People should enjoy coffee with friends.
At Workshop, we always take a moment together to appreciate coffee grown halfway around the world by the producers we work with; made all the more delicious if shared, we suggest you do the same.
But what if some friends are also the ones who introduce you to those incredible coffees you purchase? It's harder to maintain relationships when 5,000 miles and the Atlantic Ocean lie between people, but when you do finally meet again, it's even better.
Salomé Puentes chats to producer, Fabio Artunduaga - Pitalito, Huila.
Origin travel sounds like the dream to most and in many ways it is. Visiting the tropics, meeting producers, tasting and selecting delicious coffees, it can be pretty idyllic. However, the life of a coffee buyer is not perfect. On the bumpiest of roads for hours at a time, with anti-social start times resulting in supremely long days and the ever-present risk of stomach problems, all pale into insignificance compared to the loneliness experienced in remote hotel rooms and on long journeys. Being away from home and those you love hurts the most, so when those with you become more than just business associates, it dispels many moments you could feel alone.
Iliana Delgado Chegwin and Jairo Muñoz from Azahar Coffee - Yacuanquer, Nariño.
My relationship with the country of Colombia has been precisely that. Salomé Puentes from Caravela and Iliana Delgado Chegwin from Azahar started as guides and translators as I travelled Colombia looking for delicious coffees. Now I call them friends and each visit sees those bonds reinforced; moments of loneliness dispelled, long car rides become a time to talk, play new music and hang out.
To the job in hand then. Coffee.
Starting this trip in Pitalito, Huila with Caravela and Salomé provides a chance to meet producers who supply coffee to the Naranjos Espresso we released in June last year. The first stop is José Hernando Dorado and his niece, Marcela, whose farm straddles the main road to San Agustín, 1°51'25.3"N 76°13'49.0"W.
José Hernando Dorado and Marcela - San Agustín, Huila.
Growing Caturra and Colombia, alongside oranges (Naranjos), cacao, avocado and plantain, José manages the family farm and is currently teaching Marcela the ways of farm management and processing. Utilising washing channels to help remove the less dense beans, they ferment for around 24hr before transferring to the drying facilities José plans to rebuild in the coming months.
As with every farm visit, coffee is served. In most cases, the producer's own coffee, over-roasted and served already containing sugar, I struggle it down. Not here. Marcela, using a cloth filter, brews the best farm coffee I've ever experienced. Roasted by José in San Agustín on a hired roaster, I instantly message back to London with news of delicious farm coffee, before asking for a second cup and more details.
Lidier and Nery - Finca El Mirador, Pitalito, Huila.
Pitalito, 1°51'02.2"N 76°02'50.7"W, the largest town in Southern Huila, has a population of around 135,000, so there's plenty of places to eat and drink in the evenings. Some good, some not so good, you'll never go hungry and there's always a cold Club Colombia available. Coupled with Stop 44, the bar opposite the Gran Premium Plaza Hotel where I rest my head, there's plenty to do in the evenings after a long day visiting producers.
The handover to Azahar and Iliana takes place in Pitalito, but we don't dwell in Huila. Heading back to Bogota and a quick stay in an airport hotel (depressing and expensive in equal measures), the next day wakes at 04:00 with a flight to Pasto, the capital city of the Nariño department.
An airport runway situated on top of an Andean mountain, flights regularly get turned around and sent back to Bogota. Even when but 10 minutes from landing, the elements can change in an instant as clouds roll in from the Pacific.
The weather holds. So begins Workshop's first visit to Nariño.
We've bought Nariño coffees before, from producers Nectario Pascuaza and Eiver Gomez Melo. Both were outstanding and offered vastly different profiles from coffees we buy from Huila and Tolima. This is a different world to those regions. This is the Andes proper and the impetus for our visit.
Located at 2897m, Pasto, like Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, sees you descend to get to the coffee. Dominating the western skyline sits Galeras, a 4,276m stratovolcano, and currently the most active volcano in all of Colombia. Surrounding Galeras, a relatively new ring road circles the entirety; like a smaller, quieter M25, the distinct risk of eruption at its centre.
As the trip is relatively short, we don't stray far from Galeras, instead visiting a handful of communities that lie just off the ring road. Finca San Javier, owned by Javier de la Rosa, situated at 1° 05'14.9 "N 77° 25'35.3" W, falls under the locality of Yacuanquer.
Jorge Hernando Morales Daza, farm manager at Finca San Javier - Yacuanquer, Nariño.
Here the ground is fertile but incredibly rocky. I'm in no doubt that growing coffee can be laborious work, but I witness the most back-breaking of all at Finca San Javier. Three workers charged with removing a whole field of coffee trees. Having stripped the trees of leaves and branches, they now start to excavate the resulting bare trunks and remove what they can of the root systems.
Pick-axes and shovels wielded in 33° heat, the striking of volcanic rocks strewn throughout the soil, ring out. Enquiring how long to clear the last of the trees? Two weeks the answer.
Visiting Nariño, I was adamant about experiencing the local dish - Cuy (Guinea Pig). Colombians are under no illusions they are cute, with many soft toy cuys in shops, but that doesn't stop them featuring on the menu. CuyQuer is the place to visit in Pasto, the main dish a whole Guinea Pig, roasted and quartered. Photos sent home of the meal are greeted by a multitude of emotions from friends and family; from outright anger and disgust to somewhat jealousy and many queries as to how it tasted. It really was quite delicious. Would eat again.
Having just approved recent samples from both Caravela and Azahar, we look forward to the arrival of 4,200kg and 3,500kg of coffee from San Agustín and Yacuanquer respectively. Look out for them in the coming months, these will both be roasted for espresso and delicious additions to our range.
Driving to Perú Profundo.
As we approach our 9th birthday, it's impressive to think how far we've come in that time. Starting with a roll-call of just seven producing countries - Kenya, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Brazil and Colombia. Today, we buy from double that number. Fourteen different origins now keep us, and you, supplied with delicious, fresh coffee all year-round. This increase has been brought about through ourselves expanding our horizons, coupled with quality programs in countries that have resulted in delicious coffees becoming abundant in more places.
However, we can't rely on finding the best coffees from new origins whilst sitting in Bethnal Green. Trips oversea are required, this time to the thirteenth country we've had the pleasure of visiting. That country? Peru.
Unreal scenery on the road to Calca town.
Hairpin turns on the roads, pretty much all the way.
One of the benefits of setting off before sunrise is getting to see the early light dancing through the clouds.
The first three coffees, purchased for our hotel coffee programme last year, all came from the historic region of Cusco in southern Peru. With this the focus of our trip, we arranged to meet the association of farmers behind two of the lots; Valle Inca Group.
The newly elected president of Valle Inca, 29-year-old José Prudencio, greeted us on our arrival in Cusco before driving us to the nearby town of Calca. Home to the cupping lab, warehouse and offices of Valle Inca, they provide agronomical advice, along with financing for farmers to implement infrastructure improvements in their land.
Cool storage for the coffee at Valle Inca’s warehouse in Calca, 2,980m.
Beautiful clean parchment coffee from one of the association’s members.
Growing up, José used to pick coffee with his father, sleeping on sacks of coffee after a long, hard day's work. Enthusiastic and incredibly hard-working, he tries to connect as frequently as possible with the members even though they live in incredibly remote areas around Cusco. José's goal is to connect all the small scale producers in the group with buyers by finding the correct market for their coffees. Having paid $5,000 last year for an organic certificate, applicable to all their producers, gives Valle Inca an edge in marketing their coffee to specific buyers, especially those in the US. Word has spread about the group and the positive work they're doing, that has seen numbers grow from 100 members last year to 200 at the current count. However, being a member of Valle Inca isn't just about having the right coffee varieties like Typica or Bourbon. A willingness to improve, adapt and possess the right mindset is crucial if a farmer is to benefit from everything membership to Valle Inca has to offer.
Along the narrowest of Andean roads, as we climbed well above the clouds to 4,568m at our peak, a myriad of frozen lakes, thermal springs, Incan ruins and waterfalls flashed by on the long journey to visit the remote farms of members. We were most definitely in 'Perú Profundo' (Deepest Peru) and, unapologetically, a little unsettled at times as we witnessed José both cross himself and mutter a quick prayer as he navigated the seemingly endless blind, hairpin corners. Llamas, alpacas, vicuña, sheep and wild horses were plentiful to spot, but sightings of the secretive puma or bears wearing red hats remained, unfortunately, elusive.
Beautiful animals roam the historic countryside.
We shared the roads with plenty of animal herders.
It's a strange feeling, descending to coffee farms, as we usually climb when in most producing countries. After several hours in the car, with any remnants of phone reception lost much earlier in the day, we arrived at Finca Progreso in Huaynapata, the farm of Agustin Ccasa Ccoyo. Due to the remoteness of the farm, when José wishes to visit or collect coffee, he must first visit Quebrada. There, at the local radio station, he transmits a message to Agustin as they have no other means of communication; hopefully he's within earshot! Luckily our trip was pre-planned, so Agustin knew to expect us, greeting us on arrival.
Having bought 20 sacks of his coffee last year, it was a pleasure to meet Agustin and witness his farm and production techniques first-hand. With mineral-rich black volcanic soil and situated at 2,150m, his farm has incredible agricultural conditions for coffee!
The mature cherries here are very large, growing at 2,150m.
The view from Augustin's house, where he relishes the peace and quiet gained from being so remote.
The mature cherries here are very large, growing at 2,150m.
Predominantly growing Red Bourbon, Agustin explained that coffee produced above 1,650m in Peru sees both Roya and Broca become much less prevalent. Rise above 1,850m, however, and these two major threats are, thankfully, all but non-existent. However, humidity is an issue in Huaynapata, so Agustin lets his trees grow tall, pruning back any growth on the first metre of the trunk to allow better ventilation between the trees, reducing the chance of moulds. The resulting willowy three-metre trees are too tall to harvest normally, so workers, armed with a rope and hook, bend the trees as they pick.
Clearing the first metre or so of growth to create better ventilation.
Agustin amongst his bourbons.
Thankfully for Agustin and his pickers the tall coffee trees are willowy and supple, able to bend over to pick.
In processing their coffee cherries, they first float in water to skim off the less dense fruit. Fed through a manual disc depulper to remove the seed from the fruit, the depulped parchment is then sieved to remove any coffee cherry skins.
Floating any damaged or unripe coffee cherries.
Experimenting in their approach to fermentation, they place the mucilage laden parchment coffee into GrainPro sacks and then seal in a plastic barrel. A tube allows for degassing, as the microbiome breaking down the coffee's mucilage produces CO2 during this stage. After 24-28 hours, the fermented coffee is washed before being put out to dry on their tiered, raised beds in a ventilated secadore (solar dryer).
Ready to ferment in barrels.
Turning the parchment coffee whilst drying.
Back at the farmhouse, we chatted over a strong coffee. Brewed in the 'Gota Gota' (Drip Drip) method and roasted in a traditional Q'analla (a clay pot pronounced with a click on the Q), it was the perfect accompaniment to the chirimoyas we munched on. Having farmed coffee here for decades, we discovered we were the first buyer to visit! A freshly slaughtered rooster soon became a hearty broth made in our honour and, coupled with some beers, we raised a toast to Pachamama (the Quechuan name for Mother Earth) to thank her for providing everything she does.
A toast to Pachamama when the work is done.
José Prudencio preparing Gota Gota coffee.
Preparing vegetables for lunch.
The next day we set out to visit Ricardo Ccallo at Finca Pampa Blanca in Quinuay, from whom we bought 50 bags of coffee last year.
Beautiful still lakes added to the eerie quality of this region.
No shortage of breathtaking views.
With a very different environment to that on Agustin's farm, Pampa Blanca is much drier and windier. Growing mostly Typica on his 1,900m farm, Ricardo actively tries to keep moisture in the soil by leaving any fallen matter from shade trees along with any spent Coca leaves, chewed by workers as they pick, which grows in rows amongst the coffee.
Ricardo amongst his typica trees.
The quantity and health of the flower buds will determine the fruitset.
He also creates a rich compost, mostly from chicken and guinea pig droppings, as well as spent coffee pulp, which worms break down into rich black humus. A good handful is added to each tree just before the rains come, to help distribute the nourishing organic fertiliser, with any trees looking less vigorous receiving two handfuls of the nutrient-rich mulch.
Home to Ricardo’s homemade compost.
Black and rich in nutrients for his coffee trees.
Farming coffee here for 25 years, most of Ricardo's trees are between 20 and 30 years old. All trees get pruned right back every 6-8 years, but he admitted that some of his farm requires replanting soon.
Ricardo likes to very gently and smoothly manually de-pulp the coffee, which he says is only achievable with a ripe harvest. With the sugars acting as a lubricant, it makes the job of turning the hand crank that little bit easier.
Ready to process a tiny batch.
Floatation is still performed with these small pickings.
Once sieved to remove cherry skin, large batches ferment in a plastic-lined tank with a lid placed on top. Smaller lots, which have been more prevalent this year, are processed in the same manner as Agustin; bags sealed in barrels to perform what they call an "anaerobic fermentation".
Ricardo wakes around 3 am to wash his coffee when fermentation is complete as he wants to get it out into the rising sun to maximise the hours of sunlight available. Dried on black mesh on patios and under a plastic roof with both sides open for ventilation, Ricardo wishes to eventually invest in raised beds to have more control over his drying.
The biggest and best avocado I've ever eaten.
As we sat down for a very late, but delicious lunch of yucca, rice, broth, Ricardo handed me the largest avocado I've ever seen!
Well above the clouds.
Back at the Valle Inca lab in Calca, we cupped some fantastic coffees from other members in the Valle Inca association with José explaining some of the very in-depth processing techniques being employed to maximise the potential for quality on each of the farms.
As we had a flight to catch in Cusco, some hurriedly prepared samples passed through the huller before being visually graded. In removing visible defects and screen sizing the coffee to take only 15+ size beans, José mimicked the process at the dry mill allowing us to cup again back in London.
A sample of clean parchment coffee.
Back in Lima, we visited the Expo Café dry mill, where the parchment coffee will arrive after a 32-hour drive from the cool warehouse at 2,980m in Calca. Here we witnessed how the coffee is graded and refined, from initially checking certain physical traits like the moisture content of the coffee, through to hulling, size grading, density grading and optical sorting.
One of many cuppings during our travels in Peru.
Peru is a fantastic country, and in travelling to visit Agustin and Ricardo, we witnessed some of the most breathtaking yet remote scenery imaginable. We promise to follow up soon with the announcement of those lots we've chosen and are sure you'll be mightily impressed with the quality in the cup. Workshop will be back.
On the evening of September 4th we’re opening up our Holborn Coffeebar for a showcase of Kenyan coffee, and you’re invited.
For many of us in the industry, Kenya constitutes the most exciting seasonal fresh crop coffee arrival each year, and on this evening Tim Williams (our Director of Operations and green coffee buyer) is going to be providing an insight into how we go about finding the small handful of Kenyan coffees that make up our range each season.
We are continually aiming to improve every aspect of the coffee we serve - constantly in pursuit of the best coffee possible - and a fundamental part of that is the way we source coffees. We dedicate a great amount of time and effort to visiting producing countries, not only to secure the best coffee possible, but also so we know more about the farms and producers we work with, to understand their challenges, and to better tell the stories behind each and every coffee.
Alongside an introduction to coffee production in Kenya, and the intricacies (and rigours) of narrowing thousands upon thousands of samples down to just the very few best lots, we’ll be tasting fresh crop Kenyan coffee - Githiga AA and Gikirima AA from our own range, as well as Mutheka AA from Tim Wendelboe and Gathaithi AA from The Tate.
Even the faintest interest in specialty coffee, or simply a curiosity about how quality coffee is grown, harvested and exported to arrive in European cups, is all the qualification you need to attend. We look forward to telling some of these stories in person, tasting some of the best coffee available anywhere in the world, and hope you will join us for this exciting insight into Kenyan coffee.
All ticket proceeds will be donated to the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Kenya, who work tirelessly to rescue and rehabilitate orphaned infant elephants and rhinos.
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.
Be sure to pick up your copy of the latest Caffeine Magazine, as I talk to David Burrows about Fairtrade certified coffee, why we don't buy it, and our focus on a cycle of quality instead. Additional insights from Steve Leighton and Tim Wendelboe make it an informative article for those confused about the role of certifications in specialty coffee today.
“I see better quality coffee and better prices for producers as being inextricably linked,” says Williams. “Without us committing to providing a reliable and appropriately priced market for the best quality coffees, we can’t expect farmers to go to the extra efforts and lengths that the production of that quality requires."
Caffeine Magazine is stocked at all Workshop Coffee Co. locations, and many other quality purveyors throughout the UK.
Coffee lovers in the UK are a lucky bunch. A recent upswell in the appreciation of great coffee, all around the country, means that there’s never been a better time to order a cup.
The press, blogs and social media all abound with stories of the latest cafes, roasters and, more recently, baristas who are putting energy and resource into improving this widely loved drink, celebrating them as talented harbingers of quality. And it’s true. A lot of work is required to take what is basically a handful of dried legumes, and turn them into a drink that warrants crossing town to taste.
But that quality that coffee lovers seek starts long before any roaster or barista is in the picture. The complexity, clarity and character of flavour that we now expect from roasters and cafes is not the product of the cleverest roasting, the fanciest espresso machine, or even the most ironically mustachioed barista.
Though many of us fail to appreciate it, the quality of what we look for in our daily coffee is established long before the beans arrive in Europe. It’s high time to remind ourselves that the coffee we love began the journey to us a long way away, as the seeds of a single ripe cherry, grown on a healthy coffee tree.
Just as we appreciate that the world’s best chefs are at the mercy of the producers that supply them, so too are roasters and baristas only capable of producing roasts and drinks of a quality befitting their ever-increasing price tag because of the care and diligent work of the world’s best coffee growers.
Coffee is a fickle and fragile fruit. As a tree, it’s susceptible to a wide range of diseases and attacks that can decimate crops: leaf rust, insect infestation and snap frosts to name just a few. During its preparation for export, if not dried correctly, coffee runs the risk of beginning to ferment and rot, resulting in a tainted and unsaleable product. Once dried and sitting in warehouses or on ships, the raw beans undergo organic degradation, turning woody, dry and stale. Even if all these risks are avoided, there’s still a chance that bandits will cut through warehouse locks, or hijack road transportation, and make off with a farmer’s entire year’s work.
Coffee production is hard and risky work, but it needn’t be thankless, too. In reality, it’s thanks to committed growers, millers and exporters that we as roasters and baristas have the opportunity to put that ever increasingly delicious coffee into your cup.
While it’s certainly true that the skill of baristas, and the quality of coffee being served has never been better, it’s important that as coffee lovers think beyond the barista, and give some thought to those responsible for growing our coffee.
When our freshly harvested lots arrive from Kenya and Ethiopia in a few weeks time, I’ll be reminding our baristas of my recent travels to farms there, and all the people that I met. And when customers thank our baristas for the great coffee they serve, I trust that they’ll remain humble and deferential, because we don’t magic up the quality in the customer’s drink, we’re merely a conduit that helps to maintain it from farm to cup.
Director of Operations