Single Origin, Estate and Micro Lot

I've been thinking about this for a bit and I'm pretty sure it's come up in arguments before.

What scale do you have to work at until the coffee we drink is so homogeneous, so uniform that it becomes one dimensional without anything too impressive. Is there a balancing point due to blending at stages in the coffee process where a coffee becomes complex and exciting enough?

How does one define an estate or a single origin coffee? My understanding is that origin is a country (Colombia) or maybe a region name (Oaxaca) tagged onto some beans. An estate is dealing with most CoE and "Best Of" coffees. A micro lot is similar to an estate, but often from a smaller output farm. But are these micro lot farms producing coffee with sufficient diversity to make them interesting? I have had my share of small lot coffees, and I can assure you that some are incredible... but there are some others that aren't too impressive. There's nothing to them but some subtle nuance. That in itself is intriguing but I don't know if that is what I want from a coffee.

You run into the same sort of problem on the other end of the spectrum as well, where too much blending and vague origins result in a bland homogeneous coffee as well.

It is an interesting problem.


Blogger Shaun Taylor said...

Hey Peter,

You raise an interesting commentary. I find the second part of your musing the interestning area for me. The proposition that microlot and/or good press should necessitate legendary coffee. There are some "legend coffee's" out there that I have roasted and was impressed with but there are some that have impressed me less than other "no name" coffee's which have impressed me. A good example would be the La Esmerelda - though good, I wouldn't walk a million miles for it as others have proclaimed.

Right now I am drinking the #5 CoE Nicaraguan winner (mentioned it on my blog) and it is fantastic. The stand-out impact for my palate comes from the chocolate and apricot effect. An Ethiopian Lekempti I have been roasting also has these same stand-out's but has them HUGE. Both great coffee's, one got recognition, one didn't. I love the Lekempti but it might be too Lekempti-ish for some. And perhaps, therein lies the rub; my frame of reference is different than yours and the guy two doors down from me. Still, I suppose it's safe to assume that a stellar coffee should shine to all palate's even the most jaded.

As I type this I am roasting the Honduran CoE winner Lot#2 Las Barreras. Will it hold-up to its score/international judging panel comments? I have no idea, but will have my personal opinion in a few days. And my opinion might not be the same as the panel's.

Coffee is a beguiling mistress. ;-)

Anonymous bradinvancouver said...

Hi Peter!

Re microlots - a bit of a misconception. What Geoff has been doing with the farmers is splitting production and harvesting into small, identifiable and well tracked/documented lots. In doing so, they're trying to identify (and with great success thus far) what specific techniques produce better results in the cup be it soil types, elevation, specific microclimes, fertilizer types, etc. i.e. systematic scientific experimentation by tracking techniques via numbered lots. Hence the 'micro' lot. The microlots we see are actually the results of these experiments and are trackable to a specific section of the harvest that was kept separate throughout processing.

Blogger Peter said...

Well, that makes a bunch of sense... I guess it's a misconception on my part that "micro-lot" = outstanding quality as a single cup coffee. Great concept for sure. I guess what that leads to though is essentially an extension of my quandary... Does coffee, to be complex in the cup, require multiple "micro" lots blended together, all with differing treatments throughout the growth and harvesting processes? This could in fact be a sign that uniform treatment of the coffee is a definite negative for unique and significant coffees. Perhaps small lots, along with varying terrain and other factors influencing terroir ARE in fact needed to produce intriguing, exciting coffees.

Perhaps what I am getting at is this, and I will try to use an analogy to clarify. Coffee blending (of which I really know next to nothing about... my apologies if I am treading into foreign waters or am stepping onto toes) is like brewing beer. You have a few ingredients, malt, hops, water, yeast. If you wanted, you could buy the cheapest available ingredients (Molson, Labatt, etc) or even substitute unacceptable ingredients in place of malt, say rice or corn, and brew a beer that many people will drink. OR, you can search the world over for unique, well tended and powerful ingredients (Rogue) and brew a beer that is immensely flavorful and a joy to behold. Eating hops or barley on their own isn't so exciting or pleasant even, but combined as a whole, the result is phenomenal.

In great coffees, I suggest that the microlots are in fact the ingredients, fine to drink on their own, but outstanding if allowed to be blended with complementary coffees.

If I am stumbling all over people's business that I shouldn't be, email me.


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