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.
There's no doubt a cup of coffee is an end itself.
The result of hard, focused work conducted by exceptional farmers and producers at origin, followed by informed and consistent roasting, before considered, conscientious brewing, there really is no end to the rabbit holes that can be fallen down in the pursuit of creating an ever-improving cup of coffee. It's why we spend each day of the working week focused on the plethora of data and details, which help us to produce the best cup of coffee possible.
However, coffee can also be a means to an end.
From the ten minutes we take for ourselves over our morning brew, to aligning plans and finally meeting up with some old friends, coffee frequently acts as the backdrop to balance in your life. Allowing us to carve out time in our increasingly busy days for that moment of control, or a platform to bring people together, it can be an excuse.
It was undoubtedly the catalyst for our latest expedition. Born out of a conversation over a couple of cappuccinos with Jordan, friend and owner of wholesale partner G!RO, we continued to exchange emails and phone calls until we found ourselves in Esher, Surrey, our bikes fully-loaded with everything we needed for a weekend of cycling, brewing and sleeping in the wild.
With brewing hardware readily accessible, our small team of four departed, quickly leaving roads and tarmac behind in favour of loose-packed gravel and lumpy single-track paths. The sound of traffic was replaced by the melody of idle conversation and a continuous, comforting chorus of clanking enamel cups and pots; suspended from the back of our bike luggage, they knocked together as they rolled with the ditches and divots of the North Downs Link.
Our focus was on exploration, rather than destination, so the ability to stop and brew up when and where we wished lent itself perfectly to the style of riding; another excuse to take a touch more time and appreciate the places we were passing through.
The first brew method, a simple V60, played into this. With involved and repetitive actions, the pourover process -- pour, bloom, pause, steady concentric circles, pause, stir, serve -- drew the group in. Providing us with a few more minutes in our beautiful brewing spot, the calming preparation and resulting cup of Githembe AB acted as a remedy to the hard kilometres already covered on the challenging and unpredictable terrain.
The second stop was for Cowboy Coffee -- the most basic of immersion methods that simply involves bringing a large jug of water to the boil, adding ground coffee, stirring and waiting. Being so hands-off, the two most important rules to adhere are to exercise patience, easy when you have the people and the surroundings to distract you, and pour gently, to minimise grounds in the cup. Obviously less refined than the erudite, ritual-driven V60, we drank in both our surroundings and the delicious Andrés Reyes Hernandez. Happy and content, this journey to nowhere in particular provided us with exactly what was needed.
You can read more detail for each method in our Brewing In The Wild piece here. You can also see what we took with us, along with several tips and more photographs from the weekend, below.
What We Packed:
A Camping Stove: we used MSR's Whisperlite Universal, a hybrid fuelled backpacking stove that not only packs down incredibly small but is wonderfully simple to operate.
A V60 2-Cup Clear Dripper Set: this plastic 2-Cup V60 is light and robust, making it perfect for putting into your bag. Just make sure you don't forget your filter papers.
A Coffee Measuring Spoon: when packing light, scales can be excessive, but that doesn't mean you can't still work to a recipe. Our wooden Coffee Measuring Spoon holds 17g of coffee, so we can always be confident in our coffee/water ratio.
Enamel Pots: Depending on how you're brewing, you'll need at least one vessel to boil your water in, and two if you're planning on making a pourover.
Two Bags of Coffee: The morning we left, we ground two bags of freshly roasted coffee for our chosen brewing methods. Ensuring they were well-sealed, we knew we'd brew all 500g within 36 hours, so the contents would remain relatively fresh throughout.
Special thanks to Jordan Addison from G!RO for his help in putting the weekend together and his photos; Curve Cycling for providing their ever-reliable bikes; and George Galbraith from Jam Cycling for sharing his company and photos
Being able to brew great coffee wherever and whenever you need it most has always been a key aim of ours. No matter where you are or what equipment you have with you, you should still be able to brew the best cup of coffee possible.
Nowhere is this truer than in the great outdoors, whether that's camping in the wild or hiking up a mountain -- a great cup of coffee is the perfect accompaniment.
Over the recent Summer Solstice weekend, Sheffield-based bikepacking brand, Pannier, set up camp at Stanage Edge in the Peak District and invited tourers to join them for a few days of riding and socialising out in the wild. We roasted a batch of our Rwandan filter, Kirehe Remera, for them to brew up each day.
But brewing in the wild provides some unique challenges and so with practicality in mind, and travelling light a priority, we also put together a few tips to help keep your coffee tasting sweet even with a more lo-fi brewing set-up.
Use a metal filter
You can leave paper ones at home, so the filter holder isn't taking up the space of half a water canteen. Metal filters allow more oils and fine sediment into your cup, and need rinsing and wiping off once you've brewed, thus ensuring the oils don't turn rancid and taint your next cup.
Use a scoop
Every AeroPress comes with a scoop which promptly gets tossed into the "random things" drawer in everyone's kitchen. It's actually pretty decent. The spoon end of a spork (below) also makes for a good alternative.
Grind a touch coarser
You should be using a Porlex when camping; it slots into your AeroPress chamber when packing, is quick, and doesn't require an energy source besides yourself. Rather than trying to squeeze down your AeroPress with a considerable amount of force when you're likely brewing on an uneven tree stump or a mossy woodland floor, go for a coarser grind and longer steep time, with an extended stir to make sure the coffee extracts properly. A coarser grind will also make plunging through a metal filter that little bit easier.
Make sure the rubber bung is securely in place in the brewing chamber and add your ground coffee. Then slowly top up with freshly boiled water to just shy of the brim of the AeroPress a this equates to around 250g of water. Get stirring and leave for a few minutes to steep before placing the filter and cap in place, flipping onto your tin travel mug, and slowly plunging.
Take pre-rinsed filter papers
If you're the kind of person to be doing pour-over brewing in the woods, you sound pretty into your coffee. For single cup brewing, the taste of a filter paper will come through if it's unrinsed, but when camping, water and heat will be in short supply compared to back home. Therefore when packing, spend a minute a few days before you leave rinsing a short stack of filter papers in your pourover cone, letting them dry before popping into your rucksack. That way you can brew straight away without having to boil extra water.
Grind a little finer than normal
This might sound counter-intuitive given the AeroPress brewing advice to grind coarser whilst camping but bear with me. The hard part of pourover brewing without scales is getting an accurate coffee-to-water ratio. We all know the right amount of coffee to water, ground on the correct grind setting gets you a cup of coffee which is well extracted and brewed to the proper strength. What we propose you do in the woods, however, is to purposefully brew a cup that's a bit too strong, but is properly extracted. Then, to dilute the concentrated cup and open up the flavours, add a little hot water to taste.
Aim for a large bloom and higher brew bed throughout
As you won't be packing a gooseneck kettle, pouring carefully, slowly and accurately, in all likelihood, won't be possible. To counteract this, and still get an even extraction, start by pouring quite a lot of water onto the grounds, more than you would at home. Get a spoon in there and make sure that all the grounds are wet in this initial slurry, before continuing to pour. Keep the level of water quite high in your cone, as this will hopefully achieve a higher temperature in the brew slurry. Maintaining a high temperature, combined with a finer grind, means you'll be able to extract all the delicious flavours from your ground coffee, with less water than you would use to pour through the coffee bed at home.
When you feel like you've got a strong cup of coffee under the cone, take it off and taste it. Add a splash more hot water, mix and taste again. Keep doing so until the coffee is at your desired strength then savour and enjoy.
The Tempest Two don't sit idle for long and recently announced what they've got planned next. As they prepare to leave the UK for Patagonia next month, James and Tom outline what lies in store following a recent visit to our Roastery in Bethnal Green for a brew class with a difference.
In three weeks time, we'll be taking on our most ambitious challenge to-date. Project Patagonia consists of a world-first ultra triathlon through one of the rawest environments on the planet. As always, we will be totally unsupported and have no experience in any of the disciplines we are undertaking.
Part 1 | 1,600km cycle
Our initial leg of this world-first triathlon is a 1,600km cycle from the North of Patagonia to its South. Skirting the Chile/Argentina border, we'll cross into both countries on numerous occasions. Our greatest adversary on the bikes will not be tired legs or winding hills, but the power of the wind. Outside of Antartica, Patagonia is the windiest region on the planet and gusts often exceed 100km. This variable can work both ways. A prevailing tail wind will allow us to rack up average speeds of 40km/h with little to no peddling. However, if caught riding into a headwind a days riding can equate to a morale-denting 20km.
We'l carry all of our gear in pannier’s, along with our brewing kit and a couple of bags of coffee as the gruelling schedule will no doubt require some daily rituals and, as ever, a morning coffee will be a bright start to each day.
Part 2 | 65km run
To put it bluntly, this is going to be brutal.
Neither of us have any experience in long distance running. In fact, we both hate running. However, we've decided to take on the infamous Huemul Circuit near the town of El Chalten.
The Huemul is one of the regions most renowned trekking routes, a challenging four day circuit which skirts the Fitz Roy range and winds through glacial fields, mountain passes, and raging river canyons. We are tying up our trail shoes, arming ourselves with a day-pack, and aim to become the first people in history to complete the route in 24 hours. We'll leave in the cold of the night and push ourselves as hard as we can.
This will be a true test of mind-over-body, as we're far from finely tuned ultra-runners. Instead, we will fix our minds on the finish line, and accept that for 24 hours we will be in a dark-place. We have been there before, and know that all lows are followed by memorable highs, and that is what we will focus on.
Part 3 | 200km SUP
“I am not sure that is possible, if I am being totally honest..."
Familiar words uttered once again, this time from a local specialist in Patagonia that we spoke to earlier this month. It was he reaction to our Stand-Up Paddle Boarding (SUP) attempt.
This has been echoed by almost every person we've mentioned this to. Our naivety means we remain undeterred in what will be our final push to the finish line.
Our plan is to paddle across two of the largest glacial lakes in the region (Viedma and Argentino) and the adjoining river. Again, we are at the mercy of the wind and will be skirting the shoreline, camping each evening and trying our best not to fall into the icy water. After navigating the crystal lakes, we will pull into El Calafate victorious (we hope).
Being self-supported brings with it fresh challenges. Weight and time are important factor to consider, so we've been working with Workshop Coffee to streamline our brewing setup. Spending some time in and nearby to their Roastery in Bethnal Green, their Head of Quality, James, offered up his advice on how to brew most effectively in the wild.
Until now, on the waves of Atlantic, on the shores of the Swedish Archipelago and amongst the dunes of the Sahara we've used our trusty Porlex Hand Grinder and AeroPress. But with yields of a single serving -- and no fewer than the both of us ever requiring a brew -- this method doesn't seem best suited for Patagonia.
Instead, we'll be brewing with a 2-Cup V60. A quick brew time, minimum hassle and robust and lightweight in design means the conical dripper will be up the the travails our adventure has to throw at it.
A cup of coffee may seem a trivial detail to fuss over, but trust us. When times are tough, you are cold and wet, your body is screaming for mercy, and all positivity has left your thoughts, the small things make a big difference. A good coffee, a bite of a chocolate bar, or a message from home are all things that can turn morale on its head. We take these little luxuries seriously.
You can follow our journey via our social channels (@thetempesttwo) and track us on our website (thetempesttwo.com). Hopefully our adventure will inspire you to take on your own, because if we can do it, you certainly can.
See you on the other side.
James & Tom
Last month a group of 10 riders from The 5th Floor boxed up their bikes and headed to Sierra Nevada, Spain, for their annual training camp. In the four days they were there, they covered over 350km of riding and almost 8,900 metres of climbing.
But it was one ride -- one mountain -- that drew them there in the first place. 5th WMN's captain, Sophie, takes us through its ups and downs.
When Luke sent around the route links for our Sierra Nevada trip, my ears pricked at the Pico Veleta. I'd read about it in an edition of Cyclist Magazine: Europe's highest paved road. The profile was pretty much one giant triangle. One enormous Toblerone triangle with absolutely no gaps.
The route looked and sounded tough, but it wasn't until the morning of the ride that it really sunk in. What lay before us was 43km of pure uphill. We drove from our house in Gergal to Granada, about an hour and a half of smooth, winding tarmac flanked by wind and solar farms, and national parks.
We had to ban any Googling of stats on the climb as the nerves started to buzz.
Before we left the house we'd already devoured two decanters of São Judas Tadeu that we'd brought with us, but we still settled in Granada for another.
Delaying and procrastination techniques reached fever pitch.
I can't take you through all four hours of the climb. I'll leave that for your own pilgrimage to the Pico (or, in lieu of that, I'd recommend looking up the 2013 Vuelta, in which Chris Horner sung his swan song).
What I can do is pull out some of the points that will linger in my memory for some time.
The gradient in the first few kilometres edged towards 28%. Whilst the pros pushed back on their saddles and appear to power up, we danced a clunky waggle-weave up the steepest parts, avoiding each other's wheels whilst slowly ticking off the meters. The gradient eased and took us up through cherry groves and pine forest followed by an open moonscape littered with clumps of wild thyme and herbs the higher we went.
The top was higher than the highest ski lift. It's hard to remember that riders don't just ascend this mountain in the summer, but that skiers also fly down it in the winter. The rutted roads from the piste bashers of many winters were evidence of that.
Still closer to the top, the tarmac became gravel, which in turn became dark shale and we, along with a headwind, all arrived at the top. Truly breathtaking.
And then came the 43km descent. It was awesome in the original sense of the word; smooth and empty four-lane roads with sweeping turns and views of turquoise quarry pools and hamlets dusting the mountain sides.
The Pico is a one off – it’s a proper challenge. Especially when climbed the ‘other’ (tougher) way round.
That 43km time segment will remain my lifetime best. I won’t be doing it twice.
As well as their bikes, The 5th Floor also packed our BREW BUNDLE: FOR TWO for their trip to Sierra Nevada. The team are continuing to race throughout Europe and throughout the year. Their Summer Cyclocross Series is already underway and you can stay up-to-date on everything they're doing by visiting their website.
Last year when we visited Costa Rica we got to taste some fantastic coffees, but we had little opportunity to get out of the cupping lab and into the field. It's a remarkable country with a lot of very unique and special lots of coffee available from single producers, and there are a multitude of processing methods being undertaken.
A lot more affluent than other countries in Central America, it has considerably greater access to finance and an entrepreneurial streak in its producers’ mentality that means that there are a lot of micro-mills or benefices that see a producer not just growing, but also processing and drying their coffees. This control over every stage means that they're able to produce some very high quality lots, build up their brand and reputation as a quality producer and get paid premiums for their extra effort, skill, understanding and hard work.
We were travelling with our friends at Nordic Approach, who have recently employed Marianela to be a permanent staff member on the ground in Costa Rica. Part of a family that have two coffee farms and do their own processing and drying, Marianela is charged with building relationships with producers in Tarrazú who want to improve the quality of their coffees.
Our first day started with cupping around 200 bowls of coffee to get a ‘lay of the land’. As we were visiting quite early in the harvest, the higher altitude lots of coffee were still ripening and so we tasted the earlier pickings to get a sense of what the quality is going to be like this season. A variety of preps and a very wide range of quality levels was fun to taste through, but inevitably led to a lot of palate fatigue (remedied with a couple of evening beers).
The next day we were driving through the Dota valley, towards San Marcos in Tarrazú, to visit Marianela’s family’s beneficio, Don Eli. As well as growing coffee and sugar cane, they have their own processing equipment, raised beds (a good portion under tarpaulin to provide shade, with open sides to offer ventilation) a coffee nursery and a gathering space that would go on to be used that evening for a party with lots of producers from the area.
The sun was not yet fully up and they would only begin to uncover the non-shaded raised beds once they were in sunlight, as overnight the temperatures drop considerably, meaning a lot more humidity in the air first thing. We saw several lots of single varieties, separated out, and a variety of different honey preparations, naturals and fully washed parchment. They were also trying a ‘double soaked’ experiment by lining a big silo with tarpaulin and soaking the washed coffee under clean water overnight. From there, they'd stir it up with a spade to break down the residual mucilage, drain the soak water and then dry the even cleaner parchment.
We saw a delivery of cherry arrive, the back of a truck loaded with many cajuela’s worth of cherry. In Costa Rica the pickers are paid by the cajuela, or bucket, a volumetric system, rather than weight. Picking commodity coffeee to be sold to the large cooperatives in Tarrazú will be worth around 1,000 Colones per cajuela (equates to roughly £1.50), whereas at Don Eli they are paying at least a 30% premium for more selective picking, accepting only ripe cherries. It is very difficult to select solely ripe cherries when there are varieties planted which ripen to different colours. A mixture of Catuaí Rojo and Amarillo (red and yellow) looks scary when you see it all mixed together, as the different hues look at a distance like there is a lot of unripe and semi-ripe cherry mixed in with the ripe.
When they are processing the cherry they first fill a fanega, a cuboid receptacle above the reception tanks, which when its filled with cherry equates to roughly 46kg of exportable green coffee. This way they can keep track of what their outturns may be based on the amount of cherry they buy. From cherry to green coffee that we receive in our roastery, there is about a 5:1 loss of mass.
We continued our journey that day through some outrageously beautiful scenery, listening to the local radio and chatting to Marianela, until we got to ‘Beneficio La Angostura’ to visit Mario Jiminez and his family.
Their set-up and attitude was a masterclass in fantastic practices and attitude. It's rare to see the younger generation want to continue to work in coffee, but Mario’s wife and two daughters are all involved in the coffee production. As well as processing cherry from their own farm they do the processing for three other farmers in the area.
After a quick stop at Finca La Cuesta to see Mauricio Hermenez’s farm, planted with lots of citrus trees, as well as some very healthy looking coffee trees, we had a minor problem with our truck and had to push it up a crumbly incline in the midday sun.
Back on the road, we continued on to see Beneficio La Cruz and their new drying experiments; stacked up raised beds under a huge tarp greenhouse, and their pine warehouse for storing their top quality lots in VIP conditions. Both farms were looking at replanting sections with hardy varieties like Villalobos and Obata, and were curious at to whether any of us on the trip had good experiences with these varieties from other origins. It is such a complex situation as there are so many other factors at play that we would never suggest that a farmer should or shouldn’t grow a particular type of coffee or do a particular style of processing, as our experience is in roasting and not agronomy. Longer term projects that can be pre-financed and contracted are something that we would be interested in doing with certain producers down the line, but we are very much there to learn from them as much as we can.
After seeing the small farms and micro-mills, we had a slight change of pace checking out the facilities at Montañas del Diamante. Here things are done on a much bigger scale, with some very clean and even drying patios, lots of steel raised beds on wheels, a multi-tiered structure to process greater volumes of coffee, and some slowly rotating, low temperature mechanical dryers working away.
After a long and hot day in the sun seeing a whole variety of farming and processing approaches, we returned to Beneficio Don Eli to meet with some more of the producers that Nordic Approach have been working with, as well as many more who are keen to establish a more direct relationship with their buyers. After some lengthy introductions and a very productive Q&A session with the farmers, we drank some Cacique (a local sugar cane liquor), handed round beers, ate heartily and listened to local music.
One of the farmers in attendance was Roger Ureña. He had recently purchased a farm at 2,000m called Santa Teresa, and was very keen to have us visit and see what he is doing to produce very high quality lots.
For the last few years Roger has been replanting his sizeable farm with lots of different varieties, and is currently producing Catuaí, Typica Mejorado, Bourbon and Villalobos, and a little Geisha, with Pacamara and Rume Sudan varieties fruiting in two harvest’s time.
For the last seven years he has been doing research into other farmers’ micro-mills to learn about the best practices for using eco-pulpers and how to dry the coffee properly when doing a variety of preparations. Their normal protocols see them leaving 10% of the mucilage on after pulping and using the demucilagor, but they are doing some double washed preparations as an experiment this year with a very selective harvest. As well as coffee, he grows avocados and is working with an agronomist towards the end goal of being completely carbon neutral.
Since returning from Costa Rica, we've tasted further pre-shipment samples that have got us rather excited about the quality and variety of coffees coming out of the country this year. We’re really excited to see them arrive in 6-8 weeks’ time and will be available to order shortly after that.
The Tempest Two's latest excursion took them from the city lights of London to the golden sands of The Sahara. Not ones to do anything the easy (or familiar) way, they decided to make their way there on motorbikes. The fact that they had no experience on or license to drive one less than two weeks before departing was just a detail.
The open road ahead. The wind whistling through your hair. The roar of a motorbike as you ride into the sunset.
It's an idyllic scene, but a far-fetched fantasy, surely?
Earlier this year, we decided to try and turn a childhood dream into a reality. With zero motorbiking experience, we'd look to mount two of the most rugged and impressive motorbikes on the market and ride them from London to the Sahara Desert in under two weeks.
Our journey began in the glamorous setting of a Welwyn Garden City motorcycle centre. The idyllic dream was immediately crushed as we took part in our first lesson in the freezing cold January rain. The ripped denim jeans of our imaginations were in fact a pair of waterproof trousers. The fitted leather jackets of motorcycle legend turned out to be the more practical and less becoming high-vis waistcoat. We put our egos to one side and dedicated ourselves to the cause and hit the open roads.
To make things more interesting and increase the pressure, we'd given ourselves just nine days from our first lesson to pass both parts of the test. After that we'd be leaving for The Sahara. The look on our instructors face when we disclosed this information, summed up perfectly how most people viewed this endeavour: arrogant, stupid and highly unlikely.
But by the end of day nine, we'd passed and were now fully-fledged hog-riders. Our bikes were delivered to London while we finalised a rough-route through Spain and on to Morocco at the same time we packed our panniers with essentials that included a few clothes, our cameras, bike customs documents, an AeroPress, our Porlex Hand Grinder and two bags of of Nyarusiza.
We gingerly pulled away from our starting point in West London and began the ride to Portsmouth where we'd board a ferry to Bilbao and begin our route south.
Northern Spain was the ultimate gateway to our journey. After a two hour ride from Bilbao, we climbed the Cantabria mountain range and found ourselves on the roof of Rioja drinking in the stunning panoramic view of what felt like the entire region. Vineyards and bodegas spanned beyond the horizon, and we were treated to a 20-minute hairpin descent down into the valley.
We spent that evening in Logrono, the main city of Rioja, where we spent the night wandering the cobbled backstreets of the city. The culinary culture here was not about sit-down meals, but meandering your way through the hundreds of tapas bars that lined the streets, spending 10 minutes in one, five in another, until you are suitably full. Our host’s family owned the oldest tapas bar in Logrono, which served nothing but garlic mushrooms and prawns on bread. This was a prevalent theme, with establishments choosing to do one thing incredibly well and the results were testament to this way of thinking.
Our next destination was the small town of Neuvalos in the Zaragoza region, and what we expected to be a simple three-hour stint.
We were wrong.
This was the first time in our one day riding career that we'd experienced strong winds. As we passed into the flat plains of central Spain, the winds grew in strength and ferocity. What started as a series of mildly uncomfortable gusts soon evolved into full blown crosswinds that forced us from one side of the road to the other. We had absolutely no control over our position on the road. The best we could do to keep ourselves upright was reduce our speed and lean at an angle in a bid to counteract the force.
The conditions forced us to leave the more direct major roads and take a quieter, more meandering route that would also see us coming up against fewer cars. This quickly became one of the best decisions we made on the entire trip as we spent the next 2 hours weaving and winding through some of the most stunning scenery we've had the pleasure of finding ourselves amongst. Ancient looking towns, derelict and weather worn. The sun setting around us, brushing the landscape with a pink and orange filter. Not one other person in sight. It was moments like this we'd hoped for when planning the trip, and we'd stumbled upon it entirely by chance.
It wasn't long until we realised that we'd wildly underestimated the distances we'd set out for ourselves on a daily basis. We found ourselves needing to stop far more regularly than planned to take a breather from the road. When riding a motorbike (and especially when only in your second week of doing so), you're concentrating every second of every minute, constantly engaged and alert. There's no zoning out and going into autopilot. It's mentally and physically tiring and so we found ourselves pulling in at the side of the road every two to three hours to stop, take stock and relax. Brewing up a couple of cups of coffee as we did so was the perfect respite and an ideal antidote.
Our border crossing into Morocco was nothing short of chaos. Our broken Spanish wasn't cutting it with the officials and so, after 20 minutes trying to muddle our way through the process alone, enlisted the help of one of the many locals offering their services. We were guided through customs with ease as he filled out our forms and we paid him his dues before continuing onwards.
It took us a total of three hours to gain entry into Morocco, but we had ground to cover and so set off through Nador and into the countryside. From the pristine Spanish coastal cities of a few hours ago, we now found ourselves weaving between the oppressive and frenetic Moroccan traffic. Horns, shouts, dust and goats filled every street and it felt incredible to be a part of.
We had some long hours on the bike ahead, but the intensity and sheer beauty of Morocco was engrossing. Growing in confidence on the bikes, we were starting to push them harder and further, with the long, empty roads through the barren desert offering the perfect runways to open up the throttle and have some fun.
We were struck by the beauty of abandoned towns, expansive canyons and lush-green oasis’, but more than anything else we were struck by the reception we received from the local people. Everyone, whether a child, elderly person or policeman, would smile and wave at us. Their outlook was infectiously positive and positively infectious.
One such person was a gentleman called Sayed. We met Sayed in the small town of Midelt. Struggling to string a conversation together, we bastardised Arabic, French and English in equal measure as we attempted to form a sentence or two. But the presentation of a bag of coffee beans and a gesture between ourselves and Sayed said everything it needed to. The three of us sat back together and watched the road and its distinct lack of traffic. It gave us a real appreciation for the simplicity and speed of life there, and the enjoyment taken from the simple things.
Seven days and over 2,000 miles from a cold, damp London, we found ourselves in the Moroccan town of Merzougha facing out onto its towering orange dunes and standing under its bright and intense sun. Our two Triumph’s had taken us unfalteringly across continents and helped to take us from complete novices to confident riders with a library of memories.
The goal of this trip was not just to reach a destination, but to show people that you don’t have to be an experienced rider to take on this sort of adventure. Many people are intimidated by the unknown, whether that's roads, routes, countries or people. What each of our experiences continues to teach us is that the best way to overcome that trepidation or uneasiness is to get out there and get to turn the unfamiliar into the familiar.
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.
We are really excited to announce that we will be bringing a little slice of Workshop Coffee to Northern Ireland next week. Working in conjunction with our friends at Established Coffee in Belfast and Lost & Found in Coleraine, we will be hosting two evenings of tastings. This is a great chance to try some Workshop Coffee and hear a little bit more about us and what we do first hand.
The focus of the evenings will be on our Kenyan selection. We can’t tell you all the details right now, but we will have three different Kenyan coffees, including the outstanding Githiga AA from Murang’a.
Hope to see you there!