Our next Colombian microlot comes from a familiar name at Four Barrel, El Jordan. We have offered several different coffees from El Jordan in the past, and this lot is an all peaberry reserve lot.
Seasonality is a buzzword that has gotten a lot of circulation in the coffee world recently. All of our single origin offerings fresh crop arrivals, and we strive to serve coffees only at their peak. We can’t claim to be trailblazers in this arena, because seasonality is nothing new. The simple fact about coffee is that it is more vibrant and flavorful when the green coffee is fresh, and because of this, for years plenty of roasters have been doing their best to serve coffees at their peak.
While our single origin offerings turn over frequently, one offering we will always have is Friendo Blend espresso. Does this mean that Friendo Blendo isn’t fresh and seasonal? Not at all! It’s not unusual for some roasters to use their espresso blend as a repository for old-crop coffees. Friendo Blendo, however, will always be made of fresh crop coffee. Our goal with the blend is to offer a consistent working product for our baristas and our wholesale baristas, so that customers in our cafes, other cafes, and at home can experience a consistent Four Barrel espresso. This doesn’t imply that the blend doesn’t change, but points to the matter of seasonality…
The components of Friendo Blendo are changed as the seasons change, but the overall goal is to present the same general profile, no matter the time of year: Clean citrus acidity and syrupy body, balanced with sweet berry, stone fruit and dark chocolate notes. So, even though the name doesn’t change, Friendo Blendo is always undergoing careful changes and reformulations.
We’ve had some new coffees hit the shelves and the front bar over the last week.
The Panama Duncan Estate Reserve is a pristine microlot from Ricardo Koyner, whose family has been producing coffee in Boquete for four generations. His carefully tended organic coffee farm, Kotowa, faces south in Volcancillo de Boquete de Chiriqui in northern Panama. Kotowa is the poster child of organic coffee farming, complete with ecologically sounds practices at the farm and the mill, as well as surrounding virgin forests that act as natural habita to both local and migratory birds. The microlot represents a small selection of the harvest; in fact, the lot comprises only one day’s picking. Throughout the harvest, “day lots” are kept separated until they are evaluated before export. The very best day lot was kept separate from the rest of the harvest, and we were able to purchase it farm direct. In the cup, honeysuckle, marzipan, and blood orange aromatics give way to a buttery, silky mouthfeel with sweet blackberry juice in the finish. The saturated sweetness and articulated acidity is a testament to the careful Penagos demucilaging and subsequent washing.
We have had a couple new-crop Kenyas available for the last few weeks, and we have a new arrival that we are very excited about. Society, is located about 140km northwest of Nairobi in the Muranga District of the Central province. We bought the Kenya Kangunu with three other roasters when our contacts in Kenya were blown away by the sample on their cupping table. Kangunu represents one of the highest prices ever paid in Kenya for a coffee either within or outside of the auction system. The Kangunu washing station, part of the 1340 member Kangunu Farmers Cooperative Society, is located about 140km northwest of Nairobi in the Muranga District of the Central province. After picking, the cherry undergoes density sorting before pulping, then a meticulous double-fermentation and washing is performed. Post-soaking and two-stage drying increase complexity and mouthfeel, two areas where this coffee excels. Jasmine, cardamon, and blackberry jam in the fragrance become chocolate truffle and balsamic reduction, followed by a sweet, lingering finish. As the cup cools, the superior complexity and structure become even more apparent, highlighting just how remarkable this coffee is.
Our Ehiopia Sidamo Shoye decaf is a surprising decaf. This coffee originates with the Shoye Union in Sidamo. Shoye is a cooperative mill, which allows this lot to bypass the Ethiopia Exchange System with the name of the mill and the traceability of this coffee intact. Shoye takes special care with this natural process coffee, harvesting ripe cherry, promptly screen drying on raised beds and including extra steps in the sorting after the coffee is hulled. Like a natural coffee, this coffee is fruit-forward, with notes of blueberry, wild strawberry, and passionfruit. It’s much cleaner and more refined than most naturals, however, with lots of clarity and an elegant mouthfeel. Caramel and milk chocolate persist throughout the cup, balanced with a juicy brightness and a sweet, clean finish.
To someone encountering our coffees for the first time, it can be daunting to confront shelves of coffees from different parts of the world. The array of flavor descriptions we use to describe each coffee begs the question: What makes these coffees taste the way they do?
Our whole approach to coffee relies on the uniqueness of single origin coffees. “Single origin” is a broad term to differentiate a single-source coffee from a blend of coffees from several sources. The definition of single origin varies from country to country (maybe the topic of a future post!), but the implication is that a single origin coffee is from the smallest geographic distribution possible. Single origin coffees are compelling because their small footprint means they are expressive of a uniqueness of place. In wine, the word terroir is used to encompass geographical inputs and how that is translated into the glass. The term is completely analogous in coffee, as it is a botanical product endowed with a sense of place, the taste of soil, the sun and the rainfall.
Varietal characteristic often plays a significant role in what is experienced in the cup. Coffeea arabica is the species of coffee we are solely concerned with. A clear analog is wine varietal, where Chardonnay and Cabernet fall within Vitis vinifera, but express different phenotypes from a shared genetic backbone. Varietal as it relates to coffee is most often similar to Old World wines; certain varietals thrive in areas where others flounder. For example, you can count on a Côtes du Rhône to contain some combination of Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, and other red grape varietals, just as you can expect a Kenyan coffee to be composed of some combination of SL28 and SL34, or one of the other, because these are the varietals with a proven track record in that area. Origin characteristic usually trumps varietal characteristic, but there are often cases where varietal characteristic outweighs origin characteristic. For example, you can compare two 100% Pacamara coffees from different countries and clearly see how this varietal overwhelms traits lent by origin.
The flavor and quality of coffee are not only geographical and botanical, but also affected greatly by human inputs. Cultivation practices to ensure plant health and yield, such as pruning, intercropping, and shading, influence the coffee while it is still on the tree. Once the coffee is picked from the tree, all of the subsequent processes are subtractive: flavor and quality cannot be improved, only preserved. Ripe cherry selection by hand picking is the first step in preserving quality. For washed coffees, immediate pulping on clean equipment and careful fermenting and washing preserve the delicate complexities of aromatics and acidity, as well as cup clarity and cleanliness. After washing, the coffee is dried carefully to an even moisture level, ensuring the stability and resilience of the coffee. The seed is then hulled, then sorted by size and density so the finished green coffee is homogenous and free of defect. Again, these processes can only preserve the flavor and quality that is there.
Roasting is another human input that can only preserve the quality and flavor of coffee. Our coffee buying practices dictate our approach to roasting. The deeper that coffee is roasted, the more origin varietal and origin characteristic is masked by roast flavor, essentially hiding what the individual coffee has to offer. This works for coffees of poor quality, but we directly source unique coffees that are perfectly expressive of origin and varietal, and free of defect, so we roast to let the coffees speak for themselves. Our goal is balance, and to dutifully showcase the efforts of the people that are really responsible for our remarkable coffees: the producers.
So, why do these coffees taste the way they do? It’s the combination of origin, varietal, and the tremendous care and effort of many, many people along the way.
We have a new Colombian microlot on the shelves and at the Front Bar this week.
Just like our last Colombian microlot, the David Burbano, we feel this coffee exemplifies what Colombian microlots are all about. The Rodrigo Romero microlot presents a very distinct cup profile, owing to the fact that Mr. Romero cultivates coffee on only 4 hectares of his farm, La Esmerelda. Meyer lemon, dark chocolate, and pineapple aromatics become pear juice and blackberry in the cup. At 1800 meters above sea level, the 100% caturra varietal that is grown there is very dense, which lends itself to the complexity and lively acidity you experience in the cup. The depth of toasted-sugar sweetness this coffee offers is indicative of careful cherry selection during picking, and the remarkable clarity and cleanliness demonstrate the care and precision of meticulous processing.
Here are some photos of Mr. Romero with his family on his farm.
It’s been a while since we’ve posted changes to the Four Barrel blog, but here we are! We’ll be posting more and more in the near future - promise.
We have been going through a lot of new coffees, and the seasonality of coffees really keeps us on our toes. Our green sourcing program is busy year-‘round, finding the best coffees possible. Our customers may have noticed that we went through a dry-spell of Central American coffees over the winter. Last month, the arrival of the Guatemala Antigua Bella Carmona marked the beginning of new-crop Central season. In the next few months, more Central American coffees will continue to roll in, including some exciting microlots. The Costa Rica Tarrazú Montes de Oro has arrived, and like the Bella Carmona, it is a classic, balanced Central that just flies off our shelves.
The first arrivals of early-harvest Kenyas have arrived - the Gakuyuini from the Kirinyaga region, and the Kirimara from the Nyeri region. As far as Kenyan coffees go, it doesn’t get much fresher than these! Both of these coffees are very representative of Kenya, but side by side, they are very distinct from one another. The Gakuyuini features ripe raspberry, dried currant and red licorice aromatics that become red wine, raisin, and raspberry juice, with a remarkable key lime acidity and complex structure in the cup. The Kirimara begins with notes of dill, fennel, and blackberry. Huckleberry, blackberry, and cream emerge, highlighted with a clear acidity.
Several coffees have come and gone, like the Colombia David Burbano microlot. We decided to name this tiny 130 lb. microlot after its producer, who grows coffee on three hectares of his land, Finca La Estrella. This was a truly remarkable coffee, and the embodiment of what Colombia microlots are all about. We could go on and on about how great the David Burbano was, but at this point, it would only be sentimental… it’s all gone! We hope to have another lot from David next year.
Our Rwanda Muyongwe flew off the shelves quickly, and the Burundi Bwayi was there as a logical replacement. When the Bwayi was gone, in came the Burundi Kinyovu. Now as the Kinyovu is almost gone, the Kenyas start to arrive, and over the summer, new washed Ethiopians will start to roll in. Our coffee buyers and roastery managers have tough jobs, balancing the logistics of incoming coffees and making sure that we never have to produce coffees that are past their prime. Their hard work keeps us all excited with a constantly rotating selection of the freshest coffees.