We are now partners and shareholders in Motherland Farmers, a coffee project in Rwanda, and we’re more or less finished with our first season as coffee producers. It’s been a great learning experience, and we are getting more humble than ever before in regards to coffee farming and production of high quality coffee.

Motherland Farmers washing station and the village Kamiro, seen from the opposite hillside.

Motherland Farmers washing station and the village Kamiro, seen from the opposite hillside.

Motherland Farmers consists of a washing station at one location, next to Kamiro village, and very close by we have a farm with a total of 100 hectares, where 60 hectares will eventually be planted with coffee. We will also have cows and chickens for compost, and macadamia nuts for a secondary income. At the washing station we are also buying cherries from the surrounding smallholders. There are about 1000 farmers in the local community that we are supporting with fertilizer and training for a sustainable and more profitable coffee production.

Motherland Farmers is the name of the parent company, which owns a farm and the washing station. Kamiro is the name of the local village, so for now the coffee consists of cherries purchased from the surrounding farmers, and will be sold and branded as Kamiro.

In this post we will briefly try to give you an introduction to the project, but in a series of articles also try to share what it takes to start this operation from scratch and some of the experiences we have had so far as producers. You can read more about the whole story and concept of Motherland Farmers here: www.motherlandfarmers.no.

The production this year is mainly based on cherry purchase from local smallholder farmers as the Motherland Farmers farm at this point has a very low yield. The harvest is over and we bought about 140 tons of cherries. For Motherland this equals to a little less than 12 tons of the A-grades that Nordic Approach is offering. We have very high requirements on separation, sorting and quality control.

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Overview of the washing station. Penagos pulper, fermentation tanks, grading channel, and drying beds.

  
The company Motherland Farmers

Motherland Farmers started out of a vision by Fred Kasigwa. He discovered that he was the heir of a 105-hectare plot of land in Nyamagabe district. He wanted to produce coffee and to establish a coffee washing station to export coffee from the farm and for the about 1000 small farmers in the area. Coffee production has the potential to change the financial situation for the people in one of the very poor regions in Rwanda. Fred is a survivor of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. His life and money are now being spent to support and help the people that killed his entire family. This sends a strong message of reconciliation to the whole society.

Bente Denstad, a Norwegian woman, and Fred Kasigwa had for 17 years – since the genocide – been working on different aid projects in Rwanda. They lacked the necessary skills and finance to complete the vision of coffee production. Through Bente her friend Nora Hindar came on board as the managing director in 2011. They established a small investment company among friends and relatives for the project. Nora contacted us to get some professional advice, as they knew nothing about coffee.

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Fred Kasigwa (middle) with Nora Hindar and some people from the local community during the construction of the washing station.

 

We all got along really well from day one, and were totally on the same page regarding ambitions and quality. About a year later, in 2013, we established the formal partnership and during the same period we bought the extra land close to a water source to establish the washing station. We have the clear goal to produce Rwanda’s best coffees, trying to push the limits of what’s been done so far in the Rwandan coffee history. The goal is to experiment at all levels and stages of the process to take quality forward and set a new standard for what’s achievable in Rwanda.

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The local community being involved in the construction of the washing station. Spring 2013.

 
Location

Motherland Farmers is located in the Nyamagabe district in the Nyaruziza sector close to the village called Kamiro. The altitude where the farm is located is about 1750 MASL and the washing station is at 1820 MASL. The majority of the coffee both from the farm and the small holders is harvested from 1700 up to 2000 MASL.

Motherland Farmers is the name of the parent company having both the farm and the wet mill. They are located relatively close to each other, but are still managed as two separate operations. That said, all the coffee from both the farm and the surrounding small holders are processed at the washing station.

UN Map of Rwanda

Motherland Farmers is located in the Nyamagabe district in the Nyaruziza sector close to the village called Kamiro. Nearest city is Butare.

 
Sustainability and farmer training

The concept is to give as much as we can back to the local community as we believe this will give us access to better coffees, while also increasing the average income for the farmers.

Through several organizations we have managed to raise funds and already start holding a lot of farmer trainings on agricultural practices, plant treatment, correct selection on picking, etc. to maximize quality and income. A typical farmer in the area has one or two hundred coffee trees each. By training they can potentially increase their yield from 1 kg of coffee cherries to 5 kgs of cherries per tree. We are also giving the 1000 households 2 Macadamia trees each for additional income. This is all still in the early phases and we are sure both Motherland Farmers and the farmers will see great results in the years to come as the training will continue.

Through Motherland we will also create:
  • Jobs for hundreds of locals in the area at our farm and at our wet mill.
  • Agronomy training in the area of cow and chicken stewardship
  • A second income crop of Macadamia trees planted. Processing plant and market being established
  • 12,000 people will gain from the Motherland Farmer initiative.
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One of the local farmers delivering cherries to Motherland Farmers.

The coffee

The coffees and products produced at Motherland Farmers will all be branded differently depending on flavor profile, where the cherries come from, and in the future also by the process, grading, and other improvements we make at the mill. We are still to determine exactly how to separate the coffees by area, how to give names, and how to establish brands. During this first year we are mainly producing two grades from the local surroundings. This is just the beginning — we are already figuring out the strategy for next season based on our experience this year. One thing is certain: the potential is huge — from day one we managed to produce truly high qualities with very distinct flavor profiles.

We are cupping every single lot coming from the washing station.

We are cupping every single lot coming from the washing station.

Our target

The goal is to work on three different quality levels.

Score of 88+ coffees.

Unique top lots of rare quality. These will be microlots of limited volumes, 5 – 20 bags per lot. The goal is to take Rwandan coffee to a higher level.

Score of 86+ coffees

Great coffees with unique flavor attributes, both medium-sized lots (40+ bags) for import by Nordic Approach, and potential direct shipment to medium/large roasters and importers looking for traceable quality coffees.

Score of 84+ Coffees

Good quality fully washed coffees for direct export to roasters and importers.

This is the first in a series of blog posts about this particular project in Rwanda. Stay tuned for more!

We have also made a short film about how we work with quality in Rwanda. You can watch it here:

Nordic Approach – Producing Quality in Rwanda from Nordic Approach on Vimeo.

 

We figured it’s about time to give you all a general update on incoming coffees and availability for the next 5 months.

The coming period can be a challenge for many roasters wanting to have fresh crop all year as they often run out of coffees from Centrals and Ethiopia/Kenya, and new arrivals from these regions won’t arrive until spring. This is why we have focused a lot now on other origins with great potential and opposite harvesting periods. Click here for our seasonal coffee calendar.

This means we have loads of great and interesting stuff that have just arrived or that are on the way:

Burundi

We have one shipment arriving next week, and two more to come in November. We have about 25 available lots of 20 -50 bags each. They are all separated by area (micro region) and are from daily pickings. We have some amounts of pre-shipment samples in stock, but are waiting for more. Let us know if you’re interested!

We have stepped up on volumes as we find these coffees very appealing with a great potential for roasters looking for different and unique coffees. They are somewhere in between the very intense coffees you can find in Ethiopia/Kenya and the softer and delicate coffees you can get from the Centrals. But they still have their own very distinctive attributes. We are mainly working in one region, Kayanza, in the north. These coffees are in general from very high altitudes (1900-2100m), with complex fruit and flavor attributes like currant, citrus, floral notes, and they can be rich and creamy.

Rwanda

2nd and 3rd containers are on the way, and will arrive by end of October. We have 6 different coffees available, with a good variety of flavors, lot sizes, and geographical origin. Pre-shipment samples are available for most of them.

We started to produce our own coffees at Motherland Farmers (sold as Kamiro) this year. We also started with some Peaberry mixed from a handful of producers in Nyamasheke, and some new coffees from Rugabo in the West. The Rugabo coffee is produced by a Cooperative called Cocanko Cooperative at the Nkora washing station. Both products are totally unique and different from anything else I have tasted in Rwanda so far.

Colombia (fall deliveries)

Two shipments are on their way, arriving early November, with a mix of new coffees from the later parts of the harvest in Tolima, Narino and Huila. There is 10 lots available varying from 5 – 50 bags in size.

All the Colombian coffees are from various small producers related to Cooperatives or Associations. They are from programs where they are part of a concept to improve quality at farm level. All the premiums we pay are going back to the smallholders. We have cupped through hundreds of small parchment deliveries to figure out what to keep separate by single producers, or what to blend based on flavour, lot size, and harvest time. In some cases the delivery of coffee from each farmers are too small to be sold as separate coffees and will have to be blended. The best coffee we tasted in Colombia this year was from a parchment delivery of 25 kg…!

We will aim for another chunk of coffees to be bought from other producers harvesting in November. Those coffees will mainly be from Huila and potentially some from Antioquia and Cauca. These coffees should be available from January.

Brazil

As for last year we will do some small amounts of different Brazils that we think are standing out with different flavors from what’s generally in the market. We aim at deliveries in December!

We will not have coffees from FAF this year, but are focusing more on some coffees from Bahia, Espirito Santo/Matas de Minas etc. Tim is currently in Brazil in Espirito Santo, where they are still harvesting, and we have already cupped some complex and unusual stuff that we try to get shipped by November. Flavor attributes been surprisingly complex with everything from florals, to mature dark fruit.

We should have pre-shipment samples of Brazils within a few weeks time.

Tanzania

We have been exploring Tanzania the last few years without buying any. Even if the coffees have been tasting good, with very interesting profiles and good potential, we haven’t really felt we had the total control and the right concept yet. This year we had some better luck and we will most likely try to start with a small consignment of coffee from some projects in Mbeya, the south of Tanzania. We will have some lots from a small washing station, as well as a lot that will be a mix from a few producers. We are looking in to using refrigerated containers for shipping, as there are some challenges with heat and humidity at the port in Dar es Salaam, and we hope this will preserve quality better.

Colombia August 2014

We’re working on 4 main projects in 3 regions in Colombia this year – very exciting and lots to learn. Besides Finca Tamana, where we have been working for some years, we are working on projects with Coocentral in Central Huila, Cafe Sur in Tolima, and Buesaco in Nariño.

Everything is based on small farmers in areas with great flavor potential and high altitude. They all pick, process and dry their coffees on the farms before they deliver dry parchment to their Cooperative or Association. The only way to access a steady supply of great from Colombia is to find some Associations or Cooperatives with total trace ability and lot separation by farm, and to pay the growers good premiums when their coffees perform well on the cupping table.

Very often the good producers don’t get recognized as their coffees are blended, going in to the pile of that days delivery. They have been struggling for so long with low local market prices, not getting premiums for quality, and they really need a cash crop to survive. To invest in quality through fertilizer, selective picking and infrastructure at the farm they need good incentives. If they don’t see any good chances of receiving premiums they will not hold on to their parchment and can deliver what they have of small volumes weekly to get some cash to finance picking, production and the daily house hold needs. 

Selective Cupping

Colombia can have some of the greatest coffees around, but at the same time you can find coffees from the same areas or groups that are over fermented or woody even before they leave the country. The way we now have chosen to work in Colombia is to find some groups with strong management in great areas and travel as much as possible to actively do as much cupping and selection based on flavor profiles as possible. By creating strong relations and figure out when the coffees are harvested and the local storage conditions, as well as supporting the programs from the Associations or Cooperatives, we believe we have an advantage in selecting the better coffees.

The way to achieve this is to be there at the right time post-harvest, cup a lot, and give the right incentives. As the coffees are individually produced by smallholders and due to the challenging weather conditions, the coffees can be inconsistent if you buy coffees without very thorough quality control and active lot separation based on cup profiles. In most cases we are cupping through loads of smaller parchment deliveries at origin before we decide what to keep as separate micro lots, typically 10 bags or less, and what to blend in to medium to bigger lots at 10 bags and up. Any larger lot sizes in areas like Huila, Tolima or Nariño, where there are mainly smallholders, will be a mix of coffees from a greater number of producers with small parchment deliveries. Randomly we can find pre blended lots from regional purchasing points that are cupping well, but we prefer to take the decisions ourselves.

Cafe Sur – Tolima

The Tolima project is in cooperation with a Cooperative called Cafe Sur. They have 5 main areas for purchasing in remote places in South of Tolima, It’s about 20 local bodegas (warehouses) that functions as purchasing points for the farmers in the Veredas (municipalities) around. They call the program Programa de Finca. Some of the purchasing points are close to the borders of both Cauca and Huila. In cooperation with us as importers and our exporter, they have initiated a program to incentivize and detect growers doing exceptional qualities. The deliveries per grower are relatively small and can vary from 300 kg of parchment up to 3000 kg of parchment throughout the season. I would guess the average per farmer now is around 700 kg. But most growers can deliver more when they see that the program works.

Cafe Sur have a very well functioning lab, cuppers and quality control system that ensures total trace ability. They also have protocols on processing and drying for the farmers that sign up for the program. I have just been there cupping through coffees from 60 growers. This was after the local cuppers there are doing their pre selection. We can then choose from which farmers we keep the lots separated by single producers, or blend some of them in to slightly larger batches after our scoring and the profiling. We are still re-cupping and confirm after the pre-screening in our lab as the roast and water quality was different when we were cupping there. We are paying premiums to the growers based on the scoring. Tolima have the main harvest around June, so all this coffees are really fresh harvested June/July.  Unlike Huila, they are mainly having one harvest period per year. Coffees can be ready to ship in about 4 weeks from now, around the beginning of October.

Some notes from my cupping descriptions: Floral, complex, vanilla, sharp, structured, red currant, rosehip, balanced, solid, rich, dried fruits, candy, juicy.

 

Coocentral – Central Huila

Coocentral is doing a smallholder project in exclusive cooperation with NA to improve the quality of the coffee and livelihoods of the producers. Together with the Cooperative we came up with a list of criteria for elevation, varietals, processing and so on. Then Coocentral has actively gone out to farmers that fit with the concept, and are investing in follow up and training with the growers. There are about 70 farmers currently part of the project, and this can be increased – in total there are about 3500 members in the Cooperative.

They have purchasing points in Gigante, Garzon, Guadalupe, Suaza Tarqui, Pital, Agrado. The harvest in Central Huila is very spread out — some have the main harvest in May – July, and others from October – December. This means we will buy coffees 2 times a year from the project, and we also have priority and the first pick of these coffees. I cupped and purchased the first out turns from the first part of the harvest in June, and am now cupping the later pickings.

This project is a pretty unique thing for Huila, and we are partially using the Tamana model for picking, processing and drying. Coocentral is a very professional and strong Cooperative with very good people involved. They are actively following up the producers with technical engineers and agronomists. They also have funds for this specific project. There will be a mix of micro lots and medium sized lots based on cupping scores, profiles and lot sizes. The premiums are paid based on a scoring system, and the entire premium goes back to the growers.

We are occasionally also buying regional coffees that are not part of the program, but just good coffees received in the local warehouses. They pay higher prices on daily basis when the grower delivers impeccable parchment. They will still be trace able and from the members, but in this case the premium will be lower, and go entirely back to the cooperative that supports the members with social and technical benefits.

Some notes from my cupping descriptions: floral, mature red fruit, ripe mango, black berry, rich, black currant, orange, structured, creamy, juicy, intense.

 

Buesaco – Nariño

Nariño in general is one of the most challenging, but also interesting places to work. There is extremely high elevation, coffee up to 2200 meters, very steep hillsides, and mainly super tiny producers in remote areas. The flavor profiles are different from what we normally see in Huila and Tolima.

We are working with a Growers Association that are currently attracting a lot of great farmers as they have established a cupping lab, and through buyers like us pay the premium back to the growers. It’s a young organization and they got some funds to establish the cupping lab a year ago. They are in the town of Buesaco where there are plenty of similar private and Cooperative buyers, but none of them as far as I know are cupping and keeping the lots separated in the same way as these guys.

When a grower delivers his coffee it will be cupped immediately, and if it’s not up to standard they just resell it locally, to access the cash to buy and store good coffees only. They already now have a good number of top producers that are working with them on a consistent basis, and we have seen some truly amazing coffees. Some of the deliveries they are receiving can be down to 20 kg of parchment, and can potentially cup great. This will normally be blended with other coffees after cupping according to the profile. Still, they are also receiving coffees in volumes of 1000 kg of parchment per delivery. When they cup well they are always stored separately.

As the association doesn’t have any support by larger organizations like the cooperatives they have limited working capital. Through our exporter we are pre-financing them with working capital to secure our supply, and are that way also committing to buy from them. They are harvesting from May throughout July, and even some in August in the very highest altitudes. We bought some amounts in late June that are about to arrive now, and have just done our selection for the next shipment that will be shipped in about a month.

Some notes from my cupping descriptions: citric, floral, tea like, red berries, rhubarb, hibiscus, spicy and perfumy, complex, intense.

ETA

The first container has already arrived, and we expect the next containers of Colombians to land during October if all goes as planned. There will be more than 30 lots in total, and we are still doing cupping and selections.

 

Some of the best coffees we have ever tasted in Burundi are already purchased and on the way.

We are now in our 3rd year in Burundi and we clearly see great improvement both from the producers end, and also regarding our ability to get things going on dry milling, internal logistics and shipping. We do now feel we are in control of the whole chain, and this is why we are stepping up and increasing volumes. We have locked in three containers this year mainly from three different producers. Still as everything is separated by area and days of picking we have about 25 lots with a very broad range of flavor profiles and lot sizes.

 

Two of the key persons we are working with in Burundi: Jeremy and Salum from CPC. Here seen at the drying tables at Buziraguhindwa.

Two of the key persons we are working with in Burundi: Jeremy and Salum from CPC. Here seen at the drying tables at Buziraguhindwa.

Selective purchasing

Generally it seemed to us that the quality was up this year, as it was relatively easy to find stand out coffees. And many of them were truly amazing! The great thing with our producers in Burundi is that they allow us to cup through all their daily lots to pick and choose what we like. We probably cupped through about 170 lots this year from the three producers. We kept some of them separate by day and area, and some smaller daily lots from the same collection sites was blended by us in to medium sized lots.

 

The potato issue

The biggest concern on Burundian and Rwandan coffee is the defect referred to as the potato flavor. This is known to be caused by the small bug called Antestia, even if there are still different theories about how it occurs. Either way this year it seemed to be generally less present in the coffees. It seems to vary from harvest to harvest, and also what we know is that you can reduce the amount by being very selective during the processing as well as hand sort parchment after washing to take out everything that looks defected. We are really encouraging all our producers to increase the level of sorting, and it truly helps!

We did some basic tests, and found that relatively few cups contained the potato defect compared to previous years.

We did some basic tests, and found that relatively few cups contained the potato defect compared to previous years.

 

Pre-financing

The biggest challenge for the producers in Burundi is generally pre-financing up front of the season. They all need cash to be able to start buying cherries. In most other countries it’s possible to access loans from the banks or micro finance from international organizations if your having contracted coffee up front of the season. In Burundi this options is still very limited. We have therefor started to partially pre-finance our producing partners. This means we are giving them an advance to secure our supply. This can in some cases be risky business, but as we have great relations and fully trust our producers it works out well. As we have limited cash flow our selves we are now working on a project to get a third party to do the pre-financing so they can access more. We will then have to give a guarantee for parts of it.

 

 

Location

Generally we have so far found the Kayanza district and it’s surroundings more interesting in terms of the flavors we are favoring. That said we are continuously looking for coffees from other regions. Kayanza is located in the north towards the Rwandan Akanyaru border. The altitude can be above 2000 masl, and many of the producers have long traditions in growing coffee. You have a mix of the governmental owned washing station under the Sogestal Kayanza, private producers with their own washing stations, and newly established cooperatives. We are currently working with a few private producers as well as a Cooperative.

 

 

Dry milling and logistics

Even if there is a lot of development in the coffee sector, and several new dry mills are being built the options are still limited. Many of the new dry mills are owned by companies that are both having their own washing stations, as well as they do a lot of lower graded home processed coffees known as ordinary. To get them to toll mill a bunch of micro lots is not always easy as they have to stop their larger scale production, which is understandable. This, as well as challenges on internal logistics from the different local warehouses and consolidation from different producers, can often cause big delays. We are currently dry milling at a local mill in Ngozi (close to Kayanza) called SIVCA that are used to small lots. They are also normally doing the Cup of Excellence coffees, and that way they know the drill on good hand sorting etc.

As we are buying our coffees directly from the producers now with no third party exporter involved we are buying the coffee FOT (free on truck), compared to our normal purchase wich is FOB (Free on board/boat). This means we are theoretically buying the coffee from the warehouse at the mill in Ngozi and are responsible our selves for all insurance and transport down to port as well as the shipping. This also means we generally have to pay the coffee earlier than if we buy it on FOB bases. As we now are well connected and thanks to our producer Salum Ramhadan at Buziraguhindwa we have found that for Burundi in particular it is worth the hassle, and it gives us a more efficient shipments. Salum is also helping us with consolidation off all the other coffees we are buying.

Overview of Buziraguhindwa. Lots from collection points at Nyabihanga and Sehe are  also processed here.

Overview of Buziraguhindwa. Lots from collection points at Nyabihanga and Sehe are also processed here.

 

Farming and production

All our producers are buying cherries from smallholders normally having some hundred trees each. If they are close enough to the washing station to deliver directly they pick everything from 5 to 100 kgs pr day and deliver it directly. Normally they get paid cash on the spot. In the case of producers buying cherries in more remote areas they normally have what is called site collectors, that represent the washing station and buy cherries on their behalf. They will get a small additional fee pr kg as well as they get paid for the transport to the washing station. This means that a daily lot of lets say 25 bags of greens can consist of coffee from some hundred growers.

This year the competition in Kayanza was hard, and for the premium qualities some of our producers paid closer to 60 cts pr kg of cherry, witch is equivalent to almost 4 USD pr kg of exportable green. They all have programs to incentivize the producers to deliver higher qualities and to attract more farmers. They are therefor paying prices well above the market price, but are trying to be more strict on the cherry quality.

 

CPC

Is the name of the company of Salum Ramadhan, that owns the washing station Buziraguhindwa. He is now constructing two more washing stations in and around Kayanza but in remote areas with plenty of high altitude coffees. He is already collecting cherries in many different areas. Even if they at this point all are processed at Buziraguhindwa they taste widely different depending on area of picking.

 

They are all processed the traditional way: first, the cherries are floated to skim off the lighter, defected, over-ripe cherries and so on. Then they are hand sorted for under-ripes and visual defects. After that they are processed by a McKinnon disc pulper, then fermented over night before washed and graded in channels. After that they are (in most cases) soaked again over night before moved to the skin drying tables to be intensively sorted while still wet.

Then the coffee goes out on the drying tables in the sun. He’s drying in relatively thick layers to slow down the process. It’s continuously moved and sorted during drying. It takes about 15 days with normal weather and not too much rain.

 

As mentioned he’s separating lots by areas and Collins. A Collin is the local (French) name of a hill top. This year we bought coffees from the areas Sehe, Nyabihanga, Shembati, Muruta and Buziraguhindwa.

Sehe, with an altitude of 2100 masl. CPC has just bought the land here and is ready for construction of a new washing station.

Sehe, with an altitude of 2100 masl. CPC has just bought the land here and is ready for construction of a new washing station.

 

Munkaze coffee

Is the name of the company and washing station of Ephrem Sebatigita. Ephrem has been working in coffee for decades, and have managed, designed and built both washing stations and dry mills. Mainly for others, but now he’s having he’s own project with a larger washing station in Kayanza as well as a micro mill closer to the Rwandan border in a very remote area. He’s working in close relation with groups of producers (farmer cooperatives) to secure he’s supply and as well to develop quality in partnership with the farmers. He’ also having he’s own small farm with some thousand coffee trees as well as other crops like fruits, berries and vegetables. At he’s main washing station he’s following more or less the same process as Salum. But he’s normally not doing soaking of the coffees after washing. He’s also doing a lot of experiments on processing, e.g. fermenting in recycled water from pulping and so on, and are separating coffees in tiny micro lots. This year we cupped through a bunch of three to six bag lots of parchment, to fulfill some blended micro lot selection. We bought 4 lots from everything of 4 to 35 bags. He’s increasing volumes and for next year we will see much more coffee from this guy.

 

Kazozanikawa Cooperative

Is also called Mpemba based on the location. This is a fairly young cooperative that have operated for about 4 years. It’s a small cooperative with very knowledgeable and discerning management and members. They have a small mill with a Penagos eco pulper. They are also doing flotation and a lot of selection at cherry reception. But as the Penagos pulper is also mechanically removing the mucilage as well as skin and pulp, they don’t have to ferment the coffees. The parchment goes to soaking thanks after pulping to sit over night before it is rinsed, steered to skim of floaters, before it’s going to the skin drying tables for sorting.

We bought coffee from them 2 years ago. Last year we intended to buy, but because of a small crop, and hardly any access to finance of cherry purchase they produced to small amounts. We are really glad they are back, and are hoping to consistently work with this cooperative for the future. We bought two different medium sized lots from them this year.

An overview of the Mpemba Cooperative, with drying tables in the foreground and storage and processing in the background.

An overview of the Mpemba Cooperative, with drying tables in the foreground and storage and processing in the background.

 

For previous posts on Burundi click here.

June 19 2014 — The first container of Costa Rican coffees has arrived in Oslo, and another is on its way to London — here’s a trip report from our visit earlier this year:

Costa Rica is a newer origin for Nordic Approach — we started small last year with a few lots from different micro-mills. This year we were happy to find even more interesting coffees on the table, and we’re bringing a variety of small lots from different producers to Europe.

A bit of background: generally, we are focusing on two regions: Tarrazu and the West Valley. Tarrazu is basically all coffee, everywhere you look — a bit less touristed and a little farther away from San Jose, with really high elevations up to 2000m and higher. Many of the mills there are producing primarily fully washed coffee, partially because the drying conditions are not ideal for honeys, and partially because their coffee is already tasting fantastic. West Valley is a little closer to the capital with altitudes up to 1800-1900m, and a more stable climate which makes honey-processing easier.

Eco-Pulper and drying table at Monte Copey micro-mill

Eco-Pulper and drying table at Monte Copey micro-mill

Micro-mills: In the last 5-10 years, more and more farmers have started their own “micro-beneficios” (micro-mills) to process coffee from their own small farms or those of their family members or neighbors. This is why you will see two names on most of our coffees — first the name of the micro-mill, then the name of the farm the coffee comes from, and of course the lot number. Many farms are only a few hectares.

These micro-mills all have mechanical demucilaging equipment (e.g. Eco Pulpers or similar) so they use less water — there are strict water regulations in Costa Rica. Most of the micro-millers are also progressive farmers, taking good care of their plants, separating farms and varietals, separating all lots by daily pickings before cupping, drying on raised beds, etc.

A lot of the farmers I talked to asked me about slow-drying (secado lento) — they had heard that the coffee performs better as it ages if dried on raised beds under shade, and almost every mill I visited either had two-level drying beds or were building them (or building more!)

Overall it’s a very good setup for identifying quality and implementing good processing practices. We were happy to see that many of the micro-mills we bought from last year were standouts on the tables we cupped — that’s a good sign.

Raised drying beds at Santa Rosa 1900 micro-mill

Raised drying beds, and some scenery, at Santa Rosa 1900 micro-mill

Multi-level drying beds for shade drying, Los Angeles micro-mill

Multi-level drying beds for shade drying, Los Angeles micro-mill

 

Honey processing: Partially in response to the water regulations, many farmers have been experimenting with different processing methods. Like many people, I’ve heard the term “honey process” and cupped “honey” coffees, but I didn’t really have a firm grasp on what it meant. I found that there are some variations on what constitutes a honey-processed coffee. The terms vary by farmer and by country — these are very similar to what are elsewhere called “pulped naturals” — but in Costa Rica the general categories are White, Yellow, Red, and Black honey. The determining factors are:

1) Mucilage: the first and most important criteria for what type of honey you’re getting. When put through the mechanical demucilager, the micro-mill can adjust for how much mucilage (sugars/pulp/mesocarp) to leave on the parchment. This can range from a fully washed coffee, where you remove as close to 100% of the sugars as possible, to a red/black honey, where you leave all the sugars on after removing the skin.

The general guidelines are:

White honey: 80-90% (or up to 100%) of mucilage removed

Yellow honey: 50-75% of mucilage removed

Red honey: 0-50% of mucilage removed

Black honey: minimum mucilage removed

2) Drying: making a honey coffee is not just a matter of setting your eco-pulper to the right level of sugar removal. Drying conditions also play a big role, especially in differentiating a red honey from a black honey. Oftentimes the farmer will not know which one it will be until the parchment has been drying for a few days, and depending on the amount of sugar coloration/fermentation on the outside of the parchment, it is classified as red or black honey.

All photos below are from Granitos de Ortiz micro-mill, where they had helpfully labeled different samples of the processes they do. They are a new mill that started up 1-2 years ago, they are already doing a great job and we’re really happy to be buying coffee from them this year.

Fully washed parchment

Fully washed parchment

Yellow honey parchment -- usually around 25% of mucilage left on

Yellow honey parchment — usually around 25% of mucilage left on

Red honey parchment -- between 50 - 100% of mucilage is left on the parchment. Becomes "red" or "black" depending on the drying conditions (weather) and how much the sugars ferment and color the parchment.

Red honey parchment — between 50 – 100% of mucilage is left on the parchment. Becomes “red” or “black” depending on the drying conditions (weather) and how much the sugars ferment and color the parchment.

Black honey

Black honey parchment. Usually 100% of the mucilage is left, and during drying it takes on a distinctively dark color. Generally, this means more processing flavor in the cup than red honey — but not always!

We’re excited to expand our relationship with Costa Rica and to offer more small lots from more micro-mills this year. The cup profiles can be very special, with great structure, complexity, and lots of sweetness. We also think that there is a lot of potential to work long-term with these micro-mills, even to do experiments on varieties and processing with individual farmers.

Coffees have arrived to Oslo and more are coming to the UK, so stay tuned!

-Alec

Incoming coffee, and an update on politics:

We have bought a bunch of great Kenyans, and some are already on the way to Eniti in the UK. They will arrive around the 25th of April. We do have some limited amounts of pre-ship samples available.

The second container will soon be on the way to Oslo and will arrive beginning of May. The 3rd shipment is just about to be finalized and we will keep you posted. All in all I think we  will have somewhere around 15 different Kenyan lots available. A few are from Nyeri, and the rest is from Kirinyaga and Kiambu.

As many of you are aware of there is a political situation in Nyeri that has limited our access to the coffees we would normally buy. Short story is that the newly elected governor is forcing the farmers and cooperatives to deliver their parchment to the governmental dry mill, and they are only to be sold and marketed through a certain exporter under their control. We do not support this act, and even if we have been offered these coffees through that system we have refused to buy any.  First of all, we don’t believe supporting this system benefits the farmers longer term, and second we are afraid of buying because of the lack of traceability, possible milling issues, and potential quality issues after delivery.

The good thing is that this situation has forced us to look in to new regions and cooperatives. Quality is great, some have very similar profiles to what we have previously bought, and others are great Kenyans with slightly different character that we had in the past. Even if the situation in Nyeri is getting solved I am sure we will continue buying Kenyans from many of these Coops in the future as they really stand out as some of the best coffees I have tasted so far this year. We were present in Kenya to cup and select coffees in four different periods after end of the harvest.

Check out the new offer list here!

Here’s an overview of what we have coming in from Ethiopia this year:

Yirgacheffe

Finally the first container from Ethiopia has arrived. Samples of the new arrivals are now available, and we expect PSS samples shortly of all the other incoming Ethiopians.

The coffees came in to our Oslo warehouse on Wednesday March 26th, and are definitely meeting our expectations on the cupping table. Floral, citric, spicy, clean and super sweet. These were three coffees out of a total of 5 different private washing stations in Yirgacheffe: Kochere, Chelelectu and Dumerso.  They are lots of 100 bags each and are from producers in different micro regions. We will also have the Wote arriving in Oslo next week (8 April), and there will be two more Yirgacheffe coffees (Aricha and Wote) coming in to Eniti in the UK in less than a month. (Read more about our warehousing changes here).

We are just finalizing the unwashed/sundried Yirgacheffe coffees, and they should arrive in about 6-7 weeks.

Sidamo

We have four different Sidamos coming in both to Oslo and Eniti in the UK. Bokasso and Hunkute will arrive in Oslo soon, and while most of it is pre – booked, we still have some available. We have one washed Guji arriving in the UK, as well as 200 bags of a great new coffee from the Cooperative Wottona Bultuma in Aleta Wondo. For those of you who haven’t tried out too many of the very high grown and complex Sidamos, I really recommend to give it a chance. They can in our opinion easily compete with any Yirgacheffe. The Guji will arrive in less than a month (end of April), and the Wottona in about 7 weeks from now (May/June).

Agaro

Again we bought some great stuff from the coopertives Bifdu Gudina, Nano Challa, and Duromina. A lot of it was pre-booked, but we still have some left. These coffees are pretty exceptional and very different from the Yirgacheffe and Sidamo Coffees, with a very sweet, almost spicy profile. We aim at buying more of these next season.

Check out the new offer list here!

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