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In Season Coffee

26/11/2008

Now I am not going to say that I am one of these coffee people who troll through the internet looking at everyone’s blog to see what is being talked about. Its more like, on a rare occasion, when I am thinking of someone who I have met within the industry, I will look them up on line to see what they are up to. So my next statement is coming purely from the true, lazy coffee geek at heart that I am.

Is it just me or has there been no real commentary about Intelligentsia’s new incentive to bring to the people, fresh, in season coffees? For years growing up in Australia’s coffee industry I was told that we could use green coffee up to two years after it was picked and it would still be as fresh as the day it were picked. I see around the world, everywhere that I have traveled, that no matter what time of year it is I can buy, lets say a Kenyan, Sumatran or Costa Rican coffee, still being served “fresh” in your cup on demand.

I’m not going to get into the debate about packaging and storing greens all I will say to that point is why not just roast and sell your coffee quickly so you don’t have to? Ok, Ok, I know that some packaging can help maintain fresh greens whilst they are on the water, I am not trying to spark a knowledge contest, just bare with me…

Several months ago I was particularly, no, extremely  excited when Intelligentsia, the once darlings of the industry announced internally that we would be launching the In Season initiative. I thought, great, this will for sure have the Industry a buzz with excitement again! Like the hype of “Direct Trade” or “Micro Lot” coffees which brought Intelligentsia’s name to the furthest corners of the globe, trade magazines would have Intelligentsia’s name plastered throughout their publications. Intelligentsia would once again be the talk of the community, instead, at least from what I can tell, there is nothing.

Is Intelligentsia’s In Season initiative the industries best kept secret or am I just missing the hype?

If you have not heard what I am talking about please do yourself a favor and visit the web site.

http://www.inseasoncoffee.com

One more thing, there is someone else that I want to welcome, not to Intelligentsia but rather our Roasting and Quality Control department. You might know him as a barista from Intelli’s Silver lake espresso bar or you might of met this relatively new comer to the industry at the Slow Foods Festival whilst he pulled shots of espresso for the crowd. Can you put your hands together for our new apprentice, Jared Linzmeier!!!

Mr Nature himself, Jared one of our Baristas by you.

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27 comments

  1. Many roasters are already using ‘in season’ coffee and have been doing it for a long time but I think this is the first time it’s been trademarked. I would look at Stumptown’s approach and how they are very into seasonality as the offerings shift based on what crop is current in a much tighter window than Intelly is setting down.


  2. Thanks Jamie

    That is correct, there are a few companies out there that have been doing it for a long time, as has Intelli. Is it not our responsibility to educate the uneducated, could this not be a great tool in educating the masses?

    Seen as how I am the lazy blogger and not really that computer savvy could you guide me to a link that has Stumptown’s approach to seasonality on it? Or is their model of bringing in season coffee to masses an industry secret as well?


  3. Jamie,

    Perhaps I am out of line here but harvest for Centrals ended at least 8 months ago. In the next two weeks all but one of our Central’s will be gone and coffees from South America will begin landing. If one is offering coffees from Central America and in fact some from 2007, and harvested almost 18 months ago, they cannot possibly be “in season” as you suggest, so what is this tighter window that you speak of?

    Doug Zell
    Intelligentsia Coffee


  4. That old chestnut is still doing the rounds down here “it’s actually better past crop”, so we are trying to change that. However a recent order from the states to here has taken a good 6 months from start to finish. Cupping in El Salvador a month after harvest was an eye opener for me, the complex nature of these coffees was wild and immense.
    We hope to have a similar approach but we will have to try and incorporate a higher quality shipping and storage program if we hope to have a similar quality green supply. So our window may be a little wider, except for the Indo’s…
    Anyway keep up the good work D..


  5. Deaton, I’m a relatively new account with Intelli, and I’m absolutely behind all of the new developments. I get amazing support from Chris, Jim, and Paul, and I think that Alex could walk on water if she put her mind to it. And the coffee just keeps on getting better and better. That said, I can’t believe that you even need to ask the question. Go to the Intelligentsia website and find one reference to either the In Season program or a link to the micro-site. Why split off all info about the program to a micro-site but then not take advantage by making explicit and obvious connections from your primary site? I’m a huge believer in open communication. As an Intelli-based shop, I’ve received nothing but a short phone call about Chris about the program. How can I effectively promote it to my customers? And look at the micro-site itself. It breaks just about every usability rule in the book. No clear meaning to the website when you arrive there: check. Design that promotes “cool” over content: check. Unclear navigation: check. All content only revealed via javascript: check. All but unreadable on a mobile device: check. No way to index or bookmark specific information: check. Design that places unnecessary constraints on amount or flow of information: check.

    I think you get the point. I often feel that Intelli is three companies that don’t communicate with each other: a series of retail stores that get all the inside info, a national web-based retail vendor, and a wholesale roaster. As a wholesale account, we get wonderful sales and training support, but not much in the way of marketing support. If you are not hearing much about in-season in the blogosphere, it’s probably because all of the indie intelligentsia shops that could help promote it are as in the dark about it as everyone else.


  6. It’s probably hard to hear me talking up “in season” all the way from Pittsburgh. You need to read our blog more 😛 Jaime does 🙂

    As an Intelligentsia customer for the past three years, I can say without a doubt the quality in our cups has improved with each crop. The coffees have more vibrant flavors than ever before, and I’m especially excited about the additional transparency the new labels provide with the blend components.

    As a retailer I can say confidently that we only have a specific coffee available for ordering maybe 2 months, often less, before you’ve sold out of green. Yes there have been one or two offerings over the past year that have been available longer, but by that stage I’m onto the next coffee and no longer ordering it.

    Our coffee menu is turning over constantly- I like that. Customers are always getting new coffees to try, and absolutely people are starting to understand that coffee is not a year round offering. Part of the key to our business’ continued success is gently forcing customers out of their comfort zone and getting them to try something other than their “usual”.

    So keep it up, and let’s get some more print materials to post in our shops so I can tell everyone how great this stuff is.


  7. Just to add a second to what Luke said… We love the in-season program at our shop. Our customers are always excited to see what coffees come in on our delivery day, and rotating coffees through generates more interest in origin in general. And the coffees this year have been unquestionably amazing. But that’s a different thing than excitement for inseasoncoffee.com or Intelli’s specific program– which is what you were asking about, right?.


  8. This message is specifically directed to Volta, 21st Street and all the wholesale folks who might be checking Deaton’s site. Some points:

    1.) Firstly, thanks. We appreciate all your efforts.

    2.) We are all in this together. Whether we are talking about a wholesaler, Intelligentsia coffeebars, or the Intelligentsia website, anyone who is drinking Intelligentsia Coffee should get the same information.

    3.) Intelligentsia’s marketing department is the group to provide this information. I am very happy to hear that you are pleased with your sales and training experience. As for the marketing support, I think that we have made some improvements in certain areas, but we do realize that we can generally do a better job communicating programs and providing support materials to promote your coffees. We have some interesting support tools coming (a wholesale website among other things) and you will be seeing some great things in the new year and beyond. Stay tuned, OK?

    Sincerely,
    Marc Johnson
    Director of Marketing
    Intelligentsia Coffee


  9. Firstly, Mark what the fuck happened to your coffee did you have it put in a one man canoe to get it to you? I hope you can work out those bugs next time, good luck!

    Secondly, thanks for the interest in this post, I am glad that this has at least opened up the conversation some what. I am also thankful that DZ and Mark Johnson chimed in as well, Mark, I would most likely not be able to comment on the support that is given to our customers so nice work. Spending hours in front of our roaster here in LA, unfortunately, like I suggested gives me no time on the cold front.

    In my post I was merely pondering what was happening on the other side of my roaster. Are the general public clued into the idea of In Season Coffee?

    I presumed that our customers working with Intelli’s coffees were doing their best to support it and were helping us pass the word around. I was really wondering about what our industry peers/ competitors and trade publications had to say about it and why it did seemed to fall on deaf ears?

    Maybe this question could of been better asked on such forums like Coffeed(though I am not am member but would love to be;-), I am however glad to hear from our customers.

    Lastly I will promise to start reading 21st streets blog everyday well almost everyday 😉


  10. Here’s a quick quiz: when you google intelligentsia in season, what is the first page to come up? Hint: it isn’t Intelligentsia’s website. I’d think it would be dangerous to presume that your customers are passing the word around. I’m quite sure that Luke and I are among the few exceptions. Most shops don’t know how to market themselves; you probably want to help build the message by providing clear and concise support materials.

    A single, (I believe) flawed web promo site isn’t going to create buzz for in season, nor is the coffeed echo chamber. It’s going to come up organically from places like chowhound, egullet, HB, and coffeegeek. It’s when you tie into the uptick of interest of the slow foods movement and start seeing articles in places that don’t normally write about coffee. That buzz is going to come from fanatic end-users who can tell a difference in the quality of the coffees. I knew about direct trade and micro-lot coffees long before I ever considered opening Volta, and certainly long before I knew about any industry-insider forums. That knowledge certainly didn’t come from coffeed or the trade publications– it came from drinking amazing Intelli coffee at different shops around the country and wanting to ask questions.


  11. Hi Deaton
    Wow, you really stirred something up here, didn’t you 😉 It’s great to see so many comments.
    Good points have already been made, but I’d just like to add that *outside the US* people like Tim Wendelboe is also working with In Season coffees. although he hasn’t trademarked it or anything. I believe Tim only buys enough coffee to last him about 5-6 months each time, because of freshness. His blend is also constantly changing as a reasult of this and he’s a great promoter of fresh harvests and seasonal flavours. His blend right now, for example, is all about fruit (see his blog!). So, this was just to make this blog a little more European (remember, that’s where ‘The Deat’ got into coffee in the first place 😛


  12. @true
    I’d like to add a bit to what Marc mentioned earlier and respond to a few of your critiques:

    We’ve definitely come a long way with our approach and materials in the marketing department here, and we are always looking for improvements. We welcome feedback and will try to accommodate and incorporate that feedback whenever we can.

    All of your critiques of the in season site are valid and most were conscious choices when developing it initially. Yes, I will be adding support for non-JS browsing and mobile devices (which is only about 1-2% of our overall traffic, even on the main site). Yes, I know that we broke just about every single usability rule in the book…but it’s also not something that is going to sit idle on the int0rwebs for Jakob Nielsen to hammer on. It’s a living, breathing site that will change and evolve. We did choose design as the leader here and (in some cases) that’s just fine. The look and design may change over time, and that’s okay too. It’s non-bookmarkable on specific content for the very fact that it IS constantly evolving. We want you to go back and see what’s new often. Perhaps I’ll add an RSS to make that easier for everyone.

    I’ve added a page on our main site referencing in season as a program and linked the site:
    http://www.intelligentsiacoffee.com/origin/intelligentsia-in-season
    give google a few weeks and perhaps we’ll rival you for that top spot ;P.

    Like Marc said…we have quite a few items in the pipeline and are always looking for new and more effective ways to get information out there in support of both us and you, the customer. Feel free to email me your thoughts or ideas any time.

    Matt Riddle


  13. Yeah some good points have been made tis for sure and I am glad to see that people ARE in fact passionate about the topic. So with this we have worked out there could be a few short comings on our behalf and I have now just Googled in season coffee and you are right, Volta, Intelligentsia is not on the first page.

    Thanks for all the feedback we might not of gotten had I not brought the topic up. So now I will sit back in hope and wait for the buzz to grow organically.

    Klaus! (that’s all I will say)


  14. not sure if i’m getting it right – you are missing the hype? i agree – people all over the world should know more about coffee in general, and be made aware of seasonal changes in your menu. however, i don’t see the draw back by having coffees sitting for 10 months in your green storage as long as you know they’re not fading (ref. vacuum or air tight or whatever).

    as far as i know, climate changes are also affecting farmers – harvesting for longer periods and crops are far more unpredictable. my point is – launching a program might be good for your marketing of these coffees – making people understand why they can’t get hold of honduras in february (if i understand you correctly, this is what you are doing right now?).

    by good for your marketing i also mean that this is a good way for your baristas selling coffee over-the-counter to start nice conversations with their customers about farming and seasons. that’s the most important part. then, you don’t need the hype.

    go jared!


  15. Mie,

    Go Jared indeed, finally someone has acknowledged the real motivation and story behind my post!

    Yes we are wanting to educate Joe the plumber have people talk about it, ask questions and get an informed answer. Our baristas in our cafes are already up to speed with the concept of seasonality so hopefully it will have some sort of a ripple affect.

    The short comings of our website aside I am hoping that this topic, although old and tiresome to some, will spark intellectual conversation and trigger a “why I did I not think of that before” thought, in our customers minds.

    With America at least, really getting behind the slow foods movement is this not good timing to be talking about seasonality again?


  16. Hey Deaton,

    Do you have problems with the green being too fresh? Andrew Ford was saying that that has been a bit of an issue here. Also, is it any different for brewed coffee vs espresso?

    Cheers,

    Luca


  17. Hi Luca,

    I have heard of problems of greens being too fresh but I am as yet to come across the problem personally. I know that coffees are rested after processing to help settle and homogenize, though like Mark said earlier cupping and working with fresh coffees is just a fantastic experience.

    As for brewed v’s espresso style of coffee once the coffee starts to fade you can pick up on faded the notes no matter the method of brewing. Though some people say that paper and wood notes are a worthy note in espresso, I don’t believe they are.


  18. Matt- I’m hoping that you see my comments in the spirit of constructive critique; I only want to see success from your work and hope I can engage in a debate of ideas that will help synthesize productive communication. I think that there needs to be a middle ground between a Jakob Nielson utilitarianism and design-for-design’s sake. I’d be happy to talk on the phone about design issues if you are interested, and I hope that you are beta testing new site designs with out-of-house clients. I’ll offer three final questions about the inseason microsite (and I ask these in good faith)… If the design were truly effective, would Deaton really have needed to ask the questions that started this thread? Could it be that your iphone percentages are so low because the design of both the micro site and the home site are painful when viewed on a mobile platform (for Volta’s site, the iphone traffic is the single fastest growing browser segment). Finally, do you really think that not having direct navigation to important information on a site encourages people to explore/are you sure that the response isn’t “fuh” and a quick click to a more useful site?


  19. great conversation starter Deats. i guess one of the luxuries working with Tim Wendelboe is that all our coffee is always ‘in season’ coffee, as pointed (very nicely) out by Klaus. one of the benefits of a smaller scale roastery i suppose…


  20. Tim V.,

    I think you might be surprised by how old coffee at a “small roaster” can be. There is no guaranty that by being small that the coffee is fresher. Tim W. is fortunately a very fastidious buyer (as he is at most all things coffee related). Many small roasters end up buying more coffee than they can actually roast and as a result you will see a lot of old coffees at these places. Often this is the result of finding something they like and buying a supply that will last (but doesn’t qualitatively). Also many small roasters know very little about the seasonality of coffee, as they are often not very involved at source in any meaningful way. And lastly the quality assurance components at many small roasters are not in place in that although cupping may have been rigorous at the buying stage of the coffee, thereafter it diminishes and data collection about how the coffee tastes is almost non-existent. So although Tim W. may be on top of things because of his unique background, character, and desire to be, I would argue that many small roasters are not.

    This is not meant to be a rant against small roasters, but I feel that often there is a lot of posturing about quality at small roasters when in fact they haven’t the skills, experience, or muscle to pull off an effective seasonal coffee program and often the spin applied to what they do is just that, spin not reality.

    Doug Zell
    Intelligentsia Coffee

    P.S. Deaton-I guess you have an answer if you are wondering if anyone reads your blog.


  21. Doug,

    I see your point. thankfully in our case, we only deal with in season coffees. i am definitely not posturing about the small roaster vs. the larger roaster. i have every respect for the larger scale roaster, having worked for both small and large roasters in the past.

    also, i think that the ‘in season’ initiative at Intelligensia is a great thing, worthy of recognition.

    so there you go.


  22. Great work D..

    Our coffee just got delayed, and I think perhaps had a little “wildlife” issue with quarantine, and to OZ it seems to take forever. Everyone says its 44 days on a container direct but let me say it has never taken 44 days. I’m against airfreight and freezing etc, to carbon heavy. I’d rather get that “to fresh” coffee in that boat early.
    Justin from Supreme was a big fan, thanks looking after him. And Doug, yeah it can be hard as a small roaster but hey I going to give my best shot dude…


  23. Hi Deaton,

    It’s really good to see the general idea of ‘seasonality’ being discussed more in coffee circles – especially amongst specialist coffee suppliers and roasters.

    You’re right – the idea of crops coming in and out of season IS a concept that those of us in the industry need to bring to the consumer. It’s an ongoing education process for us, and for the customer.

    When selling coffee direct to the public, it can be a little bit of a fight to explain to Mr Average Cup O’Joe coffee drinker as to why his favourite Cuban coffee isn’t available all the year round. Promoting a general awareness that coffee comes from a plant and is a seaonal crop (and doesn’t come off the end of a magical coffee bean manufacturing conveyor belt) is a goal that all small roasters who source and cup new seasonal crops should be working on together.

    Great to see such a common direction and consensus among everyone here.

    Hope San Fran is treating you well – love to Julia too.


  24. Great post and great discussion, Deaton. I’ve recently moved from roasting back into operations (and moved cities as well), and have been forcefully reminded of the enormous gulf of knowledge that separates those at the pointy end of the industry from those on the other side. No one who has ever cupped a green bean over that 2 years of supposed-freshness would argue that it remains fresh and unchanged, but this is just one of the hundreds of pieces of coffee lore floating around out there in cafe land. How to get the message of seasonality and freshness out when 2/3 of coffee users have yet to be convinced that espresso should be ground on demand? If we could all just focus on what’s actually in the cup, wouldn’t this be a wonderful world! Keep fighting the good fight!

    Chris


    • Hey Chris and Kirsten,

      Great to hear from you guys and thanks for taking the time to write, I’m glad we all agree that there is some work that is needed to be done in getting the good word out.

      I hope that Melbourne is going well, I can’t wait to get down there to see whats going on!

      Take care.


  25. […] think I am dangerously walking a thin line and could easily fall to the wrong side. With posts like In Season Coffee which created somewhat of a small stir I watched my blog states blow up and I have to say I loved […]


  26. […] about In Season coffee again, as it was over a year ago in November 2008 that I first posted this and asked the question, among others, “where is the hype”? I did not imagine the debate […]



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