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!

Some thoughts on the Centrals:

El Salvador

Had relatively small volumes this year, for the second year in a row. El Salvador has been hit hard by leaf rust in addition to the low harvest cycle. Still, we have a selection of coffees from Jasal this year as always. Many are pre-booked, but there will be small amounts available that will appear on the offer list soon. We are also still finalizing coffees from the last pickings from Los Pirineos that have been shade dried, and are just finished on the drying tables. This will be announced soon.

Costa Rica

We are increasing our range of Costa Rica this year compared to the past. We have spent some time there to find new producers and have selected a really good range from different micro mills in Terrazu. Some of these mills are brand new, and the first year in production, but are performing extremely well. We are aiming on strengthening our relationship there over the next few years as we have found coffees that’s a perfect fit for our concept and flavor preferences. Mainly caturra and some catuai grown from 1800 – 2000 MASL. We will soon post a separate blog post on our work in Costa Rica (as soon as Alec gets his act together and sorts through his travel photos…)

Guatemala

We are currently working on some potentially great stuff from Huehuetenango and Freijanes. They are just about to finish the harvest, in some of these farms, and we are still waiting for confirmation samples. If they all performs well, and if we find enough attractive coffees to justify the shipment we will hopefully get these in  by end of June. Might be a mix of both Pacamars, Caturras and Bourbon.

Check out the new offer list here!

We want to let everybody know about some warehousing changes we’ve started for the 2014 harvest. As you can see on our new offer list, we are landing an increasing amount of coffee in the UK at Eniti, a specialty coffee and tea warehouse that is already quite well known in the industry.

There are several reasons for this, and all are related to giving more flexibility, better service, and a smoother and more economical option for coffee delivery:

1) Customs — all coffees from the UK are already cleared into the EU, which should make customs clearance headaches (mostly) a thing of the past.

2) Transport — freight rates from Eniti seem to be competitive for most locations as compared to Oslo, and without the extra charge for customs clearance.

3) Flexibility — having two locations for warehousing will allow us to fit everyone’s needs a bit better and offer better prices to more locations, especially in the UK/Ireland and southern Europe. Customers in northern Europe and Scandinavia will have their choice, as there should be very little difference in cost or delivery time!

We’ll be able to move coffee between warehouses with relative ease as well, so don’t worry if you see something you want to order and it’s not in your nearest warehouse location. As always I’ll do my best to sort it out!

–Alec

By Morten Wennersgaard

The view from Usulatan and Finca Los Pirineos. Top right: the Chaparrastique Volcano that erupted as lately as December 2013. Bottom left: Naturals dried on raised bed at the raised bed.

The view from Usulatan and Finca Los Pirineos. Top right: the Chaparrastique Volcano that erupted as late as December 2013. Bottom left: Naturals dried on raised beds.

We just finished up a trip to El Salvador to follow up on this year’s harvest. It is still quite early for the highest altitudes, but there were already a lot of samples to cup, and the quality seems to be great. It’s apparently the lowest crop in 50 years, and a huge shortage of coffee, but fortunately we have locked in a lot prior to harvest. In general we are working out contracts for two–three years at a time, mainly for our special preparations.

Pickers sorting cherries at one of the Salaverria farms. They have just started in the higher altitudes like 1450 meters and up.

Pickers sorting cherries at one of the Salaverria farms. They have just started in the higher altitudes like 1450 meters and up.

What is on the cupping table right now is cupping much better than last year at the same time. Sweeter, better clarity, in the cup and more complexity seems to be present. At this time last year the cups was more closed in general and tasted slightly tart due to freshness, but they all opened up fine after a while.

The average cherry quality after sorting to the un-ripes. The over ropes will mainly be removed in the siphon flotation system prior to processing.

The average cherry quality after sorting to the un-ripes. The over ropes will mainly be removed in the siphon flotation system prior to processing.

Las Cruces

There is a lot of development at the Salavarria family’s farms. First of all they are currently having a lot of new and exotic cultivars in their nurseries. Many of these plants will begin to be planted at different blocks with various altitudes, sun exposure, etc. to try to find the best growing conditions for each new varietal.

One of several cultivars that will be planted in the fields soon.

One out of several new cultivars that will be planted in the fields soon.

 

We have made some adjustments and slightly changed the process on the washed coffees. All coffees are eco-pulped with a Jotagallo pulper, and about 70-80% off the mucilage is mechanically removed. Last year the parchment was sitting overnight in re-circulated water coming from this process, before being rinsed in the morning and dried. We now rinse it just after it’s coming from the demucilager, and it then sits overnight in clean water before being rinsed again in the morning and then moved to drying patio. We hope this can give even better cup transparency.

One of the patios at Las Cruces. The different colors indicates the level of mucilage left after the coffees are mechanically demucilaged. The very white ones are also soaked/wet fermented after the demucilager.

One of the patios at Benficio Las Cruces. The different colors indicates the level of mucilage left after the coffees are mechanically demucilaged. The very white ones are also soaked/wet fermented after the demucilager.

There are also a lot of small drying experiments going on for washed, honeys, and naturals. We cupped a super crisp and clean natural from a trial on raised beds, which was mainly dried in relatively thin layers in sun and natural semi-shade from trees. Will do a couple of trials this year, for instance with one farm and three different processes, as well. We have already locked in some of these based on the first cuppings. It will be something like 20 bags available, and we will most likely upscale this process next year.

Experiments of naturals dried under natural semi shade on african beds.

Experiments of naturals dried on african beds under semi shade from big trees .

Los Pirineos

Gilberto, the owner, and Luis, the manager, has really stepped up taking development to a different level. First of all they have been part of a research project on varietals. From this and other collected samples he has planted a garden of cultivars, with about 50 different cultivars at Los Pirineos.

Gilberto Baraona besides he's new construction of drying tables. They are built at the mill, and works perfectly well.

Gilberto Baraona besides he’s new construction of drying tables. They are built at the mill, and works perfectly well.

Still, the coffees we are buying for now (and that are currently available) are from the traditional Bourbon Elite and Pacamara varieties. As they had to abandon the farms in that area over a period of about 12 years during the civil war, many of the farms still have the old traditional varietals. In other areas it was a lot of uprooting and replanting during those years trying to find more disease resistant cultivars with better yields etc.

They are using cones at their nursery for all the new plants and cultivars they are actively experimenting with.

In the last few years he has built a bunch of drying tables, both under shade and under sun. We have experimented with different levels of shade. Currently we are drying under 46% shade netting. It takes a month to dry those coffees. We will try to do some trials where we skin dry the coffee in a thin layer on patio for the first two days before moved to the drying tables. We are still doing trials together with Gilberto doing the same pickings dried in different ways. Currently there are trials going on with washing and fermentation as well. As with Jasal’s coffees, at Las Cruces Gilberto is using Jotagallo eco-pulpers with mechanical mucilage removal. We are testing out the difference between coffees taken straight from the process to the patios, with no soaking or fermentation, then parchment from the same pickings are soaked and rinsed 12 hours and 24 hours. It’s clearly a difference looking at the color of the parchment, and it will be interesting to see how and if it affects the flavors.

This is the new drying area at Los Pirineos. It's under a shade net of 46% shade. Drying can take up to 30 days. Results have so far been great. It changes the flavor of the coffee, and last year it definately increased the shelf life dramatically. We had coffees tasting good one year after arrival.

This is one of the new drying areas at Los Pirineos. It’s under a shade net of 46% shade. Drying can take up to 30 days. Results have so far been great. It changes the flavor of the coffee, and last year it definately increased the shelf life dramatically. We had coffees tasting good one year after arrival.

Gilberto and Luis have also started a project with the surrounding farms processing their coffees for them. It’s done based on the same standards as for Los Pirineos, and from what we have cupped so far the potential of stunning coffees seems to be huge. The smaller surrounding farms are already separating their coffees by blocks, and we will have a lot of samples from the different ones to go through very soon. Like Gilberto, they are doing some Pacamara, but predominately Bourbon Elite.

We recently received a range of coffees from the Fazenda Ambiental Fortaleza (FAF). This is a good mix of coffees from small to medium sized separated lots of different varietals and from different local municipalities. This is based on a concept where FAF is growing and processing their own coffee, while also running a coffee initiative to develop a great range of products from the neighboring farms. We think this is a unique concept for Brazil and the flavor profiles are really complex and interesting compared to many other Brazilians we have tasted.

Faf 1

Fazenda Ambiental Fortaleza is owned and run by Marcos Croce and his wife Silvia. Since they took over the farm, after Silvia inherited it from her family, they have been transforming the farm towards organic production.

Marcos and Silvia’s son (and our good friend) Felipe is now running the quality control and development of quality on the farm. He is actively experimenting with new ways of drying and producing coffee. This has resulted in some of the cleanest natural processed coffees we have ever tried coming out of Brazil. Although their altitude is not the highest, the coffees still have great character and sweetness due to the delicate drying process where the coffee cherries are picked at a very uniform ripening stage and all unripe coffees are sorted out by hand during drying.

New, and improved drying tables at Sitio Canaa

New, and improved drying tables at Sitio Canaa

Marcos and Silvia are very concerned about their local environment and have partnered up with a lot of farmers in the area to help them move towards sustainable farming and improved quality, in an effort called the Bobolink coffee project.

We are doing a mixed range of coffees from FAF and the Bobolink project. Some of the coffees are grown, picked and produced by the Croce family at Fazanda Ambiental Fortaleza. Other coffees are from the Bobolink project, where they are either picked and processed (dried) at a small holder farm like Sitio Canaa, or picked at a farm like Laranjal but dried and processed at Fazenda Fortaleza, where they have the structure in place, and the farmer only have his plot of land. Either way, when the coffees are separated out of the Bobolink project as single farms, it is because there is some uniqueness in the cup.

On top of that, all these coffees are sold as lots where you very often know the cultivars, time of picking etc.

foto 2

Their coffees are not the cheapest in Brazil. This is because the yield when growing organic coffee is very low, the cost is high and the Brazilian economy, especially in Sao Paulo state is booming. However, after visiting their farm and tasting their coffees 3 years in a row we had no other choice but to buy some.

faf 2

From the left: Marcos Croce, Joao Hamilton (one of their producing partners and owner of Sitio Canaa) and Felipe Croce.

There are many farmers in the Bobolink project that are still producing great coffees, but because of lot sizes or the cup profile they will go in to a blend and sold as Bobolink.

Ripe and semi-dry coffee

Ripe cherries starting to dry on the trees

Below is a quote by Marcos from their Bobolink web site

We changed the farm name to Fazenda Ambiental Fortaleza (Environmental Fortress Farm) and immediately banished all toxic materials, protected the springs, created green corridors for the wild life, and begun the process of bringing awareness to our people at the farm.

We started to ad fruit trees to our coffee plantations ( such as bananas, mango, avocado) and coffee seedlings to our secondary forests.

Growing conditions under shade at one of their many partnering producers.

Growing conditions under shade at one of their many partnering producers.

We also started to motivate our people to continue education and promoted social integration, personal development, healthy and natural eating habits, and personal skills.

Although we were having very positive progress, we later learned that it was not enough to save FAF. The water from our springs run clean at FAF, but continue to the neighbors; the birds that nest at FAF fly all over, people come and go…..

We decided to expand our area and invite our neighbors to to join us in protecting the environment and create a much wider free and clean zone for the “Bob-o-Links”.

Surrondings at one of the Bobolink single farms, Bela Vista.

Surrondings at one of the Bobolink single farms, Bela Vista.

The Bob-o-Link Coffee is a result of a network of farmers, located in one of the best regions for coffee in Brazil, which have in common the vision of producing the best coffees, with sustainable agriculture methods, that reduce the “heavy footprints” of humans on earth, promoting harmony between men and our Nature.

The Bob-o-Link coffees are produced mostly in the Mountain Mogiana Region 
( States of São Paulo and Minas Gerais), at altitudes that vary from 900m to 1,400m high, with Arabica coffee varieties such as Bourbon, Mundo Novo and Catuai.

Most of our FAF coffee farmers are formed by small properties , run by single or extended families, located at the top of the mountains, the perfect environment for the best coffees. The beans are picked selectively and dried in terraces next to their homes, close to their eyes.

Drying natural coffee in Mococa

Since these farms are on the top of the mountains, most have more that one spring in their property. The tradition is that only the first user gets clean water, due to improper dispose of waste and due to the agro-toxics used on the land. Also, the top of the mountains have always been covered by the Rainforest trees. But to maximize the use of the land for more production area…..the trees are the first to go and the sprigs get full sun exposure….

Natural at Sitio Canaa

The Bob-o-Link farmers are part of the FAF network that will promote awareness for the increase of Quality Coffee that keeps the springs protected, create green corridors on the water ways, reduce the use of toxic material, and keep the trees to shade the coffee and create a healthy place for people and for the Bob-O-Links.

The Bob-o-Link Coffee has the mission to deliver the Finest Quality Coffees with the message of Awareness of Preservation and Culture Integration.

Our goal is to allow the “Bob-o-Link” flocks of all spices back and to spread the Sustainability seeds for a better, healthier, happier and peaceful world.

Marcos Croce

foto copy

Our coffees when they get loaded in to the container for export at FAF

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