Drink It While It's Fresh: Yes, Coffee Has Seasons Too


Ripe coffee cherry. [Photograph: Meister]

To everything (brew, brew, brew) there is a season—that goes for coffee as much as it does tomatoes, squash, and garlic scapes: A time to reap, and a time to sow. For those of us interested in eating and drinking what's best right now, here's a handy guide to knowing how to stay freshly caffeinated all year long.

It's all too easy to forget that the coffee "beans" that we roast, grind, and brew are actually the seeds of a fruit, and that—as with all produce—there's a particular season for it. Blossoms will grow on the bushes' branches following that particular origin's rainy season, and where the pollinated blossom comes to maturity, a cherry will grow. Nine months later the cherry will be ripe and ready to pick, after which comes processing and sorting (which can take up to three months), shipping, roasting, and—finally—brewing.

Upon landing, the beans are at their best: There's nothing better than sitting down with a cup of something fresh off the boat, all of that sparkling acidity and those brilliant aromatics in place. Over time, however, the green beans will start to lose their luster, and if left too long they will start to acquire unpleasant woody or grassy flavors that pale in comparison to that early radiance. (We all start sagging after a while, know what I mean?)

So when should you drink what? A good rule of thumb is that more northern growing regions (e.g. Central America) come into season in mid-spring and last until early autumn, while southerly coffees from places like Papua New Guinea and South America really pop from mid-autumn until early spring. Farms lucky enough to be smack-dab on the equator (such as Colombia, Kenya, and Sumatra) typically enjoy multiple harvest seasons.

Taken as a whole, this adds up to an uninterrupted year of deliciousness, though you might have to change up your daily brew as coffees come into or go out of season. What's good right now? Brand-spanking new fresh lots from spots like Papua New Guinea and Bolivia, with Peru trailing closely behind.

Do you have a favorite coffee season? I'm spoiled because I love tart and juicy Kenyans, but there's also nothing quite like a warm winter mug of a sweet-and-subtle South American joe this time of year. 'Tis the season!