Shortly after Passenger opened its doors three years ago, we launched our Reserve Lot line of coffees. The point of our Reserve Lot coffees has never solely been to put them on a quality pedestal above our seasonal offerings. Rather, the point was to curate a selection of coffees that, for one reason or another, we wanted to be able to present for an extended period of time. There are two things in that last sentenced that should be unpacked a bit.
First, presenting these coffees for one reason or another…
Quality has been a given in sourcing coffees since day one of Passenger. All of the coffees we present we choose to do so because they are delicious. The point of our Reserve Lot offerings, however, goes beyond being delicious. These are coffees we have chosen to highlight for other reasons, as well. The list that has existed more in our mind than in published word goes something like this: The Reserve Lot coffees are excellent representations of variety, processing or terroir. At this point one could stop me and say, "isn't that simply another way to say that these are delicious coffees?" And to a certain extent, that is true. At the same time, however, the coffees on the Reserve Lot menu are there because at some point in making purchasing decisions, the Passenger green buying team thought to themselves, "this is a coffee we need to freeze in time," for one of the aforementioned reasons (excellent representation of variety, processing or terroir). And so we do literally just that. Freeze the coffee in time.
Which brings us to the second point that deserves unpacking: presenting the selected coffee over an extended period of time…
Our Seasonal single origin menu, along with our blends, has always strived to present the most delicious, in-season coffees we could source ourselves or purchase from a handful of trusted sourcing/importing partners we work with. This is the part of our menu that, in approach, looks not too dissimilar from many other coffee roasteries in the world. Great coffees that taste fresh. But, the Reserve Lot menu goes a significant step beyond this.
Green (unroasted, raw) coffee has a relatively short shelf life. Unfortunately there is no clear, standard or set amount of time for which a coffee will taste good before it needs to be roasted. I say unfortunately because if there were a clear amount of time for which a coffee would taste fresh it would make my life as a coffee buyer infinitely easier. Very generally speaking, a coffee will taste good for a couple of months once it lands in the consuming country. I say very generally because this depends on a number of factors ranging from how well the coffee was dried, to what country the coffee is coming from, to how the coffee was stored at origin, to what elevation the coffee was milled at, to how well the coffee was milled, to how long the coffee sat at port in the country of origin (and thus at sea level in a tropical country) before shipping, to what variety the coffee is, etc., etc., etc. When coffee starts to "age" it starts presenting flavors of paper or, in extreme forms, wood. Unfortunately there is nothing we, as roasters, can do to turn back time once this happens to a coffee. Nor is there anything we can do in the roasting process to remove these flavors - other than roast dark, but anyone who has tasted our coffee knows that this is not our modus operandi.
There is, however, one way to stop a coffee from aging: freezing green (unroasted) coffee will prevent the coffee from taking on flavors associated with aging. It will not make already aged coffee taste fresh once again. But, it will keep already fresh tasting coffee tasting fresh indefinitely. Seeing as one must fully thaw the coffee before roasting it, we at Passenger go through the laborious task of repacking the coffee in batch size (for the roaster) units before putting it into freezer storage. This all adds time, and of course money to the process… but the benefits far outweigh the effort. Indefinitely fresh tasting coffee is a dream for those of us who long for fresh coffee year round.
This is exactly how we are able to present the reserve lot coffees for long periods of time and have them never lose any of their freshness or positive qualities. This is how we have been able to have the Monte Verde Geisha on the menu for nearly two years at this point, or occasionally bring back/do special roasts of Ciriaco Quispe's coffee from three harvests ago. This allows us to do vertical tastings of coffees like the Jeovany Rivera box set that we released over the holidays which allowed one to taste two harvest years side by side. For us, at Passenger, these are the things that really excite us. Specialty coffee is still in its infancy. It is my hope that in 10 years we will be talking about vintages and growing regions in a more meaningful way. Right now we all have such short term taste memories. Each year we are only comparing coffees to other similar coffees from that same harvest year. At Passenger we are ready to dig a bit deeper, to go beyond that. Comparing coffees to years past, looking at climatic events and shifts, political events, harvesting and processing innovations or experiments and seeing how all of these things affect coffee quality in one year and also over time, giving more depth to the presentation of coffee than has been possible in the past.
While the Reserve Lot menu has acted as the focal point of our coffee program, and will continue to do so in many ways, it has not succeeded in one regard: there are occasionally coffees that the Passenger green buying team comes across that are interesting, but too esoteric for the Seasonal Offerings menu, and don't necessarily meet the criteria of an excellent representation of variety, processing or terroir that the Reserve Lot menu demands. As such, we have created the Education Lot offerings menu.
The Education Lot offerings menu flips the Passenger buying model on its head, in a way. With the Seasonal Offerings and Reserve Lot coffees, quality is the non-negotiable bar to entry the coffees must clear before being evaluated regarding whether they are or are not an excellent representation of variety, processing or terroir. With our Education Lots, however, the focus will be on the coffees being a relevant or interesting presentation of one of the following:
- a coffee with historical significance,
- a coffee with socio-economic importance,
- a coffee that presents plant genetics of importance/interest, or
- a coffee of agriculture interest (natural occurrences or experimental human intervention).
From there the coffee is evaluated for it's quality. The coffee must be something truly enjoyable to drink, as that is, after all, what we do with coffee - not simply talk about it! Of course in reality the evaluation happens simultaneously. Presenting it in this way is more of a window into my mind than it is an actual process.
Our Education Lots will be released Monday, May 22nd and we will have examples from all of the intended areas of focus for this series of coffee: a coffee with historical significance, socio-economic importance, plant genetics of importance/interest or a coffee of agriculture interest. We won't necessarily always have a coffee from each category. In fact at times we may not have any Education Lots on our offerings menu. These are more supplementary than they are necessary. That said we are thrilled by this project and hope to always have something to offer at any given time. These coffees will also be frozen before roasting and as such will live outside of time, in a sense.
We are very excited about this and hope that you take advantage of these coffees. Enjoying both the knowledge and information that will be shared with each offering, and also enjoying the coffees themselves. They are all quite delicious.