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Coffee bean replacement guide

If your favorite coffee bean is out of stock, there is a way to replace them with almost identical bean

As an agricultural product, coffee is subject to seasonality. Unfortunately, this means keeping any specific single origin.

Single origin coffee in stock year round is nearly impossible without compromising freshness. No matter how hard we try, the day will come where we will sell out of your favorite coffee. 

Single Origin refers to coffee from one location, in contrast to blended coffee. This term is particularly useful in discussing espresso, since most commercial espressos are made from blends.

It can be difficult to predict if and when a specific coffee will be back in stock because, as a seasonal plant, there are a number of factors beyond our control that influence the crop cycle.

Some coffees we buy once, and never see them again. And even if we purchase a subsequent lot from the same farm or cooperative, the flavor characteristics of the coffee can change from one season to the next. 

This can be frustrating, especially if you were hoping to reorder a coffee you’ve bought in the past. But the good news is, we usually have a fresh alternative with similar cup characteristics. It may not be from the same farm, or even origin

In coffee talk, it refers to a coffee-producing region or country; such as, “I was just at origin.” Of course “Origin” for most product we use is not a beautiful farm in a temperate climate, More for that matter. But through the years we’ve developed our own list of coffee stand-ins for those we crave from out of stock origins.

Here’s a list of factors we consider when searching for a comparable coffee:

These are are just a few aspects to keep in mind when looking for a good replacement. They’re meant to be used as a jumping off point, no one category on its own. Try using them as a path toward finding a suitable replacement with similar cup flavors.

Origin – Looking for a bean from the same region, or one nearby, is a good place to start. Coffee flavors can be regional to some extent, as neighbors often grow the same cultivars, and share similar processing techniques.

Processing – How a coffee is processed can have a big impact on the flavour profile.This is particularly true for dry and honey process coffee.  For example, dry processed coffees are likely to be fruit forward whether from Ethiopia, or Burundi or Guatemala for that matter. That doesn’t mean every dry process coffee tastes the same. But if you’re trying to replace a dry process coffee, sorting our list by that specific process type will help narrow your focus.

Flavor Attributes – This carries the most weight when looking for a replacement. Use our “Flavor and Profile” filters in the green coffee menu to view coffees with specific core flavor characteristics (see below). Within each coffee review the short descriptions, and cupping and flavor graphs, provide valuable information on how the coffee tastes. Try to keep in mind that numbers and scores only tell us so much. There’s no substitution for the full cupping notes in the reviews.

Of these three criteria, flavor is the most important factor to consider. Just because we have coffee from the same origin as the coffee you’re trying to replace, doesn’t mean they will taste the same. Conversely, you just might find that the coffee bearing the closest resemblance comes from the opposite side of the world!

Here’s our list of origins we look to for replacements when customer favorites sell out. You might be surprised where we find flavor correlates!

Guatemala – There are several origins that work well as replacement to the balanced wet process Guatemalan coffees of Antigua and Huehuetenango. Looking to other Central American origins like Nicaragua and El Salvador is a great starting point. But farmers in Rwanda and Burundi grow Bourbon coffee (also widely cultivated in Guatemala), a cultivar known for producing syrupy sweetness and articulated acidity when grown at high altitudes and can express similar flavors as Guatemala. Wet process coffees from Flores and Java also tend to yield a crowd-pleasing cup, showing balance of sweet and bittering coffee flavors, and thick body as well. Stick with wet process coffees. On the Cupping and Flavor graphs, look for coffees that score at or above 8.5 in Sweetness category, at or below 8.6 brightness and 8.5 or above for clean cup.

Columbia An issue with all replacements is that no coffee origin produces a monolith of flavor, so to replace a “Colombia” can mean a lot of different things! I look to neighbor Peru for some of the flavor variance, offering both balanced coffees and some more fruit forward wet process lots that come from longer fermentation times, similar to Colombia. Guatemala is another origin to explore, especially some of the more nuanced coffees from Guatemala Proyecto Xinabajul.

Washed Ethiopia and Kenya – Trying to replace the singular cup profile of wet process coffees from these two origins may prove to be difficult because they’re so unique. Though perhaps not so floral,some Burundis will tick off boxes for ‘delicate’ and ‘elegant’ – flavor aspects I enjoy in washed Ethiopian and Kenyan coffees – as does the occasional coffee from Congo and Tanzania.Latin American Gesha coffees will certainly scratch your itch for jasmine florals,but at a cost of 2-3x the amount of our average washed Ethiopia.

Dry Process (“DP”) Ethiopia – Simply choosing another dry process, isn’t good enough. Dry Process Brazil,  for example, do not make a good replacement option. My first choice would be another African dry process, like Burundi or Rwanda. If we’re out of options in those two origins, try looking over our Guatemala and Nicaragua lists. The DP’s from these two countries tend to taste a little funkier in flavor, but we’re seeing improvements out of both origins every year.

Sumatra – If you’re looking for a Sumatra replacement, chances are, you’re looking for a Wet Hulled coffee. Lucky for you, Sumatra isn’t the only Indonesian origin producing them! Java is another source for us, often with a much lower defect count than Sumatra

Yemen – These are also very difficult to replace since there aren’t many origins producing coffees with a similar flavor profile to Yemen. Some of the Dry Process coffees from Ethiopia find flavor parity, but tend to be a little more fruit forward and clean. Still, they’re likely your best bet. Look for terms like “Rustic”, “Earthy” and different types of wood in the Cupping Notes and Short Descriptions. Check the graphs as well, looking for “Rustic” and “Fruits” scores of 3 or more in the Flavor graph, and a “Brightness” score of less than 8.5 in the Cupping Graph.

So many choices.. where should i start??

Narrow the search by only showing coffees with certain core cup characteristics. The spider graph and flavour wheel  are also helpful tools in finding a coffee that has certain attributes you like, such as Fruits, Body, Complexity, and Brightness (acidity)

It’s important to note that a coffee can have more than one flavor filter tag. A dry process coffee might be tagged as both “Fruited” and “Chocolate Bittersweet” for example. If you’re looking for a replacement for your favorite bittersweet washed Nicaraguan coffee, for example, a dry process is NOT the way to go.

All this is to say that filters and graphs help you thin the herd, but the Cupping Notes complete the flavor portrait needed to settle on a substitute for a coffee we don’t have.