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

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. 

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. 

Upcoming Direct Trade Micro-Lots from Fratello.

This is a big year for Fratello and the coffees we are bringing in.  We have never had quality this good, nor have we had this selection of Direct Trade micro-lots.   We have been giving lots of updates over the last few months of these new relationships and we assumed that these coffees would have been in by now.  It has been a very challenging year getting our coffees out of the regions we have been working with.   Mills have been busy and shipping vessels have been late, but we do assure you that these coffees are coming, and will be here SOON.

Check out the offering list below of coffee which are arriving any time.  This isn't the complete list, but this does give you some good ideas as to what we have been busy doing.

Guatemalan - All Direct Trade and single estate micro-lots.

Nicaraguan - Direct Trade and single estate.

El Salvador - All Direct Trade and single estate micro-lots.

Costa Rica - All Direct Trade and single estate micro-lots.

Panama - Single estate micr-lot

Ethiopian

On top of these which are arriving any day, we are still choosing our lots from Kenya, Colombia, Bolivia,  Sulawesi and Sumatra.

An Education - Cupping 19 unique micro-lots

I recently had the please of meeting Ted Buracas of NewContent.  Ted Buracas is a writer, photographer, and film maker in Calgary, where he counts coffee as one of his many passions. You can find this article cross posted on the blog, NewContent.ca.  Ted got in touch with me as he knew I was going to be in the process of cupping 19 micro-lots from Nicaragua and wanted to join me.  Ted had never cupped coffee before but had a good back ground in wine tasting.  Needless to say, we had a very fun day talking about many different things relating to coffee and coffee cupping.

Primarily Ted wanted to know why we cup, the purpose of cupping and to educate himself if it really makes a difference in what we do.   The below information is taken directly from Ted's blog post:

coffee cupping tasting bowls

I’d like to try to address a gnawing question about coffee. If it were only for myself, that would be fine, but if it would also salve your conscience, and help you feel a little bit less guilty for the occasional extravagance, then so much the better, and my job would be done.

The question is this: why would anyone in their right mind spend five bucks for a cup of coffee?

The answer is at once simple but also complicated by a myriad of factors. There is an answer for those who would take some time to consider nuance. And for those who would invest a little effort to understand (or, at the very least, appreciate), I might even be able to to convince.

My own investment comes courtesy of Russ Prefontaine (@FratelloCoffee2) of Fratello Coffee Roasters. We spent four hours today cupping fresh Nicaraguan beans, and deciding which three or four Fratello would offer up for sale this year.

coffee cupping trays fratello micro lots

The simple answer is that some simply would not (spend the five bucks, that is). But then again, a four buck flank steak or a ten dollar bottle of red wine does quite well, thank you. And The Olive Garden is good Italian!)

And to be truthful, I am always looking for a drinkable $10 bottle of plonk.

But – and not to be snobbish here – there is a difference between good coffee and bad. And life is simply too short and too precious for coffee (or wine or food) that sucks.

It starts, of course, with the bean. Today we are sampling (cupping, to be precise) 19 different beans. They come from a single estate grower in Nicaragua, who grows several different  varietals of Coffea arabica spread out over two different growing regions. They (the beans) are all different, each unique. And it’s our job to pick just a few that will be presented to Fratello commercial clients this year.

fratello cupping table tasting micro lots

The first factor, then lays with the choice of the three or four beans that will represent an entire country. Three or four lots out of 19 on the table, from a single grower, a single producer among perhaps thousands. If you don’t care about sustainable farming practices, fair trade, pesticides, or shady business dealings (let alone harvesting practices, washing, processing, and drying) then it’s easy enough to choose a supplier from a catalog, and purchase from the cozy confines of Calgary in the wintertime.

And we haven’t even looked at the roasting process (which for these 19, has been kept controlled and is the same for all).

But garbage in, garbage out, as they say. And as I’ve said elsewhere, life’s too short…

None of these offerings are garbage. Not even close. All of them score 80 or higher, which in the considered opinion of an expert (like Russ) qualify as premium beans. Some are in the high 80s $30 to $40 dollars per retail kilo. 89 was the best score on a Java bean.

To choose from among today’s selection will take three or four hours. It’s an involved ritual akin to wine tasting. There’s lots of sniffing, swirling, stirring, and more sniffing. And then there’s the slurp. There is nothing sexy about the process; your nose is deep into the cup, and there is something undignified to the inward slurp.

The sounds involved are… interesting, and slightly off-putting. Not to be done in mixed company, for the self conscious.

But in performing the ritual, you begin to learn, and to appreciate differences. I am led to put words to the nuance I can smell – citrus, dark chocolate, strawberries, paper, among many. And there are  others still that I haven’t the vocabulary to describe.

But they’re there. I smell them, and later, I taste them.

cupping bowl ground tasting

There are some for whom taste and quality does matter, and I am one. This isn’t to say that a five dollar cuppa is a daily occurrence for me; I might spring for one a couple times a month. This is an indulgance, but a modest one; there is worse in the coffee world (let’s not even consider Kopi Luwak, for instance).

Is [the process] worth it? Russ says so: “It’s the people with the biggest mouths that can tell the difference.”

But when it comes down to final choices, it is about personal preference. There is no garbage here, remember; just preferences based on a qualitative score. It’s for the expertise (among other things), borne of 20 years of experience, that you are paying.

Would the average coffee consumer be able to tell the difference between Fratello coffee and, say, a Co-op house brand bean? I honestly don’t know, but it’s an interesting experiment that I shall try with both sets of my own parents when they come to call.

They say they like coffee.

notes cupping score sheet

But even if most would not appreciate the love and dedication that goes into this premium coffee, is it still worth the effort that folks like Russ put into the choice? He says it is: “It’s the people with the biggest mouths that can tell the difference.”

So just why would you spend five bucks for a cup? One simple reason; it just tastes good.

If you want to try something singularly amazing, drop into the Fratello Analog Cafe at the Calgary Farmer’s market. Order a premium drip coffee. It will take some time – nothing is rushed here – but it may well be the best cup of brewed coffee you’ve ever tasted. It was for me.

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Fratello Coffee Roasters is located at 4021-9th St. S.E., Calgary, where they will sell you fresh beans or brewing paraphernalia, and offer up advice. You might even get a free bevvie. Tell them Teddy sent you.

Costa Rican Coffee buying trip – 2011

At the end of February 2011 we visited our friend Francisco of Exclusive Coffee in San Jose Costa Rica.  Our goal this trip was to re-visit our relationship not only with Exclusive Coffees, but also our current coffee producer Luis who owns the Rio Jorco Micro-mill.  Below is our observation of the Costa Rican coffee growing market, as well as introduction to two great new Micro-Mills coming to Fratello.

Costa Rica Dry mill, Exclusive Coffee

To my amazement and delight, our trip started visiting the new offices of Exclusive Coffees.  They moved into a much larger facility with a state of the art cupping lab.  As always the coffees being cupped at Exclusive are roasted to perfection (which is extremely rare when visiting farms/labs at origin) and the selection of coffees for the most part where shining stars on the table.  Costa Rica has many great growing regions, and now has many first class micro-mills in each of these regions.  To keep our palates focused, we only cupped coffees from Tarrazu and the West Valley.  Aside from the cupping facility, Exclusive Coffees has installed their own Dry Mill to assist in the grading, separation and cleaning of the micro-lots being produced by the micro-mills they work with (approximately 100 micro-mills).

costa rica coffee producer direct trade Tarrazu

It’s no secret that the current pricing in the coffee market is almost at an all time high.  We’ve seen prices reach $3.00/lb at the New York Commodity Markets this year, the second highest since February 1997.   (more…)

Direct Trade Coffee - Costa Rican Tarrazu - Rio Jorco Micro-Mill

Fratello Coffee is proud to introduce an exclusive new coffee available from the Tarrazu Valley in Costa Rica.  Last month, we wrote about a Micro Mill Revolution happening in this region, this is one of those special micro-lots we wrote about.

The Rio Jorco Micro-Mill employees between 4-6 people & has 65 pickers during harvest season.   Rio Jorco is situated at an altitude of 4600 feet, and like many farms in Tarrazu faces the Pacific Coast.  The strong winds from the Pacific are important as they create a defined dry season.  This dryness causes a stress on trees creating extra sweetness in Tarrazu coffees, and especially in the 100% Caturra lots we chose from Rio Jorco.

Rio Jorco which was once known as Hacienda Jorco, is rich in history and has played a key role in the development of excellent coffee within the Tarrazu region. The Rio Jorco Micro-Mill processes all of the coffee from their own estate. unlike in their early historyof 1910, when the coffee had to be taken from Jorco to San Jose using Oxen or on horseback. Though the distance was only 15 miles it was a long trip up winding muddy roads. This required oxen to be changed 2 or three times and a one day trip was considered fast. (more…)

Costa Rican Coffee Micro-mill Revolution

micro mill coffee direct trade costa rica

I guess I’m a slow learner because it took me 4 days of visiting 16 micro mills (and 1 mega mill), cupping 48 individual lots of coffee and traveling through the Tarrazu, West Valley and Central Valley regions with Jason to fully understand & appreciate the phenomenon in Costa Rica.

micro mill coffee direct trade costa rica

This phenomenon is being called “The Micro-mill Revolution” by Francisco Mena of Exclusive Coffees.   He has personally visited all 150 micro-mills that now operate through out Costa Rica and works with many of them to increase quality through proper growing, harvesting and processing techniques.

micro mill coffee direct trade costa rica

A micro-mill is small coffee farm (typically producing 1000 bags or less, or 152,000 lbs of coffee) that also has its own wet mill and processing on its farm. What this allows a farm to do is process their own cherries to ensure the absolute best quality and taste.  This also allows the farmer to separate varietals (Typica from Caturra, etc…) for micro-lots as well as introduce unique processing methods for individual coffee roasters needs (washed, honey, red-honey, naturals).  What this really means is complete traceability and a totally individual identity for each lot of coffee we bring in.

costa rican red coffee cherries

(more…)

A celebration of 7 Ethiopian Coffees

We want to invite anyone who loves specialty coffee, especially Ethiopian Coffees to come by Fratello Coffee tomorrow at 11:30 am. 

We are going to be hosting a free cupping for the public, of 7 very rare and special Ethiopian coffees.  What we will be cupping is:

  1. Ethiopian Beloya Micro Lot#12, Full Natural
  2. Ethiopian Beloya Micro Lot#10, Full Natural
  3. Ethiopian Aricha Micro Lot#26, Full Natural
  4. Ethiopian Aricha Micro Lot#14, Full Natural
  5. Ethiopian Idido Misty Valley, Organic, Full Natural
  6. Ethiopian Sidamo, Organic Fairtrade, Fully Washed
  7. Ethiopian Amaro Gayo, Organic, Full Natural

This is going to be very casual.  We want to share with you some of the most sought after Ethiopians every processed, all on one table for you to enjoy. 

We are located at:

4021 - 9th Street SE

Tel - 403-265-2112.