Colombia

"................. The first information about coffee growing in Colombia dates from 1732 .............."

It is believed that the first coffee seeds arrived on the American continent thanks to the French and Dutch. The French introduced the seeds to their colonies (Guyana and Martinique) at the end of the seventeenth century, while the Dutch introduced them to Surinam in 1714. Coffee was first introduced to Colombia in 1723, thanks to Jesuit priests who brought the seeds from Venezuela.

The first information about coffee growing in Colombia dates from 1732. It is said that the first coffee trees were grown in the Jesuit Seminary of Popayán, which is in the department of Cauca, and later in 1741 in the provinces of Santa Marta and Riohacha. The first commercial plantations date from the end of the 18th century in the departments of Santander and Boyaca, and later in the hills surrounding Medellin.

In the second half of the nineteenth century, after Colombia’s independence from Spain, coffee became much more widely grown. At this time coffee prices were much healthier than today. According to the record books, Colombia’s coffee production increased from 1,000 bags per year to 100,000 bags per year between 1850 and 1880.

Fast forward to 1905 and the country was producing 500,000 bags. Fast forward a bit further to 1930, and it was exporting over 3 million bags. The expansion of coffee growing throughout the country had significant effects on the economy, exports, and political structures. Colombia became a power house of coffee representing around 10% of the total world production, and at the same time also became more organised as a body.

In 1927 a group of coffee growers met in the town of Medellin to create an organization that eventually became the Federation Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia (the FNC) we know today. The main goals of this federation of coffee growers were to improve the prices that producers received for coffee, and to work together as a union to improve the name of Colombian coffee across the world. It was actually a very forward thinking idea – that if people thought it was a quality product they would pay more. So they began an advertising campaign, which still runs today. They created a spokesman and donkey, the fictional character of Juan Valdez, who has been used in many adverts.

The FNC guarantees purchase of green coffee, but farmers are under no obligation to sell to them – they can still sell directly to buyers. But what it does allow the farmer is to have the security that they can get a certain price in the market, but also maintain a higher than normal price for the coffee.

The coffee market in the commodity sense works with a price set by the ICE (Intercontinental Exchange) formally known as NYBOT (the New York Board of Trade). This is known as the New York C Price, where traders can buy or sell futures on this market against what they think prices will do. This price fluctuates up and down just as a share price might do (but sometimes much more violently). A frost in Brazil can send the price soaring, whilst a country reporting that the harvest will be plentiful and above expectations can send the price through the floor.

Each country will have what is known as a differential. These are country premiums on top of the commercial market price for any grade of Arabica coffee. So any one will be able to achieve this price, and there will be lots of people offering to take it off their hands for these prices, with no regard for quality. To give you an idea of the prices, take a look below for snap shots of the differentials that I put together a few years ago.

Colombia 66.73 Cents/lb
Guatemala 25.53 Cents/lb
Costa Rica 24.35 Cents/lb
El Salvador 9.73 Cents/lb
Honduras 8.26 Cents/lb
Mexico 4.55 Cents/lb
Brazil -18.85 Cents/lb

So as you can see, Colombia has done a good job of getting a higher price than the rest of the market. Much of this is down to the FNC.

This all sounds like a bed of roses, but Colombia is not without its issues. A booming economy leads to rising costs – not just for labour, but for everything. Colombia is booming after many years of unrest from rebels. The peace talks have brought prosperity, but also these issues.

Much of the unrest was brought about by the drugs trade, which at one point nearly broke the country. Safety was a real concern, as was any investment in a fragile economy. Although lots of this is now sorted out, drugs and gangs are still an ongoing problem in rural parts of Colombia.

Leafrust, or Roya, is something which has been in the coffee buying and producer news in recent times. It’s a fungus that is spread through the air as well as by contact. It attacks the leaves of a plant, leaving the plant exposed and in some cases killing off the coffee plant. At best, it reduces the yield of the coffee dramatically. However, this has been something affecting Colombia for a very long while, and has been a persistent problem.

Climate change is also something that has affected Colombia more than most, with increased rain causing new problems with coffee growing. Rains during flowering knock off flowers, as well as causing dramatic drops and rises in temperature at times of the year when it was never expected – all affecting the fragile coffee plant.

Also, during the ultra lows of the 1990s and the famous coffee crisis, small scale 1-2 hector subsistence producers were hit hard. Unlike bigger plantations, they were not able to “ride the storm,” and many of them ripped out coffee plants and planted more productive and stable products.

All of this combined has seen Colombia, year on year, producing less and less coffee. Although still considered one of the powerhouses of coffee, its ability to produce a large volume of coffee has diminished from the highs of 16,000,000 60kg sacks back in 1992 to 9,500,000 sacks in 2012/13. The 2011/12 crop was even worse than this, at just 7,654,000 sacks.

What Colombia has done very well is breaking the country into to defined regions. These departments are very defined and exhibit certain broad taste profiles.

Huila

Coffees from the department of Huila tend to have HUGE sweetness, and thick milk chocolate and caramel tones that lend themselves to bigger bodies. The department is big and very spread out. Pitalito and its surrounding area is becoming the largest coffee producing region in Colombia.

Nariño

Another top area for specialty coffee is Nariño. La Union is the main specialty coffee producer, in the far south west of the country, with part of the department being coast, and part high mountainous region. Most of the population resides in this high mountainous region, with its capital being Pasto. In the cup the typical profile is a buttery mouthfeel with big bodies and light acidity.

Tolima

Located in the Andean region, in the centre west of the country, it neighbours the famous Hulia. The south of Tolima is currently a centre of FARC Guerilla activity and it is of strategic importance in Colombia’s ongoing civil war, so it’s a tough place to go find coffees. The capital of this department is Ibague, with the coffees here being typically floral and with bright acidity.

Cauca

This department includes coffees from the Inza region and those areas surrounding the Popayan. Caucas, in my experience, tends to exhibit delicate floral flavours and fruit acidity, along with big sweetness. However it often lacks power, punch, and body.

All these states in Colombia share the spine of the Andes Mountains, which splits into three mountain ranges. This spine carries on through Peru and Bolivia, and manages to produce some of my favourite coffees. It was always thought that the Caturra varietal was the best for these regions, and indeed in the cup it produces some stellar results. Originating in Brazil, this is a mutant from the popular Bourbon varietal. Caturra shares many of Bourbon’s negative aspects; it’s not very pest resistant, and can be difficult to grow. Its one big plus is its higher yield than Bourbon (over 200kg per hector). Its other bonus is that it can be used for high density planting areas, with as many as 10,000 plants per hector (normally around 6,000 though) and as little as 1 metre apart. However, with the big leaf rust problems I mentioned earlier, the FNC has issued advice to plant Catimor, Colombia, and Castillo varietals. It’s an interesting time for Colombian coffee.

Even though coffee exports only represent roughly 10% of Colombia’s total exports by value today, it is still a very important sector of the economy. There are over 500,000 coffee growers, who together own approximately 850 thousand hectares of coffee plants and produce an average of 9 million coffee sacks per year. Of these 500,000 families, 70% are small producers with less than 1.5 hectares of coffee land.

Pacamaras

" ........................ It's a varietal that's confused and bemused me for quite a while, and one I've spent a bit of time researching and tasting ......................."

This month the ‘focus on’ from in my mug is on the varietal pacamara.

It’s inspired by the Yellow Pacamara we have brought in from Limoncillo, but has been many months in the writing.

This yellow pacamara comes from the special auction that was held this year, called Los Favoritos Fincas Mierisch, where some very special lots were sold to the highest bidder. This was a super special chance to try something amazing.

yellow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I first came across this yellow pacamara two years ago, when visiting the farm. I begged Erwin to sell us some back then, but he told me they were using all the crop to create more seedlings to plant more coffee, but soon it would be available.

It’s a varietal that’s confused and bemused me for quite a while, and one I’ve spent a bit of time researching and tasting – I thought this might be a good place to share my experiences with you.

I do add the caveat that lots of this is my own findings, or from sources II believe to be true. The information is also from rum fueled conversations at origin with producers who’s first language is not English (and some would say neither is mine with my accent) so any errors are just that.

It amazes me how little is written about coffee varietals. I bought a book a few years ago for nearly £200 for 8 pages of intelligent words, and to this date found nothing better.

I stared a piece of my own work on varietals, and may yet pick it up again, but worry without anything to corroborate it, it could prove to be a work of fiction.

So pacamara is a hybrid of two quite different varietals, this is a good place to start to get an understanding of what makes this such a fascinating varietal

Mommy Bean Pacas

Pacas is a natural and spontaneous mutation of Bourbon, El Salvador’s answer to Villa Sarchi in Costa Rica or Caturra in Brazil, it thrives in the El Salvador Climate where it was first found.

This variety was discovered in 1949 in the San Rafael farm we buy from on the Santa Ana Volcano. Funnily Pacas was never sold from this farm on its own until three years ago when I visited and asked them if they would. Its quickly become a firm favourite here at Has Bean.

The story goes that a visiting botanist, Dr Cogwill,was asked to check out this plant they had seen doing very well on the farm. First spotted on the farm in 1930, Don Francisco Pacas re-planted a 3/4 of a manzana of the farm with seed stock from some special trees he had seen on San Rafael. These trees seemed to yield much more than the other Bourbon trees, and seemed healthier and thrived far more. This re-planted part of the farm yielded 20% more than the rest of the farm, and this got nicknamed San Ramon Bourbon. Because of the nickname, some people thought that it was a hybrid between Typica and San Ramón, but later it was confirmed that it was a natural mutation after genealogy tests on the plant.

Dr Gogwill meant to label the trees with the name San Rafael San Ramon Bourbon, but forgot. When he returned to Florida University he did remember the name of the family who owned the farm – the Pacas family – so he marked them ‘Pacas’, and the name of the varietal ‘Pacas’ was born.

Varietal: Pacas
Related to: Bourbon
Origin: El Salvador
Grows best at: 1000 metres or above
Prevalent in: El Salvador and some of Central America
Predominant Colour: Red
Fruit size: Normal rounded
Leaf Characteristics: Wide and short
Tree Size: Dwarf
Branches:long
Internodes:short
Botany: Mutation

Cup Characteristics.

Pacas is simular to bourbon (surprise surprise), but tends to be a little less sweeter. It’s yield is around 20% higher than bourbon, and I think this has a small effects on the final cup. We have found some amazing pacas cups, but we have also found some more disappointing. It is rare that the pacas out performs a bourbon on the cupping table from the same farms (although we have seen examples of this for instance on San Rafael)

Daddy Bean Maragogype

Another mutation this time of the Typica varietal. This time though it really does fit its mutant tag. ITS HUGE !!

Pronounce mar-rah-go-jeepeh this varietal was originally found in Brazil. This variety appeared in 1870 in the Maragogipe province in Bahia.

The plant is very distinctive its very tall huge leaves and massive fruit. The coffee seed / bean is also very distinctive due to its large oversize. This has created some interest in the bean as its very distinctive to the eye, some times to the detriment of the cup it can fetch a premium even if it doesn’t taste very good.

I’ve seen a lot of them from Brazil, Guatemala and Mexico. I’ve head it said that the larger bean produce’s a more flavoursome coffee but my experiences don’t really show this. It’s a tiny bit of a gimmick but there are one or two fantastic examples out there. But there are many that are just plain awful, old or poorly processed. I think it’s very little to do with the bean size and more to do with the quality of husbandry and environment, a problem of when you get that huge price regardless of how it tastes.

The plant is very low yielding despite how tall it can grow, it is known as the Arabica coffees giant, it shows a very tall size, large leaves, cherries, etc. In general, its architecture is open and messy.

Varietal: Maragogype
Related to: Typica
Origin: Brazil
Grows best at: 800 metres or above
Prevalent in: Brazil, Guatemala and Mexico
Predominant Colour: Red
Fruit size: Large
Leaf Characteristics: Large
Tree Size:Tall
Branches:long
Internodes:short
Botany: Mutation

Cup Characteristics 

High acidity bright citrus fruits like lemon grapefruit and floral properties.

A brief introduction to the Pacamara’s Grandparents

the mothers side (pacas)

Bourbon, originating maybe on the island of Bourbon (now known as Reunion) from a planting from Ethiopia or perhaps straight from Ethiopia, this varietal has many sub-varietals. At risk of pest and disease, and decidedly average in terms of yield, but the cup profile tends to be anything but average.There is some evidence that Yellow Bourbon gives a higher yield compared to its red and orange derivatives, although red is the most prevalent. With very close links to SL28, Typica and Cattura, in the right environment because of its low yield Bourbon tends to produce a very high quality cup (there is evidence that the lower the yield the higher the quality as the plant can use its energy more efficiently). I don’t think it is a coincidence that my top three coffees of all time have been from the Bourbon varietal.

Varietal: bourbon
Related to: heirloom
Origin: Ethiopia / Reunion
Grows best at: 800 metres or above
Prevalent in: Everywhere
Predominant Colour: Red with some orange and yellow
Fruit size: medium rounded
Leaf Characteristics: medium
Tree Size:medium
Branches:long
Internodes:short
Botany: Heirloom

the farther’s side (maragogype)

Typica is grown throughout Central America, islands and some Indonesian islands. The plant has large elongated cherries, with the tree producing thin leaves that are long in appearance.

It grows best in sandy soils and mixed reports of its hardiness to pest and disease. Its yield is quite low. The famous Jamaican blue mountain is from the typica varietal.

Typica is also known as Criollo in Peru, Bolivia and Colombia. This variety was introduced 100 years ago in the Piura Andes of Peru, because of its liking of high altitudes.

Varietal: Typica
Related to: heirloom
Origin: Ethiopia / Reunion
Grows best at: 800 metres or above
Prevalent in: Everywhere
Predominant Colour: Red with some orange and yellow
Fruit size: medium rounded
Leaf Characteristics: medium
Tree Size:medium
Branches:long
Internodes:short
Botany: Heirloom

 

pacamara1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How did they meet

It was a smoky bar, their eyes met. Well that would be nice, but it was in a laboratory,Inside the Genetic Department of the Salvadoran Institute for Coffee Research (ISIC) back in 1958. There was a coffee breeding program using lots of varietals, these two of many. One of these experiments was crossing the above Pacas and maragogype varietals. Of course like every good partnership they took part of each others name.

This lab work involved individual isolating the parents until scientists obtained pure plants which gave seedlings to many lines. Many lines to find the best child (I know thats impossible but think the strongest, healthiest). Coffees that would be disease resistant, strong, high yielding, biggest fruit size and many other measures of healthiness. These were then combined to obtain a new varietal, the pacamara cultivar.

This took over 30 years to distribute the F5 (or 5th Generation) that is currently known as pacamara. Much lab work was done to find the pacamara that we enjoy today, finding a strain that was both strong, healthy, pest resistant and high yielding.

Theres a small problem with using pacas and maragogype in that they both have dominant genes, so around 10 -20% fail to become pacamara and remain one or the other, so its important for these to be spotted in the nursery / planting stage. This is easily done with the Pacas, but a little more attention is needed with the maragoype.

True love is always bigger than the sum of it’s parts

This is where it really gets interesting for me. My experiences of Pacas and Maragoype has been mixed at best. As a varietal its rare to find amazing lots from either of them (maragogype in particular). Pacas has taken lots of work to find the amazing lots we buy,and Maragogype I have found one lot in 5 years that I liked. They tend to be flat plain and boring and lacking in any character or depth.

But stick these two together and you get one of the most unpredictable, interested and challenging delicious varietals. Now of course there are bad examples, and in fact when they are bad, they are very bad. Vegetal, mushroomy, dirty, cardboard pacamara’s are very very very common (far more common than they should be, and bought by some roasters so they just have a pacamara). We have done more work and asked more questions of the producers we buy from about these coffees than any other. You only have to look at Limoncillo and the work we have done with the natural lots. Now let me be clear here, and I would like to add lots of weight to the statement here.

“I would never ever tell a coffee farmer what to do. All the experiments we have run with producers are experiments they have wanted to run, mostly their idea by asking what would you like to do. Telling a farmer what to do is like the farmer telling you how to roast. I know very very little about coffee growing (unfortunately) and would be coming at it from a knowledge base much much lower than that of the producer”

Glad I have that off my chest. So the experiments we have run with the limoncillo Natural pacamara’s were the brain child of Eleane Mierisch who noticed on the cupping table some huge differences on how they dried the coffee. The story goes that they decided to turn the coffee every hour instead of the every two hours they had done before. Eleane thought this would make the cup cleaner whilst still retaining huge body. So everyone began to turn every hour apart from one guy who did not ‘get the memo” and continued every two hours.

When visiting the farm I was cupping the samples for that year in the cupping lab, and I got to the natural pacamara, and it was indeed much cleaner, in fact the words I used was more “Elegant”. But I missed that box of frogs craziness that the previous years had. Eleane remebering the mistake, went off and roasted a sample of the turned every two hours lot. The first words out my mouth when cupping this was “funky”. So the names were born. The funkier I can not lay claim to, this was Eleane development of what we had begun the year before. This was done with differing thickness of beans drying which slows or speeds up the drying process.

But in conclusion, the two of these varietals coming together create something far bigger and more interesting than the sum of its parts, that makes this one of the most interesting varietals.

Roasting Pacamara

Whilst Pacamara beans are not fundamentally different to roast than other beans, their larger size means that there are a couple of roasting problems that they are particularly susceptible to. Firstly, there is the issue of drying the beans. The first 80% or so of the roasting process reduces water content in the bean from about 10 or 12 percent, down to a nearly zero. Due to the large size of the Pacamara beans, if the roast is too quick, the water content in the centre of the bean will not have been reduced to the same degree as in the outer parts of the bean. This can lead to an under-roasted centre and over roasted outside to beans.

Secondly, Pacamaras tend to roast at slightly lower temperatures than other bean types. This is a trend they share with the other large bean varietal, Maragogype. They go through the same processes as other beans, but typically the beans will be a few degrees Celsius cooler when they reach the key roasting points of 1st Crack and 2nd Crack. Additionally, 1st and 2nd Crack are exothermic – meaning that the chemical reactions that are occurring inside the beans, give out more heat than they absorb. For Pacamaras, there is an increased risk that this extra heat will cause the roast to accelerate beyond the roasters planned profile, and the beans can quickly become over-roasted.

As a general rule, sight tends to be the least useful of our senses when judging the roasting process. The third issue with Pacamaras, is that this is doubly true when roasting them. Often, Pacamaras will appear very uneven, and to be at a lighter stage of roast than they actually are.

Finally, the larger size of Pacamaras mean they take up more space in a roaster than smaller beans. As a rule of thumb, if you weigh out the same mass of unroasted Pacamara beans and of a smaller varietal of bean, the Pacamara will take up about 10% more space than the smaller beans. This is something a roaster has to be aware of, to avoid inconsistencies in the roast from an under or over-filled roasting drum.

So who’s this yellow fella?

Before signing off I can not miss out the brand new varietal we have just added to the site and is the motivator for writing this blog post (I have wanted to do write this for a while but great I have had the push) that I mentioned at the begining.

So why is this so rare ? Well this is a freak natural mutation from red fruit to yellow. This was spotted first of all on the farm of Limoncillo, amongst the red fruiting trees. This was spotted by a security guard, and brought to the attention of the Mierisch family. Now its not unusual for a coffee plant to have a freaky one time change of colour (although not common its been seen). So they forgot about it until the same security guard became the farm manager (working hard and his way up in the farm). So they isolated it (collecting the beans from it separately and then using the seeds to grow seedlings in the nursery, and they repeating until they had enough plant stock). Coffee takes 4 years grow into a tree that will give you a full harvest, so you can see how long this takes to build up. This year there is 240kg of this coffee for sale that went through the auction I mentioned at the start. I was trying to buy both of these lots, but when the price went up I had to step back, the other lot going to Japan to one of our friends there (and I am very happy they also got to enjoy some of this coffee).

And it proves yet again the complexity of this varietal. The coffee from the yellow tastes so different to the red fruit. Cupped blind I get lots of yellow fruits (I know I know) peach and apricot and yellow fruit. A creamy mouthfeel with pineapple and tropical fruit. Compare that to the red of lemon pith on the front end, and think those bright vibrant hops you get in craft ales all the way through the rest of the taste. It has a creamy edge and all the sweetness. Super different coffees.

So thats Pacamara. I know not all of you watch the In My Mug videos, but in episode 256 I talk a lot about pacamaras with something I filmed with Erwin. I thought it might be good to share that here with you, so have made it a stand alone video so you don’t have to partake in any of the other silliness. I think its super interesting and covers many of the points here.

Ethiopian coffee and the ECX

"..........Ethiopia is one of the finest producers of specialty coffee in the world, and it’s the original, natural home of the coffee plant.............."

So I got asked to write an article by Fresh Cup Magazine (a US coffee publication) on Ethiopian coffee and the ECX. It was in last months edition, so I thought that I would share it with you here now, I hope you enjoy

How Ethiopia is stonewalling specialty buyers by Stephen Leighton

Ethiopia is one of the finest producers of specialty coffee in the world, and it’s the original, natural home of the coffee plant. But while the country is steeped in history, it has lately also become steeped in controversy and red tape.
Coffee continues to be one of Ethiopia’s top exports, but its significance is now at an all-time low. In a contradictory development, coffee exports reached the highest-ever level in monetary terms in 2009 ($528 million), while at the same time falling to the lowest-ever share in Ethiopia’s total exports, at just 26 percent. This shows Ethiopia as the developing nation that it is, weaning itself from the dependency of coffee it has had for most of its recent history. It’s an understandable desire from the country, but the country’s move to better organize itself is having a dangerous repercussion: It’s essentially alienating the very buyers who most appreciate the country’s wondrous selection of beans.

Change for the better?
In recent years, Ethiopia’s government has done many things to try to formalize the way its exports and commodities are handled, and it has done so with items such as wheat, maize and sesame. It was only a matter of time until the country’s coffee industry jumped on board, and regulations came down in 2008.
The Ethiopian Commodity Exchange (the ECX) launched around that time to benefit and modernize the way Ethiopia was trading this valuable asset. The claim was that Ethiopia needed a change from the traditional means of trading to better support the needs of all those involved in the trading and production of coffee.
For Ethiopian coffee, 2008 was a very interesting time for a number of reasons. Firstly, there was the emergence of some very special coffees that were getting an awful lot of attention. The much-loved Idido Misty Valley and Beloya coffees, for example, both rose to prominence that year.
There was also a lot of noise made about intellectual property of coffee regions. It looked like Ethiopia and the ECX were trying to position themselves for a fight—but it turned out they had disappointing motives. Soon enough, the country started putting distance between great coffees and the specialty industry, choosing to work mainly with bigger roasters instead.

The ECX model
Here’s the layman’s version of the ECX process: A single farmer or akrabi (someone who buys coffee from small producers) is only allowed to sell his coffee through the exchange. Navigating around this system is impossible unless you are a formalized cooperative union.
Once the coffee is delivered to the ECX warehouse, the coffee is stripped of its provenance, graded by government workers using the Q System, and given a region and a marking grade. This is where things get a bit tough to follow. Washed coffees are classified Grade 1, Grade 2 or Grade 3. Naturally processed coffees (those dried with the fruit still on) are marked Grade 4 and Grade 5. This classification system gets even more complicated thanks to the fact that you can have a Grade 1 or 2 natural from southern parts of Ethiopia.
The grade relates to the cup’s profile, and because coffees are stripped of their provenance, this can lead to misleading categorizations. For example, if a Sidamo has the floral, lemon-like acidity typically found in a Yirgacheffe, it will be graded a Yirgacheffe. In general, the grade relates to quality—a Grade 1 is meant to be the best, but I have found some stunning coffees classified Grade 3.
The officials at the warehouse are the only people allowed to taste the coffee until it is bought and paid for (more about that in a moment). The details about each coffee are entered into a computer system, and shortly thereafter the coffee is offered on a trading floor that is essentially a smaller version of what you might see on Wall Street. The buyer knows if he’s buying a (supposed) Yirgacheffe or a Djimma, and he knows the grade the coffee’s been assigned by Q Grader government officials. Then he has to agree on a price for this coffee with the seller on the trading floor. Buyers can only enter the trading floor if they prove they have an account with enough money in it to buy the coffee. Once they agree on a deal, the money is transferred by the ECX from the buyer’s account to the seller’s within 48 hours.

Highs and lows
Because the ECX is often criticized, let’s highlight some of its good points. First, farmers get their money quickly. In other coffee-buying situations, unscrupulous exporters have been known to take their time to pay or sometimes don’t pay at all, giving the beginning of the chain a bum deal. Also, poor-quality coffees are sold as poor quality through the ECX, and those lower quality beans are sold for use inside Ethiopia only. That setup means the international market will not be flooded with cheap coffee that could damage the name of Ethiopia.
Finally, because all transactions go through the exchange, it’s impossible for traders to lie on export documentation about quality and prices paid. That means the government receives the proper amount of money from each transaction, which I think is important for a developing nation trying to improve the life of its people.
But the negative aspects of the ECX are severely weighing down the country’s industry. I understand that removing a coffee’s provenance helps it sell at the ECX (by helping to remove some manipulation of prices), but keeping that information secret once it’s purchased seems nonsensical to me. Separating buyers from cupping lots and forcing them to rely on the government’s Q Graders takes away one of the key elements of buying coffee: actually tasting it.
What’s more, the system adds unnecessary red tape, forms, paper and a whole heap of extra work for exporters, producers and the officials themselves. The insistence that specialty coffee is such a small part of the buying market that its needs don’t matter seems very shortsighted and almost petulant of Ethiopia. I think the road they have begun going down is pushing specialty buyers away from Ethiopia’s amazing coffees. In so doing, the country is in danger of becoming reliant on the huge firms that have controlled the New York commodity-trading market for many years—it’s these companies that have typically kept prices just above the cost of coffee production.
The anti-specialty trend has continued with the recent announcement that the country will stop using jute bags in favor of “bladders” inside containers. The bladders are essentially composed of four large bags inside a box, with the coffee blown into the bags in the container. Traditionally, these have only been used in the playground of bigger commodity buyers, and it’s another signal that Ethiopia doesn’t want exporters to sell to the specialty market. Because of their size (40,000 pounds), bladders are only practical when shipping generic mixed lots. The average micro-roaster likely cannot buy that much coffee and certainly can’t store it.
The no-jute policy was announced the week I was in Ethiopia on a buying trip. When one of the exporters told the news to my colleagues and me, we were shocked. The exporter theorized that it was a move by the government to crush the private exporter and give more power to the cooperative unions. There is a general feeling among exporters I spoke to on that trip that the main strategy of the government and ECX is to cut those private players out of the coffee chain. The government ultimately decided to withdraw the rule because of pressure from exporters, but I won’t be surprised if we see officials try to implement it again.

Survival tips
Despite all the difficulties standing in front of small buyers who want great Ehtiopian coffee, there are some ways for you to get around ECX issues such as loss of provenance and still buy effectively. Here are some tricks:
– It’s vital that you work with an importer/exporter who has people on the ground. While the provenance will still be removed, it will often possible for a savvy exporter to find out more about the coffee based on when was entered into the auction. Buyers and sellers know each other, and most local buyers know when certain washing stations delivered their goods to the ECX—it doesn’t take much sleuthing for them to then deduce some key info such as varietal, process and cup profile.
– Cooperative union coffees maintain lots of the provenance but will still be sold as a Grade 2 Yirgacheffe or a Grade 1 Sidamo. Ask whether there is any more information to be had.
– Grade 1 coffees come with more localized information and sub-region names; the government decided more details could be given out about Grade 1 coffees, even though the washing station info is stripped from them. Either way, this extra dose of info has led to an explosion of previously unheralded names like Guji, Shakiso and Borana.
As always, the cup profile remains the most important part of this process, and we can all agree the potential of Ethiopia in the flavor arena is greater than that of anywhere else. I just hope they find the desire to achieve that potential.

An Article on Barista Competitions

".............desperate to get back blogging, I thought I would share............."

I was asked a couple of months ago to write an article for fresh cup magazine on barista competition. Its been a couple of months now, and desperate to get back blogging, I thought I would share.

As a roaster, writing an article about barista competitions is a somewhat unusual task. But I ask you to stay with me as we embark on this story—I promise it has a happy ending.

When I first got involved with coffee (in 2003), I remembering hearing about the strange world of barista competitions. But those events had little crossover with the demographic I was working with at the time—particularly, home users. We are a coffee roaster with a very different model to most: selling over the Internet, mostly directly to home baristas. I know many roasters sell their coffee to home baristas, but for most of them, the home barista is not their main focus and market. It is for us.

While barista competitions couldn’t be further removed from our target market, I was nonetheless approached by a young barista who hung around on the very forums that many of our customers did. Although a professional barista, he was also incredibly keen to learn from the home user and also share his knowledge and experiences. This barista was James Hoffmann, and the year was 2006.

James asked if I would work with him to build a blend for the U.K. Barista Championship. I agreed rather tentatively, not quite sure what was in it for us, but he was quite charming, and I just wanted to help him. What happened over the following months was one of the biggest surprises I have had in coffee. We sent coffee to James, and he fed us back all sorts of data that I had never had before (for instance, what temperature of the espresso machines was doing to the coffee, how small changes in the profile would highlight, or mask particular flavour components within the blend ). If something was awful, he would tell us. It’s rare to receive this kind of brutal-but-valuable feedback, but I credit James’ input with helping to solidify the foundation of our business. We roasted the coffee for James’ U.K. competition and World Barista Championship that year, and as you likely know, he came away with the big win.
To our surprise, it mattered to home users that James had used our coffee, and they were eager to try it. Although we didn’t have the exact blend available for purchase, we saw an increased interest in our coffees in general. But the real value in this process was we learned so much information about espresso, particularly what worked and what did not. As a roaster, espresso is something I enjoy preparing, but I certainly wouldn’t say I’m a competition-standard barista. By working with James, we shared our knowledge and both got better at what we did.

After this experience, Has Bean began working locally with up-and-coming baristas in the U.K. competition, continuing to learn our craft. We were (and still are) a very young roasting company, and today we still know so little about our craft. But working with baristas pushed us to learn more.

In 2009, Irish barista champion Colin Harmon approached us about using our coffee for competition, and we put together blends for him for both that year and the next one. In that second competition—the 2010 WBC in London—we used two coffees from different crops (2009 and 2010) from the same farmer. The farm was in El Salvador, and in search of more information on the farmer, I visited Team El Salvador. There I came across Federico Bolanos, owner of San Salvador’s Viva Espresso, and the trainer of El Salvador barista champion Alejandro Mendez. It turns out I had met Federico a couple years earlier while on a buying trip to El Salvador when, in need of coffee, I went to a shop located inside a shopping mall across the street from my hotel. Intrigued by the barista trophy and certificate on the shop’s counter, I began talking to Federico and his wife, Lily, and they asked if my traveling partner and I would do a run-through with them (The run through was a complete performance including drinks and the performance within the time constraints of 15 minuets we did with Federico and Lily we also talked about things that can go wrong in competition.) Of course we agreed, and we have kept in touch ever since.

But on this day in London, Federico and I became re-acquainted. It turns out the farmer was Ernesto Menéndez (from Finca La Ilusión), and he and Federico were friends. Federico also introduced me to his competitor, Alejandro Mendez, and when Alejandro made the semi-finals, we loudly cheered him on.

Following that competition, Federico and I kept in touch via email. I had already planned a trip to El Salvador for February, so I decided to add a visit to Team El Salvador to the itinerary. When I found out that I would be there two days before El Salvador’s national barista competition, I asked Federico if I could do another run-through with the team when I got there, as they had three baristas competing. Frederico’s reply: “Well, only if you send us some coffee for Alejandro,” (the other team were using the shops coffee and their own blends, but because of our relationship and friendship, Alejandro liked the idea of using an international roaster, showing the chain of coffee, and how much El Salvador coffee reaches outside of their small country) as he had wanted to try our coffee after our conversation in London.
Honored and excited, I sent him some coffee to try in anticipation of that visit, and I opted for one he knew well: Ernesto Menendez’s La Ilusión. We sent the coffee using a parcel firm (so that Alejandro would have some coffee to use and be happy with before the national competition. We found out that to send coffee to El Salvador you need all sorts of permits and imports and in most cases, customs will not allow it through.). Federico had to get import licenses and all sorts, and by the his team received the coffee, it was a few weeks old. I never for a moment thought that he would use it in his national competition, but he enjoyed our interpretation of it so much that he asked me if I could bring some when I visited for them to use in the competition.

I agreed, of course … and the rest, as they say, is history. Alejandro won his national competition, and then preparation began for the WBC at Bogota. We had a couple more attempts at importing coffee into El Salvador for practice, and for feedback at altitude (, the Viva espresso team went outside the city to practice working with the coffee at altitude and fed this information back to us.) This helped enormously with the four other people who used our coffee in Bogota (in rest time for coffee and potential roast profiles to get the best out of the coffee at altitude), but also taught me something new about my coffee and the effects of altitude.

For Bogota, I brought 50 pounds worth of coffee in my luggage—some of which was for Alejandro. He did rather well using the natural and the washed coffee from La Ilusión that I roasted. And Ernesto himself was there to help, as he made the trip to be part of the back-room team. At one point during the day of the finals, the barista, producer and roaster polished and cleaned together at one of the back tables. It was a very special moment that will stay with me forever.

So what does the roaster get out of barista competitions? Experience and knowledge from the practitioners at the very top of their game. It’s so valuable to me as a roaster learning my craft. It has given me very special moments like the one with Alejandro and Ernesto that will always stay with me. But the best part is that I have a raft of friends all around the world—even in San Salvador.

SL28 Varietal Post

"..........another Varietal post this time on the much love SL 28 which is commonly found in Africa and primarily in Kenya.........."

Another Varietal post this time on the much love SL 28 which is commonly found in Africa and primarily in Kenya, although lots of work is being done in other countries to see how this varietal might work, in different circumstances and climates.

I’ve found it quite hard to find out lots about this, so if any clever people want to add, please drop me an email, as I’d love to know more.

Varietal: SL28

Related to: Bourbon

Origin: Kenya

Grows best at: 1000meters or above

Type: Bourbon hybrid

Prevalent in: Kenya

Predominant Colour: Red

Fruit size: Medium

Leaf Characteristics: Large

Botany: Heirloom

A hybrid of Bourbon and heirloom Ethiopian varietals developed by the Scottish Labs (during colonial years) which did lots work on varietals in the 1930′s. Very typical of Kenya where it was introduced although there have been lots of experimental plantings in central south amercia, by those wanting to experiment.

Fairly open to leaf rust and pest, its not a high yielding plant. But the quality of the cup is often high, and some of the most treasured cups.

Links: Bourbon

What are Peaberrys?

"........there was a time where peaberry coffee beans were considered inferior and a rejected defect. In the main this was due to the size difference between Peaberries and regular beans. Then there was a time when peaberry's became highly treasured and something that was desired......."

Like busses I’ve waited for a great peaberry (not ignoring the Indian Peaberry Bold) and two have come along. The new Bolivian San Ignacio and the nearly here (well here just not got the profile nailed yet) Brazil Fazenda Aranquan Pulped Natural Peaberry which will be sorted in the next few days.

There was a time where peaberry coffee beans were considered inferior and a rejected defect. In the main this was due to the size and an unappealing difference between Peaberries and regular beans. Then there was a time when peaberry’s became highly treasured and something that was desired. And then some normality hit the market and now there are some good peaberrys and some bad, and this is widely accepted as the norm now.

Exactly what are Peaberry’s?

Coffee cherries are the fruit of the coffee tree, and inside each cherry are two seeds, more commonly referred to as beans. A peaberry is nothing more than a bean without a partner. Peaberries occur in all varietals in every coffee growing region and normally anywhere from 4%-10% of coffee cherries harbour a single, smaller, fused bean.

There are some varietals that have been breed for there peaberry, and on my trip to Brazil I came across one that is called Acuan that produces 45% peaberry.

Peaberries typically develop on the ends of the branches. No one really knows why, but one theory is that an outermost blossom is more exposed to the wind and weather and may lose a pistil.

There is a theory that because Peaberries are smaller, all the flavours are concentrated in the one seed. Maybe, but on the other hand the flower and cherry are at a disadvantage to produce only one seed and this may also be a negative in the cup.

But you know what, some peaberry’s I have had have been amazing, some others not so amazing, just like some regular coffee can be average and amazing. But one thing is for sure they are different and have the ability to be very special. I remember one kenyan coffee from a few years ago that was truly amazing. This years offering of the Bolivian San Ingacio and the soon to Come Brazil Fazenda Aranquan peaberry thats around the corner. Special coffees, I know you will be enjoying

Roasting peaberry’s takes a bit more skill than your average bean. Because of the shape size and density more care is needed in the profile stage. They can easily roast on the outside quicker than on the inside. A slower more developing roats I have found best with these coffees.