"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."
This February we returned to El Salvador with our good friends at Nordic Approach to visit producers with whom we’ve been working with for five consecutive seasons. First on our itinerary was a visit to see Jose Antonio and Andreas Salaverria at their mill, Las Cruces, up in the Santa Ana region of El Salvador, along the Apaneca-Ilamatepec mountain range.
After years of producers in Central America battling with leaf rust, it was fantastic to see their two main estates, Finca Santa Rita and Finca San Francisco, looking green, lush and healthy. By maintaining healthy trees and root stocks with ingenious pruning techniques and shade management, the brothers work with their farm managers and teams of highly trained, well-incentivised pickers to produce truckloads of beautifully uniform and ripe cherry. They process the fruit in a multitude of different ways, from full naturals, honeys and pulped naturals, to washed and soaked preparations, and by working cleanly and carefully they're able to offer a wide range of unique and interesting flavour profiles.
Through proper drying the coffees always hold up fantastically well, tasting sweet and layered even after a year has elapsed from harvesting -- somewhat remarkable for coffees from El Salvador. The final stages of quality refinement in the dry mill utilise density and colour sorters, meaning that their coffees are a joy to work with in the roastery as they are so clean and uniform.
Jose Antonio is the agronomist at Las Cruces, and Andreas the cupper. Having the two of them present in their cupping lab along with their quality control team, Raoul and Rosio, managing the samples and turning the tables offers a chance for informed discussion and feedback in every aspect from seed to cup, which for us thoroughly enriches the enjoyment of a cup of coffee.
Something we felt very privileged to be a part of was cupping their ‘Variety Garden’. The table was made up of twenty or so different varieties of coffee cherries grown in similar conditions on one of their farms, they're roasted and prepared in the same way allowing us to really hone in on what flavour traits are brought about via the coffee’s genetics, and what suits their soil and microclimate.
Alongside some fantastic soaked lots and a handful of really unique honey processed coffees, we tasted some superb naturals, lovely washed lots and some bizarre and fun cups of SL28 and Geisha Rojo from the brothers.
As well as seeing the JASAL group in Santa Ana we had to travel to Usulután to see Gilberto Baraona at Los Pirineos. Somewhat of a coffee celebrity, Gilberto is animated and commands the room with an infectious personality and unrivalled energy.
Last year it took us 45 minutes to drive from the closest petrol station up to the Los Pirineos processing mill (a short commute compared to the two days it took his grandfather by ox 60 years ago), but it was all of seven minutes this year thanks to the new road that Gilberto had built by using lots and lots of dynamite. He spoke animatedly about his plans for the farm, increasing efficiency, yields, flavour and all sorts of weird and wonderful new projects whilst we were squeezed in the back of an ATV getting an ‘off road back massage’.
In a completely different manner to the Salaverrias, Gilberto is tackling rust by replanting whole new areas of his farms and has averaged 100,000 trees each year over the last few years. 2016 saw him put 500,000 new seedlings from his nursery into the ground, a staggering number of new trees, predominantly of the Pacamara variety, in an attempt to start fresh with healthy plants.
Witnessing the many drying beds of honey processed coffee at Los Pirineos is quite incredible. By manipulating the methods of turning the sticky parchment over in the sun or in the shade, the workers are able to create cleaner or darker hues of fermenting sugars, which results in very distinctly white, yellow, red or ‘black’ honey processed coffee. It's often the case that in the cup this is not so tightly correlated with ‘funkiness’ or ‘processing flavour’; some white honeys can be very funky and some red honeys impeccably clean. The sheer volume of microlots being prepared in unique manners under such scrutiny is very impressive, and we are looking forward to receiving samples from this year’s harvest.
What with growing coffee at some of the highest altitudes in the region we were a little too early to taste anything from the main portion of this year’s harvest. Whilst the higher altitude results in slower fruit maturation (making for a more complex flavour in your cup) it also means that Gilberto’s crops are under more threat from thieves compared to his neighbours. They will be the last thing left to steal once everyone else is done picking and processing, and so we witnessed a lot of security patrolling his precious crops.
Visiting the two very different producers was both informative and insightful, but without the company of Nordic Approach many questions would have been left unasked and unanswered. Morten is a fantastic person to be around when talking to producers and when cupping, and through osmosis and proximity we absorbed a lot of information we were more than eager to return with and share with our inquisitive Baristas and Bar Backs.
Our El Salvadorean options from this season will be arriving in Vyner St. in the coming weeks and months and we'll be updating you on their progress as we profile them ready for release.
Rest assured, there will be some delicious coffees coming your way.
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.
As Cult of Done v.16 coffees turn their final batches in our Probat we obviously cannot stop the supply of tasty espresso to you, wherever you may be in the world. We therefore have been working hard over the past four weeks on the next two components and are pleased to announce that v.17 is ready for release.
A 65/35% split between Aricha, a coffee from the Yirgacheffe region of Ethiopia, and San Francisco, from the Apaneca-Ilamatepec region in Western El Salvador, both coffees have had extensive test roasts performed, many shots have been pulled and consumed, and the best of each have been paired to create the final version. What we have got is a gloriously thick espresso with black cherry and dark chocolate in abundance with a rich, praline sweetness and long finish.
Each component has been sourced on recent trips to origin in February this year and we are pleased to have gotten what we went for. The chance to meet the producers, see production facilities, tour the farms and cup is worth it when you pick up great coffees such as these.
One terrace of many in the shade covered nursery at San Francisco.