Ian_G wrote:I 'm left wondering to what extent this is true for all coffees. Do you think, then, that what roasters describe is an ideal rather than a true description?
It's a good question. I think when it comes to micro-lots and auction coffees, customers expect unique coffees, and you get accurate descriptions. The key is that roasters don't buy these coffees unless they offer something.
But the bread and butter of roasters is regional and blended coffees, each of which must
fit a standard taste profile, and each of which roasters must
buy every year, whether it is good or bad. No matter whether it tastes like its ideal profile, or like a faded photograph of that, the description will be the same: a medium roast of Kenya AA will be described as tasting of blackberry and cloves; the same in a Colombia Supremo as caramel, nuts and cherries. But what you'll get each time will not be apparent from the description.
Some regions are more reliable than others. Except in terrible years, a good roaster will almost always be able to locate Colombian and Kenyan lots that are good instances of their expected taste. Central American countries rise and fall in reliability based on price and planting cycles; but in each year, one or two will produce good generic coffees.
Island coffees are a different story: the quality is so hit or miss, and the supply so small, that even for a good roaster, getting anything that fits the classic description is rare. Many roasters just stop carrying these coffees; but some have dedicated buyers and will try to locate the cream of each year's crop. Fans who regularly buy island coffees understand this and cut the roaster some slack for this reason; but most coffee lovers simply stay away from island coffees unless they have a hot tip about an exceptional one.