Every year I do a review of my top ten favourite coffees of the year
Its a lonely thing so I decided to invite Roland (one of the roasters with us at Has Bean) along to review the year with me.
I hope you enjoy
Need to know how to brew the aeropress? Well this might not help but it will show you how I do it wrong.
So a big reason for wanting to make this trip was to go picking pulping of my own coffee. I've never been able to say I have picked the coffee I roast as pickings have been on farms that we have been unable to buy everything from.
I think that the roast style has nothing to do with the brew method of the coffee, nor do I believe that you should roast coffee differently for those different styles.
Pre ground coffee, a compromise too far, or a way of bringing in the masses?
Here I explore and share some of my favourtie people I follow on the phenomenon known as twitter
I take an in-depth look into all the elements that go into making espresso blends
A few weeks ago I was on Wine Library TV, drinking and talking wine with Gary Vaynerchuk
I went down to see Willie Harcourt-Cooze and see how he roasts his cocoa and we drank some coffee
Every year I do a review of my top ten favourite coffees of the year
Its a lonely thing so I decided to invite Roland (one of the roasters with us at Has Bean) along to review the year with me.
I hope you enjoy
Bored of the holiday season, broke all your christmas present toys, can not bear another game of snap with granny or patince on your own ?
Then we have the solution for you, Has Bean Top trumps, with more in jokes than an episode of the Simpsons. Feel free to ask why Buffalo toaster is in there, and the scissor lift, but if we tell you the in joke ends
At Has Bean we get lots of emails every day (and I mean lots). Some are missing orders, advice, locked accounts, interest in working in the coffee industry, you get the kind of thing.
But this time of year I always get asked what coffee will you be having with your Christmas meal? Well every year I always take home a bag of the Christmas filter and espresso blends (wont be taking the espresso blend this year as its my first year of not having an espresso machine at home). I guess before I move on I must say why I don’t have an espresso machine? In the summer this year I moved from a tardis of a mid terraced house that was so huge you could lose people in it, to a very very tiny cottage in the middle of nowhere. My kitched in a 1/4 of the size of the old one. But I insist on my own coffee corner, but I did a deal with my wife that the espresso machine and grinder would go, if I could have a Mahlkonig Tanzania and a Über Boiler. I drink far more brewed coffee at home than espresso and I use a kettle a lot more than I do an espresso machine so the deal was struck.
So I drink a lot of brewed coffee now at home, and mainly Chemex (the Chemex is so perfect for the Über Boiler) So breakfast time I will be enjoying the Christmas filter blend with my bacon and eggs, but the Christmas meal needs something a little bit special to go with the amazing cheeseboard and the stunning vintage port.
This time of year I put together a top ten of coffees from the year, and I have started this already (and will no doubt post about it here) but it kind of helps me choose the coffees I want to take home for the holidays. This year has been (has bean ha ha) amazing, we really have had some stunning special coffees, and looking back I think by far our best year for coffees, seeing our first direct work in Guatemala, buying Kenya lots from the auction catalogue in Narobi, Colombia coming through with some stunners, and Bolivia, well Bolivia is just a different planet.
But the coffee that I will be enjoying with my Christmas lunch is from non of these but is from Nicaragua. I remember a trip around three years ago to Jinotega, when Erwin who owns Limoncillo first let me cup this coffee. It was one of those moments in time you keep in your head, and it was amazing. Tropical fruit and yellow fruit, apicots, just amazing. Then he went on to tell mew about the coffee. So its a yellow pacamara, and thats unusual, you only normally see red fruited pacamara. This is a freak natural mutation from red fruit to yellow and was spotted by a security guard on the farm. They initially thought that it was another varietal that got mixed up but with the pacamara its very easy to spot that its not visually, but they tested it and found it was indeed pacamara. then they thought that maybe it was just a one off and the following year it would go back to red (this some times happens).
But the following year it came back again so they they isolated it, harvested the beans for seeds and began to create seedlings and kept going and going. Then the wait began to make sure that the seedlings would produce yellow fruit and indeed they did. so many years of work, harvesting creating more seedlings got them to the point a few years ago, where they could invite people to samples the coffee, and then this year auction it off. Nut just 320kg of it (so around 1000 250g bags of this in the entire world). Half came to the UK to me and half went to Japan. So only 500 250g bags in the Northern Hemisphere. We gave away 50, we have sold quite a few, so now theres probably enough for 100 bags in the UK. But at £25 a bag its not cheap.
I am a bit of a Christmas guy (take a look at the decorations on our website special offers, gifts). And every year we do a digital christmas card (take a look at the past ones here). But this year we went crazy, and did a 5 part Christmas carol at http://www.hasbeanchristmascarol.com . Within the videos we have three special offers for the ghosts of Christmas past, Christmas present and Christmas future, and you can get 50% off by watching my Christmas tale (while stocks last).
So this Christmas I’m drinking exclusive and expensive, and you can too.
Last week saw the arrival of my delivery of coffee from Bolivia. Bolivia is a special place for me, somewhere I have visited more than any other non european country, and somewhere I love the coffee and love the people.
I have a very long blog post in me about Bolivia (I plan to lock myself in a room for two days over christmas to sort it), and I’ll go into detail there, but on the trip in August I found out that last year I bought about 2% of the entire coffee production from Bolivia in 2012. Now we don’t buy that much coffee (were are a remarkably small coffee roastery) so 2% is incredible.
But whats more incredible (and disturbing) is how the coffee industry in Bolivia is disappearing, and being eroded (again for my long blog post).
So anyway back on topic, for a couple of years (this is the third) we have been stocking a coffee called Finca David Vilca. Finca just means farm in Spanish, and David Vilca means well the man David Vilca. Its quite normal for the farms to be so small or so unidentified that they don’t have names in Bolivia and in particualr around Caranarvi. When visaiting for the first time I asked David what the farm was called, and that was it, its cute and its kind of stuck.
So the first couple of years I didn’t think David was so interested in my visits, when ever I spoke to him he either ignored me, or just looked at me strangely and grunted. Now my spanish is awful so I guessed this was my rubbish pronunciation or he just didn’t like me. But his coffee is so amazing I didn’t care if he never spoke as long as he keeps the quality of the cup up.
But in the back of my mind I want everyone too like me, so on the drive up to the farm this year, I asked the exporter if this was normal. Blushing he tells me that the last two year he explained to David why I was visiting, but his hearing is not so good and Davids didnt know why I was there.
His hearing got damaged from years of mining, and he had no idea who this crazy guy was walking around his farm. But last year after I had left he asked why I had come for a second year and who trhe heck I was.
They had told him what we had been doing with his coffee, and how much we love what he does. Inspired and embarrased he asked the exporter what he could do for us for next years visit.
We had just agreed with some other local producers to do some different processes and they told him about this. So he decided under his own steam to do some unique lots for us with a Natural and Honey (I have never seen Honey or Natural Bolivians this was so exciting). But not any old Natural he wanted to give us a farm lot and a mill lot. David has never ever done any processing himself, always rellyed on the mill, so this is amazing, and real progress.
This years visit was so so different, he welcomed me into his home, his wife insisted on giving us a snack and a drink, and the whole family came to see me (his daughter, son in law and granddaughter), and showed me these different processing lots.
The visit was amazing, they wouldn’t let us leave, night came and they were still keen to show us everything about the farm (and I if the truth be known I didn’t want to leave either). But eventually we did and on the drive home I asked why David didn’t have any hearing aids to help him hear (much shouting had gone on the farm that day).
The exporter began to tell me they gave him some money for the hearing aids a few years ago, but it got spent on a satellite dish to keep his wife happy (its a long way from any entertainment or any anything) so I can kind of understand.
So I suggested that we pay for them but the exporter gives the money to the hearing clinic. It seemed like a good idea, but David does not want the money from me, so I had a better idea, why not from you ?
I worked out that on the Washed lot we buy from him it would be an extra 44p a kilo, so instead of £5.00 for a 250g bag its £5.11 and someone can hear again. David liked this idea as much as we did, so…..
Over to you………..
So if you didn’t know I spent the last 6 days in Kenya, returning to the UK late Sunday night. The great thing about these trips is that you get very exposed to a country’s coffees along with the opportunity to meet lots of coffee people, amazing people that ask deep questions and provide thoughtful but probing answers to the questions you raise.
I think the thing that I like best about traveling is I always come away learning so much, I have a post in me explaining the way that Kenya sells its coffee, something I’ve been keen to understand for a while, but thats for another day.
The trip was equally split between cupping new coffees (I think I may have found some very special lots for us in the coming year) alongside visiting washing stations and growers.
At the cupping table I was exposed to nearly 200 cups during the short time I was there and I was struck by a number of things, the biggest was the cup profile.
The “Kenya cup profile”
I used to expect a certain profile from Kenya. This would be predominantly blackcurrant, with HUGE acidity, citrus fruits, or a red wine like acidity, full of red fruits and deliciousness. Kenyas have long been one of the highlights for any roaster when the season rolls around.
But the last couple of years, farms and washing stations I knew who used to do a great job have not done so on the cupping table. In fact, I have struggled to find repeat coffees from Kenya for a long time. There are lots of reasons for this, some I’ll explain in more depth below, some down to huge coop’s who deliver coffee at different times from many hundreds sometimes thousands of growers that will all effect the cup profile from year to year. But there are some more issues I’d like to explore in depth
Yield vs Cup Quality
Everyone I spoke to in Kenya is concerned with Yield, how much coffee you can achieve from one coffee plant. This was the top topic for growers, cooperatives and private estates, wet and dry mills owners, agronomists and agronomy companies and exporters. All the way along the origin chain this was top and indeed hot topic.
Visiting a agro company SMS (Sustainable Management Services) they were very proud to tell us how they had taken small holders from 1kg yield per tree to 2.5kg per tree and are aiming for more like 5kg per tree. Impressive, but there are a number of ways of doing this that will impact directly on the cup profile we see from this and other origins. For me this antidotally impacts on the cup quality, when you’re working a coffee tree to its maximum. Now don’t shoot me down here, I’m happy to admit it’s an area I know way too little about and is all conjecture, but even if we discount this, it works the soil much harder, the plant much harder. If we put that into a human idea of working harder with less rest and less food, we tend not to do our best work. We see this across much of agriculture and I have seen nothing that convinces me coffee is the exception.
Estates are disappearing, the COOP is the future
Estates are disappearing. Many of the large estates that once surrounded Nairobi are disappearing and becoming part of the urban sprawl. There is much more profit in building plots than growing coffee, with the average one bedroom apartment costing around £2000 per month in the capital city, you can see why things are going this way. Estates had long been the main source of coffee from Kenya, this is a good and bad thing. Estates generally yield much more coffee per tree (as I said above, I’m not convinced this is a good thing) but they are also much more organised in the lots they put together, and in general the coffee cup profile they produce. This is a sad loss for the Kenyan coffee market and makes it even more important that Coop’s pick up the quality baton, and those estates that do remain need to be rewarded for their work.
Reward for your toils
I think this is something we can all agree on, that it’s important to be rewarded for your toils. We all like to make money and Kenyan coffee farmers, although not rich, benefit from one of the most organised and efficient systems I have seen in a growing country. If what I was told was to be believed (and I have no reason to think otherwise) most growers will receive between $3.00 – $4.00 per lb. Now thats pretty impressive, and the differentials for providing quality are fairly small. So there is a lack of incentive to do anything but increase yield and not worry about cup profile, if I were a farmer I know what would be top of my list. The specialty buyer is in a niche market (i.e. me and my kind) and we are fairly demanding, or to put it more politely, a pain in the backside. I know this I am fully aware of it, and in Central South America, the growers we work with forgive my craziness as we’re able to reward producers with prices above the market price. This makes Pain in the backside Leighton’s visits a bit more bearable, but where the rewards are high and you don’t have to put up with my silly questions and stupid ideas, where is the incentive to do anything but increase yield?
In Kenya as I said I spoke to SMS who give advice to small farmers and were telling them to change their plant stock where they can. Coop’s were doing the same to their members and in fact were actively growing seedlings for them to renew their stock. The general advice seemed to be “rip out the very tasty and much in demand SL 28 and SL 34 varietals and plant Batian and Ruiru 11″.
And why? Well like above, yield is much improved by these and they seem to be better suited to climate change (see below). But whats the effect on the “Kenya cup profile”? Well, from the cuppings I did whilst in Kenya and over the past 18 months I think we’ll see a shift in what we are tasting from Kenyas and I’m not wholly convinced it’s for the better.
It seems no one can blog post about coffee anymore without looking at climate change. Central America is going through a rough time with coffee leaf rust (roya), a fungus that attacks the leaves of the coffee plant and brocca which is a a small beetle from Africa, though its now found worldwide and destroys crops by using the fruit to lay its eggs. Both of these have been rising and much attributed to climate change. In Colombia the effects of increasing temperatures (it’s risen by 1 degree C in 20 years) and the increased rain fall at unpredicted times (effecting the development of the coffee flower) is having an effect. Africa is not immune to these changes and ever farmer I have spoken to in the last 3 years mentions how the harvest time is now unpredictable when you used to be able to set your watch by it. Now climate is playing a bigger and bigger factor in the Yield, the quality of the cup and how the coffee tastes. Things are moving and things are changing and this involves what we should expect from different farms and countries.
So in conclusion…
Is this the end for Kenyan coffee? Will we see everything in the specialty market change? I don’t think so. Tasty coffees were still there on the cupping table and through the doom and gloom there were some real highlights. But I think we will start to see a change in expectations from Kenyan coffee (and others if we look at the market globally), paying more for quality is a good start but we also need to begin searching harder and building better relationships with the people who produce outstanding coffees. The market for quality coffee is growing and the incentive to supply it is diminishing, this can only mean one thing…when demand outstrips supply then prices have to rise. I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
So this week we launched a new coffee. Nothing new there, but this was a little different.
On my recent trip to Colombia I cupped a heap of coffees. There was one on one of the tables that confused me. Colombia is famous for not doing any natural process. There was one coffee on the table that wasn’t natural, I knew this, but had some of the hall marks I have come to expect from naturals. But it was delicious. Like really delicious.
On the reveal I was told something that rocked my coffee world. The evening after I cupped it I couldn’t sleep, every-time my head hit the pillow, it bounced back up again with questions questions. So what was this coffee ? A decaf. It wasn’t the decaf that was keeping me awake, it was something far more important, something far more difficult to comprehend.
But not only a decaf, its caffeinated brother was on the same table as this, and I scored this lower in my cupping scores. The decaf process always imparts some kind of taste but its normally bad, it makes the coffee less tasty ,less interesting. This had made it more, made it more interesting more depth more flavour. Something had happened to make coffee better that was man made.
The decaf process is a new one. Most decaffeination happens at either Germany (CO2 method) or Canada (swiss water) or Mexico (Mexican water). I liked the mexican water as it adds some value at a producing country means more money can go back to where coffee is grown. It also means theres normally less food-miles on it. A slightly strange thing to worry about when coffee already travels half way around the world, but something that I think about.
This decaf process for this coffee, happens 40km from the central place our container gets loaded with our colombian shipment. It means we get the coffee quicker, with less miles and adds value in Colombia. It also uses an interesting product to do the decaffing.
To extract caffeine from coffee you need a solvent, something it will stick to to remove from the coffee. Ethyl Acetate is such an adhesive, and something thats naturally found in in lots of food stuff.Colombia is well known for growing coffee, but also sugar cane. The grow lots and lots of it. So they use Ethyl Acetate (EA) from the sugar cane, and dissolve it into water for the caffeine extraction.
Another claim they make is that EA decaffeination removes irritant substances that benefits people with sensitive stomachs.
I’ve poped some of the promotion images they sent me to show the process below for those interested.
So the one I was sampling was already spoken for, but from the caffeinated version we cupped we looked for something similar, and took the plunge getting our own decaffeination done for the first time from a complete lot. It also meant we could keep some caffeinated for you to try the same experiment. The first time I tasted it decaffed was last week when the container arrived. Thank god it was tasty and what I expected.
As far as I know we are the first people in Europe to bring this in, I am sure we wont be the last. But this isn’t the big question. The big question is the imparting of taste, what else could be done to make a coffee something else.
I am not saying we should, in fact this is the reason for the sleepless nights its a terrible horrible thought. But its a thought I can not get the questions out of my head.
The other question, is how can a decaf be so so tasty.It really did surprise me. Great a blog post full of questions more than answers, just what the world needs.