Issue no. 89: Micro-Lot Coffee

With every iteration of the speciality coffee world’s evolution come new terms for folks like us to learn. One of the latest is “micro-lot” coffee. It sounds interesting, it even carries a whiff of the scientific, but what does it mean?

Micro-lot is generally used to describe very specific coffees from small producers.

One way to illustrate the idea is to look at its parallel in the wine world, where much of the vocabulary we use for coffee was born. Some winemakers produce “single parcel wine” that comes from a particular patch of a vineyard. Perhaps a spot that has more sun. Or an acre of limestone. The winemaker experimented in isolating grapes from that parcel, made wine with it, found it tasted different—better, more interesting, something that stood out—and bottled it with its own label.

Micro-lots are the same thing, only for coffee. A micro-lot is a batch of beans from a specific area of a coffee farm. Some areas on a farm may produce different coffees for reasons of sun exposure, water drainage, altitude—or factors we don’t quite understand. The farmer and the buyer can sort among beans from particular parcels to taste the differences. One of the great differences between wine and coffee micro-lots, though, is speed. A single parcel wine test takes months or years to see how it tastes. Coffee can be roasted in days. Even better, we get to be involved in the role as winemaker since we roast the beans.

“We’re not telling the farmer how to cultivate or grow their beans,” explains Steve Mangigian, managing partner of Zingerman’s Coffee Company. “We’re collaborating with the farm. Together, we pinpoint the exact area of the farm that’s producing the best beans for what flavors we like. Once we do, we buy everything we can.”

Micro-lots are called micro for a reason.

The number of beans is not measured in container loads or even pallets, it’s kilos—and not many of them. What matters for us drinkers is that this level of terroir precision makes flavors appear that are rarely experienced so distinctly. There are berries and flowers that sparkle. Roasted notes that beam. Each lot has a personality that’s strong—you may love it, you may hate it, but it’s always a fun ride.

Brewing micro-lot coffees at home.

These are three of the best ways to bring out the flavors of micro-lot coffee. Always make sure to grind the beans as near to the time of brewing as you can.

An espresso machine you power by hand. Brewing in an aeropress cuts down on acidity and enhances sweetness.

Manual drip. It makes a flavorful, full-bodied brew, one cup (not one pot) at a time.

Syphon Pot
It looks like a chemistry experiment and it’s one of the most involved ways to make coffee, but it shows off bright, sweet, clean flavors.