What is Microlot Coffee? / by Amanda Jones

When it comes to coffee, there are a few words that get thrown around without too much care. Terms such as organic, artisan and fair trade can have different meanings based on who you ask, and when coffee roasters use these words as descriptors to sell their coffee, the precise definition can be serious business. One term that been coming to prominence but with not always the greatest definitional clarity is microlot.

As consumers and coffee drinkers become ever more discerning, a popular way to tell coffee apart is indicating where it comes from and how it was processed. At the same time, as customers try to be increasingly ethical with their purchases, having an idea of where their coffee is from is important to many people.

Enter the term microlot. With the associations of being selected for its quality based on the character of the bean, the term suggests that we are focusing on the ultimate source of the bean and this is the foundation for everything that comes afterwards. In addition, the term brings to mind small farmers who are able to take good care of their crop, rather than larger agricultural conglomerates that produce a mass, undifferentiated product. Of course, as with anything such as this, it is not as simple or straightforward as it sounds. 

For starters, there is no definition of how big or small a microlot is. Coffee is usually measured in bags, and microlots could be anywhere from five to 100 bags in size.

The next issue is whether a microlot is from one specific farm, or a number of farms. While separating out the harvest section of an apple orchard where the trees produce the best apples could be seen as analogous to a coffee microlot, in reality, coffee is a bit more complicated than that. Unlike apples, coffee needs to be processed before it is roasted. This processing often occurs in the region where coffee is grown. Coffee that is labelled as a microlot can come from multiple farms that process their coffee at the same facility, as coffee growers share the costs of having their coffee washed.

This is why we refer to our current single origin as a microlot. The coffee beans come from the Kibingo washing station in Burundi, where growers cooperatively bring their coffees to be processed. The coffee was milled and washed in one batch and then was selected by the coffee buyer. The resulting lot is an individual selection from this station and imparts the flavours characteristic of the region. To experience these subtleties, head over to our store and pick up a bag for yourself.