Category Archives: From the Road

From the Road : Ethiopia

| December 10, 2013

 

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Every trip to this incredible land deepens our appreciation for coffee. It permeates the fabric of society and touches the hands of so many, treated with respect and admiration. In no other country can one pull over to the side of the road, just about anywhere, to a tantalizing ‘jebena bunna’ – traditional cup of coffee. Freshly roasted and prepared with pride, the cup reflects whatever region you are in.  The top three so far:

Kulubi, East Harar

Kulubi, East Harar

Yirgacheffe

Yaayoo

Yaayoo

We began in the east, Harar, home to the fabled sun-dried (natural) coffee that can smell of blueberries and exotic spices.  The landscape was awe inspiring and we witnessed fascinating farms with sophisticated terracing and irrigation.  Harar remains a challenging region to source coffee from, due to the decreasing land utilized for coffee, the convuluted system of trade, and lack of cooperatives.  Some feel this coffee could be headed towards extinction.

Coffee farmer in East Harar

Coffee farmer in East Harar

Member of Wotono Bultuma Cooperative, Sidamo

Member of Wotono Bultuma Cooperative, Sidamo

The second leg of our journey took us south, to Sidamo and Yirgacheffe. Every five years or so there is an excessively wet year – this happens to be one.  The downpours were impressive, but have delayed the harvest and made drying the coffee a concern. Still, by all accounts most are anticipating a good year, both in quality and quantity. I was able to visit a number of groups that Vita has purchased from in the past few years: the Yirgacheffe Union cooperatives of Konga, Idido, Koke, and Bele Kara.  These are among the finest coffees in the world!

Waiting for the rain, Bele Kara Cooperative, Yirgacheffe

Waiting for the rain, Bele Kara Cooperative, Yirgacheffe

Coffee drying at Koke Cooperative, Yirgacheffe

Coffee drying at Koke Cooperative, Yirgacheffe

After Yirgacheffe, I set off to Amaro to visit Asnakech, the incredible woman behind the well known Amaro Gayo coffee.She welcomed me into her home where we prepared a tasty treat of freshly plucked Moringa leaves for dinner.  The next morning Asnakech showed me her plantation and processing center. The meticulous drying technique left me impressed.  Her attention to detail and dedication to quality have earned the respect of coffee professionals worldwide. A long ride back to Addis was followed by a day visiting friends and exporters before I set off for the final leg, way out west.

Asnakech inspects the drying coffee cherries

Asnakech inspects the drying coffee cherries

Zerihun, of Kundi Gagi

Zerihun, of Kundi Gagi

After another early morning departure and the long windy drive to Jimma, I met with the cooperative business advisor, Girma, who would accompany me to Illubabor.  Until recently, this part of Ethiopia was only known for low grade coffees, but in recent years a number of cooperatives have been established or revitalized through the assistance of Technoserve, an NGO aimed at increasing farmer’s capacity for doing business through improving quality and access to the marketplace.

Kundi Gagi leadership: Bifkadu, Ibrahim Hussein, and Zerihun

Kundi Gagi leadership: Bifkadu, Ibrahim Hussein, and Zerihun

Kundi Gagi is one such cooperative and in our evaluation of the region last year, their coffee was the finest.  We have purchased this coffee for two consecutive harvests and after my meeting with co-op leadership I feel confident our relationship will continue to grow.  Thanks to the premium Caffe Vita has paid for their coffee, the cooperative has paid off its loans and will be using profits to improve road access to the washing station and build a health center for the community. After this visit we are pleased to report that Kundi Gagi now qualifies as a Farm Direct coffee !

Cherry being delivered to Kitaber Cooperative

Cherry being delivered to Kitaber Cooperative

Though the harvest is just beginning throughout the country, I am already eager with excitement at the prospects of this upcoming crop.  We will be closely monitoring the coffee quality in the coming months and will be sure to bring you the finest Ethiopian coffee for 2014.  In the meantime, you can enjoy the current crop from Bele Kara and Kundi Gagi, both of which are available at our cafes and online.    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seasonal Spotlight : Guatemala Valmar

| August 23, 2013

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This past harvest we travelled to the tropical highlands of Alta Verapaz to visit the farms of Luis Valdez, Finca Santa Isabel and San Lorenzo.  During our visit we were thoroughly impressed with the technique the family has developed to produce exceptionally sweet and complex coffees.  My host during our visit was Luis ‘Wicho’ Valdez III, who oversees much of the day to day operations on the farm. With an education in agriculture engineering, Wicho takes a methodical and precise approach towards coaxing the most from his family’s land.   DSC00369

Due to the extremely high humidity and cold nighttime temperatures, the farm maintains good ventilation and sunlight through the implementation of a unique pruning cycle. As a result, the coffee shrubs remain healthy and productive for many years.  During harvest, ripe cherries are selectively hand-picked in the morning and delivered to the wet mill in the afternoon.  The mill is constructed on a hill, which allows gravity to assist in moving the coffee through the process. DSC00421

A series of siphons draw off any ‘floaters’ , which can include under/over-ripe cherries and debris, such as twigs and leaves.  The de-pulping machinery then removes the skin and flesh of the cherries.  This pulp is composted with the assistance of red worms and then used as organic fertilizer for the farm. DSC00426

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The coffee, which at this point is still covered in sticky mucilage, is then deposited into pristine fermentation tanks.  Overnight, naturally present microbes interact with the sugars on the coffee and a set of complex acids are created.  After the mucilage is broken down, the coffee is washed in channels, and then placed in another tank, submerged in water, for another night.  This secondary, wet-fermentation is not common in Central America, and no doubt contributes to the complexity of acids and sugars present in the Valmar. DSC00444DSC00431

All caturra (a cultivar of Arabica) is tracked and sun-dried on the patios, which takes a little over a week.  Each of these caturra lots is sample roasted and scored by the experts at Anacafe, with the highest scoring lots receiving special designation. While the coffee (still in parchment) rests at the farm, the moisture content is monitored closely.  We pulled a handful of the highest scoring lots back to our cupping lab in Seattle, where we discovered that three days in early March had yielded some remarkable coffees.  With the assistance of our exporter in Guatemala we had this coffee shipped directly to our warehouse here in Seattle.  DSC00474

It has been absolutely delicious.   DSC00463

Valmar is available now at all Caffe Vita locations and online.

 

Guatemala Harvest Report

| April 10, 2013

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Roya, also known as leaf rust, or Hemileia vastatrix is a highly contagious fungal disease, fed by moisture and heat, causing rust colored powdery sores to infect leaves of the plant.  Eventually, leaves drop, photosynthesis ceases, and death ensues.

It was last November that I received a phone call from Guatemala with news of the increasing prevalence of roya on the farm of our friend, Alex Keller.  Increasingly, similar reports have arrived from farms throughout Latin America with the affected range now stretching from Mexico to Peru.

cupping

A state of emergency has been declared in Guatemala with official estimates of reduction in export pegged at 15% though many expect the true number to be closer to 30%. The outlook for next year’s harvest is even worse with potential loss of up to nearly half of the harvest. The only ones grinning are the chemical companies, with their sales of potent fungicides soaring. Some conspiracy theorists have pegged these companies as the culprit, purposefully releasing a mutant strain to rake in the profits. This represents an extreme of the numerous explanations to be offered.  One thing is for certain however, that increasingly irregular weather patterns have created more ideal conditions for which the fungus to thrive.

pacamara nursery

Our Farm Direct mainstay over the years, Finca Nuevo Vinas, hails from a certified organic farm. While many farms with the required capital have been spraying fungicide to keep it under control, organic farms face a much steeper challenge.  Always a tireless experimenter, Alex conducted over 80 separate tests of organic application with hopes he could find a remedy to control the spread of the disease.  Still, the most effective combination he devised comes at a hefty cost, and must be applied every 20 days to mirror the life cycle of the roya.  If this treatment proves ineffective, there will be little choice other than to sacrifice organic certification and save the farm.   

sheep poo

With the tragedy that has hit his farm, among the many others, we feel fortunate to have secured some excellent coffees for the upcoming year.  Fresh crop Finca Nuevo Vinas will be returning to our lineup shortly, though Finca Pacamaral’s harvest was so poor that it will not be.  In an attempt to find another beautiful coffee to showcase the diversity of profiles in Guatemala, I travelled for the first time to Alta Verapaz, a lushly tropical region situated roughly in the middle of the country.

airplane in coban

We arrived in Coban by small airplane, greeted by Luis ‘Wicho’ Valdez, fourth generation farming enthusiast, and gracious host. With the harvest still underway, we set out to his family’s farms, Santa Isabel and San Lorenzo.  The climate of this region is drastic, with temperatures reaching freezing at times and humidity hovering above 90%. These conditions, coupled with a precise, highly unique system of processing have yielded a tremendous coffee, replete with flavors of black currant, orange, and melon. We have secured this coffee for upcoming release at which time I will share more about the Valdez family and their impressive coffee.

wicho valdez

Sulawesi Travelogue

| March 5, 2013

 

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Late last year I embarked on a whirlwind trip through Papua New Guinea, Java, Sulawesi, and Sumatra.   Though the whole trip was memorable, my time in Sulawesi was magical. Besides the fact that it is a place of remarkable beauty, culture, and coffee, I also consider it home.  Having spent most of my childhood in Sulawesi, I am always thrilled to return. 

I arrived with an empty stomach on the first flight of the morning so I asked my host, Darwis, if we could head into Makassar for a bowl of coto before the 8 hour drive to Toraja.  One of the awesome things about Indonesia is that practically every town has a unique dish (or two) that it is known for.  Makassar – its coto. Here it is :

Coto is made with beef or water buffalo. The broth utilizes rice water for

Traditionally made with water buffalo. A hearty broth with your choice of variety meats. Served with sticky rice steamed in coconut leaves, a spicy fermented soy sambal, and fresh limes.

Satiated, we hit the road.  First up the coast through Pare-Pare and then a turn inland and up through the ‘spine’ of South Sulawesi: passing through Enrekang, Makale, and finally arriving in Rantepao late in the night.

The steep rocky hills were a bit much for our ride.  We broke down in this village north of Rantepao.

The steep rocky hills were a bit much for our ride.

The following two days were spent traversing the windy steep hills north of Rantepao.  We set out to meet some of the most respected farmers and producers in Toraja, observing the fascinating system of trade and processing.  Coffee is mostly sold at the local markets, in a semi-processed state.  Because this coffee hasn’t been completely dried yet, it is of the utmost importance that a close inspection verifies that the coffee is free of mold and fermentation – two common culprits in these humid highlands.

Harvesting ripe cherry

Harvesting ripe cherry

The remaining processing determines a great deal of the flavors in Toraja coffee.  Traditionally, the parchment (the layer between seed and fruit) is removed while the coffee is wet and then dried on patios.  This process, giling basah (wet-hulling), results in a heavy bodied, earthy, and spicy cup – such as is the case with our delicious Sumatra coffee.

Hand sorting wet-hulled coffee, at the home of a farmer.

Hand sorting wet-hulled coffee, at the home of a farmer.

There is one producer that has developed a different method of processing, drying the coffee completely before hulling. This is common practice for the washed coffees of Central America and East Africa, but relatively rare in Indonesia. In addition, a painstakingly thorough system of quality control ensures that only the very best coffee makes the grade.

Coffee arrives as wet parchment, measured by the liter. The coffee first must pass a visual inspection.

Coffee arrives as wet parchment, measured by the liter. The coffee first must pass a visual inspection.

 

If the coffee passes the visual inspection, the drying is finished in one sample roaster. After hulling, the second sample roaster roasts the coffee for cupping. After passing the sensory evaluation, the coffee is purchased.

If the coffee passes the visual inspection, the drying is finished in one sample roaster. After hulling, the second sample roaster roasts the coffee for cupping. After passing the sensory evaluation, the coffee is deliveried to the drying facility.

This is one of the most elaborate systems of coffee process I have ever witnessed.  Needless to say, the results are fascinating – a cup with some of the character you might expect for the region: spicy, complex, and heavy, but with a distinct sweetness, brightness, and clarity unusual for Indonesian coffees.  We secured the purchase of a fantastic peaberry lot from the height of the harvest which is available now at all Vita locations and online.