A Lesson in Micro-lots from Myanmar

By: Susan Heller Evenson

May 9, 2018

It’s May in Seattle, which means blooming flowers, pollen everywhere, Seattleites wearing shorts in 60-degree weather, and, for Atlas, micro-lot season!

On a big-picture level, micro-lots—smaller lots of coffee, often from a single producer or community, and typically ranging between one and fifty or so bags--are a great example of what Atlas loves doing: connecting smallholder farmer groups, farmers, and cooperatives with roasters.  

Just as many of our roasters are not able to buy a full container of one type of coffee (275-320 bags, ~42,000 lbs), many of the individual farmers in a cooperative, or even a community, aren’t able to produce enough coffee volume to fill a container.  Or farmers may have the desire and capacity to separate out some lots by community, farmer, or other status (such as women-produced coffee), therefore offering a greater level of traceability and, if a roaster buys a full micro-lot, exclusivity. It’s this symbiotic relationship between producer and roaster that is at the heart of our robust micro-lot program, and which makes the Tetris-like coordination involved in shipping up to 30 different lots in a single container so satisfying.

This time of year, the majority of our micro-lots are landing from Uganda, and Central and South America, with Kenya/Ethiopia and late-harvest Central micro-lots arriving in August, and our Brazil, Rwanda, Burundi, and Congo lots arriving near the end of the year. Over the past three years, Spring has also heralded delicious pre-ship samples of clean, natural-process coffee from Mandalay and Shan States in Myanmar. We’ve recently finalized our purchases, and in August we’ll have 400+ bags of micro-lots available in Seattle and New Jersey from over a dozen different villages and one or two Estates.

If you’ve never tasted coffee from Myanmar, specifically naturally-processed Myanmar micro-lots, they are something to behold: ranging from boozy and blue-purple fruit to gummy-bear, these clean, sparkling naturals taste entirely unlikely naturals from any other region. If you are of the “I don’t like naturals” camp, then a sample or two of our Myanmar micro-lots are exactly the coffee you need to try! Each community’s flavor profile is so unique that we’d be happy to share individual lot descriptors or, better yet, send you some pre-shipment sample so you can decide on your own.

Over the past several years as we’ve partnered with various private and governmental groups (Winrock, US AID, CQI, to name a few), roasters, mills, exporters, and—last but not least—the communities themselves, a relentless pursuit for improved quality and quality processing has really paid off in the cup.  As I write this, Craig is flying from Myanmar to Nepal, after wrapping up his fifth visit to Myanmar in the last 3 years, with the news that at nearly every village he visited, the first thing they said when he asked for questions was, “What should we do to improve our coffee?” We’ll be interested to hear Craig’s longer trip report and his reply, as the bar has already been set quite high:  the pre-ship coffees we received from these communities and estates has been fantastic and have steadily improved year over year.

In past years, we have received dozens of pre-shipment samples from various communities and estates and simultaneously sampled roasters and historic buyers of these coffees also trying to relay back what we are interested in to our origin partners. Sending so many samples out to roasters while also receiving updates from origin with shifting numbers of available coffee (the communities continue to hone their milling ratios and estimates) involved quite the complex excel workbook. Not that I don’t love Excel (give me a Vlookup anyday!), but this year we thought we would take a different approach and, for the majority of our purchases, confirm with origins the lots we’d like before sampling customers so that our roasters can be confident that a sample they fall in love with and would like to book is, in fact, available.

So, what’s next? Our Myanmar samples are not on our main offer list pages yet (that will happen in early June) but feel free to contact your sales rep for samples, pricing information, and cupping notes so you can reserve your lots before they land. Or, if you are interested in information about the villages themselves, please consult our Myanmar page or Craig’s previous blog posts here and here.  


To experience our adventures in Myanmar from afar, follow @atlas_coffee