A few years back at Coffee Festival I was waiting for the water to be poured on a bunch of Natural Ethiopians on an importers cupping table. I got chatting with one of their traders and I asked about the quality of the coffees that harvest and mentioned that I’d already had one of the coffees on my list from another importer a couple of months before. He looked at me and exclaimed “that’s not the same coffee”. Ethiopia is a little tricky because of traceability issues but the two coffees had exactly the same name. ie. washing station/process. It was one of the well known stations in Yirgacheffe. I was a little taken aback and asked what he meant by ‘not the same’ when they were clearly both marketed as naturals from the particular station. He gave me an explanation which wasn’t 100% convincing, basically saying their coffee was better because they worked with the station and asked for a particular lot to be separated and processed in a particular way, and that the coffee I’d had from the other importer was likely early pickings that weren’t quite good enough for special treatment but hastily processed to get some coffee into the first containers to be sold.
Hhhmm. marketing smokes and mirrors in my opinion. Then in 2017 on my first origin trip to El Salvador I was sitting outside Cafe Viva in San Salvador waiting for our host when two well known producers arrived to meet our fellow coffee travellers Chris and Patrick from 5E . I mentioned I’d had two of their coffees in the previous season and they asked which importer I’d bought from, When I told them, they ‘inferred’ that those coffees were their ‘standard’ process but that the coffees for 5E were more carefully treated and were far superior, even though they had the same name.
Ditto in Costa Rica, when one producer showed us the special lots drying on patios that were reserved for his Japanese buyers who were paying high premiums for separation and more attention during drying.
It gets interesting.. Yesterday I cupped 20 fresh crop Ethiopian coffees. 12 washed and 8 Naturals from 3 different importers. A bag from two of the importers had the same washing station name and same process. They were both roasted on the same day using the same profile on the IKAWA PRO digital sample roaster. They were not the same. Not by a long shot. One was incredibly vibrant and clean, the other not so. You wouldn’t believe they were the same. Because they weren’t.