Birthday Coffee, A Note On Coffee Age

by Emily Smith


Since the beginning of your coffee career, you’ve probably heard that green coffee has a magical one-year shelf life. It seems that once fresh crop coffee becomes available, everyone is clamoring for the best new coffee from fresh crop. But what happened to last year’s crop, sitting in the warehouse, celebrating its birthday all alone? Honestly, not a whole lot. Aging in coffee is a gradual process, and just like people, some coffee ages more gracefully than others. Depending on how the coffee was processed, transported, and warehoused, many coffees fade gracefully, maintaining much of their sweetness and body. The best part of birthday coffees is that as their birthday approaches, we all celebrate by offering some steep discounts. 

Over the last few months, I know that my customers have all been met with new and significant challenges in keeping their businesses rolling. Some are dealing with unpredictable demand, others are trying hard to balance green inventory with business cash flow. This is the perfect place where “Birthday Coffee” can really help out. Here are my best tips for utilizing some of these coffees within your shop.

First, I’d recommend that you take the time to cup some of these coffees. You might even consider brewing up the coffee to see how the coffee is really performing for the common customer. As each coffee ages in its own way, the best way to decide on if one of these coffees will work for you will be for you to try it out yourself. If you are thinking about using this coffee in a product that’s darker than a cupping roast, you can request a sample that’s roasted a bit darker for you. This can really help you assess how the coffee will suit your needs.

Next, consider how this coffee may be able to be used to fill gaps within your line up. Often, as a coffee ages, the character of a coffee may shift a bit. What was once a bright and acidic coffee may now be full bodied and sweet. Where you may once have used a coffee as an acidic component in a blend, it may now be best suited to be the balancing base of a blend. Try pairing these coffees in blends with a fresh and lively acidic coffee, like our Guatemalan Huehuetenango, to build balance and complexity.

These coffees can also be real gems for the grocery shelf, as they excel in the sweetness and sugar browning notes that grocery customers tend to love. As you consider these coffees, I’d also suggest that you think about possibly pulling the roast a point or two darker. Going a bit darker on aging coffees can really accentuate the sugars and body in the coffee. This is also a great strategy for roasting these coffees for a cold brew.

Lastly, book conservatively. When looking at aging coffees, my best recommendation would be to book your needs for 1-2 months at a time, rather than on long spreads. This will give you the opportunity to use the coffee quickly, while also minimizing any risk. If you get to the end of your last bag, and are still happy with the quality, go ahead and order up some more.

By using coffees that are a bit older, you can save money right now and keep your contracted position a bit smaller while business is turbulent. These coffees can also help to reduce your cost of goods, allowing you to diversify your offerings with lower price points that are attractive to markets and grocery stores. All of these birthday coffees come from amazing farmers with excellent sustainability programs. Exploring these offerings can help you to reduce your price points, while also feeling good about supporting best practices at origin.


So, let’s all celebrate this great opportunity for low-priced coffee by requesting some samples and eating some cake! (Honestly, I’ll take any excuse to eat some cake.)