil, topography, altitude, climate and shade intensity). More specifically, annual rainfall and duration of the dry season generally contribute to the perfect coffee harvest season. (1)
Fresh and in-season coffee does not mean fresh off the tree. Infact, sometimes the early part of the harvest is not as good as the later part. Coffee trees are grown at high elevation, which is measured by height above sea level (MASL). Research shows that trees at the highest elevation are often the last of the harvest as these trees take the longest time to mature. (2)
The inspiration comes from the wine industry, where in certain regions, grapes are left on the vine well beyond optimum ripeness to allow them to become overripe and produce a sweeter wine. In Brazil, this practice is commonly used which is why Brazilian coffees are often beautifully sweet due to their slower and steadier maturation rate. (3)
Bear Market’s Ethos & Best Practices
Keeping it simple. We only buy and sell coffee that is in season. However, the shelf life of the coffee after it’s been bought is based on our best practices of what tastes best in the cup!
Our general rule of thumb is: From late winter until early summer, plan to buy Northern Hemisphere coffees. From late summer to early winter, we look for coffees from below the Equator. In the past these have been fairly fixed dates that you could set your watch by, but climate changes has for sure seen this be less reliable in recent years.
Freshness, Storage & Rest Period
Unlike wine, coffee does not store well, and although the previous year's crop can still produce a good quality coffee with proper storage - it is not optimal. So it’s generally best to go fresh and in season with your coffee! Best roaster practice is focussed on buying coffee seasonally and in smaller quantities to keep it as fresh as possible. This allows us to understand each coffee’s maturation, without investing too heavily in a coffee bean that may not age well.
The coffee itself will not actually be roasted and consumed right away after the harvest, as it does still need a certain amount of time to rest. For transportation reasons, all of this can take months on end. However, if it’s been left to age for too long or is subject to temp control or transportation issues, it may take on more stale flavours. Flavours to look out for are more woody or vegetal notes after being roasted. The sweetness and acidity of the bean will also diminish gradually. (4)
At Bear Market we put a lot of effort into green bean storage to ensure that the beans stay fresh even after somewhat longer periods of time. Like any food type the better we can control the temperature and humidity of our storage room, the fresher our beans will stay. That’s why we keep all our beans in a temperature and humidity controlled room, with quality GrainPro packaging bags.
Behind the scenes we spend months planning ahead when selecting our coffees. Our principles of seasonal coffee mean that when coffee goes on the website or for sale in our shops, we have planned ahead for six-eight months to ensure all our beans are in season and sell out before they start to get old.
The majority of coffee growing regions haveone growing and harvest season a year, with a handful having two harvests or a continuous harvest throughout the entire year.
An example of a continuous harvest region is our Colombian House Roast. We favour Colombian beans in this instance, not just because they taste great, but because Colombia has two harvests a year. This consistency allows us to rely on the beans always being fresh and readily available throughout the year.
Finding Your Favourite Coffee Throughout The Year
The good news is that throughout the year, coffee is being harvested somewhere in the world. This means that we always have access to freshly harvested coffees.
For those of you who love a coffee that isn’t offered year round, we encourage taking the time to really taste and note a few flavours that stand out to you. If you need help picking the words to describe your favourite coffees, speak to our team! This can help narrow down which coffee to try next. You can find all flavours and harvest month descriptors on the front of all of our bags to help find coffees in a profile you may enjoy—even if it’s from a producer or country that you’ve never tried before.
- Britta Folmer. The Craft and Science of Coffee.“Cultivating Coffee Quality Terroir and Agroecosystem London”. , United Kingdom : Academic Press/Elsevier ; Academic Press is an imprint of Elsevier, 
- Britta Folmer. The Craft and Science of Coffee. Britta Folmer.“Environmental Conditions Suitable for Coffee Growing”. London, United Kingdom : Academic Press/Elsevier ; Academic Press is an imprint of Elsevier, 
- Barbeau, G., Cadot, Y., Stevez, L., Bouvet, M.H., Cosneau, M., Asselin, C., Mege, A. Role of soil physical properties, climate and harvest period on must composition, wine type and flavour (Vitis vinifera L., cv chenin). France. In: Proceedings of the 26th World Congress of the OIVAdelaide, Australia. 
- Farah, Adriana. Coffee production, quality and chemistry. “Post-roasting Processing: Grinding, Packaging and Storage”.Royal Society of Chemistry (2019)
- Gianluca Mereu, Head of Coffee at Bear Market Roastery