What are “exotic” coffee varieties & how should you roast them?

Karmen Yoong
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June 24, 2022
What are "exotic" coffee varieties & how should you roast them?

An unprecedented wave of “exotic” coffee varieties has entered the specialty coffee market. 

Recently, rare coffees, such as the carbonic macerated Sudan Rume variety, as well as non-arabica species including Coffea Eugenioides, have featured in international coffee competitions.

This has fuelled the budding interest in such coffee types among the coffee community. To get their share of this share of this emerging market, many roasters are adding exotic coffees to their list of offerings. 

That said, sourcing these premium coffees can be costly. Therefore, it is essential that roasters determine the optimal roast profile to develop the unique flavours of the beans. 

To learn more about exotic coffee varieties, I spoke with the marketing manager at Fjord Coffee Roasters, Jordan Montgomery.

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Close up image of coffee roaster roasting coffee beans

What are “exotic” coffee varieties?

The general definition of the word “exotic” is unusual, rare, uncommon, or unique. 

However, when it comes to coffee varieties, exotic can have many meanings depending on one’s individual experience. 

For instance, a consumer may consider a coffee from a particular origin as exotic if he has never experienced it before. 

Alternatively, a coffee professional may define exotic varieties as coffee that have undergone experimental or special processing methods, such as anaerobic fermentation or carbonic maceration.

“For us at Fjord, an exotic coffee is something that differs from the standard,” says Jordan, who was a co-producer on the Coffee Heroes documentary film. “It is something we don’t see often or is approached in a different way.

As an example, he explains Fjord Coffee Roasters has just released a washed Ugandan coffee. “Ugandan coffee is gaining popularity these days, but it is not something that you often see in the specialty scene. We also have an anaerobic Ethiopian coffee, as well as a natural-processed Peruvian coffee.”

The fact exotic coffee varieties are gaining traction reflects the progressiveness of the specialty coffee industry.

In particular, Jordan explains the community has become more knowledgeable in the last decade. 

“Consumers are interested in exotic varieties because they have so much knowledge to begin with,” Jordan says. “They have this incredible base knowledge and now, they’re looking for new experiences.” 

For coffee professionals, factors such as climate change, changing consumer trends, and a desire to diversify their offerings to stay competitive may play a part.

Notably, an experimental batch of coffee developed by Ninety Plus reached a record-breaking price of $10,000 per kilogram in 2019. This further confirms a growing enthusiasm for new experiences among coffee consumers.

Additionally, the shift away from mainstream coffee varieties in competitions has also fuelled the rising interest in non-conventional varieties or species.

Image of unroasted coffee drying on coffee farm waiting to be sourced.

How to source exotic coffee varieties

When it comes to curating a menu that stands out from the rest, sourcing high quality green coffee requires some effort from the roaster’s end. 

Jordan explains developing close relationships with trading partners has helped alleviate some ‌difficulties related to sourcing.

“We’re lucky we work with several importing partners and they do a lot of that ‘discovering’ with us – sometimes on our behalf,” he says.

“Creating these partnerships and letting them know we want something different, rare, and new has opened up a lot of potential for us and our partners.”

Furthermore, trading partners are more likely to approach roasters with whom they have a good long-term relationship. Particularly when it comes to limited or interesting coffee varieties that are available for purchase. 

Alternatively, coffee auctions where coffee farmers submit nano or experimental lots are another avenue where roasters can discover exotic coffee varieties. 

One thing to note is that prices of auction beans may be on the higher end and come in smaller volumes. Therefore, roasters will have to carefully consider the costs and type of consumers. 

At the same time, Jordan points out that quality has to be at the forefront of the decision-making process. This is because a coffee that is rare does not necessarily guarantee superior quality.

Another important factor when it comes to buying exotic coffee is the target audience. While offering rare coffees can be exciting, if the consumer base is not as receptive towards new experiences, the roaster’s effort could be counterproductive.

Close up image of African American roaster inspecting stock bags of roasted coffee.

How to approach exotic varieties during a roast

A multitude of factors can affect coffee roasting. 

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to achieving the perfect roast. However, there are a few guidelines that roasters can use when handling less conventional coffee beans.

First, Jordan explains sample roasting is one of the most effective ways roasters can determine how the beans may behave under heat. This allows them to make adjustments to roasting parameters accordingly.

Coffee roasting consultant Willem Boot explains there are two key parameters to consider when designing a roasting strategy for exotic beans.

The first is the physical properties of the coffee beans, such as its size, density, and genetic features. For instance, denser beans require a higher charge temperature and more focus on development time.

The second parameter is the coffee’s flavour and what the roaster aims to achieve through the roasting process. 

Sample roasting can help roasters unlock the full potential of the bean and fine tune their roast profile to modulate flavour development. As an example, roasters can modulate the body of coffee by manipulating the duration of Maillard reaction.

Furthermore, experimental processing can also affect the cellular structure of the bean. As such, Boot suggests maintaining a moderate heat application to allow for a more controlled roasting reaction.   

It has been noted that experimental beans tend to scorch easily, and so roasters should be mindful of the charge temperature.

Jordan says there is a general theory to roasting. “However, if the bean is behaving differently, that is just the nature of roasting coffee – especially with varieties that are considered more exotic.

“You need to learn on the flow, trust your knowledge and skills, but also see what is in front of you and adjust accordingly.”

At MTPak Coffee, we offer roasters and coffee shop owners a range of sustainable coffee bags. Our range of coffee packaging is 100% recyclable, biodegradable, or compostable and made from sustainable materials such as kraft and rice paper, as well as LDPE and PLA-lined bags.

High quality and made with eco-friendly materials, our packaging helps keep your coffee – whether exotic or non-exotic – fresh for longer, while maintaining all its unique characteristics. 

Furthermore, we can use digital printing to customise coffee bags to highlight your exotic offerings. We have a 40-hour turnaround and 24-hour shipping time, allowing us to offer low minimum order quantities (MOQs) of packaging, no matter what size or material.

For more information on sustainable coffee packaging, contact our team.

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Karmen Yoong
Karmen Yoong

Karmen has been a writer for MTPak Coffee for several years and is very passionate about her craft.

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