Nicaraguan Delights

I have a very exciting and interesting job, surrounded by amazing coffee all day, every day. Sometimes I forget just how lucky I am.

A conversation with a friend sparked an idea in my head that I should do a blog post on how it is that we have so many different coffees from one farm. It started by talking about Finca Argentina in El Salvador that a couple of years ago we had 21 different coffees from. That’s 21 coffees that were either different varietals, from different tablons (small pieces of land) or processed in different ways, but all from just one farm. Those 21 coffees demonstrated how much diversity there could be from 1 coffee to the next even when they’re all from a single farm.

I then went on to talk about all the wonderful Nicaraguan coffees we have from Finca Limoncillo this year, and my, my, my, there are so many! And so here we are my friends…

My relationship with Finca Limoncillo began in 2007, and back then we were buying their delicious coffee as part of a buying group. I loved it from the very first time I cupped it, and it was a coffee I just had to get. It was only after the auction closed that I discovered it was owned by a family in Nicaragua who were already good friends of mine, and indeed probably the only people I know from the whole country!

The following year I visited the farm with our importers and spent the whole trip begging them to bring the coffee in for us. Eventually, they caved in (possibly just to stop me pestering them!) and kindly did so.

This set-up worked well for a time, but we received notice a couple of years ago, that the importers were not going to be buying the coffee any more (and for reasons other than the cup quality). This led to some frantic phone calls and a thorough search down the back of the sofa for loose change to fund buying twelve months’ worth of coffee all at once. There were many, many obstacles in the way of doing this deal, but we were lucky in that we were able to pull everything together in a very short amount of time.

The upside of all of this is that we now work directly with Finca Limoncillo instead of going via anyone else, and this is a relationship I’m super happy to have. This coffee has gone from a one-off Cup of Excellence buy to a fantastic long-term relationship.

Finca Limoncillo is located in Matagalpa and, at 171 hectares, it. is. huge! Situated at an amazing location, it boasts 9 waterfalls within the farm and is owned by the Mierisch family; as I have already said, they’re good friends, and also well-respected producers in Nicaragua. They’re known for their experimental processing, varietal work, and exceptional coffee. Back then we just bought the washed Caturra from them…

Nicaragua Finca Limoncillo Washed Caturra

And we also have a natural Bourbon from the farm that’s amazing…

Nicaragua Finca Limoncillo Natural Bourbon

Each time I visited the farm I got to try exciting new coffees that were processed in different ways and/or different varietals that they were experimenting with, primarily Pacamara. Pacamaras are a little crazy on the cupping table. Pacamaras are exciting. I like Pacamaras. Mmmmmm Pacamara!

Nicaragua Finca Limoncillo Washed Red Pacamara
Nicaragua Finca Limoncillo Pulped Natural Red Pacamara
Nicaragua Finca Limoncillo Elegant Natural Red Pacamara

Then we got a chance to play with processing. Natural processing that’s been done by a great technician who is on the side of ‘as mad as a box of frogs’…this is one of the most complex, one of the most exciting, and one of my favourite natural coffees of recent times.

They told me that they’d been trying a new policy of turning the coffee more often, which I decided made it more ‘elegant’ (see the other natural Pacamara we’re offering), but quite different.

Nicaragua Finca Limoncillo Elegant Natural Red Pacamara

But they did have one lot which had not been turned as often and was more crazy. So they prepared the sample for me to cup, and the first word I yelled out was “FUNKY!” so this lot made it into the bag! A collaboration of processing between roaster , grower and a mistake.

Nicaragua Finca Limoncillo Funky Natural Red Pacamara

From there we then got to taste something very new and super exciting. Pacamaras are always red (or so we thought). When we visited a couple of years before they had found a plant where the usually red fruit was yellow. I’d never seen this before, and Erwin who is well travelled in the coffee world had not either. We cupped it and it tasted completely different to the Pacamaras I’d tasted in the past, and WOW was it delicious! I begged Erwin to sell us some but he told me they were using all the crop to create more seedlings to plant more coffee, but that it would soon be available. Gone were the days of me being a red only kinda guy.

Fast forward 2 years and it was available in the Los Favoritos Fincas Mierisch auction where some very special lots were up for grabs to the highest bidder. After tasting what I tasted in Nicaragua I knew I had to have it, through the bidding process the entire production of yellow Pacamara from that year was split between us and another amazing roastery in Japan, and so the journey began.

Fast forward a bit more to this year and we had a washed, a pulped natural, a natural and a funky natural (!) which will mostly be released over the next few weeks. The pulped natural is already all gone as it was sent out as a Steve’s Super Secret Stash Subscription (#SSSSS) exclusive, the natural and washed will be available on our website and the funky natural will be available through our exclusive range.

Not happy to stop there, next was the multi-named Javanic / Longberry. It’s a long story how this came about so I’ll hand over to Erwin to let him explain how they came to have this unique coffee…

“Here my ‘story’ begins back in mid-2001. I sound like a grandfather …
My father and I were coming back from visiting some top farms in Nicaragua, as we sometimes did – and do – in order to learn from our neighbours. If we discover anything worthwhile we then implement those things to improve efficiency and quality on our own farms.
As we drove past the UNICAFE experiment station Juanetillo, which had gone under, a man on the side of the road flagged us down and explained to us how the experiment station had closed down and that his ‘severance’ was tools and coffee seeds since they did not have the cash to pay him. He asked if we would be interested in helping him out by purchasing these items off of him. In all honesty, I was not very happy that my father forced me to stop to see what this man wanted; therefore, I was not very receptive to his offer, but I purchased a bag of seeds and old beaten up shovels. I gave no immediate thought to the 20lb bag of coffee seeds that was labelled as JAVA.
My father later showed these seeds to our then-supervising agronomist Ing. Patricia Contreras, who had worked at that research station, and she was ecstatic. She told us about how great this coffee was, but also that it was not very productive nor resistant to disease, as she recalled from running this study at Juanetillo back in the ’80s. She also said that the real name for it is Longberry and that it has its roots in Ethiopia.
We began to run some more experiments – various altitudes and processing methods – and have been learning how to manage it since.”

As far as we can tell the Longberry varietal is a Typica-type coffee because of its bean shape, as is the Geisha. Its physical appearance is a uniform seed that is elongated and has been described by several of our customers as an ‘Ethiopian Long Berry type’.

Nicaragua Finca Limoncillo Washed Longberry
Nicaragua Finca Limoncillo Pulped Natural Longberry
Nicaragua Finca Limoncillo Natural Longberry

You would think that’s enough, but next, we have Ethiosar. The varietal Ethiosar is a stable hybrid plant. It is a cross of an Ethiopian variety (Rume Sudan) with a Sarchimor (a cross of a Villa Sarchi with a Timor variety). The offspring of this plant is then crossed once again with a Villa Sarchi (an improved Caturra / Bourbon from Costa Rica).

The Timor variety is the robusta variety used to produce all the Catimores. In short,it only has a very small percentage of Catimores in it, thus making it very resistant to rust in most parts of the world. The Rume Sudan is a very old variety of Typica from Ethiopia. Both Rume Sudan and Villa Sarchi are known for their great cup characteristics.

What Ethiosar does is increase production by up to 40% whilst only needing 2,800 plants per manzana, whereas with Caturra you would need 4,000 plants. This may not seem important until you begin to think that each plant needs fertiliser, so not only are you getting more yield but it’s cheaper to grow because you need less fertiliser, fewer plants (plants have to be grown or bought), and it’s also quicker to pick. On top of all of this, it’s super tasty.

Again taking advantage of their amazing skill at processing we have a washed, natural and pulped natural…

Nicaragua Finca Limoncillo Natural Ethiosar
Nicaragua Finca Limoncillo Pulped Natural Ethiosar
Nicaragua Finca Limoncillo Washed Ethiosar

16 coffees from one farm, 5 varietals and up to 4 processes! We’re very lucky to work with Finca Limoncillo, but impressively the Mierisch family have even more farms from which we have a washed Catuai from Finca La Escondida and an experimental “perla negra” honey processed lot that’s also Catuai. The “perla negra” x honey process is going to be a coffee shop exclusive (so no, you can’t have any!) and we will let you know where it will be when it’s decided.

Nicaragua Finca La Escondida Washed Red Catuai

Also from La Escondida we have a very exciting and very rare low caffeine varietal called Laurina! If you’re sensitive to your caffeine then make sure you try 1 of our Laurinas, we have the varietal processed as a washed, pulped natural and natural.

Nicaragua Finca La Escondida Natural Laurina
Nicaragua Finca La Escondida Pulped Natural Laurina
Nicaragua Finca La Escondida Washed Laurina

The fact that the family are friends helps us drill down into the details of what they do for the people who work for them, and the information continues to prove to me that good people grow good coffee. 20 coffees one family and all so very, very different. I really do have the best and most exciting job in the whole world.

They got Lions and tigers only in Kenya

I Like this time of year. Not because the birds are singing or that the days are getting longer, not even that I can start venturing int beer gardens of my favourite hostelries. No its the time of year that we see lots of new coffees arriving in warehouse, and in particular Kenyans – the roasters favourite. (ask most coffee roasters their favourite origin and Kenya’s always up there. )

Year on year we have been buying Kenyans from the cupping table from how they taste and score against our knowledge of what Kenya can produce. This is a great way to find quality coffee, but we often found that there would be a new relationship to start up every time we did this, a new farm to get to understand and new coffee to learn to roast. Its hard to add value to a new relationship every year. Like any relationship, the real benefits come when you get to know each other, and understand each others needs and the mutual respect and friendship that gets built that way

So two years ago, I went to Kenya to see two people we had worked with in the past and see if we could work on a longer term basis. I had set a goal of working in two very different regions and with two very different producers. I wanted to work in Nyeri and in Thika, two places I have had exceptional coffee from, and I wanted to buy from an estate and from a coop. Estates are on the decline in Kenya, and coops are notoriously hard to work with, but I love a challenge.

So my trip began in Thika, the Birmingham of Kenya (who wants to be the Birmingham of anywhere?Even Birmingham doesn’t want to be the Birmingham of the UK )

 

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Thika is an industrial town in Kiambu County, Kenya, lying on the A2 road 25miles to the north east of Nairobi, where the Thika and Chania Rivers meet. The town has changed rapidly over the past years, with many of the once amazing coffee estates (any one remember Gethumbwini) having been turned from farm land to gated communities for wealthy people from Nairobi to live and commute to the more dangerous city and for their family to have a more safe and secure life.

Back in 2010 I first had Kiriga from Thika on a cupping table, and loved it, but like all our Kenyans back then we never got to see it again. Then Brian the current owner  reached out to me on the internet and invited me to visit. So this was one of the first places I hit up. Brian was the perfect host, and showed me around the farm, took me to dinner and made me fall in love with both him and the farm. The farm, funnily enough, is across the road (and I mean across the road) from Gethumbwini I mentioned earlier that’s now a gated community.

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So last year we agreed that we would buy a small amount of Brian’s AA (more to come) coffee to see how it went. It went very well, so this year we had many email exchanges about how we can make more of a difference and increase what were doing with Brian. So Brian also sent us his AB lot to cup. Whats AB I hear you cry ?

Well I searched the internet and found this

  • AA – AA is a grade of coffee. Beans with a screen size of 7.2 millimeters (approximately 18/64 of an inch and often referred to as a screen size of 18) are assigned the grade AA. This grade of coffee often receives a higher price than other grades.
And AB
 
  • AB – Slightly smaller that AA, with a screen size of 6.8 millimeters (or 17/64 of an inch). On average, 30% of Kenyan coffee is assigned this grade.
But in layman terms, they are different and present different cups. Some years AA taste better, some years AB’s sometimes there just different. This time they were both different but delicious. So we have been lucky to secure these two lots from Brian’s farm.

The AA’s Cupping notes are

In the cup you can expect fruit, ALL the fruit! Starts off with blackcurrant creamy, smooth, balanced with a fantastic body and structure.  Then theres a delicious white grape / green apple acidity, a whopping citrus delight finishing on black cherry.

And the AB’s cupping notes are

In the cup expect a lovely lush creamy mouthfeel, with a summer fruit kick of peaches and apricots and fresh bright green apple acidity.

But why stop there, I decided to drive up the road to Nyeri. Nyeri is a city situated in the Central Highlands of Kenyaand is situated about 150 km (a two-hour drive) north of Kenya’s capital Nairobi. It is the country’s most densely populated and fertile area in Central Highlands, lying between the eastern base of the Aberdare (Nyandarua) Range, which forms part of the eastern end of the Great Rift Valley, and the western slopes of Mount Kenya.

Last year we worked with a cooperative called Kieni. Its fair to say Kieni have been one of the most proactive cooperatives and producing consistent quality because of the work of a Danish roastery who has been working with them for a number of years.

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The coffee collective have been doing some amazing work with the management team and investing in helping the coop to do great work, a real poster child for working in the region. Becuase of this I had reservations of working with them, not wanting to take advantage of someone elses work. So an email to one of the owners who is also a very good friend, was called for. His reply was why I love working in coffee, “we cant buy all the coffee so of course you should dive in and help them, but only if you pay the same price as we are”. So I did and last year this was a great success, another different cup.

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We have followed this up this year with another purchase from them, that we are super excited about. But why stop there, you already learned about AB and AA so we have

The Kieni AA cupping notes are

In the cup expect a super different Kenyan that’s been shaken up with a Tiki twist. First thing you’ll get is the huge  mouthfeel. Then there’s a big hit of juicy tropical fruit, lemons and oranges which finishes with a super sweet caramel acidity. A deliciously different Kenyan.

And the Kienni AB notes are

In the cup expect fresh orange juice like acidity, with a lovely floral edge, and an aftertaste of Rose water and a gentle fruit sweetness .

So fairly impressive hey ? I’m super proud of thew work we do there, but why stop there. So last year in partnership with an exporter we did a natural Kenyan. This is not normal. Kenyan coffees are renowned for their clean taste, transparent and of course being washed.

So still in Nyeri around 5km outside of the town theres another coop called Othaya and they have a mill near to the Chinga dam (called Chinga). They offered (with some reservations) to start a natural project. We asked them if they would naturally process a batch for us. They kindly agreed to do so as long as we promised to buy it regardless of the final cup. A gamble by us, but one that paid off as you snapped it up. We cupped the sample for the first time together, as you can see I’m at the end of the trip and quite sleepy

Highlands mill cupping room (4)

But we have built on that and took a large lot this year (less of a gamble) and they have also fine tuned the process, so its even better than the experiment . So here we have

The cupping notes for the Othya Chinga Natural are
In the cup expect the unexpected. An thread of blackcurrants all the way through, like you would expect from a Kenyan, but with a lovely big body, and a liquorice flavour that reminds me of Pontefract cakes, whilst remaining incredibly clean.
KCCE cupping lab team
This sounds like I’m blowing my own trumpet. I’m not, I did the easy part, I turned up, cupped some delicious coffees and paid for them. The hard work has come from the exporters, the cooperative, from Brian, pickers workers, managers and the rest. The great news is you can drink them and enjoy their hard work, and I can feel smug in the knowledge we have the best range of Kenyans we have ever had, build on strong relationships, paying a good price and making everyone along the chain super happy, I hope you will be too.

PS if your wondering why the blog post has the title it does watch this video, I sang it the whole trip


Coffee Flower Tea

Some of you may have tried Cascara, and thought wow that’s it, I’m trying all the plant! But no no no there’s more! An idea that first popped into my head back in 2010 has finally come to fruition. Dale Harris my Director of Wholesale here at Has Bean towers likes to compete in barista competitions, and these competitions require you to come up with signature drinks. I remember sneaking back from Costa Rica with some coffee flowers to try and incorporate into this drink. We never found an effective way to use them, but it’s something that bugged me over and over again.

So with our partners in Bolivia I asked them if they could harvest some flowers for us, and see what we could do. This doesn’t damage the crop, as they are harvested just as they are about to fall from the tree but it does involve lots of work (which is just 1 of the reasons why we love the people we work with).

So the process begins after a coffee harvest when there’s normally a period of dry weather, during this time the coffee plant gets a little stressed at the lack of water. Then the rainy season comes which sparks the coffee plant into creating little blossom flowers, these flowers are one of the most amazing and powerful smells I have ever experienced (if you could make a aftershave of it then it’d be my smell of choice) and these flowers appearing mark the start of the process of the coffee plant creating its cherries for our lovely coffee beverages.

The amounts we have are tiny and won’t be around for long. We’ve also got a number of different varietals that all taste quite different.

We played with brewing it as a tea, and boom a unique drink! Our hard working partners in Bolivia have spent a huge amount of time and energy collecting these and we’re also able to separate different varietals of flower, which surprisingly taste very different.

We have –

Bourbon
Geisha
Cepac
Catura
Java

We even made a brew guide here to help you get the best out of the flowers :

 

We’re selling them in one brew sachets, that’s how little we have, but it’s an experience you will want to enjoy. Were also selling in a 5 pack so you can try them all side by side.

On the Twelth (reverse, posting / working) day of Christmas my true love roaster gave to me….

So for the next 12 working days (taking us up to the 22nd the last royal mail posting day) we have the Has Bean 12 days of Christmas for you, This is going backwards 12 days, not the traditional 12 days after Christmas (any excuse really to post).

This will involve a new item each day, to help you find inspiration for the perfect coffee for Christmas day. Some old favourites, some very new and exciting coffee that will become firm favourites I am sure.

So lets finish on a Vilca in a coffee tree.

Bolivia Finca David Vilca Caturra Washed

I am so pleased to see this coffee back for its forth year, and same as last year, we have also been able to secure the honeyed and natural versions too, as well as securing more of the crop. It’s become a big favourite for me, and I know this is also true for many of you too.

It’s from the colony of Bolinda located in the North Yungas region of Bolivia near to the town of Caranarvi. The farm is called Finca David Vilca as it doesn’t have actually have a name. This is quite common in Bolivia, and farms are often named after the family running them, or after an individual.

David migrated from La Paz to the farm 16 years ago after a career in mining left him with damaged hearing. He bought this 12 hectare farm as security for himself and his family, to make sure they could support themselves. When he took over, he only had 1 acre planted with coffee (Criolla). After 2 years he was comfortable with coffee farming and becoming increasingly interested in it, and so decided to extend the planting. He now has 5 acres of coffee (all of which we have bought). He has very little outside help with the farm except from direct family: his wife helps him greatly.

The varietals on the farm are Caturra, Catuai, and Criolla. The farm is under constant improvement. David is now removing much of the Criolla and focusing on Typica and Catuai for cup quality reasons. This coffee comes from the Cattura parts of the farm.

This year you may notice the price of this coffee is unusual.

Having visited David a couple times now, I thought he was being rude to me, ignoring me or not responding when I spoke. Last time I found out David damaged his hearing whilst working as a miner before purchasing the farm.

In the past the exporter has given David some money to get hearing aids, but he spent the money on satellite TV (for his wife to watch – who hasn’t been in that situation)! So last year we paid for two hearing aids whilst we were there, so he could hear again.

We thought that would be the last of it, but this year when I visited David, he didn’t have his hearing aids in. He told us that they were not good while he was picking to wear, but also he couldn’t afford the batteries. So this year we left him with cash for a microphone hearing device for around his neck, and $200 for batteries. This works out 7p a bag for all the coffee we buy from him, and I’m not picking up the bill thats your job.

This is a wonderfully sweet cup, as you have come to expect from Bolivia; milk chocolate with walnut hints, which are so very familiar. Where this coffee opens up is in its acidity, think pear and mixed berries mashed (with that walnut and chocolate too) and you have the most delicious and complex coffee. The aftertaste carries on with lovely hints of spice and citrus, which ensures every cup is different. It evolves and changes through its temperature range.

Farm: Finca David Vilca
Founded: 2001
Province: Caranavi
Region: North Yungas
Altitude: 1,570 – 1,600 m.a.s.l.
Hectares of total farm: 7 hectares
Hectares of coffee plantation: 5 hectares
Quantity of coffee plants: 20.000
Shade: Natural shade by Inga sp. (Sinquili) and others
Coffee varieties: Caturra, Criolla, and Typical
Rainfall period: Nov–February
Average temperature: 8°C ≤ 19°≥ 30°C
Soil type: Clay and shaley
Other crops grown: Citrus fruits (orange, tangerine) advocate
Average age of coffee plants: 8 to 12 years old. Now renovating plantations with Caturra and Typical

 

You can buy it here

On the Eleventh (reverse, posting / working) day of Christmas my true love roaster gave to me….

So for the next 12 working days (taking us up to the 22nd the last royal mail posting day) we have the Has Bean 12 days of Christmas for you, This is going backwards 12 days, not the traditional 12 days after Christmas (any excuse really to post).

This will involve a new item each day, to help you find inspiration for the perfect coffee for Christmas day. Some old favourites, some very new and exciting coffee that will become firm favourites I am sure.

Today its a nano geisha lot from Costa Rica

Costa Rica Finca Salitra Geisha Natural 

This coffee is from a brand new farm that first planted in 2012, so this is the very first tiny outturn just 20 bags. We bought just one of them, this is the very embodiment of a nano lot.

This coffee comes from the Central valley region of Costa Rica in the micro region of Mora, San Jose. The mill is called Web Seed after the owner Webster Seed. The farm it comes from is Finca Salitra and is at an altitude of around 1500-16000 masl.

This is naturally processed which is not rare, but is unusual in Costa rica, what is rare is the varietal. The legendary geisha

In the cup expect a big cup of big base notes of liquorice, and gentle aniseed, but as it cools the floral jasmine and citrus notes mix in what’s unexpected but delicious.

Farm: Finca Salitra 
Region: Central Valley
Country: Costa Rica
Farm Size: 20 Hectares
Coffee growing area: 20 Hectares
Altitude: 1,500 – 1,600 m.a.s.l.
Variety: Villa Sarchí, Caturra, Typica, Bourbon, Geisha
Processing System: Natural

You can buy it here