Green coffee is separated and sold in origin based on quality. When a farmer delivers coffee to an exporter, a professional trained in coffee sensory analysis will score the coffee on its fragrance, acidity, sweetness, body, and defects, among other things. That score has a profound impact on the coffee’s future: whether it is separated out or blended with others, how much it is sold for and ultimately how it can be marketed to roasters and sold to end users.
Specialty Coffee, as opposed to Commercial Coffee, is scored at 80 points or above on a 100 point scale and as the quality improves, so does the price. If a coffee finds itself scoring at 88 points or above, it will likely be pulled aside and treated separately. These coffees are often called Micro Lot coffees, and their quality allows them to be separated, labeled, and marketed differently, because they can be sold at a higher price.
Even though a coffee may be good, and sometimes even great, it may not qualify as a micro lot coffee. When this happens, it is often blended with coffee from other farmers into a Community or Regional Lot. While there are benefits to a Micro Lot program, one argument against it is that when you pull the best coffee out of a community of farmers, the score of the regional coffee will inevitably decrease. Whereas one farmer might make more money, the rest will make less. To complicate it further, farmers may sell several lots of coffee that have different quality scores, and in an age where there is a commercial market for mediocre and bad coffee (less than 80 points), and a specialty market for phenomenal coffee (88 points and above), they may struggle to find a buyer or receive decent prices for their coffees that fall in the middle.
Over the last couple of years, we have been working with our importer, Cafe Imports, along with exporters in origin countries, to develop a better system. While there is value to rewarding farmers who have planted, developed and processed amazing coffee with Micro Lot prices, it is important to support and buy their other coffees as well and at prices that are fair and sustainable. Our ethos is to develop relationships with farmers we purchase from, not to buy coffees with the best scores and leave farmers to figure out what to do with the rest of their harvest, often selling it for less than it costs to produce.
In the end, separating out coffees that are not Micro Lot quality, but still great in the specialty coffee world will cost more, but we hope it will improve the lives of farmers, create more transparency, and provide you, the customer, with an opportunity to purchase beautiful coffees at different qualities and price points from a single producer.