Fazenda Santa Lucia is located in the growing-region of Campos Altos, the town itself sitting at 1000 meters, much higher than what is average altitude from much of the Cerrado region. This particular farm topping out right around 1200, and is planted in several different varietals, this particular lot being Red Bourbon. Much of the coffee is still manually picked, as part of the farm is situated on a slope, a grade that does not allow for mechanical harvesting. The farm is well-managed, with new milling facilities onsite and the infrastructure to process and store large and smaller lot separations. This particular coffee is naturally processed, meaning the whole cherry is picked from the tree and then laid out to dry for roughly 30 days, after which the dried cherry and parchment layer are mechanically removed. This type of processing tends to impart some fruited flavor on the seed, as well as mute acidity, and produce big body. This lot is one of two peaberry separations we procured from Fazenda Santa Luzia this year, a blend of the different cultivars they are growing on the farm. Roasting can be a little tricky, because there is usually much more chaff produced. Yes, chaff is messy, but more so, it is dark in color, and if still connected to the bean can give the impression that a coffee is darker than it actually is.
A mild nut and unrefined sugar mix comes off the ground coffee, and of the two roasts I tasted, the darker of the two showed a balanced savory sweetness, falling somewhere between City+ and Full City roast level. There's a slight dried fruited smell when adding hot water, like black currant, but is nearly eclipsed by sugar browning and nutty roast tones. One of my roasts was a light City, which turned out to be much too light for this coffee, lacking the developed bittersweetness found in my deeper roast. The flavors in the darker roast showed a melding of nut and cocoa notes, hazelnut chocolate, macadamia, and almond note a few. There's is a subtle fruit accent too, but it's more like the fruited notes you get from some raw nuts, like hazelnut and Brazil nut. There's no accompanying dryness in the finish, and the cup flavors are particularly clean for Brazilian coffee. Nice cup, and I'd like to go back and taste at Full City next time around, which I imagine will also work well for espresso.
We selected this lot from Fazenda Sítio Senhor Niquinho, the farm of Luiz Paulo, one of the founders of the coffee intermediary based in Carmo de Minas, who are responsible for organizing the farms in the region we buy coffee from. The farm is located in Carmo de Minas in the Mantiqueira Mountain area, and is named in memory of Luiz' grandfather. Sitio Niquinho is situated on a sloping hillside that spans 1100 - 1500 meters, and has a mix of varietals, though this is a separation of Yellow Bourbon. It's a dry-processed coffee, meaning the whole coffee cherry is harvested and laid to dry for roughly 30 days before being run through dry hulling machinery in order to remove the outer layer of dried fruit and skin. This is the oldest processing method, and when done well, can yield big fruited sweetness, as well as weighty bodied cup. Fazenda Sítio Senhor Niquinho is as fine an example of dry process Brazilian coffees as any we've tasted this season, fruit forward in comparison to the pulp naturals we selected and a great option for blending as a sweet fruited, bodied coffee component.
Sítio Niquinho stood out as a fruit-forward Brazil when put on the cupping table with the other arrivals. It was not alone, but when tasted in context with pulp natural offerings from some of the other neighboring farms, this coffee's cup profile seems 'wild' in comparison. The dry fragrance has a complex web of dried and dehydrated fruit smells, and the wet aroma pushes dark, dried berry to the forefront, along with a palm sugar, rustic sweetness. I don't always recommend light roasting with Brazil, and I'd still say that medium roasts of this coffee are probably my favorite, but unrefined sugar sweetness tasted developed, and dehydrated fruit notes showed nicely in the City roast I cup tested. Still, City+ and Full City roasts are where I think you capture the highest level of sweetness, and balance of sweet and bitter tones too. Dark berry notes come through when the cup is hot, and are even more present when the coffee's cooled a bit. The underlying sweetness is on the rustic side, like rice syrup and date/palm sugar. A ribbon of earthy cocoa runs through Full City roasts, and at this roast level, will make a nice blend base for a fruited espresso (or try on it's own). I would avoid taking the roast too dark as there's a chaffy/roast bittering quality that is just below the surface at Full City, that I think will be much more dominant if taken into 2nd cracks.
This coffee comes from Sitio Sao Jose located in the Carmo de Minas region. The coffee is grown at 1200 meters, and this lot is a separation of cherry from their red Catuai trees. While there are other areas in Brazil that produce some fine coffees in respect to the classic Brazil flavor profile, I feel we have found consistently good lots in the Carmo zone. Here there is a bit more altitude than most of the Cerrado coffees, and certainly more than Mogiana farms. The cultivars are generally the same as the other zones, but I feel the processing, while still on a large scale, has a good quality focus. And I really like how these coffees perform in espresso. This is a pulp naturally processed coffee, which means that the outer cherry and most of the fruit is mechanically stripped from the seed before moving to the drying patios. It takes less than half the time to dry pulp natural coffee than fully natural processed coffee, and they tend to be less fruit forward, and in the context of Brazilian coffees, much cleaner all around.
Coaxing a sugary sweetness out of this coffee takes a bit of roast development, and I recommend trying to draw out the initial roast time up to first crack. We find that Pulp Natural processed Brazils in general seem to benefit from a slower, more gentle roast approach than say a dense Guatemalan or Colombian coffee, helping to develop sugar caramelization while avoiding ashy flavors that can result from roasting lower density coffee. Aromatically speaking, this lot from Sitio Sao Jose has a mild brown sugar sweetness at City+ roast level, creamy condensed milk and roasted peanut in the aroma, and bittersweet at the edges. Brewing produces a mild mix of unrefined sugar and creamy nut tones, roasted peanut and almond flavors bathed in rustic cocoa bittersweetness. Full City boosts the latter, and I would consider this for a chocolate/body base for blending. I personally wouldn't go to Full City+ as the ashy flavors are strong, but some might find that appealing for creamy milk drinks. Best with 48+ hours rest.
Dusangirijambo Coop is perched on Mururi hill in Sogestal Kayanza, northern Burundi. The cooperative came into fruition about 6 years ago, serving farmer members in the Mururi area through buying and processing the local coffee. We came across there coffee 2 years ago, via a cooperative union in the region. The union helps the individual regional coops with everything from building coffee washing stations, providing agronomical support, preparing coffee for export at a central dry milling facility, and eventually linking the finished product to an international market. Dusangirijambo is outfitted with a de-pulping station where they receive daily deliveries from the surrounding small farmers. The coffees are de-pulped, fermented and soaked under water, then laid to dry on raised wire beds that help facilitate airflow and even-drying as a result. The station itself sits at 1650 meters above sea level, and the high part of the hill we drove in on peaked at 1880 meters.
Smells of fruit and bittersweetness are released in the ground coffee, cherry cola and dried strawberry notes accent raw sugar and caramel smells, and a blackberry leaf tea note too. The fruited smells in the dry fragrance take more of a backseat when adding hot water, a mingling of unrefined sugars black teas take over, spice overtones released in the steam, along with an understated dry fig impression. Light roasting yields a cup that's tea-like, like Lipton black tea with sugar, a mix of simple syrup-like sweetness with tannic bittersweetness. As it cools, fruited flavor notes provide nice contrast, dried cherry and black currant to name a couple , and acidity is brisk, also characteristic of black tea. But trust me, we are talking about coffee, and it's the near perfect balance of sweet and bitter flavors -core coffee characteristics - that define this coffee's essence. For me, City+ is a near perfect cup, layered sweetness, subtle baking spice accents, and acidity that leaves a lemon-like impression on your palate. Not overly bright/citric, but more like the understated tartness of a sweet glass of lemonade. At Full City you get a complex and rich dark chocolate/cherry flavor that reminds me of those chocolate covered dried whole cherries, and is particularly prevalent when brewing as espresso.
This coffee comes from Kazoza N'Ikawa, roughly translating to "the future is coffee". The cooperative assists members with marketing their coffees, handling cash flow, agronomical support, general business organization, and record keeping. This association has 57 stations in total operating in the Kayanza district of Rwanda. Hand sorting is intensive, and farm workers start sifting out under and over ripe cherry on delivery. Sorting of the parchment coffee continues at the drying tables, and then the green coffee is sifted through once again after dry-milling. This is the second year purchasing coffee from this group, an impressive return from last year's coffee. They produce both washed and naturally processed coffees, this being a wet-processed lot that we bulked together from several day lot selections cup tested both in Burundi and back at our lab in Oakland. Bourbon is the dominant cultivar in the region (as is the case in most of Burundi), a variety known for syrupy sweetness when grown in high altitudes.
What a lovely smelling coffee, Kazoza N'Ikawa is perfumed in City and City+ roasts, a sugar browning sweetness along with a mix of rosewater and spiced orange accents. The wetted grounds are so caramel-y sweet, like caramel cookies with raisins, and topped with a hint of cinnamon tea. City roasts brew nicely, delicious spice notes up front, along with a compound of raw sugar flavors offering more than enough backing sweetness. A compromise is often made when light roasting, trading out developed sweetness for acidity and complexity. But this isn't the case with Kazoza N'Ikawa, and the cooling cup has a sweetness like sugarcane juice, that along with a dried apple note, resonate into the aftertaste. Acidity really pops at this roast level too, fruited for sure, a tartness that's like a rindy lemon flavor and mouthfeel. Brewing my Full City roast, I was surprised by a dark grape flavor that crops up after the temperature cools down a bit. Heavy dark chocolate roast tones crop up too, and the two pair well together, leaving a lasting impression in the long finish. Kazoza N'Ikawa is so sweet and complex from as light as City and on up to Full City roast levels, and those patient enough to let cool will be duly rewarded.
Murambi is an impressive operation, a privately owned collection site in the Kiganda area near the Mubarazi river. The coffee processed at Murambi are from the surrounding hillside villages ("collines"), which there's talk of separating in the future, but this year was all blended together by day of delivery. Most of the farms are around 2000 meters above sea level and entirely planted in Bourbon. They process coffee in a similar way to Kenya, in that the cherry is removed with disc pulpers, fermented for almost a full day, and then washed/soaks for another day before being laid out to dry on raised beds. Last year the station received a large premium at the year's end for the coffees they exported, and the mill owner invested in 450 goats that were distributed to as many farmers who work with the station. The idea is for the goats to both help with building out an organic farming system, as well as an added source of revenue for the farmers. Also worth a mention that Murambi won the Burundi Cup of Excellence competition in 2012.
Roasting to City+ yields a sweet cup, with subtle spice cookie and dry fruit accents. The dry fragrance and aromatic profile is defined by a saccharine sweet base of turbinado sugar, highlights of honey graham, and loose leaf teas. A floral note is lifted in the wet aroma too, just an accent, but a real highlight to this already intensely sweet smelling cup. When brewed, Murambi is a medium bodied cup, with mouth-cleansing acidity that reminds me of fresh fruit. Our lightest roast showed nice sweetness level with an undertone of raw sugars, and pressed cane juice. Spice and fruit hints bubble up in the cooling cup, black currant, and red apple, accented by five spice powder. Our Full City roast had a not-so-subtle grape note too that played well into an undercurrent of spiced dark chocolate, and ending in a clean, spiced finish. Murambi is really sweet and complex at both roast levels, thought I think I would keep from hitting 2nd snaps in order to keep from obscuring the volatile aromatics with roast tone.
This decaf version of Kivubo coffee is a real highlight of our most recent batch of decaf coffees that just arrived from the Swiss Water plant in Vancouver, Canada. Sweetness, acidity, cup clarity, and subtle top notes, Kivubo SWP Decaf holds it's own, and on a table of decafs, tastes much more like a "regular" brew. Kivubo Station is located in the Mutambu area of Bujumbura Province. The station acts as a collection site where farmers from the surrounding hillside can sell their whole coffee cherry after it is picked, and where that coffee will then be blended, wet processed, and dried on raised drying beds. Kivubo is one of several stations under an umbrella association that currently serves around 3,000 farmers, small-holder farms who on average are growing 200 coffee shrubs cultivated land adjacent to their homes. Like most of the region, Bourbon is the dominant varietal grown.
With the dry fragrance and wet aromatics showing smells of sweet raw sugar, dark caramel, bittersweet cocoa, and berry and stone fruit hints, this cup of decaf smells so much like the non-decaf Kivubo that's been such a hit around our warehouse (and with customers). I know we really hammer this point home, but it's a point worth hammering! "Decaf" does not have to equate to a cardboard-flavored brew, and with Swiss Water processing, the flavors and aromatic profile of the original coffee are still very much a part of the decaf'd coffee. Brewed, this is one sweet decaf, City+ roasts yielding layers of caramelized sugars, and a note of toffee malt. A ribbon of dark chocolate weaves through this, and I'm reminded of Rolo candies. As the cup cools, you're presented with a clean and clear flavor picture (especially for a decaf), acidity that's on the snappy side, and top notes that include accents of lemon rind and cinnamon stick, as well as a faint pumpernickel bread note that is probably a result of decaffeination, but does not detract from the cup. This is a versatile decaf, delicious at a fairly wide range of roasts, and with focused sweetness that shows well from City roast level on up to about Full City. I wouldn't go beyond Full City, as bittering/ashy flavors will take over. But anywhere north of Full City, and you're rewarded with a densely sweet cup!
"Grupo de Caicedo" is a custom regional blend made up of a handful producers in the region of Caicedo, Antioquia. Working in concert with our sourcing partners in Medellin, we're helping build out a microlot project centered around one of the local associations in Caicedo town. This part of Western Antioquia is home to several highland communities, situated in the mountainous hillsides of the Cordilleras de los Andes. Caicedo town itself rests at a high altitude of 1800 meters, and many of the producer members of the association have coffee planted 1900+ meters above sea level. The way these programs work is, the cooperative allows us use of their lab facilities where we are able to roast and cup samples being delivered by the various farmer members. We then separate out all coffee that meets a minimum quality target, and of those coffees, separate into final quality tiers each with an associated premium attached that goes to the farmer. Last season, farmers were paid over 2x the going rate that they would receive had they sold their coffee to the cooperative. All of their coffee has a home though, and those that do not meet our quality target, are then bought and sold by the association. This is a fully washed coffee, usually handled on home-processing machinery, fermented in tanks, and dried in covered drying rooms. That last part is imperative as being so close to the rainforest of Chocó, this area sees a lot of wet weather. This coffee is a blend of cultivars, mostly Caturra and Variedad Colombia, as well as Typica and Tabi mixed in. (that's Alfonso Murillo and Hector Rivera in the first photo, two producers whose coffees we really liked on our visit December 2017)
The dry fragrance has perfumed sugar smells, like fresh caramel, and raw cane juice. My lightest roast somewhere between City and City+ had fruited accents too when ground, like banana bread with raisins. The wet aroma also offers glimpses of fresh baked sweet breads, caramelizing sugar smells lifted in the steam, and a caramel pudding smell when breaking the crust. The cup shows a fruited sweetness at this roast level, apple juice-like flavor accenting balanced bittersweetness that is central to this coffees flavor matrix. The cool cup boasts fruit juice highlights, like a citrus juice blended with apple, and even slight passion fruit allusion in the aftertaste. There's a pleasing tartness too at City/City+ that gives the acidic impression of huckleberry. And top notes aside, what's at this coffee's core is balance of sugary sweetness and tannic bittering qualities that do a lot to anchor the cup. More roast development will surely indulge this bittersweet side, but I personally enjoy the cup complexity that comes at the lighter end of the roast spectrum.
This cascara tea comes to us from Finca La Vega, a small farm in the mountains of Antioquia, in a town called Amagá. La Vega is a family-run operation, started by husband and wife, Jairo Taborda and Stella Rojas (that's them photographed with their three children in the 2nd image). They have around 13,000 trees planted - mainly Catimor and Castillo - on their 1900 meter farm, and are using fully organic farming methods for their coffee (thought not certified). Cascara is historically a bi-product of coffee production, and in the past processed in a way that lacks intention outside of the drying phase. But interest in the consumable coffee cherry product has grown, and we're seeing more and more care put into the production process, farmers creating a much more stable product, and paying attention to variables such as ripeness of cherry that will affect the end result in the cup. The folks at La Vega start by using the coffee cherry from their first quality ripe cherries. They clean the cherries with fresh water before pulping, run them through a depulping machine to remove the coffee seeds, then send the wet skins to large drying machines where they are dried over low heat to remove all of the moisture. The microclimate in this area tends to be wet, and so drying wet cherry would normally take too long on raised beds in the sun along, or in parabolico drying rooms. Drying is a very important stage of cascara production, and too long on the drying beds with all that moisture in the cherry can mean mold. The mechanical dryer is one way to navigate this hurdle, and other farmers have experimented with other methods including dehydration with some success. Like our cascara product from Costa Rica's Helsar micro-mill, La Vega Cascara Tea ships in 3 oz. bags, which is roughly the volume of 1/2 lb of green coffee. We've tried all sorts of preparation methods, and with a long steep time, we've found cascara to be pretty forgiving. Try starting with 12 grams cherry to 300-350 ml, steeping for 10 minutes and adjust from there. If you don't have a vessel that will hold 350 ml (canning jars are great for this), throw a dozen cherries in a coffee mug with some hot water (just off boil) and steep for 8-10 minutes.
Unlike whole coffee beans, smelling the whole cascara pre-brew does give you some indication as to what you'll find in the cup. At the very least there is a raisiny, dried fruit smell, like putting your nose in a bag of unsweetened dried apricots, or dehydrated green apple. It's that blend of light pectin sweetness, mixed with a sweet and slightly sour smell of drying organic matter (similar to compost in a way). But the flavors in the cup are so much more than this, as are the wetted cherries after having been steeped for several minutes. There's a light and fresh "greenness" in both that reminds me of wetted green tea leaves, and even seaweed salad to some extent, and is quickly followed by a tart floral note of hibiscus tea. Fruit flavors that emerge include dried apple and tamarind, prune, unsweetened dry cranberry, and orange essence water. There's a I enjoy cascara without sweetener, as the level of natural sweetness is light, refreshing, and clean like simple syrup on it's own. That said, we've added table sugar, honey, and other sweeteners in small doses, and the cascara really pairs well with any number of sweeteners. We've found positive results with long steep times, 12 grams in 350 ml of water for about 8 - 10 minutes, or for single serving try throwing 3 grams (roughly 12 cherries) in a mug with hot water, cover and steep for 8+ minutes. There's no need to worry about longer steeping bringing out overly tannic flavors, as this is not the same as black tea. Cascara also has bigger body than most herbal and black teas, on it's way to apple juice in weight. Fool around with steep times, ratios, and additives to find the combination that works best for your taste. As the cup cools in temperature, the silkiness and weight of the liquor becomes more and more apparent, as do sweet to tart fruited flavors like apple, yellow cherry, and ripe cranberry.
This blend of coffee from Inzá is made up from the producers of neighboring towns, or "Veredas" as they're called in Colombia. Hence the name, "Veredas Vecinas", or "neighboring towns". The province of Inzá is located in Southwestern Colombia within the greater Department of Cauca. As you make the drive from La Plata to Inzá, you follow the Rio Paez, and an eventual crossing over a suspension bridge lands you on the road to the the villages whose coffees make up this blend. Like much of Colombia, Cauca is home to some very high altitude farms, many breaching the 2000 meter mark, the coffee from this lot harvested from an altitude range of about 1500 to 2000 meters. The way we make up these regional blends is by cupping several samples from the individual farms, separating out those that meet a certain cup criteria, and then blending them together. It's a great benefit to us (and not to mention the cup) having this level of quality control with our Colombian blends. This is a wet-processed coffee, most farmers using old style hand-cranked pulpers, fermenting and washing in the same tank (the first pic is of a dual-use tank), and then drying out on raised, covered beds. Most farms have a healthy amount of Caturra planted, as well as some Timor hybrids (like Variedad Colombia and Tabi) in response to the major leaf rust outbreak in the 1980's.
The dry fragrance has more than it's share of brown sugar sweetness all the way up to Full City (and probably beyond), that with an accent of vanilla bean, gives off an impression of baked goods. The wet crust has panela sugar smell at City+ roast, clean and sweet, and releases a honey-wheat scent in the steam when breaking through the crust. City roasts show a persistent sweetness in the hot coffee, going from unrefined to pectin sugar flavors as you progress through the cup. A clean brown sugar sweetness underscores the cup, and light fruit accents of pear and apple come through in low volume as the cup temperature cools off a bit. Full City sees an increase in dark chocolate tones as you might expect, and body is heavy, a milky weight on the palate. Wonderful at a wide range of roasts, and for those who desire a Colombian espresso option, expect chocolate syrup and berry tones, viscous mouthfeel, and bittersweetness that endures.
Inza is a province located in Southwestern Colombia within the greater Department of Cauca. As you make the drive from La Plata to Inzá, you follow the Rio Paez, and an eventual crossing over a suspension bridge lands you on the road to the the villages whose coffees make up this blend. Like much of Colombia, Cauca is home to some very high altitude farms, many breaching the 2000 meter mark. This particular lot is a blend of coffees from a few of the neighboring Veredas within the region, altitudes ranging from 1500 - 2000+ meters, . The way we make up these regional blends is by cupping several samples from the individual farms, separating out those that meet a certain cup criteria, and then blending them together. It's a great benefit to us (and not to mention the cup) having this level of quality control with our Colombian blends. Wet processing is traditional in the region, many using old-style hand cranked pulpers, fermenting and washing in the same tank (the first pic is of a dual-use tank), and then drying out on raised, covered beds. This last part is key in facilitating even and gentle drying of the parchment, helping to keep the protective parchment layer intact as the internal moisture dips to around 11 - 12% over the course of a few days to 2 weeks (depending on the micro-climate). Most farms have a healthy amount of Caturra planted, as well as some Timor hybrids (like Variedad Colombia and Tabi) in response to the major leaf rust outbreak in the 1980's. In cupping varietal separations we've found that cup quality is less tied to varietal than we imagined, meaning, we've found Timor hybrids that cup on par with Caturra at the same altitude. This is not always the case (there are rarely "one size fits all" examples in growing coffee!), but it is an important for us as buyers to keep in mind when approaching the ever-growing varietal debates.
City to City+, the dry fragrance displays a nice blend of honey and panela sugar sweetness, with a raisin and walnut accent note at City+ roast level that reminds me of oatmeal cookie. The wet aroma emits a dense smell of dark honey, to my nose finding parity with baklava to as subtle rose water and nut tones are released in the steam when breaking through the wet crust. This is accompanied by a fruited smell of raisin or dark dried plum smell drifting up in the steam off the break. Acidity level is really nice with this coffee, impressive for the origin, and tangy fruit impressions make a lasting impression on the cup profile. Raw cane juice sweetness underscores the cup, and as it cools, the honey sensed in the aroma returns to focus, capturing the flavor of honey that's been whipped with the comb. A yellow cherry note accents the cup in lighter City and City+ roasts, as do flavors of brown sugar and dried currants. Truly a delicious brewed cup with profuse sweetness, and mild fruit complexity all the way up to Full City. Full City roasts develop syrupy chocolate tones, with cinnamon powder highlights. These deeper roast double nicely as a single origin espresso too, delectable, chocolatey shots of espresso with dark fruit tones shadowing in the finish.
A custom Swiss Water decaf from one of our fresh Colombia arrivals. We built this small producer blend from the coffees of small farmers in the La Union area, northwestern Nariño Department. They belong to a local farmer's association in the Vereda Buenos Aires, most of them situated in the hills not far outside of town, and a couple of the farms also in the neighboring Vereda La Jacoba as well. Their farms are planted in Caturra and Variedad Colombia (F4 and F6 types), and most farmers manage a few hectares of coffee (generally speaking, there's 3 - 5k coffee trees planted per hectare). This coffee was also sold as a non-decaf coffee when it arrived in late July, and like the non-decaf sibling, the decaf version tastes great at a wide range of roasts, and makes for a balanced brewed coffee, as well as a bittersweet espresso.
City+ roasts produce a nice balance of sweetness and cocoa roast bittering qualities, that come off in the dry grounds like caramel and chocolate mousse, an intense bittersweetness. Adding hot water only intensifies the effect, and I find wafts of high % dark chocolate, and sugar browning smells in the steam. There's an unexpected pear note too that is released when breaking through the crust. That latter aspect is a precursor fruited side found in the brewed coffee too, and the layers of cup flavors are pealed back in an order similar to the aromatic impressions. Dark chocolate notes play a heavy role in the hot cup, a bittersweet mix of sugary sweetness and roast tone that come off like dark chocolate brownie, or torte. As the cup cools a bit, the flavors shift toward fruited dark chocolate, dried pear and apple laced through chocolate truffle. This coffee really is all about balanced bittersweetness, and with big body, makes for an excellent option for milk drinks, especially when used as espresso. This would make an excellent decaf cappuccino.
Los Buesacos is a blend made up from the coffees of roughly a dozen small producers just outside Buesaco town, Nariño. We put this blend together after cupping a high volume of samples at the association they belong to in Buesaco town, the goal being to separate out any coffees that score 86 points and above, which at a minimum insures the producer a premium that's 50% higher than the association's going rate (in the case of coffees we score micro-lot, the producer is paid a little more than twice the standard price). The local coffee association is a new venture started by two brothers who stepped out on their own to offer a more direct and transparent option than some of the local competitors. Association membership is growing, and we tasted some truly impressive coffees when cupping at their warehouse on our last visit. Farms are typically planted in Caturra and Variedad Colombia (F4 and F6 types), grown at altitudes between 1700 and 2000 meters, and each contributing lot in this batch are fully washed.
At City roast level, the dry fragrance is laced with butterscotch and almond smells, like candied nut bar, or almond brittle candy. With a shade more development, there's a fruited accent that's like a dark dried stone fruit, or raisin smell, and blends in nicely with a solid core bittersweetness. The wet aroma smells caramel-y sweet, a buttery dark caramel smell lifted from the wetted grounds, with a coffee bittering accent that together produce a smell of dark caramel popcorn. That caramel popcorn aspect is apparent in the cup too, especially in my lightest City roast. The flavors up front are a bit like roasted corn and caramelizing sugars, a sweet/savory mix, that gives way to layers of raw sugars and toasted nut tones as the cup temperature cools. There's a return to aspects of nut brittle candy that was sensed in the smells, and the finish leaves behind roasted almond flavor laced with a sweet toffee accent. Full City adds in a ribbon of bittering chocolate roast tone, that while it's particularly dominant when the coffee is hot, shifts toward toasted raw sugar sweetness as the cup cools down a bit.
No surprise that this lot we're calling "Tres Productores" is a blend of three producer's coffees. They are members of an association in the Pitalito region, Huila Department. The farms are planted in a mix of Caturra and Variedad Colombia, a disease resistant strain that is a cross between Caturra and Timor hybrid, and is heavily promoted by the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation ("FNC"). All three coffees that make up this blend are wet processed, meaning the coffee cherry is depulped using hand cranked or small mechanized depulping machines to remove the outer cherry and most of the fruit, then fermenting in a tank in order to remove the remaining sticky layer of fruit mucilage before laying to dry in parabolic drying rooms. This type of processing tends to produce a clean cup, and are much more probably to allow acidic impressions to shine through. This exterior color of this coffee is fairly uniform when roasting, even at lighter levels, though I did pick out a few quaker and semi-quaker beans from my roast batches. These are easy to spot as they are much lighter than the other beans, often puffy and smooth, and can add a nutty flavor to the cup when there's a large amount.
Almond and sweetened dark cocoa smells are produced when grinding City+ roasts, along with an understated raisin-like fruit smell. The wet aroma shares similarities with fresh baked chocolate brownies, a rich bittersweet chocolate smell coming up off the steam, with a contrasting savory nut scent. City+ roasts brew well, as did my Full City roast, both offering a level of sweetness that balances out bittering characteristics to be expected in coffee. That is a lot of what coffee is after all, bittering tones that are offset by the development of sugars, and perhaps further obfuscated by volatile compounds that affect aromatic top notes (which is what we tend to talk more about). Those bittering cacao-like flavors are offset, and the sweetness in middle roasts is like caramelizing brown sugar, producing a slightly pungent bittersweetness. As the cup cools I sense mild top notes of Lipton black tea and Brazil nut, and a muted raisin flavor in the long aftertaste. Body is silky at these roast levels, and flecks of dark cocoa at City+ are built out significantly when the roast is taken to Full City and beyond.
This coffee comes from Doña Maria Rosa, her farm El Nogal tucked away in the hillside above the store her family operates in the town of San Antonio (that's her in the first photo with husband, Alfonso, in front of their store in San Antonio). Finca El Nogal is not reachable by car, a trail curling up around the side of the local school yard, then up, up, up for the better part of an hour to the reach the top at just shy of 2000 meters. During the picking season, Doña Rosa makes this trek daily at 5 am to organize labor for the day's picking, and to check on the processed coffee from the previous day's harvesting. We've stayed with her several times now, and the amount of work she puts into the farm, store, family, and guests is nothing short of incredible. Not surprising, the rest of the family are all involved in their own farms as well, the youngest with a plot named "La Salada", and Robinsón managing a shared 10 hectare farm down the way, Los Palomos del Sur. Los Nogales is about 3 hectares in size, and they've planted 3 different cultivers: Caturra, Tabi, and Typica. Like many in the region, their beneficio consists of a manual de-pulper, and they have a 3 tank system involving separate tanks for fermentation, soaking, and a final wash before being carried down to their home solar dryers in the town below. Their farm is situated along a ridged valley, carbonero trees towering from the valley floor, and banana and balsa trees used for shade.
The smells found in the dry grounds are potent to say the least, a scent of ripe stone fruit is underscored by raw cane juice like sweetness in our lighter City roasts. Full City roasts have a smell of chocolate syrup with hefty blackberry ribbons too, a glimpse of the coming cup. Adding hot water expounds on fruited elements in the wet ground smells, densely sweet berry jam smells, and a floral blueberry tone released in the steam. City roasts make for a fruited cup, and a panela-like sweetness reverberates through to the finish. As the cup cools, cooked berry flavors come up like blueberry and blackberry reductions, fading into a flavor of dried banana and molasses. A tea-like brightness holds the cup flavors together, and provides a nice tannic mouth cleansing sensation in the aftertaste. Edging toward Full City roast level sees a boost in bittersweetness, and together with the berry tones, produces a concoction reminiscent of chocolate covered dried blueberries. The complexity of this lot from Finca El Nogal stands out among the rest, and sure to please those looking for a more fruit forward, wet-processed Colombia offering.
This is the wet processed counterpart to our Gesha duo from Finca La Bohemia. Wet processing involves fermenting freshly de-pulped coffee for 12 - 24 hours in order to remove all of the sticky fruit before laying out to dry. This is widely considered the "cleanest" processing method, in that by removing the wet fruit layer - something that extends the drying period considerably - you remove one more variable of unpredictability that affects the final cup quality (sometimes negatively). And while we've been nothing but impressed with both honey-processed Caturra and Gesha lots from La Bohemia, this coffee proves their versatility and mastery of both processing methods. Finca La Bohemia is located in the small town of Buenos Aires within the greater Department of Nariño. The farm is owned and operated by the Lasso Family, the first to grow coffee in this particular region. La Bohemia is 28 hectares planted in mostly Caturra as well as some Gesha, and sits on a sloping hillside reaching just over 2000 meters above sea level. Siblings Racquel and Hermillas Lasso started a foundation in Buenos Aires about 25 years ago with the purpose of helping local women gain financial independence, often from abusive husbands. The Lasso family identified a domestic violence problem in their town, women often dependent on violent husbands for financial support for their families, who without work of their own felt trapped by their dependence. So they started this program with the idea that the work will afford these women financial independence which in turn puts them in a better position to make decisions for themselves. The program started with a blackberry business that didn't really work out due to a fungal problem, then they moved into supplying cows in order to sell milk (which is still going), and also a coffee association that is still going strong. The association has since moved to the nearby town of La Union where it can serve a wider population. That's Carlos Lasso at La Bohemia in the first photo, another coffee farmer of the Lasso family.
One of two Gesha lots from Finca La Bohemia, the cup flavors in this coffee are clean and succinct, tea-like characteristics highlighting the cup of light roasts. City and City+ roast levels are about the range I'd shoot for with this coffee. Any darker will result in a nice sweet cup, but without the delicate floral tea qualities found at the lighter end of the roast spectrum, which is what makes Gesha coffee special. The brewed coffee has a sprinkle of clove spice and jasmine pearl tea, as well as a tangerine note that adds a juicy touch to the otherwise delicate profile. Top notes are most discernible when the cup is cooling down, and a bright citric acidity comes through with bracing affect. As temperature dips the citrus flavors develop into more pulpy flavors, like orange juice pulp, and the finish is clean to the point of nearly disappearing altogether shortly after drinking. Definitely one of our sweeter Colombian coffees, the aroma and flavor are loaded with honey and a raw cane juice. This Gesha really stands up on it's own, and makes for an interesting comparison to it's honey processed counterpart. This is definitely the more restrained cup profile of the two, and perhaps best tasted on it's own as not to be overshadowed by the more dominant, fruited cup of the honey processed lot.
Coffee, or tea, or both? 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. And even today, the price of Qishr is higher than the price of coffee in an Arabic market. Cascara is the name used in Central America for these fruit skins, and a perfect name for the tea made from them as well. If you like fruit-blend herbal teas, especially those with fruited flavors like hibiscus, rose-hips, tamarind, orange peel, mango, apple, you should like Cascara tea a lot. It makes amazing iced tea as well, and with a very moderate amount of honey can be very pleasant. The best way to make Cascara tea is in a French Press, or you can use any method you would use for preparing herbal tea. Brewing like filtered coffee does not work well as it benefits from a long steep time (5 - 8 minutes), and you can make it a bit strong, then add water (or pour over ice) to taste. Traditionally, Qishr has additions of cardamom pods and sugar while brewing, and that is another interesting preparation with Cascara as well. Does it have caffeine? Yes, since all parts of the coffee plant do ...but we don't know how much, and it will certainly depend on steep time and the amount used to make each cup. What's interesting about this cascara, is that it is dehydrated - part of a joint effort on the part of the folks at the Helsar micro-mill in Costa Rica, and a research team at the University of Costa Rica. They found that cascara has 50% more antioxidants than cranberries, and are using dehydration for drying the cherry to near 0 moisture, making for a crisp and very edible product. Yes, edible! In addition to tea, try using it in place of dried fruit on cereal, yogurt, or even on it's own. Expect to see the occasional stem too, easily spotted and removed. And while the final produce is not certified organic, they are only using coffee cherry from Helsar's three organic farms.
Cascara has a raisin-prune smell, clean and clearly fruited. It shares many light, and tart smells and flavors with dried hibiscus, the flower used to make jamaica tea in Mexico. As soon as you add water you smell tamarind, accompanied by delicate floral to herbal smells. As mentioned, the flavors of many dried fruits come out in this tea: hibiscus, tamarind, raisin, dried apple, dried passion fruit, and mango. The cascara/qishr we've had in the past benefited from a touch of sweetener, but this one is quite sweet on it's own. We steeped 10 grams in 350 ml of water for about 8 minutes and the brew had a simple syrup quality, very sweet, but free and clear of the unrefined aspects of raw sugar. It has bigger body than most herbal and black teas, on it's way to apple juice in weight. Fool around with steep times, ratios, and additives to find the combination that works best for your taste. As the cup cools in temperature, the silkiness and weight of the liquor becomes more and more apparent, as do sweet to tart fruited flavors like apple, yellow cherry, and ripe cranberry. Possibilities for the use of Cascara tea seem endless; cooking, sauces, baking, beer brewing. It's a tea...but it's coffee...and now also a snack? A unique coffee product, to say the least.
Finca Matalapa is a classic estate coffee, long before there were mini-mills and micro-lots. It has a complete independent mill to service the farm, from the tree through wet-processing, patio drying, hulling, preparation, to loading the coffee in jute bags and packing the shipping container. The mill is filled with fantastic, classic coffee equipment painted in bold colors. And it's the passion of the owner, Vickie Ann Dalton de Diaz, and the mechanical love of the archaic on the part of her Francisco Diaz that keeps the mill running and the coffee tasting so wonderful! Finca Matalapa is in the Libertad area, not far from the capital of San Salvador, on a west-facing slope ranging from 1200 meters up to the ridge top at 1350 meters. It's a 4th generation coffee estate totaling 120 hectrares and was founded in the late 1800's by Fidelia Lima, great grandmother of the Vickie. She maintains 14 acres of virgin tropical forest and keeps her coffee plants shaded with over forty varieties of larger trees. While most of our El Salvadors are Bourbon coffees (or Tekisic a local Bourbon type), because of the strong winds in the area they find the native Salvador Pacas varietal to fare better in this region. Pacas is a natural mutation of the Bourbon varietal. This is from a particular part of the farm called Tablon Calagual.
This Matalapa lot is an approachable cup, balanced core coffee flavors, and infinitely drinkable. The dry fragrance from the ground coffee has hazelnuts and honey granola scents, while the wet aromatics give a more volatile aromatic emphasis to the dry fragrance, praline, almonds and a hint of dried fruit. The cup flavors add to this a unique green tea accent at City+ roast, with the cup dominated by layered caramel and nutty roast tones, and a twist of orange rind in the finish. Body is moderate at this level, and at Full City seems much more dense and opaque, as do the accompanying bittersweet cocoa roast tones. It has mild acidity, and at City+ finds balance between brightness, flavor and body. Finca Matalapa makes for a classic-toned SO espresso at Full City roast, heavy cocoa roast flavor is accented by an orange zest note, and followed by creamy macadamia nut in the aftertaste.
The Malacara Estate goes back over 125 years, when the Alvarez family planted the first shrubs to populate the farm on the slopes of the Santa Ana volcano. Now four generations deep, the Alvarez family continue to manage Malacara, which has expanded throughout the decades into three different plots: Malacara A, B, and C. This coffee is from plot C, which is located on the north side of the volcano at roughly 1500 meters above sea level. The farms are 90% planted with Bourbon and Typica types, and are wet milled onsite at Malacara. This is a fully washed coffee, meaning that the whole cherry is removed with a depulping machine, then the mucilage-covered seeds are fermented in order to remove the sticky layer that remains. The coffee is then dried on patios before being milled by Beneficio El Borbollón, who prepare the coffee for export by removing the layer of parchment, separating screen sizes, and sorting out physical defects. A comfortable coffee to roast, Malacara takes on a uniform color as you move through the stages of roast, and is therefore fairly easy to judge roast level by the changes in physical color.
The dry fragrance has an oat and malt sugar smell, subtle nut accents, which together have a sweet cereal appeal. The wet aroma has a similar malty smell to it, and also honey sweetness, and a pistachio scent comes up in the steam when breaking through the crust. The sweet smells leading up to the cup offer a fairly accurate representation of the cup that follows. City+ is a great starting point roast-wise, a sweetness defined by notes of brown sugar, malt syrup, and a honey graham accent as the coffee cools. Malacara has an understated tea-like perceived acidity, which affords a layer of clarity in a coffee that might otherwise be fairly two dimensional. Full City roasts are chocolatey, and with a sweet wheat flavor bears a likeness to a chocolate muffin, and bittersweet chocolate roast tones last in the aftertaste.
"Pico y Placa" is a phrase I picked up on a recent visit to Medellin, Colombia. It has to do with a law enacted in order to cut down on traffic congestion by prohibiting groups of cars and motorcycles to be on the road during peak traffic times based on the last number of their license plate ("pico" peak, and "placa" plate). I learned of this because our trip to Urrao from Medellin fell on a day where our host wasn't supposed to be driving his car, which left us rushing to get out of the city limits by 7am. Not so relaxing, but I do like the way the name rolls off the tongue! This workshop strays from the African-based ingredients of the previous few Workshop blends. OK, there is a small amount of washed Ethiopian coffee, but 2/3 of the blend is made up coffees from Colombia and Guatemala. Why? Well, we wanted this latest addition to have chocolate notes at it's core. And "chocolately" it is. Both Colombia and Guatemala ingredients are wet processed, coffees that when taken to the outer reaches of Full City promise intense bittersweetness but with balance, and impressive inky body. The Ethiopian ingredient we're using is much more muted in terms of top note complexity, and brings citrus vibrance without being distracting. It too is laden with cocoa roast tones with roast development, adding to the overall flavor matrix. We constructed this blend with espresso in mind, but City+ roasts will serve up a good cup of coffee too. For espresso try starting at Full City (my personal fave in terms of balanced sweet and bittering flavors), edging south if you need to tone down acidity.
All three ingredients used in Pico y Placa are capable of producing incredibly rich chocolate notes when roasted to Full City and beyond, each bringing their own unique set of top notes to construct a complex and bittersweet espresso blend. Roasted cacao nib smells come up from the ground coffee, which if you haven't smelled before, have a chocolatey smell for sure, and with subtle fruited accent smells too. I only roasted this blend to Full City, which produced impressive level of sweetness, and I'm sure this will make a delicious darker roasted espresso too for those who prefer 2nd crack roast development. My first espresso attempt was my longest extraction, roughly 20 grams of coffee going in and 45 grams liquid over the course of 28 seconds. Definitely nothing "thin"about it at this ratio, though not as dense as the one that followed. Flavors are a mix of high % cacao bar and sugar in the raw. The bittersweetness is well balanced, and the cup is lightly marked by a 'pop' of citrus up front. Fruited accents come through, especially in the finish, and come off like dark chocolate covered raisin. I loved the shorter shot I pulled next - 20 grams coffee in, 30 grams espresso out over 30 seconds - so viscous, and dense in terms of flavor profile and mouthfeel. A chocolatey richness dominates the shot, and up front there's a syrupy flavor of dark chocolate stout beer, giving way to to a citrus note that's equal parts tart juice and bittering peel. Layers of cocoa/chocolate notes flourish in the finish, along with subdued dark fruit accents, and compact bittersweetness leaves a lasting impression. I'm impressed by viscosity in both long and short shots with a milky weight and feel, and would make an incredible cappuccino.
Dalecho Cooperative is near Agaro town, not far from Duromina, and actually very close to the original site for the Duromina coop. The station itself is at 1990 meters above sea level, and the 1000 members live and grow coffee above and below this altitude. We visited in 2016 and saw that the cooperative could use some infrastructural help - cracking fermentation tanks, new cloth for the drying beds, etc - but with a super clean water source, and nice initial samples, we found this coop coffee to be promising. They've been in operation for almost 40 years now, seeing many changes in leadership during this time, and it sounds like there may have been issues with managing finances in the past leading to a lack of reinvestment, and importantly, a lack of a second premium payment to the coffee farmers. Under the new Union things seem to have been streamlined, and 90% of the price paid for the coffee is going directly to the cooperative (the other 10% is split between milling costs and Union fees). The coffee is really versatile, and I had great results as both pour over and espresso. You might notice our defect count is higher than normal, though still far from unacceptable. This is mainly due to a few more underripe beans than what we normally see, which are easiest to pick out as "quaker" beans post roast. Nothing excessive, and honestly won't be an issue in batch brewing, though maybe worth the extra effort to remove for the single cup pour over.
Dalecho is a versatile Ethiopian coffee, able to present subtle top note complexity in lighter roasts, that when taken beyond City+ yields a much more focused cup profile, centered around sweetness, and balanced core coffee flavors. Aromatically speaking, City roasts produce a rich caramelized sugar sweetness that supports a subtle jasmine tea accent. That latter aspect carries over to the cup, and is most noticeable in my roasts on the lighter side of City+. My darkest roast was near Full City (29F post 1st crack), and without the floral note, more closely approximated a somewhat fruited Colombia or Guatemalan coffee. In this way, Dalecho presents a good opportunity for a reasonably priced washed blend option as well as single origin. Light roasts have a subtle lemon grass note that comes up when the coffee cools, and the sweetness shifts toward unrefined, like pressed cane juice. The espresso shot I pulled of my Full City roast was loaded with fine dark chocolate roast tones, and understated plum note in the finish. To me, this is exactly what I look for in single origin espresso, but it's certainly a more than viable blend component that will add dark chocolatey sweetness, as well as fruited hints to your blend.
The Sadi Loya cooperative is located near Agaro town, in the Jimma Zone of Western Ethiopia. It's a relatively smaller coop, and serves the local farm members by acting as a central collection site for their coffees. With the help of the cooperative union that they are part of (Kata Muduga), they are able to offer services to members such as agronomical training and financial loans, as well as afford the farmers a link to the international coffee market. Sadi Loya were one of four coops to receive a $52k grant in USAID money in order to help them build out a more sophisticated wet milling operation. This is the first year we bought coffee from Sadi Loya (and may be the first year their coffee was exported to the US at all), and were pleased by the cup cleanliness, and subtleties found in our lighter roasts. We tested this coffee as dark as Full City (roughly 25 degrees F after the beginning of 1st crack), but found that much of the restrained top notes sensed in our City and City+ roasts were lost to bittersweetness and roast tone.
The dry fragrance has a delicate sweetness to it that lies somewhere between simple syrup and refined honey, clear and succinct. Both fragrance and aromatics have perfumed floral smells too, like lavender and honey suckle, and refined sugar undercurrents. The flavor profile is a bit subdued, and the top notes sensed in the cup take the form of fruit gum, dried green apple, and intimations of lemon-flavored tea. Floral notes hover overhead, and are a bit more like hop-florals when brewed, still showing hints of the more perfumed varieties sensed in fragrance too. The cool cup is sweet, and clean, and tea-like herbals hint in the aftertaste.
Unfortunately, we don't know a whole lot about the specific origin of this Sidama coffee. "Akrabi" are coffee traders in the Ethiopian language of Amharic, which seems appropriate for a coffee that is traded through the Ethiopia Commodities Exchange (ECX). It's one of a few purchases we made through the ECX this year, and because of this, most provenance is stripped before the coffee hits the market. Basically all farmers that are not part of a cooperative submit their coffee to the exchange where it is first graded, and then sold in tiers based off that graded category. One major problem with this is that in an effort to unify a price structure, washing station and even town information is often stripped away. For the buyers, this makes it difficult to uniquely market these coffees, and so we've come up with our own names to denote a specific quality, in this case "Akrabi". It's worth noting that this system of buying through the ECX is dissolved this harvest, and so all of our coffees will be directly purchased from both cooperatives and private mills. We're excited for this change and look forward to knowing the specifics about every Ethiopian coffees we buy, and the price transparency that comes with it.
This dry process Ethiopia is much more muted in terms of fruited flavors than most of our other Ethiopia naturals, Don't get me wrong, it's still a fruit forward cup, and put up against any of our washed offerings will taste like a fruit basket in comparison. But juxtaposed by most of our other Ethiopian DP's, the fruited side of Akrabi seems more integrated into bittering cocoa tones, and molasses like rustic sugar sweetness. Aromatically, Akrabi has a smell of dark cocoa powder and dried strawberry, a slight earthy sweetness peeking through from underneath, as is a faint floral note. This rustic molasses sweetness, along with berry and cocoa flavors, gives Akrabi a Harrar-like coffee quality, the famed Ethiopian origin known for wild and rustic dry processed coffees. City+ and Full City roasts boast inky body, and both roast levels take on flavor aspects of strawberry-chocolate milk. As the cup cools, more fruited accents are revealed, ripe berry and a durian accent, as well as a leathery rustic sweetness that adds a complex layer to bittersweet cacao-like roast tones in the finish. Akrabi shows well on it's own, and we've found that it works really well as an accent coffee for blending, adding body and loads of fruited cocoa flavors at Full City. We've been using it for our dry process component in Espresso Monkey, and our taste buds tell us that a little bit goes a long way!
Limu Kossa farm is both a geographic area of the Oromia district, as well as the name of a privately run farm in the region. It's a sizable estate that is broken into 15 hectare sections with marked varieties of coffee planted within. The farm is run by a gentleman named Gidhey, who's has a long coffee history in this area. His first farm was lost to re-zoning of the area to forest, not a bad thing, but forced Gidhey to continue his farming somewhere here where he is producing several containers worth of both wet and dry processed coffees. They use a mechanical washing machine that is a lot like a demucilager in that it removes the cherry skin and most of the sticky mucilage with very little water. After, they allow the coffee to soak for 16 hours in clean water, so the process is sort of a hybrid between pulp natural and fully washed. The farm sits just above 1900 meters above sea level, and while they are a certified organic farm, we did not bring the coffee in as such and so we can't sell as certified. A bit of a snafu on our part, but we are hoping to offer with the certification this upcoming harvest.
Peach and lime smells are released in the dry fragrance, a dried stone fruit sweetness and with zesty lime peel accents. Gidhey shows layered raw sugar sweetness in the ground coffee and wet aroma, warmed caramel-y smells released in the steam that have elements of caramelizing dark brown sugars, panela, sucanat, and more. City roasts are the most floral, a fresh aroma of gardenia flower coming through in the brewed coffee, along with a clean and sweet impression of simple syrup sweetener. A lemon note lightly graces the cup of light roasts too, providing a solidness in structure to an otherwise rather delicate cup (these light roasts remind me of a delicate Yirga Cheffe). The cooling cup reveals more fruited accents, pomelo tartness, peach tea, along with a sweet flame grape note. The finish is pointed if not short, and muted flavors of vanilla and powdered sugar come through in the finish, and reminds me of biscochitios (often referred to as Mexican wedding cookies). The perfumed qualities of Gidhey show best with light roasting, and I recommend a rather tight roast range of City to City+.
Baaroo is the local Oromifa name for this cooperative in the far western part of Illubabor. Baaroo were part of an initiative we helped adminster in Ethiopia to work direct at the coop level. The program was implemented via a non-government organization that not only coordinated agronomists and managers for each of the coops they worked with, but also had a business adviser assigned that helped the cooperative manage their debt, re-invest in quality improvements at the mill, and verified distribution of income to all members. Baaroo has since "graduated", and is under full operation and direction of coop members and their self appointed board (Fiseha Dibissa advisor in 3rd photo). Baaroo is quite small and remote compared to the other excellent cooperatives we buy from in Illubabor region. We have been impressed with the cup quality, and how clean and fresh the coffee tastes although it tends to be harvested later than other nearby stations. It is from a lower relative altitude than others (1700m) but perhaps because of the heavily forested environment in this part of Illubabor, the effect slows the maturation of coffee, and increases the density of the bean. It seems to be so, in both flavor profile and roast.
We're really pleased with this year's lot of Baaroo. A balanced coffee, Baaroo's profile has just the right levels of complex sugar browning sweetness and subtle top notes to reflect coffees from the origin. The dry fragrance has a smell of dark toffee, so sweet and candy-like, with an understated peach note of the canned, syrupy sweet variety. Adding hot water sees a boost in stone fruit aromatics, like apricot and brown sugar,, as well as a peak in sugary sweetness, a maple icing scent filling the steam. Baaroo is extremely versatile, and great at both light and dark roast levels. Notes of stone fruit reductions with unrefined sugars prevail across the roast spectrum, and darker roasts develop deep chocolate roast tones. Oddly enough, the floral side is most present in the hot cup, faint jasmine and lemon oil accent a honey-sweet cup. The cooler temperature allows for profile expansion and depth, and the profile is filled out with notes of raw honey, baking spices, slab apricot, and a well-integrated lemony acidity. There is a mingling of rindy citrus and cacao nibs in the finish too that interplay with one another nicely. Body is juicy, even at City roast level, and translates into great mouthfeel as both brewed coffee and espresso. Espresso shots of a Full City roast extract a rich chocolate syrup flavor, along with orange juice and licorice accents, and undeniable citrus brightness but without overpowering the shot.
Ethiopias have been shining star decafs for us, which only part of it has to do with the coffee itself. Don't get me wrong, the raw ingredients going into your decaf play a huge part in the resulting cup, since you know..."garbage in=garbage out". But if you have a beautiful cup and you subject it to harsh chemical decaf processes, then you stand to lose the volatile compounds that made it a delicious coffee to begin with. We navigate both parts of this equations by first choosing coffees we enjoy as non-decaf, and then send them off to be processed at the Swiss Water Decaf plant in Canada, where they employ a patented water processing method that uses no harsh chemicals to remove effectively 99.9% of the caffeine. The process is gentle, and leaves much of the flavor and aroma intact. And in the case of Ethiopian coffee such as this one, send off a coffee with inherent citrus and floral aspects, and receive a decaf with those same highlights in return. This particular Limu coffee comes from the Qota cooperative located in Agaro town, South-Western Ethiopia, not too far from Duromina, who have consistently produced some of our favorite western Ethiopian coffees. They are operating under the Keta Muduga Union, who we are buying from for the first time, and who showed us stellar harvest samples from Qota and a few others. The Unions provide agronomical support to the coops, and also have export licenses, which up until this year, has afforded the coops access to the global market.
An alluring smell of chocolate biscotti and lemon peel comes up from the dry grounds , an aromatic smelling decaf even at City roast level. I wouldn't normally recommend such a light roast for a decaf coffee, but found City to City+ suits this particular lot. Citrus hints are much more subdued in the wet aroma, and a dark caramel smell comes up from the wet grounds, along with malty grain smells. The cup clarity is surprising, definitely another of the "I can't believe it's decaf" selections when tasted in context with your average decaf coffee. Flavors of tangerine and tart citrus come through, and provide stark contrast to a malty sweet core, shifting to dried fruit like natural apricot and dark raisin in the finish. City+ and beyond build a blanket of dark cocoa roast tone, and while not my favorite for brewing, will sweeten up a decaf blend for brew or espresso.
Yukiro Cooperative was once part of an initiative in Ethiopia focused on working directly at the coop level. Administered by a non-government organization, they helped the cooperative with coordinating agronomists, managers, and with business advisors to helps the cooperative manage their debt, re-invest in quality improvements at the mill, and verifies distribution of income to all members. This is a key position; I have never known a coop to get this kind of expert advice from outside ... not in Africa at least. A cooperative can make all kinds of quality improvements, turn out fantastic coffee, and sink deeper in debt all the while. Cooperatives often fail to return a fair and full amount of payment to their farmer-members. Often this is from poor management, and sometimes from graft as well. The ultimate goal of the program is to get the cooperatives they work with to the point of self sustainability, which Yukiro has now achieved. Because of this work and the resulting transparency of the organization, we can verify that the great price we paid will result in a fair distribution of funds, a better managed coop, investment in the mill, and even better coffee next year. The farms are in Goma Woreda, with altitudes between 1900 to 2100 meters. Yukiro currently has 520 members (170 female members), and have improved their beds and warehouse capacity in the last year, as well as installed a new Penagos 2500 coffee pulper.
Light roasting is best suited for this year's lot of Yukiro. We tried 3 different roast levels for this review, including a Full City roast, which produced roast tones that all but completely overshadowed the inherent top note complexity found at City and City+ roast levels. The dry fragrance at City has a delicate floral note, with subtle fruited allusions, and a clover honey smell underneath. The brewed coffee really shines at City and City+, where the most clarity in profile flavors and aroma are found. Acidity is on the citric side, a tart lemon mouthfeel props up the delicate top notes found in the cup, as does an underlying raw sugar sweetness. When hot, this underlying sweetness reads like raw cane sugar, simple and refined. As the cup cools, a retronasal aspect perfumes the cup, and more aromatic sugars come to mind: panela, cane juice, and raw honey. Citrus fruit notes come into focus, sweetened limeade, and a lemon grass tea note in flavor and aroma. A faint apricot juice note also comes into play in the warm cup adding a tart, fruited sweetness, that along with a hoppy floral note gives an impression of apricot Hefeweizen beer in the finish. It's important to point out that Yukiro is subtle, restrained, and I found that the flavors mentioned above to be most easily discernible at City roast level and when the cup temperature cools off from brew temp. At 200 F, it's generally hard to taste much beyond sweetness and bittering coffee tones in any coffee. But Yukiro's profile in particular benefits from cooling off 30 degrees or more after brewing, unlocking an inherent delicate complexity.
Laga Lizu is a blend of four of the highest scoring lots from cooperatives in the Ngada District of Flores. These four coffees actually originate from four separate small local coffee farmer cooperatives, all part of an umbrella cooperative group who help manage coffee deliveries, and lot separation. This lot is a product of a coordinated effort between the coop managers and an intermediary we're working with in the region to identify, separate, and evaluate coffees from farms from the higher elevations (1300+ meters above sea level). These mountain peak areas are referred to as "Wolo"s, the main mountains being Wowomuda, Lobotbutu, and the active volcano, Babomuda. Much of the kinship groups in these areas are matrilineal, with land being passed through women. Because of this, you see a lot more women in leadership positions at the farm and cooperative levels (Marselina Walu in the first photo is the coop elder at Kagho Masa Cooperative). Most of the coffees are processed on hand cranked or motorized depulping machines on the farm, fermentation in buckets or small tanks, and then drying on raised drying beds. Because of the nutrient rich soils, they are able to grow coffee using fully organic farm practices, though they are not certified at this time.
An interesting sweet squash smell comes up in the dry fragrance when grinding the coffee, City+ roasting pulling out developed brown sugar sweetness, and chocolate undertones. The wet aroma has a bit more of a fruited side, not easily discernible smells but bringing up aspects of dark dried fruits like prune and fig, and cocoa smells come on strong. City+ makes or a tasty brewed cup, earthy chocolate tones providing a pleasant bittersweet contrast to the dark fruited notes, and while there are hints of tart stone fruit skins, they seem buried by the aforementioned. A sweet herbal side comes into view as the cup cools, tarragon and fresh basil hints and licorice note accenting the finish. Full City roasts are incredibly bittersweet, layers of bittering cocoa roast tones leaving little room for much else. I took one roast just beyond Full City but not quite to second crack (some oils showing on the beans with 24 hours rest), and I found the cup to be a little too bittering for my taste, lacking the level of sweetness tasted in my roast that was a shade lighter. Not bad as single origin espresso, but I would use more as a body/chocolate component in an espresso blend rather than offer on it's own.
A selection of 4 or 8 different coffees. They are curated by us each day.
Trying a sampler is the best way, in my opinion, to get started home roasting, especially if you are not sure what coffee to choose. We can not promise a particular origin in the sampler.
In the 4 Lb and 8 Lb sample sets we try to include a coffee from every coffee growing continent and a range of processes. Some folks have suggested that having a larger quantity of a single bean that takes a range of roasts is a better way to learn roasting -- I think getting a range of flavors so you can start to see the difference origin makes is better. The choice is up to you really. Limit one sample set per order since we cannot ensure against duplicates if you order multiple sample sets.
A selection of 4 different decaf coffees.
A selection of 4 or 8 different coffees we think will do well for espresso roast levels and preparation. They are curated by us each day, no substitutions.
Please note: for this Espresso sampler - we send some of our Sweet Maria's blends, and some single origins considered good for espresso. The selection in this option is more narrow, tailored for demands of espresso brewing and the 4lb espresso sampler will be mostly/all espresso blends.
Lot #209 is the first of a series of individual Gesha lots we purchased from a coffee estate in the Acatenango region. We buy this Gesha every year, and this year we decided to offer seperated lots instead of blending into one final coffee. We found that all of the coffee lots share similar cup characteristics. Afterall, they are the same cultivar pulled from the the same farm. But flavor profiles did vary slightly, as did our scores, and so we think it's only fair to offer them as unique offerings to highlight their differences, and to keep things fresh. If you don't know the story of the Gesha cultivar, it is an old coffee type from Ethiopia that was brought to an experimental coffee garden in Costa Rica years ago as a specimen sample. It was distributed to a few farms for testing on small plots, but not much was thought of it until one of these, Esmeralda in Panama, separated it from the other cultivars and entered it in the national competition. It was so outrageously different, with fruited and floral character like a Yirga Cheffe coffee from half a world away. Now that the word is out, other farms that received some of the seed have tried to separate their Gesha coffee as well, as is the case here. The results are always a bit different: the cultivar "expresses" itself differently in terms of cup flavors at each location, influenced by weather, soil, altitude and the like. And with this coffee from the region of Acatenango, we have a Gesha cup that expresses much of that floral intensity that's become synonymous with the "Gesha" name. Harvest was quite productive this year again as the owner of the farm has dedicated even more of his farm to this varietal, which after putting it to the cup test we've decided is a very good thing.
Floral sweetness is part of what's unique about the Gesha cultivar - perfume-like, sweet, complex, and 'fresh' - a set of aromatics we've come to associate with Spring and Summer, the time when this Gesha arrives. The dry fragrance of lot 1 is a bit more subdued than what we expect from this coffee. Jasmine notes do accent raw sugar sweetness, but I wouldn't say it "bowled us over" as it has in the past. (That said, put it next to another coffee from the region and I think we'd all say otherwise!). The wet aromatics, however, are where fresh florals and clean sugary sweet smells reach their apex, a perfumed gardenia-like scent, and cooked stone fruit, pectin sweetness underneath. Jasmine and rose water florals are apparent at a fairly wide roast range, however I would caution against taking anywhere near Full City+ as the roast tones will dominate much of the top note complexity. We do get customer feedback from time to time asking what all the fuss is about with Gesha, and I would say 9 times out of 10, they roast the coffee too dark to find out. I love drinking light and even closer to middle roasts of this coffee (City to City+), where citrus flavors of lemon water and mandarin orange highlight the cup, and vibrant acidity threads together the complex accent notes that hang way out in the aroma: lemon and limade, pearl jasmine and sencha teas, bubble gum, and peach hard candy. This Gesha has surprisingly juicy body when taken into City+, which sets it apart from many other Geshas we've tasted, a weight that supports the intense cup characteristics and sweetness. The finish is filled out with notes of cardamom spice and even a light dusting of cocoa powder in roasts beyond City+. Full City roasts are enjoyable, but I personally wouldn't compromise this complex cup character with darker roasting. As usual, these Gesha beans iare dense and large, and I found that the coffee benefited from a handful of seconds beyond the completion of 1st crack, ensuring roast evenness.
This lot from the La Libertad region is a custom blend we put together from the coffees of small producers in the various coffee communities within the municipality. The farms making up this lot start at about 1700 meters, and are planted in a mix of Bourbon, Caturra, and many older Typica types sprinkled in. The coffee is processed at small wet mills at farmer's homes, or the home of a neighbor, depulping the coffee cherry from the day's harvest directly into fermentation tanks, washed the following day, and then moved to the drying patios. The dry parchment is transported down to be cleaned and sorted at a local dry mill in Huehuetenango town where it is prepared for maritime transit. We spent many hours at the cupping table sorting through small producer lots from the area in order to put this single regional blend of coffee from neighboring "cafeteros" of the Libertad municipality.
This lot from La Libertad has a nice fragrance in the dry grounds, with golden raisin and toffee nut in lighter roasts, and molasses sugar in our Full City roast. Aromatically speaking, there's a solid brown sugar smell that comes up from the wetted crust that reminds me of a caramelized brown sugar crumble. This aromatic profile transfers to the cup as well, the lighter roasts having layers of unrefined sugar flavors, along with tea top notes, and a tea-like tannic quality in the finish. City+ roasts show well when brewed, but I think I prefer this lot of La Libertad at Full City myself, a foundation of deep cocoa bittering notes paired with dark dried fruit flavors like plum, and black fig. Full City works great for espresso, shots characterized by viscous body, a chocolatey note ala semi-sweet chocolate chips, and a tart dark stone fruit accent.
Yes, this Gesha comes from the same Acatenango farm we buy our other Gesha lots from. But the flavor profile was unique enough compared to the others and so we tagged it "Longberry" as to differentiate it from the rest. It has a fruited side that is as overt as the jasmine floral notes we expect from Gesha, and that adds a tanginess that's obvious in light roasts. This Longberry lot's moisture content reads a bit higher than the others too (%12.3 as opposed to %11.5), which could mean a little longer time in the fermentation tank, or perhaps on the drying patios, and may contribute to the slightly more fruited cup. If you don't know the story of the Gesha cultivar, it is an old coffee type from Ethiopia that was brought to an experimental coffee garden in Costa Rica years ago as a specimen sample. It was distributed to a few farms for testing on small plots, but not much was thought of it until one of these, Esmeralda in Panama, separated it from the other cultivars and entered it in the national competition. It was so outrageously different, with fruited and floral character like a Yirga Cheffe coffee from half a world away. Now that the word is out, other farms that received some of the seed have tried to separate their Gesha coffee as well, as is the case here. The results are always a bit different: the cultivar "expresses" itself differently in terms of cup flavors at each location, influenced by weather, soil, altitude and the like. And with this coffee from the region of Acatenango, we have a Gesha cup that expresses much of that floral intensity that's become synonymous with the "Gesha" name.
The dry fragrance has smells of lime peel zest with floral and spice notes that are much more than subtle. The floral aspects are definitely of the star jasmine variety - typical for Gesha coffee - and spiced sweetness that smells a bit like cinnamon-spiced honey. The wetted crust of City and City+ roasts pack hefty sweetness, like warm butterscotch syrup, only to be eclipsed by a resonant floral aroma that's released on the break. The cup has much of the aforementioned qualities, a delicious base brown sugar-to-butterscotch sweetness that lasts long into the aftertaste, and that is marked by delicate top notes often thought to be reserved for coffees of East Africa. A floral pearl jasmine tea note is easily recognized, and cinnamon and cardamom spice come through to a lesser extent. As the cup cools, citrus flavor and vibrance moves closer to pole position, taking on a flavor lime, replete with a tangy citric brightness that pairs well with black tea notes in the short finish. A toasted sesame note crops up as the cup cools adding a grain-like sweetness that comes off like honey-sesame candies. I roasted one batch to Full City, and while it had juicy bittersweetness, there wasn't much left signifying the coveted varietal.
This lot comes from the community of Bojonalito in the municipality of La Libertad, Huehuetenango. Altitude in this area spans a range of roughly 1500 meters in town, on up to about 1800 meters in the surrounding hillsides. Like most of the coffee communities in the area, farmers of Bojonalito plant Bourbon and Caturra types for the most part, with the occasional Typica mixed in. Coffee processing is handled at the farmer's home or the home of a neighbor, and then the coffee is patio dried. The dry parchment is transported down to "Huehue" town where it is dry milled and prepared for final transport to the US. We spent many hours at the cupping table sorting through small producer lots from the region in order to put this 16 bag lot together. This is part of our "Proyecto Xinabajul" in Huehuetenango, which you can read an in-depth and detailed description of the HERE.
Dried fruit and cocoa smells are released in the dry fragrance, raisins rolled in bittering baking cocoa comes to mind, along with a developed burned sugar bitterweetness. The sweetness in the wet aroma has elements of bran muffins with honey, like sweet baked goods, and breaking through the crust releases a sweet/savory hint that reminds me of sweet yam baked with brown sugar. Along with layers of raw sugar, Bojonalito promises an unfolding of complex fruited accents as the cup temperature dips. A demurara-like sweetness at City and City+ roasts gives way to subtle top notes of apple juice, and dried apricot, and a taste of cane juice comes into view in the finish. At Full City expect to sense darker fruited notes like fig and dark berry in a mouth temperature cup (even grape to some extent), though bittersweet chocolate is the dominant characteristic.
Proyecto Xinabajul, and we're pleased to offer these newest members.Each year we find new folks in Huehuetenango to buy coffee from, and sometimes we're lucky enough to find a whole family of coffee producers. The Castillos are such a family, and this lot is made up by Edwin, Arcenio, and Cornelio in the Hoja Blanca area of Cuilco - neighbors, family members, "Familia Castillo" (that's Edwin, and Arcenio along with other brother Felino in the first picture). Hoja Blanca is rife with coffee farmers, like many of these highland regions, and it's an area we've been buying coffee from now for some time, with Finca Regalito/Famila Villatoro being one of our longest interests. These farms are situated right around 1700 meters, and Caturra and Bourbon make up the lion's share of the coffee grown in the area, but some Typica trees are also in the mix at a much lower volume. Processing is handled at home, and the coffee is patio dried, then trucked down to a dry-mill in Huehuetenango town where it is prepared for transit. We're going on 8 years for our Proyecto Xinabajul, and we're pleased to offer these newest members.
This coffee boasts a dark sugar sweetness in middle to deeper roasting, baking spice top notes, and a pleasant nuttiness that make for a great daily cup. The dry fragrance has a honey covered almond scent, with hints of baked apple and cinnamon. The wetted crust smells a bit like baked goods, sweet pastry smells of brown sugar, and darker chocolate roast tones at Full City. The acidity does well to structure cup flavors, tying together a base comprised of dark brown sugar sweetness and cocoa bittersweetness. At City+, there are notes of pistachio and black walnut that fill out the finish along with a faint dry fruit accent, and a flavor of cinnamon-spiced cocoa powder in the long aftertaste. Full City roasting builds out the layers of cocoa bittersweetness, as well as hint at dark stone fruit, an understated prune note in the middle and finish. A versatile Guatemala in terms of both roasting and brew methods. Espresso shots of Full City roasts are teeming with dark cocoa notes that will pair well with steamed milk .
"Pequeñas de Peña" refers to the small farmers we are buying from in the area of Peña Blanca. This sub-municipality of La Libertad, is perched high in the mountainous region of Huehuetenango, many farms reaching as high as 2000 meters above sea level. This coffee comes to us through a joint-effort of a local micro-mill owner who is able to process and separate the micro-lots we approve, and a highly sophisticated dry-mill who handle the finishing touches and export the coffees for us. It helps us greatly to enlist local support, folks who not only know the land but also the local farmers. We put in quite a bit of work ourselves, tasting many rounds of samples in order to identify the premium-level coffees, as well as make several trips to the area each year meeting with farmers and collecting information. This coffee represents the harvest of a single-producer, and a whopping 900 LBS in total. This is part of our "Proyecto Xinabajul" in Huehuetenango, which you can read an in-depth and detailed description of the HERE.
This sweet smelling coffee shows prized characteristics in the aromatic profile. The dry fragrance at City+ produces raw sugar and cinnamon stick suggestions, with an overlay of caramel crumble. The wet grounds are rife with caramelized sugar smells, the pungency that comes with burning sugar in a pan, and a butterscotch top note lets off in the steam when breaking through the crust. At City+ the brewed coffee has weighty body like warm milk, flavors of roasted almond drizzled with buttery caramel, and baking spice flecks as well as a corn syrup flavor highlight the finish. A dried apple note accents the sweet cup, a nice counterpoint to base bittersweet flavors as the coffee temperature cools. I don't characterize this coffee as 'bright', but was impressed with a subtle impression of fruited brightness in my City+ roasts. Full City roasts are much more bittersweet, base flavors a cross between caramel candies and high % dark chocolate bar, and make an excellent espresso, as well as present a nice option for those who enjoy coffee milk drinks (would make an excellent café au lait).
The micro region of Peña Roja is located in the sub-municipality of La Libertad, Huehuetenango. This coffee comes to us through a joint-effort of a local micro-mill owner who is able to process and separate the micro-lots we approve, and a highly sophisticated dry-mill who handle the finishing touches and export the coffees for us. It helps us greatly to enlist local support, folks who not only know the land but also the local farmers. We put in quite a bit of work ourselves, tasting many rounds of samples in order to identify the premium-level coffees, as well as make several trips to the area each year meeting with farmers and collecting information. This coffee represents the harvest of about a dozen different producers from the community, equaling 26 x 69 kg bags in total. This is part of our "Proyecto Xinabajul" in Huehuetenango, which you can read an in-depth and detailed description of the HERE.
The dry fragrance has a sweet overlay of caramel crumble at City+, subtle bittering undertones, and a roasted almond accent. The wet grounds have a rich bittersweetness at Full City, layered roast tones released on the break, and strong waft of cacao nib in the steam. At City+ the brewed coffee has juicy body, a nice weighty mouthfeel like apple juice. An apple-y fruit flavor is a surprise in City+ roasts, not something I sensed in smells at all, and lends to the apple-like acidity (especially in my City+ roast, but not as present at Full City). Both my City+ and Full City roasts made for a lovely brewed coffee, showing balanced bittersweetness that tastes like caramel accented dark cacao bar. Caramelized sugar and silky chocolate flavors hang on long in the aftertaste accompanied by a slight tannic aspect you find in stone-fruit skins. Peña Blanca doubles well as single origin espresso too.
This is an AA grade coffee from the Ndunduri Factory, a collection site where coffee cherry from the local farmers is purchased and processed for export. The Factories operate to serve the surrounding farmers who are cooperative members by contributing agronomical assistance and other services to the community, and ultimately helping to usher their coffee cash crop to the global market. Ndunduri is part of the Kibungu Farmer's Cooperative Society ("FCS"), which is comprised of five Factories in total in highland areas of the Embu region. Farmers grow a mix of SL cultivars, as well as Ruiru 11. Altitude in the area ranges from 1800 to just about 2000 meters above sea level.
The dry fragrance is marked by honey sweetness and red berry, a sweet orange whiff in my lightest City roast. Darker roasting brings about fruits of a darker hue too, and berry and grape smells really come to fore after adding hot water. The wetted crust shows exceptionally sweet fruit smells, like a berry jam and brown sugar and orange glaze, and my Full City roasts showed a mix of grape and dark roast tone. Ndunduri is an intense brewed cup at a wide range of roasts. My City roast was the brightest with an orange tartness adding a striking vibrance to flavors of lemon meringue, and cranberry-orange juice. The finish is spiced, like clove powder, and with a bit of an unexpected honey dew note in the long finish. Full City roasting definitely brings out a bittersweetness that has an appealing cacao side. But after cooling just a little, dark berry and grape flavors gain prominence to the point of dominating the cup. I'm impressed by the level of sweetness at Full City too, a dense raw sugar flavor acts as a sort of buttress for the rest of the complex cup notes.
Thunguri is a "Factory" located in the Kirinyaga district, just across the border from Nyeri. Factories are basically what we call a wet mill, and is where cooperative farmers bring coffee cherry fruit for processing in Kenya. The coop is part of the Rumukia FCS (farmers cooperative society), a parent society whose other Factories we've bought coffee from and offered multiple times in our 15 year history at Sweet Maria's (Kiawamururu and Tambaya come to mind offhand). AA, AB, PB, all from the same day's harvest, but we're never really sure which will shine brightest, and this AB outturn happened to stand out amongst the rest. An out-turn is the name for the graded, separated lots that come from one raw, unmilled lot of parchment coffee that arrives at the mill. AA and AB refer to screen size - 17 to 19 1/64 in., and 15 to 17 1/64 in. respectively.
The dry fragrance shows a subtle citrus feature alongside a maple sugar sweetness, the sweet smell of candied orange peel wrapped up in unrefined sugar. Aromatically too, I picked up on a smell of citrus with cinnamon and all-spice accents along with layers of sugar browning smells, and breaking through the crust gives off an impression of canned orange juice concentrate. The cup of City roasts most echoes my notes on "smells", and you won't be disappointed if light roasting is your preference. Soft citrus notes are revealed like lemonade and orange notes, and acidity has a slight grabbiness to it, akin to pink grapefruit. Berry notes accent the cup as well, and the underlying sweetness is very much fruited, as well as marked by raw sugars, baking spice accents making their mark in the finish. It's kind of surprising how just a shade darker reveals a whole other coffee. Fruit and sugar tones come off like blueberry pancake syrup, and raspberry compote sandwiched between a thin layer of dark chocolate. The cool cup reveals mixed berry jam flavors, and from as light as City to our darkest Full City roast, a lasting sweetness prevails. Complexity will shine in pour over brewing, and even full submersion brews such as French Press.
Kenya Nyeri Ndiaini AB is from the Ndiaini Factory, "factory" in Kenya being synonymous with what we call a wet mill. The factories are cherry collection and processing sites where the local farmers who are cooperative members are able to sell their harvested coffee as whole cherry, and it is then processed using depulping machinery, fermentation and washing tanks, and then laid out to dry in the expansive array of drying tables adacent to the wet milling area. Ndiaini is one of several factories that are all part of the Rumukia Farmers Co-operative Society (Kiawamururu, Tambaya, and Thunguri are a few others we've bought in the past) who collectively share agronomical and business management resources. This is the AB outturn of a particular process batch from Ndiaini, meaning all the coffee that fall between 15 - 17 1/64ths of an inch screen sizes are separated out and sold under this grading. We liked the fruit-forward nature of the cup, and so settled on this particular outturn. They implement hand picking at the dry mill, which is apparent when looking at the quality of the green coffee, where very few physical inconsistencies can be found.
Ndiaini has really big fruited smells and flavors, especially considering that it's a fully washed coffee. Dark stone fruit and winey berry smells come through in the fragrance of the dry ground coffee, which come off as jam-like when adding hot water - warm fruit reductions, berries and grapes being cooked down with raw sugar. Brewing up City roasts blueberry flavor, a tart beet juice note, and berry skins that have a mouth tightening effect. As the cup continues to cool in temperature a grabby citrus flavor develops, which defines acidity too, like the tang of the inside of an orange peel. A green herbal note makes an appearance in the finish too, and with typical bittering undertones, has a similarity to tarragon leaf. Full City roasting builds a chocolatey/berry mix, and pulling an espresso with a couple days rest yielded an intensely bittersweet espresso shot, with a tart grape flavor shadowing closely, and faint licorice aromatic accent on the exhale.
La Tacita Floral, "the floral cup", an aptly titled blend pointing to ingredients that show floral notes on their own, and together make for a flowery complexity that couldn't be acheived by any single component. Each are highlight coffees, but the crowning jewel of the bunch is Gesha, this time around from Guatemala, one of the most unique Central American coffees we've procured. In the past we have recommended some of our Gesha coffees for espresso, but realize that at $15 - $20 a pound, it's not the most cost effective way to enjoy this distinctive cultivar. We've also tasted that it only takes a small amount of Gesha to stand straight out in a blend, especially when pulled as espresso, and so La Tacita Floral was put together as a sort of cost efficient Gesha espresso, and pairs it with two other floral coffees to enhance perfumed highlights in the cup. The other two parts of the blend are from Western Ethiopia and Rwanda, both regions that produce some of our most espresso-worthy African coffees each year. All three are wet processed coffees, and so acidity comes in high volume. I recommend that for espresso you either dial that back by stretching your roast times for lighter roasts (if your roaster has manual controls), or shooting for roast development around Full City. You can be sure that either roast application still produces a citric vibrance, but just not to the point of puckering, or metallic. Florals are clear and apparent across this roast spectrum, and matched by resounding sweetness.
La Tacita Floral proves that when it comes to espresso, a little Gesha cultivar goes a long way. To be fair, 1/3 is no small amount, and from the high level of floral flavor and aroma found in the shot, I'd believe it if I were told this was 100% Gesha cultivar. We roasted several batches of this blend, and some of my favorites were on the lighter end of the roast spectrum, but with stretched roast times. For example, a City+ roast that we might normally achieve in 10 minutes, was dragged out an extra 3 to 4 minutes by making more incremental adjustments in heat, which allows the coffee to roast more evenly from the inside out. This also tends to mute acidity a bit, which for a blend of coffees that have some of the highest acidity scores, rolling off that intensity in the shot is a good thing. These long but light roasts could be extracted at a 1:1 ratio (18 grams in / 18 grams out) and show lemony brilliance without getting overly bright or metallic results. An up front burst of Meyer lemon quickly fades to floral chocolate flavor that coats your palate. There's an underlying sweetness that staves off any bittering flavors that often come with chocolate roast tone, and unbound floral accent notes proliferate. A strong note of pearl jasmine tea weaves through the undercurrent of sweetened dark cocoa, infusing the shot with flowery perfumed note that lingers like a stargazer lily, as does a mix of dark orange, chocolate syrup, and rose water. Our Full City roast was still loaded with floral overtones and of course dark chocolate, a flavor mix consistent with high % cacao bar spiked with jasmine flower. There was also a dark fruit note different from our lighter roasts that comes off like sweetened pomegranate juice, and with mandarin-like vibrance woven through. This blend was constructed with espresso in mind, but each of the three ingredients score 90+ on their own, and so shooting for a dual-use roast for both brewing and espresso is a more than viable option. If this is your goal, I'd stick to a stretched City+. It's also worth noting that the cupping graph and score are based on our espresso shots, not brewed coffee, but the latter rates close in all categories (and even higher in the case of acidity when roasted light).
It's that time of year again, when new crop African coffees have us bursting at the seams. Being that African coffees are the highest scoring coffees on our list, having too many is a bit of a luxury problem, as well as an opportunity for us to share them with you in this East African 4-pack. A sampling of East African coffees that deserve a special level of focus, and this sample set highlights the fantastic range of flavor and complexity.
Ethiopia and Kenya receive so much attention in the coffee world, and they are deservedly rewarded with some of our highest scores in the course of the year (as the two in this sample set can attribute to). Yet the quality coming out of nearby Burundi and Rwanda should receive full representation as well. We're investing more and more in these two growing regions as they continually improve, producing wet-processed coffees that are delicious and versatile at a wide range of roasts. These coffees can be syrupy sweet, complex, clean, and even floral.
These are all high caliber coffees in their own right, but the set emphasizes flavor diversity. And it's also worth mentioning that most of these African coffee of score above 88 points.
*Please note that we can't make substitutions or take special requests for our samplers. Thank you!
The farm where this coffee was produced is over 40 years old, part of a larger set of plantations that were privately held since the late 1960s. Mr. Sero stepped in and bought one of the estates about eight years ago, replete with a processing facility which was built to process all seven estates some time ago. The 42 hectare farm sits at 1680 meters above sea level, and is still planted in the original tree stock, Blue Mountain Typica and Arusha types. Mr. Sero dry ferments his coffee for 36 hours, perhaps lending to the fruited characteristics found in the cup. The coffee is dried on tarps, which is not ideal, however they put great care in keeping the area clean, turning the coffee regularly to facilitate even drying. There is an old dry-mill on the premises too which is not currently in use, but perhaps an investment in the future. I found the final sort of this coffee to be quite nice, consistent bean size (approximately 15 - 17 screen), and with very few quaker beans. You can easily identify and pull out quaker beans because they are yellow, and look un-roasted. These are unripe cherries that made it through processing, a common occurrence in small numbers.
This most recent arrival of Kainantu Sero has complex layers of sugars and fruited sweetness, a bit more on the tropical side than our previous lot, and also finishes clean. A strong scent of unrefined sugars like brown rice and palm sugar comes through at City roast level, along with dried tropical fruits, and an herbal hint.. City+ roasts shine a light on Sero's fruited side, bringing about dark berry elements, and tropical fruit accents, like dried pineapple, papaya, and event a wisp of coconut pulp. Cardamom spice accents the cooling cup, and the finish is marked by notes of coconut water, cacao nibs, and a green herbal flavor that reminds me of Thai basil. Brewing will yield a thick-bodied coffee, and I would stick close to the middle roast levels, not wavering too far in either direction from the City+ range in order to capture this coffee's full sweetness potential, without obscuring complex top notes.
Obura-Wonenara District is not far from Goroka, and lies in the eastern highlands of the country. This coffee comes from a delivery station in the district, a collector who is set up to buy coffee from neighbors in the highland areas, altitudes ranging from 1700 - 1900 meters above sea level. The dominant cultivars in the region are old Typica types, and the coffee is fully wet processed. The sorted coffee looks beautiful, much of the defects hand-picked while the coffee is in wet parchment, and picked through again after being hulled of the thin parchment layer post drying. The few roasts we did looked very even coming out of the roaster, only a couple partial quakers in the bunch.
Obura-Wonenara has a rustic fruit and sugar sweetness that carries through the aromatic profile, and into the cup. With hot water added, the sweet smells run the range of caramelizing sugars to fruit filling (like a date bar). The cup flavors are in line with this description, impressive sugary sweetness provides a solid base to the cup profile, and plays off rustic earth tones like palm sugar in the aftertaste. City+ is a good starting point roast-wise, and produces darker dried fruit notes like black fig and prune, and an indistinct tropical aspect that add to the overall picture. Middle roasts (City+ to Full City) make a nice brewed cup, a complex mesh of earth-toned, fruited sweetness. Full City roast level adds a smokey cocoa layer to the mix, with fruit and bittersweetness still very much intact.
This dry processed coffee is from the El Pato cooperative, a certified Fair Trade and Organic coop that's operated in the Amazonian Andes since 2003. This is Typica varietal, a large bean coffee, and is dry processed with the whole cherry left intact during the entire drying process. This type of processing tends to produce fruit forward coffees, heavier body, and muted acidity. Such is the case for this coffee from El Palto. The cooperative is invested in coffee quality and quantity, re-investing their premiums in both the farms and the families of farmers. They're currently at nearly 200 members, and have done a great job of isolating quality lots and featuring as micro, single-farm lot offers. Being a dry processed coffee, you can expect a lot of chaff to come off of the beans during the roasting process. This, in combination with the darker color hue that dry process coffees take on, can make judging physical roast characteristics a little tricky. Pay attention to when first crack begins and ends, and adjust your finish times from there.
This dry processed lot is a powerhouse in terms of dense sweetness and the array of fruited notes that are present. Sweetness and complexity aren't hard to come by with this one, and no matter where your roast development winds up, you're sure to be rewarded with a bold, fruit-forward brew. The dry fragrance of City roasts has a strawberry smell, not so much like the actual fruit, but more on the dehydrated side, and reminds me of strawberry milk powder. The wet aroma is filled with dried fruit smells, that with a rustic sweetness comes off a lot like an Ethiopian Harrar dry-process coffee. Full City roasts bring about pungent cocoa roast tones, along with dark berry fruit smells on the break. The cooling cup has a rustic date sugar sweetness, and as the temperature dips, fruited notes like red berry, dried strawberry, and banana chips make quite an impression. It doesn't have the cup clarity of a dry processed Ethiopia Yirga Cheffee coffee, but you'd be hard pressed to not take notice of overt fruit flavors that are out front at a wide range of roasts. There's a winey side too, and the finish has a cranberry liqueur aspect. Darker roasting does little to tone down bold dried and dehydrated fruited notes, and at Full City the cup shows a blend of semi-sweet chocolate chips, dried natural apricot, and grape wine.
The village of El Cautivo is located in one of two coffees we bought from the San Ignacio District, Cajamarca, a region known for producing specialty grade coffee. The group in El Cautivo are one of several who together have formed a coffee farmer's alliance, "Finca Santuario". The goal of this association is to aggregate resources in order to not only gain the small farmer transparent access to the global market, but also work as a collective to increase their coffee's value by planting cultivars with cup quality in mind, and improve harvest techniques as well as processing and drying conditions. This is a fully washed coffee, meaning that after most of the fruit is mechanically removed from the seed, the remaining sticky layer of mucilage is broken down by overnight fermentation and then washed away the next day. Most of the farmers wet-process and dry their coffee at home, and then deliver their dry parchment to the local association arm in town where it is stored until export. This is one of four lots of coffee we bought from Finca Santuario this year, most of which we're finding to be versatile in the roaster, as well as working well in many brew methods (this one is a fantastic espresso!).
Loose leaf tea comes to mind when grinding a City roast of this coffee, a smell that's like popping a box of bagged black tea. You get a sense of caramel malt sweetness and bittering coffee tones too, and City+ strikes a nice balance between these two characteristics. City+ and Full City is where I found the most balanced cups in general, a bittersweet cocoa aroma that plays out in the finish, with an undercurrent of raw sugar finding equal footing. I also roasted to City level, but found the coffee's sweetness to be underwhelming. But middle roasts is where El Cautivo opens up to flavors of brown sugar and a raw Brazil nut, and an interesting sweet yam note in the finish. Full City shows a delicious hazelnut chocolate flavor like Nutella. I enjoyed an espresso shot with my FC roast, finding flavors of semi-sweet chocolate chips, and creamy nut tones in the long aftertaste.
The tiny hamlet of El Horcon is located in San Ignacio District, Cajamarca, a region known for producing specialty grade coffee. With less than 20 families in town, they've banded together as one part of a coffee farmer's alliance called "Finca Santuario". The goal of this association is to aggregate resources in order to not only gain the small farmer transparent access to the global market, but also work as a collective to increase their coffee's value by planting cultivars with cup quality in mind, and improve harvest techniques as well as processing and drying conditions. This is a fully washed coffee, meaning that after most of the fruit is mechanically removed from the seed, the remaining sticky layer of mucilage is broken down by overnight fermentation and then washed away the next day. Most of the farmers wet process and dry their coffee at home, and then deliver their dry parchment to the local association arm in town where it is stored until export. This is one of four lots of coffee we bought from Finca Santuario this year, most of which we're finding to be versatile in the roaster, as well as working well in many brew methods.
Sweetness is apparent in the dry grounds, a mix of nut and spice smells come through like honey-roasted peanut and cinnamon, and Full City showing an subtle anise hint. Nutty sweetness builds with hot water, a sort of walnut brownie smell coming up from the wetted crust, and a waft of candy coated peanut takes shape. City roast is just too light for this coffee, and lacks sweetness that comes with more roast development. City+ roasts had pleasant nut and molasses flavors, and dense body to go with it. But my favorite of my three roasts was Full City, where an underlying cocoa flavor offers a bittersweet backdrop for burned sugar and roasted nut notes to stand out against. The cool cup reminds me of chocolate-peanut butter cookies, and inky body does much to carry that flavor into the long aftertaste, along with a woody spice accent. A bittersweet espresso too, inky, and with loads of baking cocoa, and great for milk drinks.
"Ibisi" is the name of the mountain where this high elevation washing station is located. They act as a catchment for the small-scale farmers in the highland community where they can deliver and sell their coffee cherry during the harvest. Ibisi Station is connected with the global market through a Rwandan exporter, which is how we came upon the original set of offer samples. We made a visit to the station last June, and met with Bernard, the owner. He comes from a family of coffee collectors who produced mainly semi-washed coffees for export. Bernard set up his first fully washed mill named "Gitega Hills" a couple of years ago in Nyamegabe not too far from Ibisi. His Ibisi station is outfitted with a Penagos 2500 pulper, which has a pretty complex system of grading the cherry. Bourbon is still what farmers grow in this area, which no doubt plays a role in this coffee's supremely sweet cup profile. Altitude at the station is right around 2000 meters above sea level, and the farms are on the +/- side of this number, but not by much. Lot #667 is our second lot from this washing station, the first Lot #617 selling out quickly.
This second lot of Rwanda Ibisi Bya Huye is right in line the the first. The dry fragrance is uniquely spiced in the way that only Rwandan coffees offer, cinnamon and all spice note accent sweet smells of raw sugar cane and panela come, foreshadowing the sweet cup to come. Pouring hot water raises the bar on sweetness, the steaming coffee crust verging on floral. Raw sugar and clove spice are raised in the steam, the sweetness heavily hinting at raw honey, and a raisin-like dried fruit note come up off the break. A cooling cup at City has refreshing brightness like watered down lemon juice, vibrant without a tart edge, giving structure to a raw sugar sweetness that's a big part of this coffee's core. Flavors of black tea, dried currant, orange hard candy, and candied citrus peel offer counter points to the layers of raw sugar. Ibisi is supremely sweet at the light end of the roast spectrum, as well as on up to Full City where a chocolate taffy flavor comes into play, as well as a dark, spiced fruit note. The finish is succinct, and clean too, herbal and black tea notes, and a clove-spiced aroma accent the long aftertaste. This is Rwandan coffee at it's finest, and marks yet another fresh container of during what is one of our favorite times of the year for new arrivals.
The washing station Kageyo lies in the highlands surrounding the southeastern shores of Lake Kivu. It's not too far from another washing we purchase coffee from, Gitesi, and is a coffee that hits a similar quality target. In fact, Kageyo was the 1st place winner of Rwanda's Cup of Excellence coffee competition in 2011. But other than winning this competition, the cooperative struggled during this time, taking out a bank loan to build a new wet mill that low harvests made it difficult to repay. A private exporter stepped in to help out, purchasing the wet mill, but leaving the farmer cooperative structure intact. This has benefited the coop in that they are absolved of their loan debt, have a direct connection with the specialty market through a well-established export partner, and retain a supply chain that is completely transparent. This is the first year we've bought this coffee, and let's just say we're happy we picked up more than one lot. The coop is made up of small farmers situated around the wet mill between 1800 - 2000 meters above sea level. Like much of Rwanda, the coffee planted in the region is Bourbon variety. We "built" this lot by looking at all their day lot batches and combining the best ones. It's worth mentioning that this should not be confused with "Kigeyo", a name that you may recognize from other cafe menus. Currently the output of Kageyo is about 200 bags, all of which is split between us and one other buyer.
This lot from Kageyo shines in both light and dark roast applications, the cup boasting equal parts raw sugar sweetness and complex baking spice notes. At City, the dry fragrance has a strong smell of cinnamon sauce, with dark, caramelized sugar scent that hints at sticky buns. Closer to Full City sees a shift toward darker cocoa roast tones, with a subtle raisin accent . The wet aroma has a wonderful honey base note, with smells of spiced tea released in the steam when breaking through the crust. The cup has layers of spice notes - clove, cinnamon, star anise - along with dense cane juice sweetness. Together, light roasts have a flavor of clove soda, with glimpses of candied lemon peel as the coffee cools, as well as English Breakfast tea. There's a fruited brightness, especially at City and City+ roast levels, and structures the cup profile nicely. Middle roasts construct a chocolate undertone, that becomes more apparent in a cooled cup, with a finishing flavor of chocolate raisin and snickerdoodle cookies. Kageyo shows well at a wide roast range, and City+ roasts are delicious as a pour over brew. Espresso shots at Full City gush syrupy chocolate notes, and with a lovely dark grape accent, make for a remarkable single origin espresso.
Kanzu is coffee processing station located in the highlands of the Nyamasheke district in Rwanda. This is one example where the beauty of the area seems to correlate to the beauty of the coffee itself. Kanzu is tucked away in a valley near the Nyungwe Forest Preserve. The coffee comes from small-holder farms at altitudes of 1900-2100 meters, which works well for the Bourbon variety coffee they harvest here. Coffee cherry is brought down to this station from hundreds of small farmers situated above the valley floor, or they bring the fruit to collection points Kanzu has set up in a nearby radius. Depulping of the coffee cherry is achieved using a 3-disc Kenya type machine. The coffee is then fermented for 24-48 hours depending on weather (cold snaps slow down the fermentation process). Kanzu has long channels to remove the mucilage from the coffee and grade density, but they also break up the fruit layer by dancing around in the concrete tanks before washing the coffee: It's a great sight, akin to the mythic stomping of the grapes. After soaking for 12 hours, the coffee is laid out to dry on raised beds for air- and sun-drying.
This is our second and final Kanzu arrival of the harvest season. It was the 9th process batch from the mill, and now well rested, offers a complex array of fruit and tea notes in the cup. The dry fragrance of City roasts has the sweetness of minimally-processed sugars, and accents of clove spice and golden raisin. Pouring hot water brings up an attractive mix of caramel malt, black currant herbal tea, and an array of baking spices. Brewing up a batch, I taste muscovado sugars in my City - City+ roast when the cup is hot, along with tea notes and a sort of nondescript berry fruit flavor. Once the coffee cools a bit an orange-like acidity is apparent, and fruited accents come off like Bartlett pear, dried peach, and a spiced orange marmalade note, along with a perfumed note of clove syrup. At darker FC levels, there is more bittersweet tang to the cup, with flavor hints of dark stone fruit, and a tannic black tea aspect in the finish. Kanzu is a complex coffee with loads to offer folks looking for light and bright, to the flavorful mix of dark fruit and cocoa that comes with more robust roast development.
Tumba has been a coffee on my radar for years. When I first tasted it, the sweetness and bright acidic snap in the cup made a great impression. But at the time I noticed varied quality from one cup to the next, and a lack of consistency can mean problems in the processing. For a coffee buyer, it signifies that what you taste now might not be what you get upon importation. The backstory at the time was Tumba Station was a private processing wet mill that had 2 owners with very different ideas of quality and how to run a mill. Fast forward 5 years, and we found ourselves purchasing Tumba for the first time under a different light. A local teacher in the Tumba area for which the mill is named, had taken over all aspects, and the coffee was consistent in every cup...and amazingly good! Venustre Mugraneza, the teacher, is esteemed in the local community and has been systematically improving the mill. The best coffee cherries (those that make up this lot) are dried in a special area of raised beds and receive focused handpicking by the farmers. Tumba is situated at 1825 meters in the Rulindo district, where we also source our excellent Cocatu Cooperative lots.
This lot from Tumba shows candied sweetness in the cup, a beautiful profile of fruit and tea flavors, and brilliant acidity that offers amazing structure to the complex cup character. The dry fragrance is laced with sweet berry smells, spiced accents of clove and cardamom, and layered raw sugar sweetness. The wet grounds smell so sweet, like lighter caramel that is near floral, butterscotch also comes to mind, and while fruited accents are still present, they aren't the focal point at this stage. The brewed coffee is incredibly clean and clear, profile flavors are crisp and succinct. Berry notes come into view as you move through the cup, raspberry iced tea, and sweetened dried cranberries. A subtle tangerine note comes through in City roasts, and at City+ there's a mingling of fresh and dried fruit flavors that accent the cup, like juicing oranges and black currant. Tumba has a sweet finish, with a mix of chocolate and citrus sensed in the long aftertaste, along with a tannic black tea flavor. Tumba's sweetness holds up to darker roast levels too, producing delicious dark chocolate roast tones, with cinnamon and chicory spice notes in the long finish. A remarkable Rwanda cup at a wide range of roasts, and we found City and City+ roasts brewed as pour-over made for a complete cup in terms of sweetness, complexity, and acidity.
The village of Jagong Jeget is locted in the Aceh Province, an area that occupies the northern territory of Sumatra. This mountainous region is home to some fairly high peaks for Aceh, contributing farms for this lot ranging from 1400 meters above sea level to upwards of 1700. There is a central wet mill here where coffee is collected and processed. The operation is a step above most of the home-processing you might run across in Sumatra, and with washing and floating channels to help with separation and cleanliness, it's much more akin to a wet-mill operation we might see in Latin America for example. This is still fairly typical wet-hulling, where coffee is de-pulped and then dried for a single day down to only 50%, then moved to a centralized mill in Takengon where the wet parchment is peeled and then the coffee drying is finished down to 11-12% moisture (this method is called "Giling Basah", and you can read Tom's article about it here.)
The dry fragrance has an herbal side that reminds me of Lintong coffee, tarragon and basil accents for instance, and layered with smells of cooked pumpkin and banana. Generally, the wet aromatics are much more complex than dry fragrance, but I find the coffee smells are toned down a touch in the wet aroma, more focused around dark sugars, and rustic syrupy sweetness, with a woodsy earth tone underneath. The cup falls in line with what's sensed up front, and Jagong Jeget has big sweetness of date sugar and rice syrup, both of which are on the rustic side of minimally refined sugars. Earthy undertones are complimented by a baked apple note, and the finish is marked by sweet leather and pipe tobacco accent notes. Body is inky, and bittering dark cacao flavors proliferate with roast development. Jagong Jeget will function well as an Indo blend component, as it certainly sticks out on it's own as a fine example of grade 1 wet-hulled Sumatra.
Every year when cupping coffees from Central America, there are so many lots that make a lasting impression on us as single origin espresso. So much so, that we thought it would be a great idea to blend a few of these lots together, creating a mix of diverse coffees from the Central American highlands. "Altiplano" is the word we are using for high plains, not to be confused with THE Altiplano in South America. From the La Cumbre mountains in El Salvador, to the Los Cuchumatanes in Guatemala, to the Los Arados mountains in Nicaragua, we bring in a wide variety of coffees with unique cup profile, and that all work extremely well as espresso. Blended together, the resulting cup or espresso has balance, and with an acidity that is controlled by roast development. Roasting to City+ will have the highest tones in the cup, and bright results in the espresso machine. Full City/Full City+ will produce a more "classic" espresso profile with chocolate roast pungency, deep sweetness, and zesty citrus acidity. Altiplano is seasonal dual-use blend, and we'll be rotating new coffees in as they become available, updating the review when necessary. This initial version is equal parts, all washed coffees - Guatemala from Acatenango, El Salvador Matalapa, and Nicaragua.
This is a great dual-purpose blend, and so we cupped it as both brewed coffee and espresso. Roasting to City+ - Full City is great for a cup of coffee, and the dry fragrance has a pungent-sugar sweetness, molasses sugars, along with roasted nut and hints of spice-tea. Wet, the sweetness peaks with dark toffee and a smell of butter pecan ice cream. Cupping the City/City+ roasts, you're rewarded with a tea-like brilliance providing structure to the cup. Flavors of muscovado sugar and cinnamon spice come through, along with roasted almond and golden raisin as the temperature cools. FC is surprisingly fruited, and strikes a pleasant balance between raw sugar sweetness and cocoa powder bittering. As espresso, FC shots show high levels of dark sugar sweetness and cocoa roast tones up front, peaking with a tart, lemon-citrus high tone. The mouthfeel is extremely dense, viscous, and like syrupy-chocolate. Nut and cocoa tones round out the finish well, intermixed with faint raisin and dry fruit hints.
People have requested that we offer a pre-blended espresso, a decaf counterpart to the Espresso Monkey blend. Working under the codename of the "Donkey Blend" (don't ask how all these ridiculous names started ---I think it was George's fault) we came up with this. It is intended to be used several ways. As an all-decaf espresso blend I wanted it to work well under a wide variety of roasting conditions, in terms of both lighter Northern Italian type espresso roasts (the equivalent of a Full City to Vienna Roast) and the darker Southern Italian type roast (roasted to a French roast). I also wanted a good espresso from both air and drum roasters, and I wanted good crema. This is a lot to ask from a decaf, but I think this blend works very well. While origin tastes are muted in decafs, I think the bittersweet roast tastes from this blend are very good. My second focus was having the blend not have too much character so that it can be used as a base blend for a "low-caf" espresso. This means it should work well as 50-75% of your blend where you add other caffeinated coffees to give more aromatics and flavor: my choice would be a Ethiopian Harar, or a Central American (see our Blending Basics article for more). Why do we call this Donkey Blend? Frankly, I can't remember .. it just is...
A longtime favorite espresso blend intended solely for pump and piston type espresso extraction. This is a sweet but punchy little cup, and roasted fairly light it is a shock to the palette, but has great body and a smooth, sweet, stunning aftertaste. The joke behind the name: I imagine a fancy roaster charming a client in the cupping room, effusing about their "Master Roaster" and "Master Blender" and "Master Cupper", all in the trade for decades of course. Then I imagine the scene in their warehouse where hired apes rip open bags of green coffee and randomly hurl handfulls into the hopper for roasting. In other words, there's a lot of BS in the coffee trade, and blending is NOT really a noble art ...it's done to save cost and disguise coffee defects 80% of the time. The Irony? I have never worked so hard to develop a blend as this one, designed to cup well at a full range of "espresso" roasts, and developed as a pre-blend (all coffees roasted together to same degree of roast). Am I going to tell you exactly what is in it? No! I am feeling a bit snobby today! Espresso Monkey has become our signature blend for some reason or other, perhaps because it is a true standard that we have sought to maintain for so long, and that we put such nice coffees into it.
We blend this for body, balanced between high and low tones, chocolate roast flavors, and slightly rustic fruited accent notes. Those are our goals, that is the "spirit" behind the blend, and we check it to make sure it meets those targets. Our roast goal is in the beginning stages of 2nd crack ... we never "let it roll".
Ethiopiques, an all Ethiopia coffee blend for espresso. It was our our 17th Espresso Workshop blend from a few seasons back, and with its popularity, we've decided to make it one of our regular blends. This a a vividly bright espresso blend, complex, high-toned, amazing ... but perhaps not for everyone (especially those who only make milk drinks). The espresso editions are limited, lot-specific blends inspired by the ingredients, rather than imposing a fixed idea on the result, then looking at the coffees to achieve it. This is a blend of wet-process coffees from the South, from Sidama and Yirga Cheffe specifically, as well as a Western coffee, interjecting from fruit-forwardness in the cup - all scored 90+ points on the cupping table. These are nuanced coffees, and while they are moderately bright, the resulting espresso isn't too puckering when taken to Full City, or stretched out in the roaster post 1st crack. In fact there is very intense chocolate roast taste formed by this specific coffee blend, and that is one of the dominant characteristics of the cup - as well as intense florals topped with brightness. What does Teddy Afro, famed and shamed Ethiopia music star have to do with this blend? Not much, but he does have an amazing voice. Millenium song! And you really should check out the Ethiopiques compilation records to appreciate the rich jazz and pop music traditions of that great land.
By standard cupping methods for brewed coffees, the profile is much "bigger" than previous years, and extracting this blend in an espresso machine produces something very intense, sweet, and complex. The dry fragrance of City roasts have citrus and tropical fruit suggestions, which are still prevalent in darker roasts but with an overlay of chocolate notes. The wet aroma is downright mouthwatering. Fruited notes are like peaches and apricots baked with brown sugar, spiced cake, and floral hints - our FC smelled like jasmine-infused dark chocolate bar. As a brewed coffee, this is a really amazing blend. So versatile, showing great from City to Full City, lightest roasts being very fruit-forward and clean - nectarine, mango, fragrant berry. It shows surprising level of body at these light roast levels too, carrying with it a syrupy-thick sweetness. Full City roasts develop rich chocolate flavors, with a nice slab of blackberry syrup. Ethiopiques makes for an intense ride through the espresso machine. The chocolate roast taste is pungent, aggressive, bittersweet, and long-lasting on the palate. But it is also very clean, succinct, not earthy or rustic. On top of this are intense florals - jasmine and sweet pea - lemon oil and rind, raisiny ripe fruit and red berries. The body seems bolstered by the intense cup flavors, and has the effect of satiny chocolate. It's fantastic! My preference is about 2 oz in 24 seconds, brew head temp right around 205 degrees. We are finding this also makes amazing Americano (espresso + water), which is no surprise. This can also be used as the "bright" component in a blend that tones it down a bit. For example 2/3 Brazil or El Salvador with 1/3 Ethiopiques.
What do you do when you accidentally use dry processed ingredients in a blend that calls for washed, and the resulting concoction is an impressive, if not wild espresso? If you're us, you don't let a good thing go to waste, and roll the new blend into production. And that's how we came to "Ethiopiques 2.0", a mix of wet and dry processed Ethiopias (2/3 to 1/3 respectively), that melds acidity and clean sweetness that comes with wet processing, with big body and fruit tones of the naturally processed counterpart. For those who appreciate both it's a match made in heaven, and I think you'll find the fruited tones to be quite complimentary. Mixing dry and wet process coffees before blending means equilibrium should be achieved in the drum, and I think is tricky to do when trying to roast light. I recommend making Full City your starting point, the bean mixture taking on a fairly even color tone, and where I think this blend really shows it's stuff - after all, this is an espresso blend. Dark fruits, big chocolate tones, citrus allusions - version 2.0 is a complex espresso to say the least.
From the outset, dried berry and cocoa tones permeate from the ground coffee, especially strong given the finer grind setting for espresso. I probably sound like a broken record, but I'm going with Full City as the recommended roast level for this blend. Partly a function of finding roast equalization between the differently processed beans. But also, dark berry tones start to really unfold in the dry process ingredient when roasting beyond City+, a real highlight to this cup. Dehydrated blueberry and cranberry, blackberry juice, huckleberry tea, are notes I picked up on in our espresso shots, fruited flavor attributes coated in dark chocolate syrup that peaks midway through. The chocolatey bittersweetness sort of fades away, leaving behind a mild fruitiness, and hop floral note to linger in the finish. Full City+ roasting takes some of the edge of the dark fruit flavors, but berry notes still manage to leave an impression amidst smokey chocolate bittersweetness. It's best if you can let your roast rest for at least 24 hours to off gas, but this blend might find it's peak closer to 48-72 hours rest.
This is my favorite blend designed to endure the rigors of dark roasting, and produce excellent pungent tastes, attractive bittersweet/carbony flavors, and great body. Body is so important to a darker roast. Extended roasts incinerate body, and a thin cup of burned water IS NOT what French Roast coffee is about! You do not want to fully burn up all the sugars, you want some degree of bittersweet, overlayed on the carbony charcoal tones of the burned woody structure of the bean itself. You want something still voluminous, and something sharp that stings you a bit down the center of the tongue. Well, at least if you do want these things, then we share common ground, and you might like my blend. Please note that we made changes to improve the blend. I have changed the percentages and added a new coffee that became available that really enhances the chocolatiness in the Vienna stage, and the pungency in the darker French stage
I wanted an espresso blend that was potent, sharp, intense enough in flavor to cut through steamed milk, but clean enough in flavor profile to work as a straight espresso shot. I wanted it also to be complex and hint at all of those tastes, and more. Here's the product of a lot of overly-caffeinated days of experimentation: the Liquid Amber Espresso Blend. It is named for the rich color and multitude of crema it produces. The blend was fairly complex to come up with ... after I found the general tastes I wanted, emerging from aroma and first sip through the very long aftertaste (if I don't cleanse my palate with water I will taste this coffee for 20+ minutes) I needed to play with the exact percentages. The specific blend, hey ... it is my secret! But I will tell you that the 5 coffees that really worked toward the flavor goal I imagined ended up surprising even me! I will say that there are wet-processed coffees, a monsooned coffee, and even a modicum of quality washed Robusta. And to keep this a mystery, the blend contains some coffees not on our list. I admit this is a pretty wacky blend by the current fashion in espresso toward lighter-roasted and acidic coffees; it's downright dated really. But it works in it's own way. Some emphasis here is on the physical character of the espresso, hence the use of the monsooned coffee, which has properties in terms of crema that no other coffee possesses. Even in cupping the dynamics of the foam/bubbles are clearly different from other coffees due to the changes in the bean from the monsoon processing technique.
Extracted in a properly functioning, clean espresso machine the blend produces a lot of crema, making the mouthfeel very thick and creamy. The sharp pungent bite to the blend is not bitter, and fades into a rich tobaccoy-milk chocolate aftertaste. If properly roasted (not scorched) the blend will not be ashy, something I really don't like in espresso. (With any espresso, if the aftertaste turns acrid and bitter after 3 minutes or so, clean the heck out of your machine.) In the Liquid Amber Blend there are hints of fruit, mushrooms, sweet smoke, caramel, and cream in the extended aftertaste. This blend works extremely well in milk drinks, meaning by that a true cappuccino (6-9 oz.) or machiatto. I make no claims for Latte ... is there any coffee that tastes potent mixed down 8:1 in a Slurpee-sized cup of milk? Please note: a long while back, I changed the type of Monsooned coffee. It is paler, sweeter, and is not a coffee we offer on our list at all times. It's a special purchase for the blend to increase sweetness and reduce mustiness. -Tom Liquid Amber Note:If the coffee arrives and doesn't appear evenly blended, this is because of the vibration during loading and shipment. I can positively guarantee you that the blend was packed in the exact, correct proportion (we are extremely careful about this), but the difference in size/density of the Monsooned/non-Monsooned can make them separate a bit with vibration. Just give it a stir....
"Majirani", an all East African coffee blend for espresso, and that works well as brewed coffee too. We thought about making this a Workshop blend, but those come and go. And while this will certainly "go" once ingredients are no longer fresh, we love the results, and so plan to bring back annually. The ingredients will change of course, and right now, this is a four-part blend of all washed coffees from Ethiopia, Burundi, Rwanda, and Tanzania. These countries neighbor each other more or less, and so we're using the name "Majirani" as it's Amharic for neighbor. All of the coffees scored high as single origin, big sweetness, moderate to bright acidity, and viscous body. These are nuanced coffees, top notes garnering as much attention as positive attributes like sweetness and acidity. Burundi, Rwanda, and Tanzania ingredients are made up of all bourbon varietal too, which in the case of these ingredients, means dense sweetness, and balanced bittersweet cocoa tones at the darker end of the roast spectrum. These ingredients make for a high-toned espresso, which settles down a bit with roast, but a zippy lemon accent refuses to be erased altogether even at Full City+. A versatile blend for those looking for a "dual use" option, and espresso roasts should see at least 48 hours rest in my opinion.
Majirani is a force to be reckoned with. Espresso extraction yields an intensely sweet and extremely viscous liquid, both aspects leaving pleasantly memorable flavors on the palate. Grinding middle roasts gives off big fruited notes, dark stone fruit and berry, along with roasted cacao nib and sweet cedar smoke accent. Fruited smells perhaps make the strongest impression in the wet aromatics of City+/Full City roasts, with essence of cooked fruits in a cinnamon spice bread. I found this tight middle roast range to be great for brewed coffee, and at the Full City end of the spectrum, functions well in both brew and espresso applications. I like a bright espresso, and Full City shots are bracing to say the least. A zap of fresh squeezed lemon kicks in at the first sip, making way for layers of raw sugar sweetness and thick, syrupy dark chocolate goodness. All along the way accents of tart cranberry, herbaceous verbena, and pungent burned sugars pop in and out of focus, and a flavor of high % Scharffen Berger chocolate fills out the long aftertaste (and I mean loooooong). Those looking to tone down acidity a bit can take to Full City+, just the beginnings of 2nd snaps, adding layer upon layer of bittersweet cocoa roast tone, and with uncompromising sweetness to balance things out. Citrus notes still come into play, but more of the 'rindy' nature, candied orange peel, or lemon shavings soaked in simple syrup. F We are finding this also makes amazing Americano (espresso + water), which is no surprise. This can also be used as the "bright" component in a blend that tones it down a bit. For example 2/3 Brazil or El Salvador with 1/3 Majirani. I would let espresso roasts rest for at least 48 hours, but preferably 72 hours.
Once there was "Classic Italian," our espresso blend to set the benchmark for traditional European-style espresso. It was a blend based on quality Brazil coffees, with a touch of aromatic Central American coffee to add a grace note to the cup, and it had a small percentage of premium robusta in it for crema, mouthfeel, and to add traditional flavors found on the continent. But times change and tastes change. Espresso culture is much less Euro-centric, and for good reason. While Italy gave us espresso, the general quality of street-level espresso there can be exceptionally poor. Don't even talk about coffee in France. The big brands in Europe are largely run by multi-nationals who keep a close watch on price, and gleefully buy lower quality green coffee if they can save .01 Euro. The privates follow suit, in order to compete. Of course, there are many exceptions, but the darker roast styles, well into 2nd crack, to cover up the use of low quality green coffee ... well, that is NOT something to emulate. For Sweet Maria's, espresso has never been our "dumping ground" for coffees we can't sell, old lots, or ones with mild defect. It's been a program where we have dedicated much time, focus in cupping, and roast testing. With this in mind, we want to start over again, and offer New Classic, a somewhat silly name, an oxymoron, and overused ... but it says what I want it to say: Here is the new benchmark espresso with sweet-bittersweet balance, body, crema, and finesse, the core definition of the espresso beverage, and defines it in the established West Coast espresso style (clean, bright notes) without the burden of European espresso conventions. In other words, no robusta! No obsessive interest in crema! (You can produce buckets of crema in espresso and still have a very mediocre-tasting cup. What ... do you make espresso just to look at the beautiful crema? No dummy, you make it to drink it!)
While this blend is designed primarily for a lighter roast, stopping the roast before 2nd crack, it also works well with a darker roast treatment. It does not have the extreme brightness that have been the trademark of some of our Espresso Workshop blends; it is a bit more restrained in it's overall demeanor. The cup has a balance between sweet and bittersweet flavors, moderate bright accent, soft traces of fruit, body and depth. The lighter roasts have a very sweet aromatic, fruited with plum and a hint of spice (cinnamon stick, cardamom). Darker roasts tend toward chocolate laced with dark fruit tones, in both aroma and cup flavor. Both have a firm, opaque body, with toasted almond roast notes as the espresso cools. In the aftertaste, peach tea flavor (and it light roasts a bit of jasmine tea) are evident. Of course, results vary with how the espresso machine and grinder are set up. We use 8.5 bars of pressure at the head, with 202 degrees water temperature (measured at the head) to start, dropping to about 198. At higher temperatures, it's a more aggressive espresso with a bittersweet edge and well-suited to milk drinks.
We concocted this 2-bean blend around a couple of our more stellar decaffeinated African coffees that were just processed by Swiss Water in Vancouver. We're at a point where 100% of our decaf coffees are pulled from our own stock and processed by Swiss, which starts by selecting coffee by flavor profile and physical makeup that we think will translate into a quality cup. "Tam Efriqa" roughly translates the "Taste of Africa" in Amharic, which in the past I may have thought a bold statement for decaf given the harsh processing treatments some decafs endure. There's nothing harsh about Swiss's water decaffeination process, a chemical-free water processing technic that removes nearly 100% of the caffeine, while leaving behind volatile compounds that affect flavor and aroma. So in the case of Tam Efriqa, so much of what makes these African coffees unique still comes through in the cup. The blend is made up of a selection of wet processed Ethiopia and Burundi coffees. I roasted to three different roast levels - City, City+, and Full City - and was really pleased with all three. We set out to construct a blend for espresso, but found that it shows really well as both brewed coffee and espresso, though I'd roast to at least City+ if you plan on pulling shots, as City roasts are puckering and metallic as espresso. The decaffeination process does break down the cellular structure of the bean a little, and so oils will rise to the surface more easily, even in roasts as light as City+. So ignore that visual marker when roasting, using the normal sounds of 1st crack and physical fracturing as your guide to judging roast development.
Tam Efriqa is a dual-use decaf blend, all three ingredients shining stars of our most recent custom decafs processed by Swiss Water. From City to Full City, the level of sweetness runs high, a pungent molasses aroma, and sweet undercurrent of palm sugar, muscovado, and smokey-sweetness of burned sugars (especially at Full City). The smells in dry fragrance and wet aroma cover a range of cookie to dried citrus, cocoa to dark rye. And the cup is impressive to say the least, and not just for decaf! We constructed this blend with espresso in mind, but after cupping light roasts give it the thumbs up for brewing too. Decaffeinated coffee often lose any brightness they once had, the cup profile losing dimension along the way. I'm sure if this were non-decaf, acidity would shine even brighter, but the level of rindy lemon-like acidity found in light roasts is striking, and has a voluminous effect on cup profile. City and City+ roasts boast dried stone fruit and raisin accents, subtle cocoa notes, and caramelizing sugars. At Full City smokey cocoa roast tones are more dominant, making room for some dark fruit hints once the cup cools. We were floored by how chocolatey and bittersweet espresso shots are at City+ and Full City roast level. Both roasts exhibit a tangy brightness up front that's like a drop of fresh squeezed lemon juice, and followed by opulent dark cacao notes, and understated accents of berry and pumpernickel/rye bread in the finish. An absolutely standout decaf espresso that we've added to the list of "I can't believe this is decaf"!
Tarime is the capital town of a unique coffee growing area in Tanzania's North Mara district. What makes it unique is the distance of Mara from the other well-known coffee areas around Mount Kilimanjaro and Arusha, as well as the Southern areas of Mbinga and Mbeya. Tarime is between the Maasai Mara National Reserve and Lake Victoria. I knew that the area of Lake Victoria had coffee, but of the robusta species, and from the other side of Victoria near Bukoba. Tarime has a handicap because it is over 1200 km by road to the port at Dar Es Salaam, making for high transport costs over hot, dusty roads. But more remarkable than location is how clean and fresh this coffee tastes: With all the logistics challenges to ship coffee from Dar in general, and Tarime in particular, this is a brilliant arrival. It's a peaberry outturn, the small, round coffee bean that is separated from normal flat beans in dry milling the coffee before export. I'll add that when I roasted this coffee, I noticed that the sound of 1st crack is on the subtle side. In fact, if I didn't have a bean probe on my roaster I would've missed 1st crack altogether, but happened to notice that I was a few degrees beyond my normal "1st crack" temperature and hadn't heard anything. Looking at the beans themselves, I did see that fracturing had occurred and was able to hear some popping at very low volume. I paid closer attention on my second pass, and hear a couple snaps when I would expect them, but then not a lot else as the roast continued to progress. Long story short, watch this one when roasting to make sure the roast doesn't get away from you!
The peaberry outturn from Tarime is a real powerhouse, dry fruit and loose leaf dry tea notes accent a clean, syrupy sweetness as the dry fragrance suggests. City/City+ roasts hint at fruit teas in the ground coffee, elderberry comes to mind, even a citrusy waft in our lightest roast, and with a caramel-like sweetness. Adding hot water brings up more of a cooked fruit smell with caramelizing sugar sweetness, like berry compote, and plum jam. The cup is brisk at City to City+ roast levels, showing clean, black tea-like acidity. As the cup temperature cools more tea notes unfold, along with a cardamom spice note that shows surprising prominence. Citrus accent notes flourish - blood orange, pink grapefruit, and more - along with a tart green grape flavor, that fade to bittersweet coffee core. The weight of this peaberry coffee is impressive and like fruit juice on the palette, lending to a long lasting aftertaste. Versatile in the roaster, I prefer the middle roast levels where fruit flavors and body are both juicy, and mouth cleansing acidity ties together the fruited cup complexity. This is the perfect "dessert" type coffee, a complexity and sweetness that are easy to identify in light to middle roasts, and sure to turn the heads of even those who think all coffee tastes the same!
Zambia is not a coffee growing country we see many samples from. There is plenty of coffee being exported from the region, but their coffee-growing history is much younger than those that surround them. The first coffee was planted in Zambia in the 1950s, however, it wasn't until the last few decades that it became a major contributor to Zambia's agri-business sector. "Kasama Estates" is actually a blend of the coffees from two different estates in Kasama town, Northern Province. Estates and "plantations" make up the bulk of coffees that are exported from Zambia, and there are about 2500 hectares of land between these two, with nearly 800 planted in coffee. Altitude ranges from 1300 to 1500 meters above sea level. This lot is a AAA, which refers to the largest screen size, 16+ microns in this case. Screen size does not necessarily differentiate quality (as we see with AA, and AB lots in Kenya), but the bean size is quite uniform, and so even roasting tends to be more easily achieved.
The dry fragrance has green herbal hints, and hazelnut-like nutty sweetness. A unique set of scents, and with sweetness that builds after adding hot water. Pumpkin pie filling (brown sugar and cooked pumpkin to put a fine point on it), burned caramel, and a note of fresh cedar, this is not a 'conventional' smelling coffee to say the least. The cup follows suit, with an array of fresh herbal tones dotting a thick base sweetness of molasses and brown sugars. I find the green herbal aspect appealing in this context, adding contrast to this coffee's core bittersweetness. It's a big bodied coffee, and at City+ roast level (which is a great starting point roast-wise) you're hit with bittersweet cocoa and herbal accent notes, flavors that are are carried long into the finish. While I prefer City+/FC level, this coffee can definitely handle roast as well, and is a good option for those who enjoy taking their roasts into 2nd cracks/Full City+ territory.