Some of our long standing customers will remember the days when our house espresso, named ‘Cult of Done’ after Bre Pettis’ manifesto, consisted of multiple coffees. In our early years it was a staple of our coffee offering, with an ever-rotating and seasonal mix of components offering fantastic quality results in terms of extraction and flavour.
However, I can distinctly remember a particularly palate-fatiguing quality control session when armed with two test roasts of an Ethiopian coffee called Aricha and a single plot coffee from Finca San Francisco in El Salvador. We trialled various ratios, altering the prominence of each test, testing out every combination from the four tests, before dejectedly reaching the conclusion that these two coffees simply didn’t blend well. We inevitably found the results to be jarring, sour, incomplete and less than the sum of their parts. This led to the realisation that purchase planning and forecasting are totally distinct practices from the nuances of creating a blend that works, synergistically.
It was always hard to get behind a blend, philosophically speaking. All we were doing was putting two or three delicious coffees together, hoping for compatibility in the ways they interacted, which could normally be wrangled via a tweak in our roasting approach, but this often involved some form of compromise. I felt a cognitive dissonance offering a blend whilst at the same time championing the producers of the coffees we were roasting and showcasing. Provenance and traceability were never sidelined, but it felt as though they were diluted when they didn’t get top billing.
Jump ahead and we have now been roasting for the best part of 12 years, and I am excited to introduce our newest addition to our coffee lineup...which is a blend.
‘Seasonal’, but not as you know it
A quick tangent, if you’ll permit me.
At the 2016 Aeropress Championships in England, Junya Yamasaki of Koya fame was one of the guest judges. Having the utmost respect for his palate and approach at his restaurants we thought it would be fun to stir the pot and include a non-coffee judge. After the competition, Junya invited some of us to the chef’s table at Koya for a private dining experience, where I had one of the most memorable mouthfuls of my lifetime.
Junya was more like a poet than a chef, curating and presenting, pulling out a wild stump of horseradish that he’d found on the side of the road, describing the root as ‘really grotesque, but kind of beautiful’, before grating it over our plates. One dish was meant to represent the transition of the seasons, with a small circle stamped out of a slice of pickled turnip adorned with a single, fresh plum blossom.
‘Eat it like a taco’ was our instruction. It was surprisingly tasty, but more than that it felt poignant and thought provoking. We were tasting the remnants of the Autumn, preserved over winter, livened up with a sprinkling of fresh spring time. ‘Seasonal’, yet not as you would normally know it.
'Cupping' coffee is a standardised industry-wide protocol to sensorily assess a sample of coffee. It can be focussed on analysing the quality of green coffee during a 'sample cupping' or as a means of assessing the roast quality of various batches during a 'production cupping'.
Freshness on paper versus freshness in the cup
We’ve never drifted from our core principles of buying clean and sweet coffees, roasting them carefully and in a considered manner, so that they’re always tasting fresh and vibrant. As such, we are a ‘seasonal’ roaster, and we are not alone here. Most roasters will offer coffee from similar origins throughout the year, and this is often driven by keeping stocks light and lean, accurate projections, and knowing full well that certain coffees just don’t stand up over time and need to be burnt through swiftly.
I recall cupping a whole table of offerings from Tim Wendelboe in late 2020, and I had to message him swiftly afterwards to ask what wizardry Jobneel was undertaking at Nacimiento. The coffee was harvested May 2019, and it tasted fresh as a daisy, sparkling, layered, juicy, with not a hint of fade. His reply was both informative and at the same time almost self-evident: the coffee lasts well because of good processing, drying, storage and packing.
We have had similar experiences with certain coffees we buy initially tasting very muted and uninteresting. It took the first few months before they would relax and slowly bloom and open up, becoming expressive and aromatic for an extended period before gracefully tapping out by turning down the volume on intensity, rather than tasting woody or vegetal.
It seemed as though the name of the game had changed, and offering ‘fresh on paper’ coffees wasn’t the only way to offer ‘fresh in the cup’ coffees. Was it possible to square the fact that coffees peak at different times with being staunch seasonalists? We began to adjust my mentality, moving away from wanting to be the ‘first’ or the ‘freshest’, which can miss the point and even warp potential purchasing in a negative way. The point is that our coffees taste great.
Parchment coffee resting in a cool warehouse in Calca. Samples will be pulled and manually milled and sorted to assess before lots are graded, collated and provisionally sold to the end customer. The coffee is then moved to a dry mill on the outskirts of Lima for processing and bagging up to ready the lots for export.
Fostering relationship coffees
Flavour aside, a large part of our buying approach is to understand in great detail where our coffees come from, and be as invested and committed in the process as possible. This year we will be roasting coffee from Gitesi for the 10th time, and it is our 8th time roasting Hunkute and Mahembe, which are examples of some of our more established relationships. Other farmers and groups we have been buying from for many years are very important to us, as well as to our customers for whom seeing familiar names on our offer list each year is reassuring and exciting.
We have been actively trying to mature ourselves as coffee buyers, and part of this process has been to move away from simply tasting everything we can ‘blind’ and pursuing the ‘tastiest’ lots. We now look to secure samples from producers and associations, as well as importers and exporters with whom we have a history, two-directional trust and an open, honest dialogue.
A new coffee demographic, or How I Learnt to Stop Worrying About Acidity and Love Balance
We are not the lightest roaster on the planet, but in the scheme of all coffee available in the marketplace we are definitely in the light-roast camp. Our filter roasts are typically very light, and even our espresso roasts would most likely be described as light to medium. There are, however, certain coffees that we want to buy that fare better when pushed a little further, allowing us to untap a new demographic. We have spent several years developing a range of coffees from producers:
The analogy I have heard before which is used to describe a good green buyer is that we don’t want to simply ‘pick the raisins out of the cake’. Taking only the top lots leaves the bulk of coffee behind, which is the producer’s bread and butter. Well produced and clean lots like these can quite often be delicious as well as more suitable for certain markets, when compared to lots with cup profiles that particularly excite us and those initiated in the specialty coffee industry.
Our buying has never been directed by cup score, but by flavour profile and potential to retain character over time. Roasting for hotels and restaurants has sharpened our skills not just as buyers but also as roasters, learning how to modulate acidity, develop coffees differently for ease of use and for a different range of beverages ultimately being prepared and served. We're proud that introducing such coffees to these sorts of customers has enabled us to strengthen our buying ethics and build more volume with the groups and producers we love.
Some of the tubs used during the hand sorting of drying parchment on raised beds at Snap-owned Worka Chelbesa washing station, in Ethiopia's Gedeo zone.
Developing a constant
Typically, coffees in Ethiopia are harvested between November and January, whilst Peruvian coffees are picked between June and August. Containers from Ethiopia arrive in spring, and from Peru in winter, making for two nicely timed drops throughout the year. If we get our ducks in a row we are able to sub in a fresh component twice during the calendar year and offer a blend of these two origins, more specifically from the two producer groups with whom we’ve worked for several years and had fantastic, ever-improving results.
By topping and tailing Ethiopian and Peruvian coffees in this fashion we have begun to understand the interplay between the two, how best to achieve optimal development on each to achieve balance in the cup and uniform behaviour. It wasn’t sudden, and has taken a fair amount of experimenting, but we have reached the point where we can say, hand on heart, “if you order this coffee any day of the year it will taste great”.
Agustin Ccasa Ccoyo at Finca Progreso in Huaynapata, Cusco, grappling with a particularly willowy Bourbon coffee tree.
Valle Inca Association & José Prudencio
The first year we bought coffee from the Valle Inca Association was in 2018, thanks to an introduction via Promoting Peru. We ended up roasting two lots, one from Ricardo Ccallo Olave at Pampa Blanca in Quinuay and another from Agustin Ccasa Ccoyo at Finca Progreso in Huaynapata. These lots represented about 6.5% of our total purchasing that year.
The following year we bought yet more bags from the Valle Inca group, including new producers like Yolanda Cabrera Alvarez, Juan José Huillca Singuña, Rafael Tupayupanqui Vargas and Miranda Huaman Gregoria, which represented over 12% of our volumes for that year. Being able to visit some of these producers, as well as travel and cup with José Prudencio to see the warehousing and dry milling operations that Valle Inca use, was informative and helped us to calibrate and plan together for the following year.
This year we have finalised our purchasing quantities, which equate to an entire container from one origin. Our relationship with Valle Inca has steadily grown, and so to have their operations, expanding from 100 members in 2018 to more than 261 producers around the Cusco region by the beginning of 2021. All the members are working organically and are certified as such via the Valle Inca group. For a member to join, there needs to be a baseline of quality met, dictated in part by altitude and the type of varieties planted, but ultimately it is down to the desire of each member to improve their quality through hard work.
As well as paying premium prices Valle Inca support their producers in many ways. They offer pre-financing, aid in the building and purchasing of drying infrastructures and processing materials, offer agronomical advice and harvest planning and protocols. Several of their members, including Agustin, reliably place well in Peru’s Cup of Excellence competition.
Squeaky clean parchment coffee drying on the raised beds at Snap's Raro Boda washing station in Uraga, located within Ethiopia's Guji Zone.
Snap Coffees & Negusse Debela Weldyes
Snap Coffees in Ethiopia first came to our attention via Nordic Approach. We’ve purchased lots from several of their washing stations over the last three years. The likes of Refisa, Riripa, Worka Chelbesa, Danche and Raro Boda are washing stations owned and operated by Snap Coffees, and we have always had them at the top of our priority list when working with Nordic Approach and other importers to secure sample materials and make our buying selections.
Established in 2008 by Negusse Debela Weldyes, the group are responsible for the running and operation of several coffee washing stations. Abenezer Asfaw oversees logistics and supply chain mapping, and is the liaison for Tropiq, which is Nordic Approach’s sister company with a team on the ground in Ethiopia year-round. Abenezer and his team oversee the processing facilities but also take on the task of dispensing agricultural knowledge to their contributing farmers. They are committed to recycling waste by-products from coffee processing at each of their stations where they have also built schools and provided them with computing equipment from the other arm of their business which is in electronics. They intend to improve the roads to streamline access to the washing stations as well as build health clinics to provide access to better healthcare for their contributing farmers as well.
Lots from the most recent harvests have been dry milled at Snap’s new processing and warehousing facility, which has just been fitted out. This has afforded the group even more control over the final exportable product that we get to work with, leading to improved consistency and uniformity. They receive premium payments because of the high qualities being produced.
The strong starting block of well-nourished, high-quality variety coffee trees, coupled with their attention to detail in processing, through renewing and tiling fermentation tanks and slow, cool temperatures during fermentation and drying, means that these beautiful washed, organic lots from Ethiopia always deliver a wealth of complexity for an extended period, and we have come to be reliant on them as a backbone of our buying approach.
It will always feature a component from a Valle Inca Association producer and a component from one of Snap Coffees’ washing stations. Rather than obscure or dilute traceability and provenance we are still hoping to champion the producer groups upon whom this coffee relies via naming their respective presidents, José Prudencio and Negusse Debela Weldyes.
We hope that in offering this blend we will enable ourselves to strengthen our ties with these two producer groups, building more volumes with them, as well as offering some stability and constancy in our coffee range.
We're proud to have spearheaded an initiative that brings together design forward, generosity driven drinkware brand MiiR and World Coffee Research. Together, we've created a collection of products that directly contribute to the protection and enhancement of quality coffee's future, with £5 from each sale being donated to ther work.
As we've said before, the future of quality coffee is not a foregone conclusion and few know that better than World Coffee Research. The non-profit organisation have set themselves the audacious but laudable goal of supporting the development of varieties of coffee that are not only high yielding and climate resilient, but also delicious. Our latest initiative with MiiR aims to support them in their mission.
Collaborating with two artists, we've created a series of sustainable drinkware to raise both awareness and funds for World Coffee Research. For every item sold, World Coffee Research will receive £5 (EUR 6; US$8).
The first artist is multi-award winning illustrator Lucy T. Smith, perhaps best known for her work with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, as well as her commissions for Sir David Attenborough. Smith’s fine, intricate botanical drawings perfectly capture the beauty and fragility of the arabica coffee plant, which is the basis for 60% of global coffee production.
Translating the discoveries found by plant hunters, accuracy in Lucy’s work is absolutely key and in telling World Coffee Research’s story, she wanted to show the development of a coffee plant:
“In my work I have used classic botanical illustration to depict many coffee species both known and new to science, and here I’ve treated Coffea arabica in the same style, showing its main botanical features. Not just a crop plant, it represents just one of many coffee species. All deserve to be cherished and protected, to preserve them and their wild habitats”.
The second is Portland-based Michael Buchino. Injecting colour and vibrancy into the collection, his pieces aim to capture the joyful labor of coffee research—in the lab, in the field, and in the cup.
“World Coffee Research is working in the lab and on the farm to make sure we get great coffee in our cups each day", says Buchino. "With their work, we can count on coffee being a viable industry for years to come”.
Taking inspiration from vintage advertisements, sport illustrations and old how-to short films, he’s created three characters that embody the work of World Coffee Research and its impact at every stage, from the field to the final brew. The Lab Technician oversees the intensive task of laboratory research, whilst The Farmer propagates and harvests the result of that work. And, finally, the Coffee Connoisseur has the luxury of brewing and savouring the results.
As MiiR’s UK distributors, we're proud to have led this project whilst working closely with MiiR's global team and World Coffee Research alongside Lucy and Michael. Following a pre-release in Autumn of 2021, the global initiative has already raised almost US$20,000 for World Coffee Research, with more to follow thanks to today's general release.
Hanna Neuschwander, World Coffee Research's Director of Communications and Strategy, says: “As urgent as coffee agricultural research is, it can feel understandably distant or abstract to many. The MiiR x World Coffee Research collaboration is extraordinary because it lets us hold in our hands a truly beautiful object that reflects the joy, passion, and optimism for the future that underpins the work of coffee researchers. Along with delicious coffee, these mugs hold something else precious—hope for tits future.”
The MiiR x World Coffee Research collection is available via our online shop. You can access it here. They are also available to from a host of retailers across the world, including Black Oak Coffee Roasters (California), Bridge Coffee Co. (California), Camber Coffee (Washington), Coffee Circle (Berlin), Fulcrum Coffee Roasters (Washington), Intelligentsia (USA), Union Hand Roasted (UK).
Decaffeinated coffee remains a taboo amongst some people specialty coffee world. I haven't seen any other coffee trope so ubiquitous, whether tattooed onto a forearm, scrawled on an A-board or emblazoned on a diner mug, as the "Death Before Decaf" motif. This is strange to me. Coffee lovers who are eschewing caffeine, either temporarily or permanently, but still seeking that unparalleled experience that coffee delivers, should be welcomed with arms opened wide, as they're here for what really gets our hearts (metaphorically) pumping: flavour!
We're going to take a look here about how we select our decaffeinated options, and also why we branched out into developing a secondary roast curve for filter coffee brewing with our decaf range, to complement our existing espresso roast style.
First up, we need to look briefly at what caffeine actually is. For the TLDR crowd amongst you, scroll down to the bottom to watch our video.
What is Caffeine?
A bitter, psychoactive compound, caffeine exists naturally in coffee and acts as an insecticide deterrent to prevent bugs and other pests from damaging its fruit, flowers and leaves. Whilst toxic to insects it sadly isn't enough to prevent insect damage entirely.
When it comes to preparing and drinking a cup of coffee, the amount of caffeine it contains is going to vary depending on the origin and variety of coffee, how much you actually use to brew your cup and the quality of your extraction (i.e. how much soluble material was taken from the grounds by your water during the brewing process). For more information and detail on caffeine, we'd recommend a visit to Coffee Chemistry's website and their Caffeine in Coffee section.
Can Decaffeinated Coffee Occur Naturally?
There are species and varieties of coffee that are very low in caffeine.
Eugenioides, which is a species of coffee that actually parented Arabica along with Robusta, and a variety of Arabica called Laurina (or Bourbon Pointu) both produce lower caffeine coffees, not entirely caffeine free but containing less than most Arabica varieties. They are not grown on a large commercial scale and so you might only see them pop up on roasters' offer lists once in a blue moon. They're really interesting to taste if you can get your hands on them, but to reiterate, they are not going to be caffeine free.
Why we Showcase Decaffeinated Coffee
To include those who might need to limit or completely eliminate caffeine from their diet we want to be able offer a cup of coffee that caters to these needs and is also delicious in and of itself.
A broad trend amongst coffee drinkers that we've noted over the last few years is that more and more people are becoming dual-drinkers. Rather than opting solely for caffeinated coffee throughout the day, or being exclusively decaf drinkers, more customers are brewing from their primary stock of regular coffee throughout the day but ensuring they have a bag of decaf in rotation to dip into in the late afternoon or evening.
How is Coffee Decaffeinated?
There are several ways you can decaffeinate green coffee, including the Swiss Water method, Super Critical CO2 and the Methelyne Chloride method. However, our preferred process is the Sugar Cane Ethyl Acetate (EA) method.
Ethyl Acetate is a compound that is produced naturally in fruits and vegetables such as apples, pears and bananas. An ester with a smell not unlike that of pear drop sweets, ethyl acetate is the primary active solvent in what can be marketed as a "natural decaffeination" method and is the one we've chosen exclusively for our decaffeinated coffees for the last 6 years. We've been working exclusively with lots from Colombia that are processed at the Descafecol plant, the only one of its kind in the country, and there are several reasons why we think this is the best method to use.
Firstly, the coffee doesn't need to be shipped twice. The coffee is grown and harvested in Colombia before being moved to the decaffeination plant and then can be sent to use here in Europe. Avoiding a stop-off in another country for further processing limits the time coffee seeds spend in a container and therefore maximises the freshness and extends the shelf life of the green coffee. Not only that, but carrying out decaffeination in the same country as the coffee is grown provides an additional industry and income stream at origin. Fewer destinations en route also helps to reduce the ecological footprint of getting the coffee to us.
Of equal importance for us, though, is taste and flavour. We've found that this process keeps the coffee's characteristics more intact, and the flavour imprint from the EA method is less detectable than others. At times, experienced cuppers and tasters haven't recognised that our coffee on the table has even been decaffeinated.
How the Process Works
After being delivered to the decaffeination plant, the first step in the process is that the green coffee is steamed in order to make it swell up, helping to remove the silver skin layer. This is a very fine, papery layer that clings to the green seeds within the parchment layer. It's then moistened with hot water and we begin to see the beginning of hydrolysis of caffeine, where it starts to loosen its bonds with the salts of chlorogenic acids in the coffee.
Once this has taken place, mountain spring water is mixed with the Ethyl Acetate. This is produced from fermenting sugar cane and is the active solvent in the process. This circulates throughout the tank containing the beans and bathes them continually until 99.9% of the caffeine has been targeted and dissolved away.
Next, any traces of Ethyl Acetate need to be removed and this is done by passing pressurised steam through the coffee before it's placed into large, vacuum-sealed drums and dried down once again until they reach between 10% and 12% moisture, representing a stable level that allows them to be shipped.
The final stage involves adding a protective layer of carnauba wax. This vegetable wax seals the seeds again after what is quite an invasive process that aids them in their journey to our roastery.
The caffeine that's removed during the process is then sold on to pharmaceutical companies and soft drink manufacturers, with Descafecol selling it by the bag themselves.
Our Approach to Decaffeinated Coffee
When it comes to roasting the decaffeinated coffees that we've purchased, there are a few factors we need to take into account. The green coffee is visibly different from its caffeinated counterpart, being a deeper, darker green colour. This in turn impacts some of the physical analysis we do here in the roastery. Some of the numbers and metrics we check during quality control analysis look very different to what we'd normally expect from regular coffees in our range.
Thankfully, we're not just using visual and auditory cues in our roasting process, and through the use of multiple temperature probes, pressure gauges and roasting software, we're able to design consistent roast profiles that give rise to truly delicious, well balanced espresso and slim, clean cups of filter coffee. The fact that our lots are highly uniform with good density means that creating a balanced and consistent flavour from batch to batch is fairly straight forward.
The decision to offer both a decaffeinated espresso roast and a decaffeinated filter roast is relatively simple. Historically, we'd been solely roasting a decaffeinated espresso coffee as a means of offering non-caffeine drinkers the ability to enjoy a cappuccino or a latte in one of our own coffeebars or when visiting our wholesale partners. However, growing numbers of our guests and customers were taking bags home with them and asking how to get the best from it using their V60 or French Press.
For a while, we altered our brewing advice to ensure they were able to get the most delicious results from a slightly more developed roast profile, but in 2018 we made the decision to design and offer a specific filter roast as well. The result is something that adheres to our usual brew recipes and offers a really clean, balanced, flavoursome cup.
Whilst not subject to the same pace, our decaffeinated coffee range continues to rotate as the year progresses. You can view our current offering here.
For the first time in our eight years of roasting coffee, we’ve decided to create a dedicated filter roast profile for our decaf offering.
The quality of the most recent crop from El Teruel is exceptionally good, and we know that a lot our customers enjoy brewing decaf as a filter coffee. Until this point in our coffeebars, we've chosen to amend our Clever Coffee Dripper brewing recipe when preparing a cup of decaf filter using our dedicated espresso roast profile.
Similarly, for home brewers, getting the best results from our decaf for filter has involved tweaking normal brewing specs ever so slightly. The results have been good, but with this new roast approach designed specifically for filter brewing the coffee has never tasted better. We’re really happy with the results, and hope you enjoy this first from Workshop Coffee.
As with a lot of regions in Colombia, the micro-climate of the area around Planadas, Tolima allows farmers to harvest coffee cherry twice in one year, which helps a great deal with cash flow. The Asopep (Asociación de Productores Ecológicos de Planadas) Co-operative, made up of 35 coffee producing families, all practice organic farming and are certified as such. The coffees making up this particular lot, El Teruel, underwent a 22-hour dry fermentation before being fully washed and subsequently dried on raised beds. It then underwent the Sugar Cane Ethyl Acetate process to decaffeinate the beans. Not only does this method provide a secondary income to the producing country, the Descafecol plant between located between Planadas and Medellín in Colombia, but the green coffee only needs to be transported by boat once rather than twice. More eco-friendly and less costly, reducing the travel time compared with coffees decaffeinated in Germany, Switzerland, Mexico or Canada means we get to work with a fresher tasting product. The conditions in which coffee is transported are rarely conducive to preserving quality, and so avoiding this process from happening twice is always beneficial for the cup.
The filter roast of our El Teruel is tasting complex and layered, with sweet fruity notes of dates and papaya, turning almost jammy in the finish. Gone are the days of forgoing a delicious cup of coffee after dinner for fear of hindering a deep slumber.
"El Martillo SL28 from El Salvador and Dimtu Espresso from Ethiopia."
Two years ago, we introduced our first two festive coffees for the holiday season and last year brought you two more. Now entering our third consecutive year of bringing you a couple of felicitously festive-tasting coffees, it’s safe to call it a tradition.
For our filter range, we're excited to have secured this year’s slightly larger crop of SL28 variety coffee. Grown by the Salaverria brothers on the El Martillo plot of their Finca San Francisco estate in El Salvador, 2017 was the first time these young trees, planted in 2014, had produced enough seeds to properly process and export. We were able to purchase both a washed and a red honey version of the tiny production.
"The El Martillo tablón on the Salaverria's Finca San Francisco estate is planted out with a range of unusual varieties, including SL28, Yellow Icatu and Orange Bourbon."
"Raoul is the lab manager responsible for roasting samples of the wide range of lots processed at the Las Cruces mill in Santa Ana, El Salvador."
This year, based on feedback from ourselves and our customers as to which lot was better received, the brothers have processed the entire production as a full honey process (also referred to as a 'black honey process'). The 2018 harvest in El Salvador was particularly challenging for a number of reasons, and we've found all our coffees from the country to have been dialled back in intensity compared to years past. However, El Martillo SL28 is still tasting complex, full of botanical and herbal aromas as well as notes of preserved fruit and a delicately boozy quality. In the roastery, we've been experimenting with slightly more concentrated brewing recipes, achieving our favourite results when using between 65 and 70 grams of coffee per litre for pourover brewing, rather than our more usual 60g per litre, as we’ve found the slightly increased strength and concentration of flavour works really well for this coffee. Also, with the days getting shorter and the mornings darker, who wouldn’t appreciate that 10% dose increase in their morning coffee?
"Try out a recipe of 33g to 500g water for a little extra concentration and vibrancy when brewing the El Martillo SL28."
With regards to our espresso range, in the past we've typically highlighted coffees from Rwanda and Burundi that conjure up Christmassy flavours. We reliably get lots of honeyed baking spices in our Gitesi Espresso and coffees from Mahembe in Rwanda or Buziraguhindwa and Mbirizi in Burundi tend to bring a lot of jammy fruit preserves and redcurrant notes, very fitting for the time of year. However, our Burundian offerings this year have only just landed, and our coffees from Rwanda’s harvest in June-July this summer are still making their way to the UK. Luckily, we’ve been profiling an espresso from Ethiopia that we are imminently releasing, from someone fast becoming a household name at Workshop: Israel Degfa.
"Israel Degfa owns around 20 washing stations in Southern and Western Ethiopia, and is focussing on producing high quality coffees as opposed to solely large volumes."
This lot was processed at the Dimtu washing station in the Hambela woreda of Ethiopia’s famed Guji Zone. It has some very classic washed Ethiopian traits, being very perfumed and floral, but what we really love about it is the concentrated berry flavour, as well as dark chocolate and baking spice notes. The flavour, texture, sweetness and tartness make us think of sticky Christmas pudding, with all of its syrupy, steeped, dried fruits. When you’re layering up and everything is misty windows and long shadows at 3:30 in the afternoon, it seems to us a very fitting coffee to be drinking.
"Bags of sticky sweetness, tart dried fruits, florals and baking spices to boot, Dimtu Espresso is making us feel very Christmassy!"
"Move over PSL, Dimtu in milk tastes like berry yoghurt, honey and gingerbread."
In February James and myself visited El Salvador, a first for both of us, but not for Workshop Coffee. We’ve bought coffees through JASAL for the last three years and so we were feeling extremely priveliged and excited to meet the Salaverria brothers, Jose Antonio and Andreas, and to be staying at their Las Cruces mill in Santa Ana.
You may remember our espresso project from last year using coffee from four separate plots within the Finca San Francisco complex, which we released sequentially as opposed to bulking together for a more sizeable lot. We bought coffee from four distinct tablòns, and this year we found one of them, Loma Linda, to be particularly delicious every time we encountered in on the tables in the JASAL cupping lab.
The brothers offer a range of preparations of their coffees, and as they oversee not just the dry milling and processing, but also harvesting and even the maintenance of the health of their trees it is a unique experience to taste their coffees. We knew that it would be exciting to bring back a variety of different preparations from just one tablòn, and seeing how the Loma Linda plot always stood out we had found just what we needed.
The Loma Linda soaked lot was a great example of the high quality coffees JASAL are able to produce in reasonable, workable volumes. ‘Soaking’ refers to an additional step in their process, as coffees will generally be referred to as ‘washed’ when it has simply been mechanically scrubbed. This means that once pulped the coffee doesn’t undergo fermentation to break down the fruit sugars before drying. By using an eco-pulper and demucilaginator they effectively remove the mucilage with friction rather than the native yeasts and micro-organisms in the area. Soaking the coffee after this kind of pulping would seem unnecessary to a lot of producers, but we have noticed it can add more clarity to the cup, and when looking at the drying parchment on the patios at the Las Cruces mill the soaked lots were always more uniform, whiter and cleaner than their ‘washed’ counterparts.
The pulped natural lot from Loma Linda presented a real plump, brown sugar backbone which stood out against the background of the other P/N lots on the table, which tended to be more plain and nutty in comparison. The extra heft and body that the process typically brings about wasn’t so dominant in the Loma Linda lot, which displayed more delicacy, with orange rind and lightly toasted hazelnut flavours in the cup providing a little complexity. This was a pulped natural lot that we were interested in roasting and brewing, rather than for the sake of variation in our coffee range alone
We also got the chance to taste another experimental preparation that a parcel of fruit from the San Felipe tablòn had undergone. The brothers were calling it Doble Lavado (double washed) which involved an extra soaking stage. Rather than draining the soak water from the coffee after a primary soaking phase and sending it out to dry, clean water is added once again to allow the parchment to undergo a secondary soak (think Kenya processing with its multiple soaking stages). What we tasted in the cup was a much more pointed acidity, with a unique character that really intrigued us. Earlier that day we had witnessed ripe cherry still waiting to be harvested on the Loma Linda tablòn, and so we enquired as to whether a small portion of the remaining cherry could be processed in a similar manner to this experimental batch. The brothers obliged and we are lucky enough to have secured a few bags of the coffee to roast alongside the other two processes from Loma Linda.
The result of all this hard work is that we’re able to share with you another interesting project in collaboration with Jose Antonio and Andreas. Last year we took four soaked processes from four distinct tablòns in order to emphasise the difference that terroir and altitude would have on the lots. This year we are running three coffees from one small plot of land, but that have been processed in three unique ways. We’re excited to continue working with such progressive and hard working producers, and we hope you’ll enjoy the results of their labours.
Another coffee that we're very proud to be showcasing this year, and one that is really standing out on cupping tables and domestic kitchen benches alike, is the Gichathaini AA, Kenya. Again, we were fortunate enough to visit the Gichathaini factory a few months ago, not only to look at the facilities for coffee production, but to sit down with the managers of the co-operative society that runs the factory and to talk about what our coffee purchases mean to them.
In addition, we were shown through an on-site nursery, growing a range of coffee varieties; from the more usual SL-28 and SL-34, right through to newer, experimental varieties such as Batian -- a more disease and drought resistant cultivar. These seedlings will be nurtured here until they're ready to be sold on to the co-operative member farmers at a heavily subsidised price.
Gichathaini has produced consistently excellent coffee for many years now, and as a result, it's a name that crops up on the offer sheets of great roasters all around the world. While often we're hoping to carry coffees that people are less familiar with, the bright, super-sweet rhubarb characteristics evident in this particular lot meant it was a coffee we couldn't pass up.
We're currently serving this coffee on Aeropress, and have retail bags available in both our stores, as well as online at in our Dispensary. Don't miss out.