For consumers trying to eat seasonally, the quest often stops at produce — but coffee, too, can change with the seasons, and Ascension Coffee recently launched a new program to celebrate the variations between seasons.
When considering seasonality in coffee, most people tend think in terms of winter-time holiday blends and pumpkin-spiced lattes, not realizing that coffee “beans” — which are the seeds from the fruit of the coffea plant — are seasonal products themselves. Coffee is produced in a variety of regions around the earth’s equator, and most producing countries have one main crop per year, which may be harvested at a variety of times based on location. Once harvested and processed, the green coffee will have a lifespan of about a year before the quality falls off; once roasted, just about a month.
Without this bit of background knowledge, buying coffee for home can be frustrating for consumers. Maybe you grabbed a bag of your favorite Kenyan coffee the last time you were at your favorite shop only to return the next time to find no East African coffees at all. Maybe your favorite blend suddenly tastes different, and upon reading the packaging you realize one of the component coffees has changed. What gives?
“Coffee harvest seasons vary around the world, due to various factors,” says Russell Hayward, owner of Ascension Coffee. “For example, Kenya harvests in December and January, Colombia in October and November.”
Coffee is imported into the U.S. on a rhythmic yearly cycle, Hayward says, “and the very best coffees from each region are only available for a very short time, maybe 30 days if you’re lucky. Generally, we are buying them as they land or before. This all results in the changing coffees you see in specialty shops as the year rolls through. For non-specialty shops, the cycle is not so pronounced as a roaster can generally buy average coffees year-round.”
This seasonal aspect of coffee is an exciting challenge for Ascension as a roasting company, but also provides some opportunity.
“As a roaster, the coffee seasonality rhythm is both exciting and challenging — exciting in that new coffees are coming in all the time, and as coffee flavors are determined by the terroir, it’s always interesting to see how a dry year in Ethiopia or heavy rain in the Rwanda harvest period affected the coffees,” Hayward says. But consistency can be difficult.
“... we are trying to keep a consistency in our year around blends, like our Levitate espresso blend,” Hayward says. “We want Levitate to taste the same in December as it does in July; hard to do when the coffee availability is changing.”
Ascension, via its roasting arm and two cafes, is hoping to give guests some insight into the seasonal nature of coffee with the new program they launched this year that focuses on a different coffee-producing country or region for a few weeks at a time. Every month, Ascension will roast several different coffees from the selected origin at their Design District roasting facilities to highlight the terroir of these countries across different brewing methods like espresso, pour-over and good ol’ batch brew.
The origin feature each month will be selected based on the harvesting and export schedules of various countries. Generally, the coffees will hit the hoppers in Ascension’s stores within a month after the coffees arrive in the United States. This means guests will be tasting these coffees about as fresh as possible.
“Freshness of green, especially in high-end coffees is extremely important,” Hayward says. “Freshly milled green coffee is super bright, super high in acidity; it needs around a month to settle down, then it’s a slow decline from there. In my opinion, the peak time to enjoy high-scoring coffees is between two and six months from harvest. The coffee will still be good 12 months from harvest provided its stored correctly, but won’t have the shine it had those first 6 months.”
This month, Ascension is focusing on Brazil, the country which happens to be the world’s largest producer of coffee. Brazil is an important country for Ascension. As the brand transitions into more of a direct-trade business model — purchasing directly from the producer instead of through a middleman importing company — some of their closest relationships have formed with producers in Brazil.
On the roster this month are coffees from several Brazilian coffee producers — in fact, they brought in so many coffees that it will extend through April as well, to see the opening of their third location in Thanksgiving Tower. There’s a sweet, caramel-y coffee from Sitio Ouro Verde on pour-over, a creamy espresso that balances dark chocolate and citrusy mandarin flavors from Terra Preta and a coffee from Boa Vista — Ascension’s largest direct-trade partner — on batch-brew. According to the crew, the batch-brew option has been a great way to draw people to their single-origin coffees. To the surprise of everyone, the batch-brewed Boa Vista began outselling the shop’s house blend after its first week.
This seasonality-celebration isn’t restricted to just coffee either. Each month, a food item traditional to the featured region will be added to the menu as well. This month: the Cocada, a dessert dish popular in the Sao Paulo state of Brazil that is almost like a cross between a coconut macaroon and a crème brulee. When Hayward was visiting farmers that Ascension purchases from last month, he tried the treat while dining out one evening and was so taken aback that he didn’t even make it out of the restaurant before instructing his culinary team back home to get going on a recipe.
Cocada is popular dessert in the Sao Paulo state in Brazil and is featured on Ascension's dessert menu over in March and April.
“The host ordered several desserts and when I first took a bite of Cocada, I was transported to food heaven, if there is such a place,” Hayward says. “I immediately took a few pics of it and texted them back to Lily Mondale, our culinary head at Ascension, and asked her to research it for our Brazil monthly menu. The best part of this story was on my arrival back in Dallas, Lily already had a Cocada waiting for me. Needless to say, it’s now on the menu and people are loving it.”
Ascension Coffee, 1621 Oak Lawn Ave. and 200 Crescent Ct.