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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…

https://www.hasbean.co.uk/products/nicaragua-limoncillo-washed-caturra

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

https://www.hasbean.co.uk/products/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’.

https://www.hasbean.co.uk/products/nicaragua-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.

Brexit hangover

There’s been lots of talk recently about Brexit, but what does it mean for coffee?

Price, nobody likes it when prices go up (apart from the person who benefits), but what if no one is benefiting?

Normally there’s a winner somewhere, coffee producers raising the money they charge, roasters wanting to make more money, costs rising so some other sector is getting more money (packaging, shipping, fertilisers etc). But this time, it’s the result of a vote 4 months ago that we’re now having to react to.

After the crazy party of a referendum we all woke up with a bit of a political hangover and to a new world, I think something that was missed is the new face of consumerism. On Friday, June 24th we saw what the markets thought of our decision, the stock markets and the currency markets both plummeted. The stock markets quickly recovered and we’re seeing record highs in the FTSE 100 and other measurements, but currency remains at record lows. When I first started to understand buying coffee in dollars I remember the £ being worth around $2 as my mental marker. Easy conversion times. Even before Brexit we had seen big changes in this, and previous visits to $1.35 to £1.00 were scary and horrible. Today the mid-price for the $-£ sits at 1.2276 (the new most opened app on my phone is XE) and record lows are reported every day, and just when you think it’s bottomed out ($1.29 was my guess) you see more and more drops.

What does this mean? Well, all our coffee is bought in USD/$. Part of my job as a green buyer is also to hedge against the dollar (this means buying dollars when I think the price is good or to protect from huge market swings). Before Brexit, I spent a couple of days reading about what the outcomes might be from different votes (yes my life is this interesting) and worked out some scenarios. I think it’s fair to say that no one really knew what might happen, as there is no precedent for such a huge vote, but you can take a stab in the dark. If we take ourselves back to Wednesday, June 22nd the day before the vote, all things pointed to a remain vote being most likely. The forecasted reaction to this would be a small jump up to $1.50 to £-ish and some stability back in the UK markets. The case for leave meant some uncertainty and a drop, but a drop some people had at $1.10 – $1.20 others more $1.30 – $ 1.40. I had to make a decision that day to buy some $ and think we might leave and protect myself from this change, or ride it out expect a remain vote and see a chance to sell some dollars at a slightly higher price.

My decision was to do nothing, sit tight, didn’t have anything arriving for the next 4-6 weeks and see what happened. Well, what happened was well documented (I think we will all know where we were when we heard the result), and was the biggest loss on currency and some of the lowest exchange rates on record. What also has happened is that I’ve become a currency junkie, constantly checking for small changes in the $-£.

On that morning some importers who had already bought coffee raised their prices because of the swing, I even heard of some roasters doing the same. To me, this seems crazy for coffee that’s in store and had already been paid for at the older (much juicier) exchange rate, and also a little opportunistic. We didn’t, we sat and we waited and we watched, and that’s been the last 4 months, waiting and watching.

In that four months we had to buy some dollars, some big purchases, some smaller hedging ones to try and buy when I thought the market was good, and selling when I could see an upward swing. But since Brexit I’ve bought around $400,000.00 of currency to buy coffee. $400,000.00 today will cost you around £325,865.58 but back on June 22nd that same $400,000.00 would have cost £268,456.38, a difference of £57,409.20.

Let me take a moment to say that figure again, £57,409.20. That’s £57,409.20 that didn’t go to the farmer, £57,409.20 that didn’t go into my pocket, it just disappeared in currency exchange. It’s sad, really really sad.

What does this mean for Has Bean? Well, it means that our prices are going to have to go up. Not right now, but on new coffees as they come in, you will see some of our prices rising, and as we start to use these coffees in blends, their prices will rise too. This will also have a knock-on effect on subscriptions too, it’s something we’re going to have to address, but we’re riding it for as long as we can, waiting for the market to settle, and seeing what we can do to offset it as much as possible.

Don’t think coffee is the only thing that’s going to get more expensive. Many things are bought in dollars, oil typically bought in $ will increases at the pump, a low barrel price is keeping this under control for now, but pre-Brexit this would have been much cheaper at the pump and prices we’re seeing now are 15-20% higher than we would have expected at previous currency rates. Currency effects so much of what we consume, the scary one on the news this morning was wine from Australia.

So, what’s the future? Well, I wish I knew. Good trading results and unexpected news post-Brexit are making the pound actually better than it could have been. The UK economy has not taken the dive that many predicted so maybe we should be happy at $1.22.

But the market remains volatile. Something as simple as a speech can have an effect on market confidence. In the recent conservative conference every time our prime minister spoke, the £ plunged with talk of hard Brexit and dates of March being set for invoking article 50 to leave the European Union. This isn’t a political statement by me, more a sign of the fragility of the market and the confidence it has in a post-EU world, and something we will have to prepare for.

I wanted to warn you about what was coming, and let you know that this is not a roaster getting greedy, or a farmer making deserved coin, but we will be looking at our pricing as we go, and keeping it under constant review. We won’t be the only ones doing this so expect coffee to get more expensive, but sadly not for the right reasons. We live in uncertain times, but one thing remains, life is too short for bad coffee.

A Bolivia monologue 

A few weeks back I was lucky enough to spend some time in Bolivia. Bolivia has become one of my favourite country’s in the world to visit, and in fact was my 10th time in ten years.

No where in the world is like Bolivia, the landscape, the people and the unique issues surrounding coffee production and export.

Whilst there I recorded a little piece on it for Tamper Tantrum (a podcast between myself, Colin Harmon and Jenn Ruglow aimed at the coffee industry) which was a monologue on the trip and the future of Bolivian coffee. Its been a few weeks since I recorded and released it, but remembered this week I forgot to really talk about it here, so I thought I’d embed it below I hope you enjoy it.

A video of me

I know the internet has far too many videos of me and far too few of kittens and puppies, but most of them have been made by me. This time some one else made a video with me in, so its new and noteworthy and I’m going to share it with you.

 

Liam from Bean Label ask’s me lots of questions about how has bean started, growing up, in my mug, wine blogs and politics, all lots of fun, and hopefully a good watch.

 

You should check some of this other videos out here too 

Guatemala El Limon Collection

A short post, but an important one. We are pleased to release this years El Limon collection (well nearly all of it we have a tiny experimental lot that we are trying to decide what we are going to so with).

I did a quick audioboom here, you can listen to how they taste

 

If you are tempted by my wonderful descriptors you can buy them here

selling coffee to businesses

A quick foray into an “industry-focussed” topic, please indulge me!

Its rare for me to do this, but this post is purely an industry post for our customers who are independent coffee shops. I know lots who read here are home users, and I promise a blog post for you in the near future, but for just this once let me indulge myself to my industry friends.

It’s our goal to offer our customers, wholesale and retail, the biggest variety of quality coffee available anywhere in the world – that sounds tough and it is!

When I visit origin on buying trips I’m working with our producers to secure multiple small lots, with subtle and huge differences in the cup that reflect the diversity that coffee can deliver and to do that I need to be able to promise I’ll buy a good amount of coffee, and pay a good price for it so that makes the extra separation and work worthwhile, and I need to be able to find the market for all these weird and wonderful cups. Over the last 12 months we’ve offered our customers around 160 different lots, from over 60 different farms and producers and sold over 3000 sacks of mind-blowing specialty coffees.

Running a business with different customer types helps us do this – Long term fans of coffees like Cachoeria or Finca Argentina, who clamour for it when it runs out – along with those wholesale accounts who buy Jailbreak or serve the single origin espresso they love as it comes around each year help us build scale to move containers and invest in our producers long term efforts, coffee geeks and businesses offering tasting menus are always after new things and reward the innovation and growth those partners then make happen – because of this we’ve always invested in supporting all these types of customer differently – with product choices for retail customers like subscriptions that offer choice and blends that offer stability and investing in highly skilled staff that provide free training and support for businesses serving our coffee to customers across bars, however they prefer to do it.

For a long time the costs incurred in supporting our wholesale customers this way, and our need to develop the scale that enables buying power to support our goal of variety and choice for all our customers, meant that we tied our wholesale pricing to the commitment to buy that our wholesale customers gave – We offered discounted pricing in return for a commitment that all the coffee those businesses served came form us. Over the last few years, as specialty coffee has exploded, with new roasters and cafes popping up everywhere that business model has been challenged by the rise of the multi-roaster cafe.

It’s taken us a long time to work out how we react to this change without compromising our business, the service we offer our exclusive customers and the way we manage our pricing to keep it approachable for all our customers – The concept of the multi-roaster cafe is truly disruptive in all the business-speak and very real ways and over the last 3 years we’ve just said no to guest accounts, but after a lot of thought and behind the scenes work, we’ve found an approach to accommodate those needs that feels right to us.

Guest

If your business rotates coffee from guest roasters or maintains an extra hopper for single origins , HasBean is uniquely suited to help you deliver choice to your customers.

We focus on sourcing the widest range of specialty coffee, offering around 60 unique lots at any one time. Our listings cover a wide range of origins, varieties and processes, as well as various microlots from our partner farms, all roasted carefully and delivered fresh to our customers.

For guest options, we offer a discount on coffee pricing, roasting to order every weekday subject to a 6kg minimum order – just mail guest@hasbean.co.uk with your full name, VAT number and delivery address and we’ll do the rest.

 

Wholesale

HasBean believes that the best cups of coffee are the result of teamwork between producers, roasters, and brewers, so we invest heavily in developing that team approach with our wholesale clients.

We work on a wide range of projects spanning the breadth of the coffee industry, from sourcing through roasting, brewing and service, all tied to one, unified idea: delicious coffee is an incredible thing. We apply the learnings from our projects as we work in tandem with our wholesale customers to help them make the most of what we can offer.

As well as this, dedicated wholesale customers receive the most competitive discounts from our pricing.

If you’re looking for excellent coffee, professional training and genuine support, drop us a quick mail at wholesale@hasbean.co.uk and we’ll get in touch to find out more about your needs.