Bolivia

There's no better way to learn about a coffee-producing country than to visit, and yet you can spend a lot of time in Bolivia and still not understand the complex relationship between coffee and culture. My first trip to Bolivia was really an awakening to the dramatic landscape, the soaring altitude of La Paz, the very basic lives of the coffee farmers, the complexities of the nations economy and politics.

Great Bolivia coffees are delicate, bright and aromatically sweet, the classic "clean cup." They have subtle fruit notes, like pear, apple, apricot, tangerine and lemon. They can develop roast flavors that are malty, chocolatey, nutty (almond and hazelnut, not the off notes of peanut shells), with caramel or honey sweetness. The best flavors really emerge as the cup cools and do not diminish but grow in intensity.
Bolivia does indeed have all the ingredients to produce great coffee, especially in terms of altitude (plenty of that!) and seedstock: the plants are almost all traditional Typica varietal, with some Caturra. Much of the production is from traditional organic farming practices, with a lot of the co-ops certified Organic and Fair Trade as well.

There are some quality issues that are being addressed with assistance from USAID, inspired largely by the attempt to limit coca production in the Andes This is expressed through direct farmer assistance and programs like Cup of Excellence. One problem is that the coffee was formerly sent from the main growing regions, the Yungas (a vast fertile region on the east-facing slopes of the Cordillera Occidental - the Western range) including the Caranavi region, to La Paz for processing. La Paz is the highest national capital on Earth, at a whopping 12,500 feet. The coffee was sent up the treacherous road when it was pulped, fermented and washed, but not fully dried.

The combination of coffee that was moist enough to keep fermenting, plus frigid and dry atmosphere at a high altitude, dealt a "one-two punch" to the coffee chemistry, and weird flavors resulted. But now the co-ops are starting to process their coffee themselves, gaining more control over quality, providing more jobs in the community, and sending the coffee over the mountains only when it is in a physically stable condition. These are the nuts and bolts of how a coffee is transformed from an under-priced under-achiever to a recognized name in the market, a distinct origin, a unique cup character at full bloom.

In recent years, some of the hopes for a broad range of top quality coffees from Bolivia, available from season to season, have not been realized. There is an issue with the Typica cultivar, especially when it is grown under rustic conditions by small-holder farmers, who tend to lack the resources for soil and plant inputs as well as great management of the coffee shrubs (pruning, etc). Typica plants seem to have a more exaggerated biennial output, but when you add poor nutrition and other agricultural practices it is a very dramatic drop from a high-volume harvest to a low-volume one. The extremes of high and low crops affect quality in terms of picking and milling as well. The system doesn't function well when it is overloaded with coffee, and the wet mills cannot keep up. Nor do you see the best quality coffees in extremely low harvests, where pickers tend to harvest more unripe cherries along with the ripe ones (they are paid by the volume they pick), and dry mills might relax standards to maximize their output.

We have been going to Bolivia for years. Before the Cup of Excellence program took root in Bolivia, I attended a highly educational national cupping competition. You can check out my little odd Bolivia Movie if you are so inclined. Lately we have found great coffees, but in fairly small volumes and at top prices. This makes our Bolivia offerings a bit more expensive, but we feel the cup quality deserves the price. And the fact Bolivia comes in fresh at the time of year when the bright Central American coffees are flagging a bit makes them an attractive option to maintain the highest cup quality throughout the year - Thompson

No coffees are currently available from this origin. The review is our most recent offering, provided for reference.
Bolivia Sultana Coffee Cherry Tea
Brewing Sultana clever-style
Appearancen/a
Graden/a
Processing
RegionCaranavi
Varietal(s)
RoastYou don't need to roast Cascara, brew it as is. But in parts of Ethiopia they do roast it slightly in a pan, which affects the flavors in an interesting way. Experiment!
Sultana is the dried skin of the coffee cherry. Its made with the addition of cinnamon in the Bolivian Andes and pack quite a whallop at the strength those folks brew at. When you wet-process coffee, the skin is difficult to save, and usually becomes part of the compost mix for the farm. But in Arabia and Africa, the skin of the cherry is used to make a very potent tea called Qishr (also spelled Kisher). In fact, making a tea from the dried coffee fruit pre-dates roasting the coffee seed to crush and steep in water - coffee as we know it. Qishr can be pricey, and even now is often higher than the price of coffee in an Arabic market. If you like fruit-blend herbal teas, especially those with fruited flavors like hibiscus, rose-hips, tamarind, orange peel, mango, apple, you'll be interested in giving Sultana a whirl. It makes amazing iced tea as well, and with a very moderate amount of honey is quite pleasant. The best way to make Sultana tea is in a clever or even a French Press, or you can use any method you would use for preparing herbal tea. Brewing like filtered coffee does not work well although we were surprised by the juicy cup quality with a 3 minute Bunn Trifecta brew. Traditionally, Qishr has additions of cardamom pods and sugar while brewing, which works well with Sultana as well. Does it have caffeine? Yes, since all parts of the coffee plant do ...but we don't know exactly how much, and it will certainly depend on steep time and the amount used to make each cup. This Bolivian Sultana is vastly superior to any Cascara we've ever tasted from El Salvador. The cherry skins themselves are clearly better selected and dried more evenly than we've seen in the past. We tested the Sultana at 6 grams of dried cherry skin per 500 ML of water. I enjoy subtlety and elegance in herbal teas. Those who want more intensity and fruit character will surely get it at a higher dosage. At 5 minutes steep time we find an intense golden raisin and tamarind flavor in the cup which makes lots sense all things considered. Rose petal and hibiscus come screaming out of the cup as it cools. There is clearly a relation here between Flor de Jamaica tea and Sultana. As the coffee cools a clear, refreshing rooibus tea character develops. At 10 minutes steep time the sweetness intensifies along with an herbal character. The nuance and subtlety of the hibiscus and dried floral notes begin to dissipate. The elegance of those notes get lost with the increase in sweetness. An interesting metamorphosis happened at 15 minutes steep time. The sweetness seemed to level out and an interesting orange wine character developed. This occurrence in natural wine making happens with more maceration time between the "juice" and the grape skins themselves. Accordingly this flavor seems to make sense. I happen to particularly like the mouth feel at this steep time but the acidity seems to be tad heavier on the herbal side.