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.

Nicaragua-4

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.

Nicaragua-3

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.

Nicaragua-1-4

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.

Nicaragua-1

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.

Colombia - Elias Roa - Acevedo, Huila - Direct Trade

Elias Roa and his family have been producing coffee for 25 years.  Elias has 2 farms, this one in the Acevedo region called Finca El Recuerdo and the other is in El Pital called Finca Tamana, giving him the ability to harvest coffee all year long.  Elias will be able to send his 3 children to University through producing high quality coffees.  Elias is the president of the coffee growers association called Primavenal in Acevedo and is leading the other members to produce higher quality coffees through his examples. There are 8 people who are employed on his farm all year long, and 25 people during the harvest season.

Acevedo is on the southern side of Colombia in the department of Huila.  Huila is one of our favorite regions within Colombia--the cups have lots of tropical fruit, citric notes, have pleasing acidity and are extremely sweet.

The average farm in Acevedo region is about 3 hectares of land with traditional varietals of Caturra, Typica and now more and more Castillo as this is a Roya/Rust resistant plant.   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.

Elias uses a small traditional pulpers on his farm along with small fermentation tanks.   There is ample spring water coming down the mountains that producers use to ferment and wash their coffee.  An overnight fermentation of 10-13 hours is followed by hand test in the morning to determine if the sugars are off the beans.  Should the fermentation be complete, coffee is then brought to his small parabolic drier with a bamboo floor and domed poly roof to keep the afternoons rain off.

Elias is one of the rare coffee producers leading the way in his drying techniques.  He understands the importance of drying his coffee slowly and evenly to ensure consistency and longevity of his coffee.   Elias ensures that the temperatures in the parabolic dries are calibrated.  He has 3 layers of African beds.  2 layers of beds are calibrated at 30 degress, and a lower layer at 20 degrees.  READ THIS for more information on drying coffee.  Once dried it goes to the communal warehouse Primavenal in town where it is catalogued and cupped.

Our challenge over the past 5 years working in Colombia 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 make 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.

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’.”

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.

Bolivian Coffee Sourcing Trip

Well it’s been a couple weeks since I got back from Bolivia on my first origin trip, I went down with a company called Invalsa who sources and exports coffee from Bolivia. The trip was a real eye opening experience, From seeing the coffee farms and their incredibly steep hills, being shown the incredibly labour intensive procedure that goes into milling the coffee after it has been picked and talking to the farmers and hearing how passionate they are about their coffee and how much they invest into making it a better product year after year.

Bolivian mountain range

The first few days we were in La Paz, which is the legislative capital of Bolivia. This is where we did the cupping of the top coffees that Invalsa had. After narrowing it down over 3 days we ranked the top coffees 1 through 20. The top lot came from Gregorian Gonza Mamani from the San Ignacio Co-op who we later got to meet.

Bolivian cupping

Once we were done with the cupping’s it was off to the Caranavi region, which is one of the largest coffee growing regions in Bolivia. (Also where our current offering of Bolivian coffee is from) After five or six hours of the scariest roads I have ever been on we arrived in the city of Caranavi, surrounded by palm trees, parrots and mangos! This was a very nice contrast to the rocky and dry area of La Paz.

Bolivian flowers

The next morning we headed off to the Seven Star Group Co-op, though it took us a lot longer to get there than expected, due to a construction company blowing up the road, the farmers were still very excited to see us. They decorated us with wreaths of flowers and then fed us as they spoke about how they were constantly improving their coffee due to people buying their coffee. Once we ate they took us down to a few of their farms and showed us how they pick the coffee and what they do with it after it has been picked. At this particular Co-op everything is de pulped washed and then dried on Raised African beds.

Raised African Beds

After we left the Seven Star Group Co-op we went to Cima del Jaguar which was the biggest farm we went to on our trip, just over 5 hectares. After following the farmer up his fields it really hit me how much work would go into just picking the coffee, I was exhausted half way up and that was without carrying any coffee cherries on my back! After a quick tour of the rest of his farm we took us back to his house and fed us supper. I found their generosity amazing from people who have so little to feed these 12 strangers, who come and look around their farms.

Bolivian culture

The next day we went to the San Ignacio Co-op, which was a very unique experience. As we pulled up we could see an arch way decorated with flowers and the Bolivian flag. As we stepped out of the vehicles we heard a band start playing and many of the families that lived there started heading towards us with wreaths of flowers and confetti. We were then pulled into a large dance number and danced up to an open field with tables and chairs set up. After what seemed to be 20 minutes of dancing (it was probably only 5 but I’m a terrible dancer so it seems to take longer to me) we were escorted to our seats and were promptly served a meal as the farmers once again spoke their speeches. After lunch a few of us went to tour the farms of this Co-op with Oscar? Mamani, the top ranking farmer’s brother, he showed us how they stump the trees (chop them down) so that new trees can grow out of the stumps, they do this after the trees have gotten to old, usually around 6 or 7 years, so they no longer produce as much. He also showed us they new way he was pruning his trees, he said that now that he has this new technique he gets almost 3 times as much as he used to before pruning. The thing I found most interesting about what he said was it was more valuable to have this kind of information and training than it would be to just have more money per pound and not be improving his crop. After another long climb back to the top of his farm we headed back to the Co-op and then were danced back to our vehicles.

Bolivian people

Once we left the San Ignacio Co-op we headed towards Coroico, where we stayed for the night. The next morning we headed out to the infamous “Death Road”. Though the road is still open very few people use it now because there is now another less dangerous road which goes from La Paz to the Caranavi region now. As we started up this very narrow road it was amazing to think that this one lane dirt road with 100+ foot drops on it was once the main two way highway. Being empty now it was very easy to take in all the beauty of the country side and the waterfalls that come down right on the road. It was an incredible experience and far less scary than some of the other roads we had been on!

Once we got back into La Paz it was time to say Goodbye to all the amazing people I toured around with on my trip and then head to bed.  I had to be at the airport at 3 am the next morning!

I had a great time touring around the country and was amazed how much I learned and continue to learn even back at home about sourcing coffee. I always figured you just went down there and came back with some amazing coffees, but it’s so much more than that. It’s about building relationships with people so when you go back you can keep getting better and better coffees every year. I feel I’ve only scratched the surface with what I know about sourcing coffee and I am very excited to continue learning more!

I would also like to thank Fratello for giving me this chance to go down and see what its really like, it is amazing and I would encourage everyone if they have the chance to go and see it, it is definitely worth it!

Written by: David Schindel, Lead Coffee Roaster for Fratello Coffee

 

 

 

What is Direct Trade to Fratello Coffee Roasters?

You have probably heard about it, and seen many people promoted/talk about it, but what is direct trade?  One of the issues with direct trade, is that it does not have the same meaning to every coffee roaster.  It is NOT a certification, it is a purchasing philosophy.   Below is our ideas around it and why we do it.

Direct trade coffee is a relatively new term which referring to the purchasing practices of coffee roasters who chose to make a direct relationship with the farmers they buy from. Also known as "Relationship Coffee".

Fratello Coffee Roasters is choosing to work directly with our coffee growers for a few reasons:

This allows us to work with the farmers at origin to produce flavor profiles which are unique and stand out from what is available through the open market. Through working directly at the farm, we are able to find unique coffees before it is mixed in with other coffee at Cooperatives. Cooperative coffee has its place in the market (Eg. Fairtrade Coffees are Cooperative coffee), and most roasters only have access to this type of coffee. Often this is considered "commodity coffee" due to its pricing being based on the commodity market versus agreeing to a price with the farmer. Cooperatives buy coffee from many people, blend this coffee together and sell to mills/brokers/greenies. Brokers then sell this coffee to roasters. We find that the end result produces a "Style" of coffee instead of a "Profile" of coffee. When you are working with a famers, or a single estate, you are able to pick specific areas of the farm which is being harvested a specific way, growing a specific varietals of coffee, and then processed a specific way. Each of those choices are equally important and produce a unique flavor profile in the finished cup.

Fratello is able to go to the farms/Estates we work with to see the impact our purchases make. One of the issues we have always had with certifications that "give back" is that we were unable to follow the extra money we paid for coffee to see the impact, and ensure that it is being used properly. Its not that we disagree with those certifications, we just feel that there are better ways to impact the communities we want to work with. Through going to these farms, and paying these extra funds for the coffee, we impact those farmers, employees and families immediately. As a roaster, this takes a lot of extra effort as well as a lot of expense due traveling, but the value our partners receive is well worth it.

We can ensure that their staff are cared for and that they are following proper environmental practices. One of the key things we look for when visiting our farms, is that the owner of the farm is doing what they can to help the community around them. We look to ensure that there is health care for the workers, that there is adequate food and shelter provided for the employee's, that the employee's are paid well for what they do, and that the workers families are taken into consideration. Often woman on the farm will need to bring their children, so it is important that they are never exploited, and that they have care and access to education.

We get to work directly with farmers who are passionate about growing coffee, and who want to produce the best coffee they can. We agree to pay them premiums for this quality. Really its comes down to quality green coffee when you are doing what you can to roast the best tasting coffee. We will pay our partners more money for better quality green. What many certifications will do is pay the farmers more money for environmental practices (which are important!!); however, the taste of the coffee seems to come second. We want to work with farmers who are as passionate about coffee as we are. We are choosing to work with farmers that are 100% dedicated to growing coffee, not farmers who merely look at this as a secondary cash crop they can grow beside their bananas. We grow the best coffee needs constant care, so we work with farmers who are artisan's at this craft. We want to work with farmers who are following their green coffee not only through the growing and harvesting process, but who take that same care and attention at the wet and dry mills. It is only this care and attention that can guarantee the best green coffee available in the market today.

Fratello's direct trade partners receive approximately 25% (and up) more money for their coffee than what Fairtrade's published rates.  It is going to be an on-going process to expand our relationships to more regions and greater selections from within the regions we already work.

Our goals are simple.  Financially reward the coffee producers we work with for the quality they produce, in order to bring you better quality coffee each year with the hopes of establishing a long lasting relationship.