The London Coffee Festival is almost upon us once again.
As cafe owners, coffee lovers and roasters from across the country descend on East London, we'll be keeping the shutters at our Roastery in Bethnal Green up a little longer than usual on Friday 13th April from 5:00 p.m..
Providing a welcome break from the franticness of the festival, we'll be putting coffees from our current range down on the cupping table. You'll be able to taste these alongside some past favourites and a preview of some new arrivals as we seek to highlight our commitment to continually move with coffee’s seasonality.
All that, plus a few drinks and a whole host of conversations.
Find us at 29-43 Vyner Street, London, E2 9DQ.
We're looking forward to welcoming you.
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.
Gachatha AA from the Gachatha Farmers Co-Op Society, is the first Nyeri region coffee we've bought since the Gathaithi PB of early 2014. The situation in Nyeri is no longer as frustrating as before, meaning traceable, high quality green coffee can once again be brought out of the region while it is still fresh and full of life. This coffee is a stunning example of the flavourful coffees that come from Nyeri, with a clean tropical character that we haven’t experienced in a Kenyan coffee for some time. It’s just launched on all of our bars as well, being brewed on AeroPress; it really is a treat in the cup!
Alongside the Gachatha AA is a new Githiga AB lot from the 16th week of production at the factory this season, and is the third time we've released a coffee from the Kanyenya-ini Farmers Co-Op Society in Murang’a. The factory is located on the slopes of Mt. Kenya near the town of Kangema, with cherries coming from 980 member farmers. The last two coffees we bought from Githiga have both been AA grades, which are a slightly larger screen size than the AB grade here. Compared to the tart red fruit flavours found in the AA counterpart, this AB lot has a more rounded acidity, reminiscent of forest fruits and black grapes.
The Githiga AB is currently available as a filter coffee, though will shortly be making an appearance as espresso in the next month or so. We’re certain you’ll enjoy it both ways!
It’s been said many times but we will say it again; Cult of Done is no boring house espresso. Our latest iteration is proof of just that as we consecutively release four coffees from one farm - Finca San Francisco (FSF).
For the last three years we've been purchasing coffees from FSF in El Salvador. The coffees grown there by the Salaverria brothers, Jose Antonio and Andres, owners of JASAL, have always impressed us with their clean and sweet character. This year, rather than taking a bulked lot from the entire farm as previous, we've been able to purchase four coffees from four seperate areas of the farm, known as tablóns. The individual tablóns are parcels of land sitting at various altitudes around the farm and planted with diverse varieties. As such Cult of Done v24 is a consecutive string of four distinct coffees, currently Las Ranas (translate: ‘The Frogs’) followed by v24.1 - Loma Linda, v24.2 - Santa Rita and finally v24.3 - La Independencia.
The farm itself is set on the western side of the Santa Ana volcano in the Apaneca-Ilamatepec mountain range. The wide range of growing areas means the tablóns sit as low as 1300m above sea level and as high as 1665m where FSF largely produces Bourbon and Hybrido San Francisco; the Hybrido being a naturally occurring hybrid found on the mountain, which neither ourselves or the owners know a great deal about. In addition, small amounts of Sarchimor and Red Catuaí are also grown and can be found in the Santa Rita and La Independencia respectively.
With a project as ambitious as this, it is important to know that all four coffees are clearly separated from tree to cup. FSF is able to ensure such high levels of control and separation thanks to JASAL simultaneously playing the role of farmer, both wet and dry miller and also aiding export of the coffee. This level of involvement is relatively unique in coffee producing countries, in stark contrast to East Africa and other Central American countries where the dry milling, and quite often even the wet milling, is seldom done by farmers themselves.
The jewel in JASAL’s crown has to be its prestigious wet mill, ‘Beneficio Las Cruces’. The largest building within the Las Cruces wet mill is over 100 years old and said to be one of the locations where Che Guevara hid during his journeys through Latin America. More important than any links to famous Guerrilla fighters, the wet mill is maintained in a meticulous fashion, often operating twenty-four hours a day during peak harvest, ensuring the coffee is remarkably clean and ripe.
The mill produces natural, honey, pulped natural, washed and soaked coffees and all four of the coffees we are releasing as v.24 this summer have been soaked. This process is fundamentally the same as a washed process but with one additional step. Once the cherries have been pulped and run through the mechanical scrubber, instead of sending the parchment coffee straight out to the patios or beds for drying, it goes to a large tiled tank, covered with fresh water and allowed to soak overnight. This extra step brings further clarity, focus and angularity in the cup giving the coffee more sweetness and ultimately a more rounded flavour.
We couldn't be more thrilled and excited to be launching this quartet of tablóns as Cult of Done. Not only are we looking forward to seeing how each coffee differs in the cup, but it's also a great opportunity to examine further layers of complexity, beyond origin and variety alone.
One of the joys of spring, in our minds anyway, is the arrival of fresh crop coffees from Africa. Something we look forward to intently, especially on the back of Tim's trips to origin, followed by his subsequent reports on how great certain things were tasting, 2015 hasn't disappointed. Our third year in Ethiopia allowed us to obtain a much larger volume of coffee from the Duromina Co-operative located in the Jimma Zone, Western Ethiopia, a favourite from our filter range last year.
Coming off the back of the natural Brazil of Pirapitinga and the washed Colombian of El Diamante, V21 and V22 respectively, the Duromina is a perfumed delight, full of dark chocolate, hops and ripe peaches. A pleasure as your morning cappuccino, the mid-afternoon espresso or a delicious little Shakerato, Cult of Done V23 is available in all Workshop stores across London and online now.
Regardless of the earlier glories of a particular coffee, if the green coffee itself is past-crop, so from a previous harvest and generally a year or so off the tree, nothing will make that coffee taste great again. Once a coffee has begun to age, both the farmer’s work in cultivation and processing and the skill of the roaster become meaningless as there is simply no way to get the quality back. It may surprise some, but every now and then we remove coffees from our range, not because they have sold out but because they have gone past their best.
Coffee grows throughout the Tropics, but the climates differ greatly between countries, regions and even micro-regions. This means that while farmers in Kenya are harvesting their coffees, Brazilian coffees are already on ships going to coffee roasters around the world. Over the winter months it happens that the freshest, sweetest and cleanest coffees landing in the UK are all, in our opinion, coming from one particular country: Colombia.
Having an exclusively Colombian range of coffees might be unthinkable for other roasters, but for all the reasons mentioned, it is exactly what we have decided to do. As well as being from the same country, each of the four Colombian coffees we currently have available were produced within 150km of each other, yet all are markedly different and brilliant in their own way.
Our first fresh crop Colombian release, from the November/December harvest of 2014, came from La Tribuna. This 10 hectare farm owned and managed by Jairo Torres is a great example of how even good farms in Colombia are producing a variety of quality levels, with the best being portioned off to sell at higher prices. We originally picked La Tribuna to be a filter coffee, but decided at the last moment to bring it out as an espresso instead. This was definitely the right decision as this espresso shows just how clean and balanced Colombian coffees can be, with the natural sweetness present in this coffee particularly astounding!
Both La Soledad from Plinio Lopez and Santa Rosa from Alicia Joven come through a programme that engages directly with farmers who may be producing high quality coffee, but have not previously had access to the premiums that this market brings. Together with our import partners and a farmers’ co-operative in Huila, we were able to have these coffees separated out rather than put into the anonymous bulk blends they otherwise would have been party to. We hold great hopes that this programme and others like it will encourage farmers to see the rewards available for those who are willing to invest additional resources and energy into producing quality coffee.
The final release in this block of Colombian coffees is El Diamante, out now as our Cult of Done espresso, and it’s another remarkable coffee, not just for its quality but also for the fact it's comprised entirely of the Yellow Bourbon varietal. The other coffees in our range are from the Caturra and, to a lesser degree, Castillo varietals, both of which are very popular among farms in Colombia and other areas of South America. In contrast with these more common varietals, Yellow Bourbon has lower yields and is generally less resistant to the fungal infection Roya or ‘leaf rust’ and other coffee plant diseases. As Roya has particularly decimated farms over the past few years in the country, for the farmer Oscar Agudelo Hoyos to go with a low yield, low disease resistance varietal may strike some as folly; results such as these prove it can be done in the right hands.
Don’t get too comfortable wrapped up in Colombian coffee though, as fresh crops are on their way to us right now. Kenyan, Ethiopian, Guatemalan, Costa Rican and El Salvadorian coffees are either on the water, or awaiting export in their respective countries. Some may even be landed in the UK already. You’ll just have to wait and see what appears first, but trust us when we say it’s going to be a glorious spring and summer of coffee at Workshop.
All photos taken during our November 2013 trip to Colombia.
Getting your hands on a new coffee to roast and taste is always an enjoyable thing. A new espresso this good? Well that's a great thing! The second of our two coffees sourced from Costa Rica during a trip to the country back in February, La Plaza from the Tarrazu region is a sweet, densely dried fruit flavoured espresso that is well-balanced, rich and extremely satisfying and available to buy now.
As with the El Rodeo, the La Plaza was discovered on the cupping tables at the Exclusive Coffee labs in San José. As the team relentlessly turned tables over, one after another, it meant they were probably the most intense cuppings I have ever experienced over two days. When you get a coffee like this back in the UK though, that feeling of mass caffeination before you board an aeroplane to head home, it's definitely worth it.
Seeing the coffee in the cooling tray of the roaster and tasting it in our new QC lab at our Fitzrovia store; both visually and orally this coffee is clean and incredibly well processed. A great example of the way that through building his own micromill, Santa Rosa, and taking control of his coffee, Efrain Naranjo has produced something we at Workshop are delighted to have the chance to offer to you.
African beds at El Rodeo. Parchment awaits milling (above) - (below) Drying yellow honey processed coffee
One of two Costa Rican coffees found on Workshop's first trip to the country is in the UK and roasting. El Rodeo, situated in Tarrazu, was discovered at the cupping table during a hot day in February at the Exclusive Coffee lab in San José. Five quick-fire tables in the morning before flights out of the country, featuring coffees from all over Costa Rica, threw up a couple of standouts including this white honey processed coffee.
Owned by Roger Solis, El Rodeo is processed and milled ready for export at the La Casona mill built to service his two small farms in the region. In processing his white honeys Mr Solis leaves somewhere between 10 and 15% mucilage, using a mechanical demucilager, on the coffee before leaving to dry on raised beds for around 15 days.
We have been working hard on the profile for this one and think we have cracked it, bringing out flavours of walnut and sultanas, a rich malty biscuit and toffee sweetness and a lovely soft mouthfeel. A real comfort coffee and a perfect counter to the Africans of Kenya and Ethiopia currently making up the rest of our range.
Mechanical Demucilager (above) - (below) Micromill dehuller
Back in December last year, the coffee-buying world became aware of a political situation developing in the Nyeri region of Kenya that indicated this region’s coffee would not be for sale this season. We kept an eye on things as best we could from London, and then traveled to Kenya in February/March to speak with those involved on the ground to get a sense of whether anything could be done in time to bring the co-operative societies’ coffees to market.
Unfortunately, there had been little to no improvement and most of the coffees from the washing stations we were interested in were sitting in a warehouse; lots all mixed up, traceability questionable, but most importantly under lock-and-key, not even available for tasting.
So, instead we looked further afield. While each year we travel to places like Kenya in order to taste through hundreds of samples for prospective purchase, this year’s buying in Nairobi was particularly tricky. First off, we needed to widen the spectrum of coffees for potential inclusion dramatically, beyond Nyeri and Kirinyaga that we normally purchase from, to Murang’a, Thika and Kiambu.
While a grueling and challenging prospect - several consecutive days of little more than cupping, note-taking and decision making - the process was significantly more rewarding than we had expected. Countless lots across a variety of grades from these ‘inferior’ regions truly sparkled, showing depth, character and playfulness that in previous years we may have skimmed over. We spent a lot of time referring back to our copy of the Kenya Coffee Directory, looking up the location and co-operative structures of washing stations we’d never heard of before.
What we anticipated to be a buying season in which finding enough coffee of a quality level we expect from our Kenya offering, ended up being the usual difficult process of narrowing the field of extremely worthy contenders down to the handful of lots we can responsibly purchase. And it seems we weren’t alone in this approximation of things.
Purchasing is usually competitive, with every coffee buyer doing their best to secure for their customers what they see as the greatest coffees of that season, but this year seemed especially so. This, combined with the fact that the Nyeri coffees were held back, meant that prices were more aggressive than last year - a fact reflected in the retail price of our bags - but we find it hard to begrudge the co-operative societies trying to do the best they can for the farmers they represent, and we agreed to pay.
We’re extremely happy with the coffees that we have managed to secure from Kenya this year, including the return of Kabingara AA; a top grade selection from the Kirinyaga region that we adored last year. But a small part of us has to wonder — If the coffees from neighbouring regions are this delicious, just what did those top Nyeri lots taste like?
Since 2012 we've been purchasing all we can of the top quality lots produced at Finca Tamana; Elias Roa's farm in El Pital, Colombia. We sent Richard to visit him in November last year, just before the most recent harvest was brought in, processed and shipped to us in London.
For the most part we've roasted the coffee from Finca Tamana for filter brewing, and have packed the coffee into lovely 350g bags, distributed to retail and wholesale customers a-like, shipping Elias's coffee all over the world.
With the most recently arrived harvest, we've decided to do something a little different.
There will be, however, this fantastic coffee - roasted for espresso - in the main grinders of all our stores.
For the majority of the month of July (as long as our supplies last) we will be replacing our usual Cult of Done Espresso with Finca Tamana Espresso and using this wonderful Caturra selection for all of our espresso-based drinks.
Yes, the only way to try this coffee will be to visit one of our stores, and let our Baristas serve it for you. As an idea, it's a little different, and it's probably a bit challenging for the likes of Jay Rayner, but we're confident you're going to love it as much as we do.