El Salvador Coffee Sourcing Trip 2015

El Salvador

We are very excited to bring you some of the great El Salvador coffee’s that will be arriving in July, we recently visited 3 producers in El Salvador, two that we have worked with before, Mauricio Salaverria and the Dumont family, and one producer that will be brand new to Fratello, Café Pacas. Though this is new to Fratello this is by no means a new producer as the Pacas family has been cultivating coffee for over 150 years. If the name sounds familiar there is a good reason for it, they were the ones to discover the Pacas varietal, a natural mutation of the bourbon. Known for it’s slightly larger bean and tastes similar but generally brighter than bourbon it is a fantastic coffee. This was also one of the varietals that were combined to make the Pacamara varietal, along with the Maragogype. And that brings us back to what we have coming this year, we are very excited to offer 2 Pacamara’s this coming year, one a fully washed 5 Bag lot from Malacara B and one a 3 bag Fully natural lot from Finca Himalaya. Although both are fantastic lots we are particularly excited for the Full Natural lot.

El Salvador 1

Micro lot of Natural Pacamara

While we were visiting Mauricio’s drying patios we came across a fully natural coffee (pictured below) that smelled liked dried blueberries, as luck would have it this coffee had just finished drying and both Mauricio and I were very excited to try it. Mauricio took a small plastic bag of it, had it processed and roasted so we could try it. Although it was a blind cupping there was no mistaking this coffee on the table, as soon as it was ground it filled the room with the fragrance of blueberry candy, and that delicious fragrance carried right through to the taste, even beside other very good natural coffee’s this one stood out with the sweet caramel and blueberry taste a full rich body and a slight tangy tartness of blackberries on the aftertaste. This was just an experiment of Mauricio’s which is why it is such a small lot but we are thrilled to be the exclusive roaster of this coffee.

El Salvador

Fully washed, honey and natural Bourbons drying

Watch for this coffee in Mid-July I am sure it will not last long!

We also have another rather interesting pair of coffee’s that will be coming from Finca Joaquim of the Pacas family , We have a Red bourbon from there which by itself is great but we are also getting the Peaberry selection of the very same coffee!

A Peaberry is a slightly mutated bean, it is still a Red Bourbon but instead of having two beans growing in a cherry the Peaberry is a just a single bean in the cherry. This allows it to soak up all the deliciousness of the cherry giving it a generally sweeter taste with more intense characteristics. This is another very small lot (2-3 Bags) but if you get the chance we would definitely recommend trying the Red Bourbon alongside the Peaberry to really experience how even the smallest change can vastly affect the taste.

Nicaraguan Java: From Coffee Plantation to Palate

Fratello has a brand new coffee in the works and you’re about to get the inside scoop.  The Nicaraguan Java, sourced by Fratello’s head roaster David Schindel, is on its way to being in a coffee cup near you! I sat down with David to learn a bit more about his recent trip to Nicaragua and how this coffee travelled from farm to Fratello.

Kwin Dean: Hey David, sounds like your recent trip to Nicaragua was pretty productive! How many farms did you visit while you were there?

David Schindel: I visited 5 farms total on my trip to Nicaragua; the Mama Mina farm, the Los Placeres farm, two other smaller farms and finally the Limoncillo farm, where I found the Nicaraguan Java, or Nica Java for short. Finca Limoncillo was probably one of the most beautiful places that I visited on my entire trip, as you can probably tell from the pictures.

KD: What stood out to you about this particular farm?

DS: The huge waterfall right in the middle! And the large size of the farm…it’s 171 manzanas; or close to 300 acres. The Nica Java lot made up only a few acres of the entire farm.

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KD: Tell me a little bit about the background of Finca Limoncillo and Fratello’s relationship with the farmers.

DS: This farm is owned by the Mierisch family, whom we’ve been working with for 6 or 7 years now. They also own the Mama Mina and Los Placeres farms that we’ve gotten some really nice coffees from in the past. The Mierisch family is pretty well established in the coffee community. They have 9 farms, with some in Honduras as well. Their website, fincasmierisch.com, is a really good source of information on each farm and can give people a broader idea the coffees that are grown there and the teams that work there.

KD: What are the working conditions like at Finca Limoncillo?

DS: In comparison to the quality of life that most Nicaraguans lead, I’d say the working conditions there are definitely above average. The farm workers live in the area and have access to school facilities and an on-site medical care office year round, even though the harvest is seasonal; usually December to February.

KD: How are the coffees picked and milled at Finca Limoncillo?

DS: The coffee cherries are hand-picked, then milled and dried about one hour from the farm. This is also where the cupping lab is.

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The Mierisch family has adopted a new parabolic drying chamber which is in its first year of use at the mill. Essentially it consists of African raised beds that are stacked on top of each other in a green- house-like environment that controls humidity as the beans dry. The beans start at the top of the stack and are lowered down level by level as they dry. This allows for a slower drying time, which helps to close up the cell walls of the bean more consistently and leads to a harder bean that is better for roasting.

Once dried, the beans are sorted by density, then sorted again by hand to ensure that only the best beans make the cut.

KD: You ended up choosing two different coffees from this farm to import to Fratello. How did you go about choosing these coffees?

DS: I did an extensive cupping over the course of two days. I tasted about 40 coffees each day for a total of close to 80 different coffees. This farm is pretty large with around 3 full containers, or about 900 sacks, produced each year. This means that there is a wide variety of coffees to try in the cuppings.

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In the end I chose two coffees: the Nica Java natural and the Nica Java pulp natural. This is the exact same coffee bean, just processed in two different ways. In this case, Java simply refers to the varietal of the bean. It is characterized by being a little bit more elongated and oblong-shaped than some other varietals.

KD: What is the difference between a coffee that is naturally processed and a coffee that is processed using the pulp natural method?

DS: A naturally processed coffee means that the coffee is dried with the coffee cherry still on the bean. This type of processing generally gives the coffee more fruity flavours.

A pulp natural is dried with the mucilage or pulp still on the bean, but NOT the full coffee cherry. So this type of processing supplies a bit less fruit flavour to the coffee than the natural processing does.

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KD: What sort of tasting notes made you choose these coffees?

The natural had a fruity berry note. I could taste a bit of strawberry and blackberry. It was much heavier on the palette.

The pulp natural had notes of lemon and black tea, a citrus acidity and a nice natural sweetness.

In general, I was looking for a coffee that had a little something different, or a unique-ness about it. A lot of coffees have chocolate or nut flavours and they aren’t necessarily bad coffees; they’re just plain. At Fratello, we want a coffee with personality.

KD: What would be considered a bad tasting note, or something that would cause you to low-score a coffee?

DS: These could be things like: carbon flavours, which might indicate an issue with the roasting; metallic flavours, which might indicate a hard bean defect, or simply just a bland, uninteresting taste on the palate.

KD: Once you chose these two coffees and had the lots shipped to the Fratello roastery, how did you go about developing the profile of the coffees?

DS: The idea was to use roasting techniques to try to re-create those amazing flavours that I had tasted at the cuppings in Nicaragua. I’m working with the pulp natural right now. So far I’ve tried about ten different profile roasts and I think I need about one or two more just to refine the final profile.

I started by trying to highlight the acidity. To do this, I tried speeding up the first crack stage with higher temperatures at the beginning of the roast. I was still missing the lemony-ness, so I continued to play with the development times and bean colour. Eventually I made a happy mistake…I was trying for a 9 minute crack time; however the roaster was cold since it was the first roast of the day. I ended up with a crack time of just over 10 minutes, so I tried the same development time afterward and ended up finding the lemony notes I had been looking for! Now it’s just a matter of lightening up the roast a bit without losing those flavour characteristics.

KD: What flavours are you aiming for in the final cup?

DS: I’m looking to fine-tune the profile to a smooth lemon tea flavour with lots of brightness.

KD: What is the expected release date of the Nicaraguan Java?

DS: This coffee should be profiled and ready for distribution by the beginning of next week, so around September 22, 2014.

KD: How do you think this coffee ranks among our other Fratello coffees?

DS: Personally, I’d say it ranks among our top two coffees right now, along with the Costa Rican Gamboa Pastora. When I was cupping in Nicaragua, I scored these coffees around an 87 out of 100, which is pretty high.

KD: How long can we expect these coffees to be available?

DS: In terms of green beans, we brought back 2 sacks of the natural and 16 sacks of the pulp natural. This translates to just under 1200 2 pound bags of roasted coffee, so I’d say this will last us about 3 or 4 months. Hopefully less if everyone likes it as much as I think they will!

Well, there you have it! The Nicaraguan Java should be available for purchase any day now. Stop by our roastery location or either of our Analog cafes in the next couple of weeks to give this unique coffee a try…it may not last long! Happy drinking!

- Kwin Dean

Nicaragua Coffee Sourcing Trip 2014

raised african drying beds

We recently returned from a trip to Nicaragua where I got to meet some new producers and taste some amazing coffee from them and some of the producers that we have been working with for years. This really seems like a great year for quality from Nicaragua. One of the major differences between this trip and previous trips to Nicaragua was the drying techniques that are now popping up around the country. We saw multiple producers using raised African beds and parabolic dryers to dry their product.  The goal was to slow the drying process down to increase quality and consistency.

raised african drying beds (more…)

Bolivia Coffee Sourcing Trip 2013

Boliva coffee farmer

This year we are excited to announce that we have had the opportunity to work with some new people in Bolivia. The company we are working with is Agritrade, they work with around 500 different farmers to collect coffee from all over Bolivia and bring it to their wet mill in Caranavi in cherry form. The coffee makes the trek from up to 4 hours away down the mountains to Caranavi every evening by taxi. Agritrade pays top dollar for only the finest coffee coming from the farms and also pays for the transport by taxi so that there are no additional expenses incurred by the farmers. Once at the Wet Mill it is then sorted by hand to insure only the best cherries get through, this is on top of the meticulous sorting that the farmers have done before it is ever put in the taxi.

Boliva African drying beds

One of the most interesting things about this wet mill is how many options they have to process the coffee, they have 6 fermentation tanks, 3 mechanical driers, a concrete patio, African raised beds and Covered African raised beds. This helps ensure that each coffee is processed exactly the best way to bring out the flavours that their customers request.

After it is processed and dried it is stored in Caranavi in a temperature controlled room for 2 month before being shipped to the dry mill at El Alto. The dry mill is a mostly typical dry mill, they remove the parchment then run the coffee through density shakers and finally it is hand sorted to make sure no damaged beans get through, the only real difference between this dry mill and most other specialty dry mills is the black light sorting it goes through. As it is being hand sorted it passes through these black light tents where imperfections that are previously invisible to the eye are shown as little white dots, though not a defect in the coffee this coffee is removed, what this does in increase the clarity of the cup, making the flavours of each particular coffee pop out more and become more exciting.

Boliva coffee havester

At every step of the process the coffee is cupped to insure that the product is still what was agreed upon at time of purchase.

One of the biggest challenges in finding good Bolivian coffee is the small size of the farms, with most farms being 3 to 8 hectares, it becomes difficult to find quality coffee in the quantity we need by just dealing with individual farms. This is where Agritrade comes in, with the ability to work with over 500 farms and find the best coffee from all of those and then pass on this quality to us it makes it significantly easier.

For instance this year we will be buying from 5 different farms that Agritrade works with and has a good standing relationship with already, so instead of hunting down these farms from all over Bolivia we now have it much easier because of Agritrade. We are looking forward to working with Agritrade in the coming years; it is my hope that next trip down to Bolivia the farms that we are buying from this year will continue to be as good or better so that we can develop more of a relationship with the farmer. If we can find this kind of consistency we can then start playing with processing types to create the best and most interesting coffee for our customers. We believe they have already found the best Bolivia has to offer and through their continuous improvements in milling and experimenting we expect it to get even better!

Written by David Schindel, Lead Coffee Roaster, Fratello Coffee. 

Nicaraguan Coffee Producer Profile - Eleane Miersch

Continual improvement is something every farmer we work with strives for but few have the level of commitment that Eleane Mierisch does.   This is Fratello Coffee's 5th year working with the Miersch family and have written about them a lot.  We wanted to focus on Eleane in this post as she is a big reason for the consistent quality coffee coming from their farms.

Eleane  is the second oldest child of Erwin Mierisch Sr. who was one of the early leaders in specialty coffee in Nicaragua. Eleane gave up a nursing career to take care of her ailing mother, that was over 6 years ago and though her mother passed she has stayed to help with the family business.

Eleane oversees the family farms in Nicaragua but her real passion is the dry mill in Matagalpa. She told us that “We are still quite a small dry mill so the focus has to be on quality.” And that focus on quality really shines through in the cup.

Her favorite job in the dry mill is the quality control, and to maintain that she repeatedly cups the lots that are processed there.  The other highlights of her job include experimenting with the multiple different drying techniques and most importantly maintaining and building the team of people that work at the dry mill. Her goal is that everyone enjoys working there and finds it rewarding, because if the workers are enjoying their jobs it is much easier to keep the high qualities of products coming out that her customers have come to expect.

One of the ways she is improving is by putting up African Raised beds as an alternative way to dry the coffee, before this the coffee was dried on a concrete patio. The Raised bed is a drying style that many believe increase the pleasant acidities in coffee. Making them stand out even more from the majority of coffee coming from Nicaragua.

The biggest way that she is improving is by communicating with her clients and finding out what types of coffees and processing methods they prefer what drying method they are most interested in.  In this way she is learning what other methods her clients have seen from other countries on how to process so she can not only tailor the best coffee to each of her clients, but it also gives her more ideas on how to experiment and make the coffee better for everyone.

El Salvador - Mauricio Salaverria, Finca VillaGalicia - Direct Trade

In February of 2012 we were first introduced with Mauricio Salaverria of Divisadero Café Farms when touring El Salvador.  We were impressed with what we saw at his farms Finca VilllaGalicia and Finca Himalaya, both in the Concepcion de Ataco which is in the Ahuachapán region in Western El Salvador.  What impressed us the most was the care we saw in all steps of production.  From his nursery, to his drying practices, the health of his farm and care of their harvesting.   Its wasn’t until this past visit in February 2013 though that we made the important decision to work with Mauricio and bring his coffee into Calgary, Canada.  We are thrilled to also say that this year, Mauricio won 2nd place in the El Salvador Cup of Excellence competition!  It is no wonder he was a top winning coffee when you look at how they harvest only the perfectly ripened cherries.

The lot we chose was also originally selected to be entered into the Cup of Excellence Competition; however Mauricio was anxious to begin working with Fratello Coffee as well and agreed that this could come to Calgary instead.  This was our top choice out of 30 unique lots we cupped.

The honey processed coffee at VillaGalicia is world class!  The mucilage left on the beans made moving the coffee on the African beds very difficult as it was thick like toffee!  This requires continual movement of that coffee, every 30 minutes, day and night for the first few days during the drying process.  Mauricio is also one of the few producers we have come across who is already aware of the great importance of drying his coffee properly.  He knows, through working with his Australian roasters, that in order to extend the quality of his green bean freshness, that proper slow drying is required.

History of Finca VillaGalicia

More than a century and a quarter ago Don Manuel Ariz left Galicia, Spain and arrived in concepcion de Ataco, Ahuachapán to a truly magical area that was known by the locals as the site of "elevated springs". In that time period coffee planting was beginning to take hold so Señor Ariz smartly proceeded to invest in small plots of land nearby, beginning with 13.5 flat, clay-lime soil hectares of what today is VillaGalicia farm, hence the name.

Producer Mauricio (Moe) Salaverria continues the family tradition of specialty coffees which includes 6 small farms ranging in altitude from 1000 to 1600 mts and investing in a ecological Micro Mill as part of Divisadero Café Farms . The coffee is treated separately by tablones and dryed slowly in African beds after being depulped with stored rain water. The picking/harvesting is very selective to assure quality year after year.

The farm has kept its Bourbon varietal yet we have added Pacamara plantings since VillaGalicia is located at a perfect altitude with no wind factor, where the terroir and shrubs are protected with a heavy canopy of shade, specially this days of difficult weather.  They have dedicated all their efforts in being an ecologically minded grower with progressive employment for their workers including higher wages. This in part by the added value our coffee gets with a proven and consistent quality.

We are thrilled that Mauricio’s Finca VillaGalicia will be available through Fratello Coffee Roasters and that we are the first to bring this coffee into Canada.  We are hopeful that this could be a long lasting and mutually beneficial relationship.

The Vanguard Review - Analog Coffee 17th Ave

Calgary has become an amazing coffee city. It’s quite rare for a city to have one great coffee roaster, let alone three. Fortunately the city has been quick to embrace this coffee movement. I’m confident to say Calgary coffee roasters rival that of Blue Bottle/San Francisco, Stumptown/Portland, or Intelligentsia/Chicago. 

Analog is the café arm of what seems is becoming the Fratello Coffee Roasters ‘empire’. Owned by three brothers, Fratello sources, roasts, and now brews its coffee. Analog struck gold with its location on the corner of 17th avenue and 7th street SW. Quite fortunately this is also less a mere block from my house.

In the few months the café has been open it has developed a bit of a reputation as a hipster hangout. Needless to say the crowd tends to be young, hip, and gorgeous. In my mind this is never a bad thing.

While I consider myself a latte guy, to me the quintessential coffee at Analog is the single cup pour over. I’m consistently blown away by the flavour notes of the roasts. It’s impossible to get such flavour notes in a latte.

In addition to great coffee, Analog sources a great selection of pastries and delicious sandwiches from Sidewalk Citizen Bakery. This makes it a great spot to do some work and grab some lunch. Given the location, it is always a great spot to sit at the window bar or the patio and people watch.

One can discuss who makes the best coffee in Calgary. Ultimately this is dependant on the roast, the barista, and the individual’s taste. Analog is a great option in a great location with less children than the average Calgary café.

To read this review from the original source go to: The Vanguard Review

Guatemalan - Montecristo, Geisha - Direct Trade Coffee

Easily one of the top coffees we've ever had the opportunity to taste has been our new Guatemalan Don Gustavo Geisha, a stunning cup, bright citrus and tropical fruit notes with an incredibly smooth body and a candy like finish. It is grown at 1600 Meters above sea level alongside Bourbons and Caturra coffee plants and macadamia nut trees which provide shade for this coffee.  We have been working with Johann Nottebohm (seen beelow) now for 5 years.

The Montecristo Estate is a Rainforest Alliance certified farm. It has schools, housing and many other facilities for its many permanent workers as well as for any workers that come just for the harvest. The schools are also available for the surrounding community that does not work for the farm.   Montecristo has been part of the community for over 40 years, and the farm manager, Don Gustavo (seen below), has been a vital part of it for over 30 years!

What is truly special about this coffee besides the amazing taste was the fact that we were able to see this coffee grow from a seedling 5 years ago. Having this special relationship with Johann for many years allowed us to taste and buy it on its first year of production.  This new area of their farm has 8000 new Geisha trees being planted and is being called FRATELLO for our evolvement in this initiative. 

For those of you who don’t know, a Geisha is a unique varietal not only in taste but also in the way it grows. If treated like a typical coffee varietal/tree a Geisha will grow very slowly and take up to 7 years before it produces any fruit, compared to the 3 to 4 years of most other varietals. What Johann (Owner of the Montecristo Estate) has found is that with proper grafting of a stronger and more productive root system onto his Geisha plants, along with 4 times the amount of fertilization, he has been able to have Geisha’s start producing after 3 years, which is absolutely unheard of.

Other differences of the Geisha include a lower crop yield, typically 25% of what other varietals will yield. When I asked Johann if he felt it was worth growing he told me if he could find people who enjoyed this coffee and were willing to pay the higher cost than it would be worth it to him. He also went on to explain how he felt it was much more resistant to Roya (also known as Coffee Rust) than the Bourbon and Caturra he was also growing, which is still a major concern for Guatemalan farmers.

The Montecristo estate fully washes all their coffee with the Geisha being no exception. It is soaked for thirty-six hours in their fermentation tank then rewashed and soaked again for another two days, giving it the clean crisp notes in the cup. After the two soakings it is Sun died over multiple days and then run through a density shaker to separate the lower density beans away from the lot and then sent through a color sorter where it picks out any discolored beans, after this it is then hand sorted for any defects or broken beans that may have gotten through. After all this it is bagged and put into the bodega to ensure the moisture levels are stable.   Even the bodega at the Montecristo Estate is a very unique as it is lined with Conacaste wood which helps keep the moisture level down in the building, which leads to a more stable coffee, increasing its shelf life and trapping all the characteristics inside the bean.

So is the price and all this work worth it?  I would most definitely say yes! This is such a unique and amazing coffee I recommend for everyone to try this cup at least once. But be warned you may fall in love with it!

Written by: David Schindel, Lead Roaster. 

Colombia - Arnulfo Leguizamo, San Agustin, Huila - Direct Trade Coffee

We are extremely excited and proud to be introducing you to not only one of, or THE BEST Colombian coffee in the world, but also one of the best coffees we have tasted in a very long time.  Arnulfo Leguizamo, a coffee producer in San Agustin, a micro region of the Huila district broke records when he finished 1st place in the 2011 Colombian Cup of Excellence competion.  He not only was one of the highest ranked Colombian Coffee in history scoring a 94.05 (2nd highest) but he also recieved the highest price paid at any Colombian auction in history when bids reached $45.10 / lb green, FOB Colombia (with the average amount paid at that time being around $2.75 / lb).  We purchased this coffee in November of 2012 on our last trip to Colombia.

Fratello Coffee has a very small amount of this coffee availalbe, only 300 lbs, but we are the only roasters in Canada to have access to it.  There was only 900 lbs of this #1 Lot available world wide so we are happy to offer what we got.

Finca Primavera Overview:

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>Producer:

Mr. Arnulfo Leguizamo is 46 years old, son of a coffee farmer born in the municipality of Teruel, Huila. In his youth he studied several mechanical activities and after doing a lot of work in an urban environment, he decided that his future was in the field - dedicated to work with coffee.

He started by planting half of a hectare in the property of his father in Teruel. He traveled to the municipality of San Agustin 23 years ago, in order to know the mystical sculptures at the Archeological Park. Nevertheless, the climate, the warm people and mainly the wealth of earth caused him to fall in love with this municipality where he met Mrs. Aura Rita Bolanos his wife and the mother of his four children: Mayeli, Joh Edison, Diego Felipe and Hamer Duvan.

He began with 1 hectare, an inheritance of his wife, and after a while he bought 3 more hectares that he planted little by little with coffee. His farm is called “Primavera” and it is located in the village “El Tabor” at the municipality of “San Agustin”. Is cultivated with Caturra varietal and is being renovated to integrate the variety Castillo. He has been a Rainforest Alliance Certified farmer for 4 years, and he is committed to the protection to the environment. He is protecting springs and birds, he is recycling trash, and he doesn’t spray out chemical products. These principles are because of his sons - he wants to keep his place at least without contamination or pollution so they can live and eat there in the future in a healthy way.

His principals for the production of coffee are based on the quality; he says “I have to do things with love, dedication and with the support of my wife and my children. The advantages of this land where my farm is located are a secret but mainly because of the high altitude and the right temperatures we produce coffee with the best attributes for its taste. It is important for us to harvest only ripe-red cherries and process on time. We have to wash coffee well with clean water and dry it under sun and air for that we use the system: ‘Casa Elda’.”

The Effects of Coffee Drying Speeds at Origin

Nothing is more rewarding then seeing a fresh crop of micro-lots being unloaded off the back of a truck into our roastery.  This pleases me so much as I know the amount of work our producers and exporters have put into this coffee to get it this far.  I also personally know how much work we have put into sourcing and choosing these precious beans to offer our clients.

Nothing is more disappointing then when you begin to sample roast and begin profiling these new arrivals and the flavor profiles we tasted at origin are no longer being tasted.  “What is going on!?!?  How can a coffee taste so different at origin compared to what we are tasting now?”   This isn’t unique to Fratello, and is something we have heard many roasters around the world talk/complain about.  It has been a topic of many conversations over the past year with the coffee producers we work with and exporters who are working on the ground at origin every day.

My first major experience with this coffee was 2 years ago when we purchased an incredible micro-lot from Acevado Huila, Colombia.  This 20 bag lot was scored a 91.00 at origin by myself and the others we were with that day.  It was an outrageous coffee, and we paid top dollar for it.  By the time we received this coffee 3 months later, it was extremely faded.  We were getting cupping notes of wood/twigs and it almost tasted like a past crop coffee.  The moisture content was accurate and the processing seemed perfect.  We ended up not selling this coffee to anyone.  It was a total waste of our time and re-sources.  So what went wrong?

6 months later we visited this coffee producer again and began asking questions about how they dried their coffee.  In Colombia it is normal for producers to use a Parabolic drying bed (similar to a green house).  These are perfect for protecting the green beans from the elements; however, it can also produce high levels of heat when not used properly.  Unfortunately, this producer was not, and was drying their coffee in 3-4 days.  This is WAY too fast.  Typically, a producer would want to slowly dry their coffee over a 12-18 day time frame for an even consistency throughout the bean.    What we are learning is when you dry your coffee too quickly; it is hard to read the correct moisture level in your green beans accurately.  The extreme heat forces the water content into the beans giving a false reading in your moisture meters.  You may show a moisture reading of 11-12% (which is the goal), but as these beans sit, the moisture that was forced into the bean, will migrate back out to the surface over time.  The end results are beans being pulled from the drying beds much to early, giving an unstable bean, which has potential fermentation and accelerated fading in flavors.

Another example is in El Salvador we had purchased an award winning Pacamara (large bean).  It was extremely sweet, with an orange syrupy body, maple flavors and very clean.  On arrival in Calgary, we found some of the same faded, twiggy notes coming through in the cup.  Again, a huge disappointment.  With research we found that the drying time was 5-7 days, which was much too fast for such a large bean.

In speaking with our producers the biggest challenge they face is the changing environment.  It is getting hotter and more intense each year.  They never had these issues in the past of drying the coffee this quick and now have to re-think their processing techniques.  Creating systems that help them slow the drying times employing shade barriers and different cooling techniques.  All of this takes time and often a lot of money to re-create their drying beds.  More and more often we see raised African beds with shade cover being installed and used on our top micro-lots.

This then brought my attention to the mechanical drying systems installed at MANY large and micro-mills around the world.  They are becoming very common, as coffee must be dried once it is de-pulped after harvesting.  If the sun isn’t out due to rain, the coffee will need to go into dryers.   These dryers work very fast, and often only take 1 day to finish the drying.  This drying technique is not only fast; it consistently dries the bean through out.  Is this the best route?

Studies are now showing that the ideal drying conditions for coffee require the slow drying technique.  What this allows are some resting periods for coffee.  When heat is on the beans, the cellular structure opens, when the temperatures drop, the cells close…. almost like it is breathing.  This has shown to create a harder cellular structure on the bean that enhances acidity and gives better conditions when roasting.  The fast drying speeds in the mechanical system never allow for resting, giving a softer cellular structure and less acidity in the final cup.

This short blog post barely scratches the surface on drying techniques and does not answer or explain everything processing technique (Naturals, pulped naturals, honey’s, etc…), but has simply been written to bring some awareness to a subject not often discussed.  We have some much more to learn, and together with the producers will continue to push the limits of processing, exporting and roasting the best coffee in the world.

Devastation Throughout Central America - Roya Leaf Rust

What a terrible time to be a coffee producer in Central America.  An aggressive, widespread attack of the coffee-eating roya fungus is causing more damage and devastation throughout Central America's coffee plantations than was expected and is inflicting high costs on producers at a time when international coffee prices have fallen sharply.

           

Just when you think it looks like coffee producers were beginning to be more profitable in their business’s through getting better prices for their coffee, the NY Commodity Market decides to decline sharply.  Typically when you see the NYC Market go higher, you have a softening on the differential market.  The opposite is then true when you see a down turn in the NYC Market.   This is a stressful and risky way for coffee producers to sell coffee.

The differential market varies completely from origin to origin and often reflects quality levels as well as supply and demand with in an origin.  The NYC market is a global benchmark for pricing, but does NOT reflect any sort of quality.  The NYC Market fluctuates rapidly and has many variables, which make this commodity move.  Years ago it was weather, the crop sizes in Brazil and supply & demand which caused the fluctuations, but today the biggest factor in this are the large Fund companies who buy/sell commodities everyday.

Due to Direct Trade, our pricing remains fairly consistent year over year with the coffee producers we work with.  We reward them for the quality and care they put into their coffee, typically paying 25-35% more than what Fair Trade would pay them.  Through this method of working with coffee producers they are ensured they will be profitable, gives them a secured customer, gives Fratello incredible quality and takes the pressure of the NYC Market away from the producers we work with.

All of this sounds like it gives everyone security; however, what this does not do is protect the coffee trees from environmental conditions which greatly impact the amount of coffee cherries produced each year.  What we are seeing this year through out Central America is devastating, and will impact us all for the next 2-4 years.

The Roya, a leaf disease (a fungus also called Leaf Rust) is currently spreading extremely rapidly through all of Central America.  The tree killing fungus is affecting the entire area, from Costa Rica to Mexico.  For example in Honduras, Central America's largest coffee producer, are talking of a 20% loss in this current crop this current year.   All coffee producers were taken by surprise and were unprepared to combat this disease.  Now the alarms are sounding!!  This year yields throughout Central America are down as much as 30%, but the major impact will come the next 2 to 3 years depending on how well governments assist farmers to combat this disease.  Major pruning of all trees, having to replace aging trees with new ones and most important is the requirement to fertilize adequately. It will be a major task requiring serious financial assistance. Today with these low NYC Market prices could potentially be devastating.

El Salvador is predicting coffee yields to be 50% lower next year, and the smallest harvest in 73 years!  Guatemala is seeing 40% of their trees infested, Costa Rica is predicting a crop 25% smaller this year and 50% smaller next year.  The same news is spreading north and is said to be the same outcomes in Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras next year.  

Colombia already went through what Central America producers are going through now.  Production is recovering 4 years later.  The biggest issue in Colombia is that the low NYC prices combined with a strong local currency (compared to the weak US Dollar) is creating a cost of production which is estimated to be 20% to 25% higher than what their current selling prices are.  The government is in discussion today with Colombian FNC and key producing states to extend an assistance program.

Meantime, sellers are mostly withdrawn waiting for a better evaluation of crops and also better prices.  Coffee exporters at origin are sitting on their inventories waiting for better news before selling. The C market has steadied for now and differentials are beginning to get higher.

The next 2-4 years are going to be a bumpy ride.  Roasters are going to have to be aggressive to find and secure the top quality coffee.  Fratello Coffee Roasters are hard at work visiting with coffee producers and exporters to ensure we have the most current information and to ensure we have the supply to pass on to our clients.

Colombia, Huila Coffee Sourcing Trip - 2012

In Early November 2012 I had the opportunity to go back to Colombia.   This was a great trip, again in Huila, where we focused our attention in the micro-regions of Acevedo and San Agustin (You can view photos on our Facebook page).    This was my 5th trip to Colombia and am finally confident in working in these two areas for the foreseeable future.    Colombia has always been a challenging country for me to work in for a few reasons.

Reason 1 – Colombia is a huge country and the distances between the coffee growing regions is great.  A lot of our past trips have been in cars/planes/buses traveling from one region to the next.  Each region is unique in standardized flavor profiles, and It was important for us to know that Huila was our most desired region (Tolima is second for us).

Reason 2 – Even the region (or province) Huila is huge and very diverse with MANY micro-regions, each giving you a different elevations, land scape and coffee culture.  The past 2 trips before this one were all focused in Huila as well.   Within Huila we traveled to these following micro-regions (keep in mind, this isn’t all of the micro-regions in Huila, but the main ones we visited):

  1. El Pital
  2. Quituro
  3. Gigante
  4. Garzon
  5. Suaza
  6. Guadalupe
  7. Tarqui
  8. Agrado
  9. Acevedo
  10. San Augustin

Each of these regions offer a “unique profile”, let alone how each coffee producer with in these micro-regions grow different varietals, different elevations and different processing techniques all of which achieve unique cup profiles.

Reason 3 – The average farm size in Colombia has 3 hectares of land.  From this, you can typically harvest 20-40 exportable sacks of coffee (152 lbs per sack), twice per year.   Colombia and Kenya are unique in the world for having 2 harvests per year due to their proximity to the equator and many microclimates with in their countries.

Our challenge has been finding a coffee producer who is able to consistently produce enough high quality coffee each harvest for us to partner with.  The risk with Direct Trade in Colombia is that you do not have much flexibility in choosing different Lots from a single producer.   Ideally when working with coffee producers year over year, is the ability to pick and choose specific Lots (areas within a farm) that you want to buy that harvest.   Each harvest produces new challenges to the coffee producers, and you are never guaranteed to get the same quality as you did before.  Being able to choose different Lots from a single coffee producer creates more certainty in finding the specific quality we desire  year over year.

These challenges are also what makes Colombia rewarding for us.   Because this isn’t an easy country to source from, a lot of roasters do not go, or have yet to try and establish Direct Trade with any coffee producers.   Due to the relationships we have established over the years, we have been able to find some amazing producers who we are confident to work with.

Our newest Direct Trade partnership is going to be with Elias Roa who has 2 farms.  One in El Pital called Finca Tamana.   Fratello Coffee Roasters purchased 1 Lot of coffee from him last year from Finca Tamana and our goal was to continue to work there moving forward.  Unfortunately for us, but starting this year, 100% of all his production is going to Tim Wendelboe now.   However; Elias’s other farm is located in Acevedo which continues to be my favorite region for cup quality in Colombia.   This farm is called Finca Recuerdo (Translates to “The Memory”) and is located in the micro-region Primavera in Acevedo.   I will have a separate blog post on Elias later.

Another very special lot of coffee we are bringing in is from Arnulfo Leguisamo.  We are fortunate to be getting Lot #1 which is grown in San Agustin.  Arnulfo holds the record in Colombia for highest ranking coffee, as well as most expensive Colombian coffee when he won first place in the 2011 Colombian Cup of Excellence competition getting $45.00 / lb.  This is among the best coffee I’ve ever cupped in my life, and we will have this in early 2013.

We are proud to say that we are making big progress in Colombia, and are happy that our hard work is finally paying off.   The producers we are going to be working with are 100% dedicated to achieving top quality lots harvest over harvest, so you can be assured that the quality of our micro-lots are only going to improve moving forward.