"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.