For someone who only brings home enough money to get the most basic types of third wave coffee — smaller batches priced the same as their 12 oz counterparts seems like a waste. However, the taste of the coffee combined with the presentation and the story behind it make the extra cost well worth it. But before you go out and buy the next nicely packaged coffee you see (smaller batches do have some enticing packaging aesthetics), here is a quick rundown on what to expect.
Smaller batched coffee typically indicates that the coffee itself is more rare/unusual. The most coveted coffee that can be expected to be served in smaller quantities is the geisha varietal — especially if it is from Panama.
This being said, the coffee doesn’t have to have been transported from Ethiopia like a geisha. The coffee could simply be processed differently, like a naturally processes Central American. That the coffee is rare/unusual would also mean that the flavor is more complex or desirable — also why it would be packaged in smaller quantities.
If you drink coffee at the rate of an average human being (1-2 cups per day) you are able to finish the small batch at or before the two week mark (the recommended window of consumption from the roast date). Having less coffee will ensure that the coffee will maintain the flavor profile intended by the roasters. It will also encourage you to drink to taste the complexity of the beans, rather than guzzle it down to get caffeinated.
My roomate Bradley spent a couple weeks at a Nicaraguan coffee farm. There, he learned the hierarchy of the farm, the working conditions of the pickers, and how that plays into getting us our daily joe.
“So whats weird about the coffee industry is that it has to be the way it is,” Bradley said. He went on to explain that the workers have to be paid so little for us to consume coffee at the rate we do. But the prices for these smaller batches better represent the work put into each bag, rather than the 50 cents per hour at the farm Bradley went to. So, before we all scoff at the seemingly high prices, maybe we should consider how much the coffee is actually worth.
As someone who is interested in design — the coffee industry is killing it with their unique graphics. Roasters will usually come up with some pretty killer packages for their smaller batched coffee. Sprudge has a whole page devoted to some of these creatives designs; many of them are small batches.
I think this is what third wave coffee is moving to. Compared to the coffee of the 20th century, people are beginning to really savor each cup; smaller batched coffee is just a manifestation of this ideal. The intention in which coffee should be used is greater — the roasters acting as artisans rather than factory workers. The integrity taken to get the coffee to the table is higher, especially in reference to roasting profile. The prices better represent the work put into every bag, though still not entirely fair. And (one of my favorite parts in picking a coffee) the culture behind the packaging and presentation is much higher than the plastic bins our grandparents use. This is coffee culture.