Villa Sarchi

Varietal: Villa Sarchi
Related to: Bourbon, Typica, Pacas
Origin: Costa Rica
Botany: Mutation
Grows best at: 500 metres or above
Prevalent in: Costa Rica
Predominant Colour: Red
Fruit size: Normal rounded
Plant Size: Dwarf (short)
Leaf Characteristics: Bronze colored leaves scattered throughout the green leaves
Plants per hector: 3,585
Recommended Spacing:1.67m x 1.67m
Common Tasting Notes:Fruit acidity thats very clean,fruit driven sweetness thats intense.

Special Notes:

Villa Sarchi is a mutation of the Bourbon varieties that was developed in the West Valley Costa Rican town of Sarchi. It is a natural and spontaneous mutation of Bourbon, similar to that of Caturra in Brazil and pacas in El Salvador.

Branches are very distinctive, and are nearly 45 degree from the tree’s centre, and also have very distinctive bronze coloured leaves with a mixture of normal green leaves.

Villa Sarchi produces well at high altitudes, under shade canopies and with little chemical inputs making it great for farms that produce with organic methods. Villa Sarchi has elegant acidity, intense fruit tones and excellent sweetness.

But it will ask grow well at lower altitudes, but grows the very best in the climates of Costa Rica, its home, and hence its popularity

Links: Bourbon, Pacas, Typica

Has Bean Coffee examples:

Costa Rica Finca La Casa Vista al Valle Red honey Villa Sarchi,

Costa Rica Finca La Perla Yellow Honey Villa Sarchi,

Costa Rica Finca Angelina Yellow Honey Villa Sarchi,

Costa Rica Finca Kattia Herbazu Yellow Honey Process Villa Sarchi,

Costa Rica Finca de Licho Yellow Honey Vila Sarchi



Its ages since I did a new varietal post, but with this weeks in my mug being a catimor I thought it was about time I did.

Catimors one of the unloved bad guys of coffee, but I’ve found a couple of examples of it being quite the oposite. I guess this comes back ot there is no such thing as a badf varietal, just a varietal planted in a bad space. A geisha planted at 1100 masl is going to be awful and I guess there must be rules for Catimors.

Any way you can read up about all our varietals here or just read about catimor below

Varietal: Catimor

Related to: Caturra and Timor

Origin: Portugal

Grows best at: Above 500 masl and below 1500 metres

Type: Hybrid

Prevalent in: Central south america and asia

Predominant Colour: Red

Fruit size: Normal rounded

Leaf Characteristics: Large and wide

Botany: Hybrid

Special Notes:

A controversial coffee varietal. Catimor is a cross between Timor coffee (resistant to leaf rust a big problem at the moment in central America) and Caturra coffee. It was created in of all places Portugal in 1959.

It grows and produces fruit very quickly and has a very high yields, pest resistant and leaf rust resistant and will grow at much lower altitudes well in comparison to to many other commercial varietals, although very low or very high it has been reported that it can be problematic.

Sounds perfect, but problems come in the cup quality. Timor has its feet in the robusta species (hence all these lovely benefits) but robusta is not known for being tasty. Also because of its over eagerness to produce fruit, the productive life span of the Catimor is reduced significantly with some producers reporting severe drop offs in production after 10 years or so.

Links: Cattura, Timor, IHCAFE 90, IHCAFE 95

Examples: El Salvador Finca Argentina Timor, Tanzania Burka Block A Catimor Natural

Screen Shot 2014-08-08 at 22.15.25

Flashback friday 4

You think i forgot about this right !! Well wrong, that just proves you don’t follow my instagram account where last weeks flashback was a picture. This week we look at an article I wrote back in 2008, and I am as proud of it today as I was back then. Its an insight to who I am and how has bean started, its been a fun journey, and one I must update soon. Maybe sharing it here will motivate me to do so.

Sit back and enjoy



I have always enjoyed coffee, and always been a little weird with it too. Not in a bad way, more in terms of quality and choice. I remember asking, as a seven or eight year old, for a filter machine for Christmas, and drinking filter coffee when no o­ne else in the house did. I recall enquiring if my mom would allow me to choose the coffee myself, then spending a long time carefully making a selection. I really don’t know where this desire came from, or why I liked coffee so much.

There was a shop in Wolverhampton called Snapes that I liked to visit when I got a little older. Despite it being the 1980s, the shop remained a very olde worlde looking place with oak panels o­n the walls. o­n these hung big (and I mean big) hoppers full of what I now know to be stale coffee beans, which when purchased were wrapped meticulously in 1940s style brown paper.

Snapes was a reasonable distance from my home and going there was a big thing to me. As quite an independent young person, I used to look forward to it and make my own way there. This was at a time when it was safe enough for relative youngsters to travel ten or fifteen miles alone o­n a bus. I can’t imagine in today’s world letting my son do that, which is a shame because back then, for me, it was a life forming experience.

The thing I loved most about Snapes was the aroma. I can still smell it now in my nostrils, the pungent combination of fragrances; coffee and the roast itself mixed with brown paper and the old wooden wall panels. It’s a very clear and strong memory. To this day, I still love the aroma of coffee more than anything else, it’s such an emotive smell and so distinct.

The love of coffee carried o­n into my adult life, but back in the early days, the coffee I drank was nowhere near the quality that I have become used to and expect today. Just as with many coffee consumers, it was in part about the caffeine ‘hit’, though that was not all for me, there was more. I would go for the best quality that was available to me, which at the time was mostly from supermarkets, because I also wanted flavour, just as I had years before when trekking all the way to Snapes. Throughout my life, I have always loved to experience and challenge myself with taste and the perception of flavours.

When I left school, I worked in the mental health sector for seven years. As anyone who has been in nursing knows, the salary is not very good. I was also living with my now wife Sarah, and had a mortgage at eighteen, which made money even tighter. So, to supplement my main income, I used to work three or sometimes four jobs at a time in order to afford the mortgage payments, put food o­n our table, and buy those nice things with which I loved to challenge my sense of taste. This meant working nights or very long hours.

One of the many jobs I had was at an all night petrol station. It was o­n a very busy road about ten miles from Birmingham – and not in the nicest part of town. There, I was locked in from seven at night until seven in the morning all o­n my own, finishing just in time to get to go to my main job. The nights were long, lonely and very hard work. Staying alert and awake was important, but making friends with the local police was crucial. I quickly found out that night workers enjoy coffee, and if you give night workers nice coffee, they like you a lot!

Thanks to the coffee, I would have two or three police cars parked outside my petrol station for hours upon end. The presence of the police is o­ne of the best crime prevention methods around and I highly recommend it. o­n o­ne occasion when I didn’t have a coffee party going o­n and there was some trouble, I pressed my panic alarm that alerted the police of a problem and my coffee buddies we soon there, providing a very speedy response.

I then got a job that paid more money than nursing but was no where near as much fun. o­nce again, I ended up doing night duty and, just as before, coffee eventually came to my rescue, but this time in a very different way. I didn’t enjoy the job that I was doing and spent many a night thinking about what I would do differently to change it all and make improvements. I was clearly unhappy and perhaps a little disillusioned. Around this time my son had started school and my wife was thinking of new things that she might like to try for herself. That seemed like a good idea to me, so I too began to consider what I would really like to do. I loved football but was never good enough for the school team, so making a living from it was out of the question. I loved wine, but my liver would never have held up in the long term. Then it came to me. I loved coffee! At the time, I had progressed from the supermarket’s finest offerings to buying green coffee directly from Sweet Maria’s in the US (thanks Tom) because it simply wasn’t possible to get what I wanted here in the UK.

It was 1999 and the internet was still fairly much in its infancy, especially where commerce was concerned. After some investigation, I found a great roaster based in the UK, and made the decision to buy roasted coffee from him to resell three days a week o­n a market stall in Stafford. Both Sarah and I kept our day jobs throughout the market stall period. I was able to be there due to a combination of leave, nights and early shifts at work, often taking over from Sarah for the afternoon. It was so tough, and they were crazy, crazy times.

I remember carefully selecting the coffees, buying some great jars to present them in, getting the bags ready and having lots of signs printed. We opened up expectantly o­n the first day and sold just three 250g bags. It was a complete failure, costing us £30 to stand there for the day whilst we took just £7. The second day was even worse. A lovely old lady came across to the stall and asked what we were selling. I explained my prepared and well rehearsed story about this fine specialty coffee that been sourced from all corners of the world. She was impressed, and said “I’d like to take a bag please”. It was our first sale of the day. I ground the coffee for her o­n our lovely grinder, sealed the bag carefully and thanked her very much. So pleased was I to have introduced this lovely lady to good coffee, it didn’t matter to me that everyone else was walking past and no-one was buying. Indeed when the end of the day arrived there were no other sales, yet I was still pleased. o­ne person converted to the good stuff was a start. After all, from acorns mighty oaks spring.

Whilst packing away the stall and loading up my trolley, I noticed the old lady coming back into the market. No matter how great a job I may have done in introducing her to good coffee, she surely could not have finished the bag already. She returned to the stall and explained that she was pleased I was still there as something was wrong with the coffee. I was truly gutted. What o­n earth could it be? We were so careful and particular when choosing what to sell. Was it over roasted, tainted, the wrong grind? Yes, that must be it. I knew it. In my mind it was the wrong grind. I enquired further, “I’m so sorry, what was wrong?” The lady replied, “Well I put it in the cup, stirred and it wouldn’t dissolve! I stirred and stirred, but it stayed all powdery”. Rather stunned and a little surprised, I apologised and returned her money. It was just not worth trying to explain. Deep down, I knew this did not bode well. The poor sales went o­n for three weeks. The best day was the first day when we sold three 250g bags, the worst week amounted to a solitary sale of o­ne 250g bag. Something clearly had to give.

I decided that if Stafford wasn’t quite ready to buy coffee beans from a specialist retailer, we would have to showcase our product more successfully. Recalling the massive impact that the coffee aroma in Snapes used to have o­n me, I decided that we would continue to sell beans but needed to offer cups of coffee too. That way, people would drink and be converted to great coffee, then we could sell them some beans to take home. “I’ll show them”, I thought. It’s just a matter of education and being exposed to quality coffee. So we found a shop in Stafford town centre. It was VERY small, and in an awful location, but cheap and affordable.

The shop needed to be fitted out as a cafe. I begged, borrowed, and after a full shift at my main job, worked hard until three every morning, before going home for a few hours sleep and returning to the early shift at work the next day. This went o­n day after day until it was ready. We painted the main room bright red, and the back became a funky electric blue. It looked different. We decided that Sarah would front the place whilst I continued at my main job and worked with her around my shifts, just as I had at the market stall. We spent as much money o­n tables and chairs at Ikea as my credit card would allow. We o­nly had twenty covers, but in our location, we didn’t really need too many more. We started with what was basically a home set up of a Rancilio Rocky grinder and a Nuevo Simonelli Oscar o­ne group espresso machine. I look back now and cringe, but we worked for six months with that kit until someone felt sorry for us and sold me a three group commercial La Cimbali for £100 that worked like a trojan. We roasted the filter coffee ourselves o­n an Alpenrost home roaster and bought the espresso beans from our roaster friend. We had the coffee shop for three years in total and although it did not bring riches, we didn’t lose anything either. We survived, but it was such very hard work.

While we had the coffee shop, I used to travel 120 miles to pick up the coffee beans from our roaster friend. It was not necessary, but I did it because I loved the roastery so much. The roasting process was what really intrigued me about coffee. I also liked that there were no customers directly in my face, and that roastery customers appeared to be genuinely appreciative of the effort of the person roasting. On one of my trips to the roastery, I spotted a 2kg roasting machine in the corner that was not being using any more. I asked if they had thought about selling it, and they wanted to do so. We settled on a price that was ok for everyone, and came to an agreement that I would not sell roasted coffee online for a number of months.

For me it meant a bank loan. I was all spent out, but it seemed like a dream to have a great roaster that meant I could roast all the coffee for the coffee shop myself. So, our garage was fitted out with electrics, a new ceiling, worktops, floors, and it was plaster boarded by a friend. It had the lot. Once again, I did a lot of the work myself, fitting cupboards, floors and painting. I even installed the chimney – which turned out not to be such a great idea. The first few roasts went well, then, I learned that roasting demands constant attention when I set fire to my flexible hose chimney and had flames coming out the roof! Our neighbours enjoyed this time with me being a seemingly constant source of hilarious entertainment. I remember some of our neighbour’s young children asking why I set fire to my garage every night.

I worked at my main job or in the shop every day, and then at night would be in the garage roasting coffee, which I then mailed the next day during my lunch break at work! As time passed, I found myself spending more and more time roasting. It meant that Sarah was more often than not having to work a seven-day week because I was roasting on what were meant to be her days off. The coffee shop had become something far removed from our original vision. It had evolved into what was almost a sandwich bar that sold coffee beans. We did not intend it to be that and no longer wanted it. Meanwhile, the roasting was quickly becoming something that I very much did want.

We were busy with the roasting but there was not enough of it to concentrate our efforts on that alone. The lease on the shop was coming to an end and I was far from convinced that we should renew and continue with it. The coffee shop was meant to be just a means to an end, a way to introduce people to our roasted coffees. By this time the period for we had agreed not to sell roasted coffee online as part of the deal to purchase the roaster was also coming to an end. The inspiration behind us selling coffee remained Sweet Maria’s in the US. They were the reason for this whole crazy idea, the start of it all. There was still nobody doing it here in the UK in quite the same way as Sweet Maria’s served US coffee lovers and to me that was madness. The people who we were buying from just didn’t seem to be so focused on the smaller customers and I thought we could do that well.

With the coffee shop being so far off the beaten track we had always needed to offer people a reason to walk a little further to us. Price was our thing, and this in turn meant that students were attracted to our premises. We really liked the students; they appreciated the coffee, and they came in regularly. Sitting in the shop one quiet afternoon, I got talking to Pete who was one of the students. He had a real appreciation of the coffee and the effort we put in. We got on really well. I started to tell him about my idea. I wanted to set up a website to sell good coffee but my skills stopped at html, and an online shop needed a little more expertise than I could provide. These were the days before you could easily buy an off the shelf checkout solution for e-commerce from any number of vendors. Pete was studying computers and was a clever guy. He offered to try to build a cart for us. This was from the ground up using pearl and cgi. Our first site worked, but I’m not sure whether I would have been comfortable giving us credit card details.

Nevertheless, we launched and it was amazing. We sold more in our first day on the site than we did the whole week on the market. Admittedly this was from people who regularly came into the shop supporting us online, but it was still great. It really took off quite quickly from the August when we launched the site.

By October we had decided that the coffee shop was going and we needed some premises to replace the garage in which to roast. We found a small industrial unit, which was only 750sq ft but perfect for us. It had an office, and a great space for the roasters. Preparatory work was once again needed. I had to paint the floor and the cupboards, along with attending to a multitude of the little jobs that always seem to need attention when setting up any new space. It seemed that fitting out was becoming a regular occurrence for me. DIY and I were certainly no strangers.

We purchased a second roaster and spent a happy eighteen months at that place as the business really took off, but it soon became apparent that we were outgrowing the space. It got scarily busy at one stage with space and capacity pushed to the limits. From nowhere our website had just become really popular. At that point, the original site designer, Pete, was back studying at university and unable to do any more work with us. So, thanks to the help of a friend we upgraded the website to something far more professional.

The big catalyst for what was going on in terms of the coffee itself was our involvement in the Cup of Excellence program. With Cup of Excellence, you can’t ask “Can I do that?” or simply join. It’s the kind of thing that you just get asked to do. People in the industry saw what we were doing, and from observing me at cuppings thought that my palate was good enough. It was such a huge honour to be asked to go to Nicaragua in 2005 as a judge. The day that the invitation email arrived, I ran round and round the house at least ten times like an excited little boy. I was unable sleep for days, and luckily for me, Sarah was so supportive of me attending. She knew it was such a dream come true for me.
Being asked to be part of the jury convinced me we were on the right track. If serious people in the speciality coffee industry thought we were doing okay, then that was good enough for me. I’ve always been a little unsure that way throughout my life, worried that we might not be good enough or that we didn’t really belong. Recognition of that magnitude always reassures me, bringing with it a good feeling, and it doesn’t come any bigger than it did that day.

The trip to Nicaragua came at a time when the furthest I had ever been abroad was to Spain way back in 1984, and I hadn’t flown on an aeroplane since. So, there I was, twenty-one years later embarking on a journey to the other side of the world all on my own. I remember it so vividly. At that point, I had not spent more than one or two nights away from my family, and never been as far away from them in distance. The airport has become very familiar to me over the past few years, but back then being alone and in an unfamiliar setting, it filled me with trepidation. I flew from Heathrow, that too was a very new experience for me, having previously only been exposed to smaller regional airports, to Madrid, and then to Miami before continuing to Managua, all on my own. Connections were traumatic, and my arrival at Managua was scary. I arrived at the airport and couldn’t see anyone from the Cup of Excellence or anything about it. I was not sure where we were staying. I did have a cell phone number to call, but got no answer, so I sat on a step and just waited whilst being pestered by people who were speaking a language that I barely understand. The airport was mad with people bustling around everywhere. I must have been offered a taxi forty times in the space of two minutes. It was so very unnerving. Eventually, as someone passed me, I spotted that he had a scrunched up piece of paper with the word “Cup” on it, so I approached him. Fortunately, he too was in town for the Cup of Excellence, and kindly took me to the party arranged for that evening.

The competition was wonderful. I was cupping with coffee gods; people that I had previously only read about. Now, I was there interacting with them. It was such a thrill and a great honour. The coffee producers were so cool as well, and I spent the week just in awe of wonderful people and the fantastic surroundings.

We had always used high quality beans, but being exposed to great Cup of Excellence coffees really inspired us to push to another level. Visiting origin and working with our growing partners was a great experience that really focussed our direction.
Back at the roastery, the space issue was becoming untenable, so we moved to our current premises, a 2500sq ft space, which required another round of building work and floor laying. The extra space enabled us to buy our third and fourth roasters.

We have just, this year, replaced the original 2kg machine and have therefore gone full circle in terms of roasters. The unit next to ours recently became available, so we took on the extra space and now have a total of 5000 sq ft.

It has been a rollercoaster ride from the beginning to where we are now, and we have met lots of very nice people along the way. I hope that the future will bring us lots more ups and not too many downs as our wonderful coffee journey continues. Whatever happens, we love what we do and will always remain committed to providing world class coffees to our customers.

Screen Shot 2013-11-11 at 21.08.07


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.











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
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
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
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
Botany: Heirloom













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

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.