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2007

“There is no such thing as specialty coffee, only special coffee producers”

I stole that quote from a good friend in Colombia, but I’ll be damned if it’s not true. After a quick pit stop at the fabled Los Sauces farm in the Sotara region of the Cauca Valley just outside of Popayan, we journeyed south to the Narino province in search of finding diamond in the rough coffees. I had been in Narino just a month prior and was completely stoked to taste the potential the region has on the cupping tables. Nothing was going to stop me from getting back and digging deeper during the peak of the harvest.

After 5 hours of winding through Andean canyons with picturesque landscapes of sheer rock and luscious green vegetation, we arrived in the town of La Union, just across the Cauca border. We were only crossing a provincial border, but it sure felt like a border town. There were buses coming from all directions, truckers carrying cargo, and street food galore in this tiny mountain town tucked away at 1600 meters in the southern Colombian Andes.

We were up early the next morning to cup through several tables of samples coming from producer associations all over northern Narino. The goal at these cuppings is to identify quality coffee and pursue the producers who are making it happen. If we find 5 very good to great coffees out of 30, I’m excited. We found about 6 or 7, so I’m pumped to hit the road!

Before we set off to Cartago de Narino we had the chance to sit down with the producer groups and discuss what we are setting out to do down there. We will pinpoint the best coffees on the cupping table and find the farmers who grew them. We’ll help them improve their technique even further and therefore improve quality and we pay them a hell of a lot more money if they can pull it off. Of course, the producers were all up in arms and wildly enthusiastic to get started. Hopefully they will stay motivated and follow through after we’re gone. Anyway, it’s off to Cartago to get down and dirty on the farms! All of the farms we visited were at 1800 meters + along the side of the Chimayoy Volcano. They were in seemingly good condition, but their processing was adequate at best. Cleaner conditions and more meticulous care are needed throughout the region, but both of those are easily remedied. They need a little bit of work when it comes to picking ripe cherries as well, but I’m hoping we solved that problem on this visit. My fingers are crossed.

I have to admit I wasn’t overly happy waking the next morning after remembering the process from the day before. But, we were moving on to bigger and better things south of La Union in San Lorenzo. After another two hours in the car we crossed into San Lorenzo and made our stops at some of the finest coffee farms I have ever seen in Colombia. A couple of the San Lorenzo farmers seemed poised to place top notch coffee in Portland. Their farms were laden with healthy Caturra, Typica and Bourbon varietals along with clean processing and superior drying apparatuses.

As always, journeying through Colombia is eye opening in both positive and negative ways. This country clearly has the potential to produce some of the finest coffees in the world. I’ve said over and over again that any coffee producer with proper altitude and varietals can produce an outstanding quality. But ya’ll already know there is no such thing as specialty coffee…

-Aleco

Welcome to Stumptown’s cupping room page! My name is Jim Kelso and I head up the Quality Control department which means I cup many beautiful coffees everyday. We cup coffees available both retail and wholesale in addition to the many, many samples that we receive from all over the coffee growing world. From here on, I’ll be offering readers a slice of the flavors and a glimpse of the experiences that we find here on our daily cupping table.

Recently, we have had a few rock-stars stride across our table (think Bjork, not Jagger). The first of which is the Rwanda Musasa. This coffee has been consistently the crowd favorite, both in its cupping profile and its Clover profile. Its creamy, creamy with an intense pineapple juice-like sweetness.

Another consistent favorite has been the Kenya AA Marua. This was, until recently, one of the nine Kenyas offered only on the internet or at the Stumptown Annex. We moved it up from the bench and it is playing every quarter now. Let’s see…if you don’t like a crystal clear cup, strawberry- rhubarb pie, soft oak and rose water that cools to a cup of sweet cherry juice, steer clear.

The most excitement around the table has come from the Colombia Cup of Excellence 2007 (first harvest) cupping. Our favorite coffee on the table, La Esperanza from Isaias Cantillo Osa, was also the number one for the panel of international judges. Stumptown purchased this small, fifteen bag lot, along with Terroir Coffee, for a record $19.20/lb. It has an amazing silken mouthfeel, complex fruit sweetness and elegant jasmine-like floral notes. I had the privelege of sitting of the international jury in Colombia and found this coffee to be my favorite then (I gave it a 94!). It has been very gratifying to have this one join our family. Don’t get too excited yet! This coffee hasn’t even arrived in the country. We expect it to show up sometime this summer.

Fact #1: I was home for 1 day from Colombia before heading across the pond and over the puddle to East Africa. Fact #2: I’d do it again tomorrow, the following week and the following week if I had an excuse.

East Africa has endless potential to produce outstanding coffee quality. It is, after all, the birthplace of the delicious nectar we pine for day after day. There are plenty of trials and tribulations; however that go along with that giant potential that make direct and transparent coffee trade in Africa a constant struggle. Bureaucratic trade mechanisms and timely shipping are the two major problems we encounter. I embarked on this journey to gauge this promise and work on finding remedies for the illnesses. It is and will always be a work in progress on this particular continent.

Kenya: Let the treasure hunt begin….

As a coffee buyer, the opportunity to go to C. Dorman’s offices in Nairobi and cup through the lots headed to the following day’s auction is as much a privilege as it is necessary. Dorman’s has a storied history for being at the head of the class when it comes to procuring top quality Kenyan coffees. As all of you coffee lovers out there know, top Kenyan coffees are just about as good as it gets in terms of intensity and complexity of flavor. Sweet, succulent citrus, bright berry, black currants, black tea and stewey, brothy texture are just a few of the descriptors we use when talking about this origin.

So naturally I am up at the crack of dawn Monday morning, raring to get to the cupping table. My plan for the day is to cup 30+ lots that are headed to auction the next day and discuss the infamous 2nd Window (which I’ll discuss here in a moment) with the folks at Dorman’s. We blew through the 1st table of samples and didn’t find anything quite up to our required quality level, so I waited patiently for the next table. OK, so round two is ready. But again, no dice! I’m beginning to get a little bit nervous. One of the folks at Dorman’s informs me that quality this year isn’t quite at the level it was last year and that we may need to lower our standards just a little bit. Clearly, I had to choose my words carefully when telling him that Stumptown lowering its standards just isn’t in the cards….ever. He understood. After finding nothing yet again on the 3rd and final table I realized that this really is going to be a difficult year in Kenya. Jim and I are going to need to cup through more samples than ever in hopes of securing a couple of lots that are going to meet all your expectations from us. Don’t worry, we’re on it.

After such dismal cupping results it would have been easy to get down in the dumps. Fortunately, I had a two pronged agenda for this particular trip to Kenya, the second prong being the 2nd Window. The 2nd Window is what many folks in the coffee industry have been waiting to see take place in Kenya for decades. Essentially, it is an opportunity for Kenyan coffee producers to by-pass the auction system and to sell their coffee in a more transparent manner. Instead of exporters bidding at an auction, and therefore controlling the price paid to producers, the producers themselves will be able to sell at a visible price via their cooperative system. I’ve been speaking continuously to friends throughout the industry about their take on the whole idea and opinions have ranged more than you may think. More people than I would have thought are against the concept of direct purchasing saying that quality varies so vastly at the coops from year to year that you may be stuck paying a gargantuan price for mediocre coffee. Others say that while Kenya has one of the lower auction price to farm gate price ratios in the coffee producing world, the actual price paid to the farmer can be upwards of two times more than what producers in other countries are being paid. Their thinking is that things may actually be ‘fair’ here and the auction system is as much a quality assurance system as it is a trade mechanism. Personally, I think it’s our duty to go direct and work with the producers ourselves. That is what we claim we do as coffee buyers anyway, right? We use our experience and expertise to influence the qualitative outcome of the coffee we buy, right? So why would we rely on an auction system to dictate the supply chain and/or quality when we can do it ourselves. I’m planning to dive in head first and take my best stab at it.

To make a long story short, look for Stumptown to be one of the first coffee companies in the world to bridge the gap in Kenya between producer and roaster.

Burundi: Pioneering a new origin

Cupping coffee may be my favorite pastime, but coffee processing is my passion. Burundi and Malawi are unchartered waters when it comes to top quality coffee. We have yet to see what these countries can actually produce, so the idea of being one of the first on the ground to impact the quality in these two countries is enough to make me salivate. So, after my quick stint in Nairobi, I met my old pal Jason Long, from Café Imports, and headed across Lake Victoria to Bujumbura, Burundi.

After seeing the great success Rwanda has had with coffee production over the course of the past 5 years, Burundi is now awakening to the realities that specialty coffee can bring an impoverished economy. Like Rwanda, Burundi was caught in the turmoil between the Hutus and Tutsis in the late 90’s. The country’s civil war continued with outbreaks of violence until a new constitution was formed in 2004. Burundi is now fighting to re-build itself both politically and economically. Like Rwanda the latter will be heavily influenced by the coffee trade. 70% of the country’s coffee production is the bourbon varietal and altitude can reach 1900 meters (6000 ft) in some of the countries northern coffee producing regions. THE POTENTIAL IS THERE! 133 washing stations, coffee processing facilities, are scattered throughout the country.

So, after meeting with the folks from the World Bank funded PAGE Project in Bujumbura, we got a good night’s sleep. Bright and early the following morning, we headed north to Kirundo and Ngozi. These two regions are located in a pocket of land nestled between Rwanda and Tanzania; seemingly perfect for coffee production. They are home to the Rugerero, Ngogomo, Rugabo, Kiryama and Gacokwe washing stations that we visited on this trip. Five hours later we arrive in Kirundo. The ride was full of lush, green jungle and rolling hills as far the eye could see. Banana trees and tiny hamlets filled with upbeat children and clay huts quickly became the theme. The African interior is all I thought it would be.

Our first stop was the Rugerero washing station for observations of their process. As the coffee buyer, I have a vision for each project we are working on in each origin. There are several different periods during which visits can be effective: before the harvest for planning, at the beginning of the harvest to observe and assist technically, in the peak of the harvest for evaluation and more technical assistance, and post-harvest to cup and reward the producers who produced top quality. In the case of Burundi, I wanted to be there at the beginning of the harvest for the reasons mentioned above. Witnessing the process firsthand is absolutely crucial.

What we did see were washing stations capable of processing great coffee. The process itself is a little strange though. After being depulped from the cherries, almost all of which are unripe, the coffee beans head directly to the fermentation tanks for an 8-12 hour “dry ferment”. Immediately afterwards the coffee undertakes a 12-16 hour “wet fermentation” period. It is washed and then soaked for 12 hours before heading to raised drying beds.

My suggestions to the mill managers were to skip this dry ferment altogether and to ferment traditionally, underwater, for variant periods of time instead. The fermentation process is directly dependent on air temperature, accelerating in warm weather and taking more time in colder climates. At altitudes ranging from roughly 1200 – 1700 meters (washing stations are usually below farm levels to make delivery easier) coffee could take anywhere from 12 – 48 hours to ferment. (Probably not so long in a country as close to the equator as Burundi, but I’ll play it safe.) The coffee will then be washed and sent to the soaking tanks for 12 hours ala Kenya in hopes of accelerating acidity levels. The challenges in Burundi will be picking perfectly ripe cherries and the desire to alter the process. But, if it’s done, the final product could prove to be spectacular. So that’s the FIRST obstacle.

Obstacle number 2 is getting OCIBU (the coffee board who, until very recently, controlled the trade of every single coffee bean in Burundi) to allow us to buy directly from the cooperatives. The idea of trading directly with the cooperatives is brand new in Burundi and we are watching from the periphery with clenched fists waiting to see if the board will allow this new system to continue. As y’all know, keeping the supply chain transparent is as much the goal as quality coffee is for the Stumptown. Directly correlating price to quality is the only way to accomplish this goal. As promised, we’re on top of it!

Malawi: The search for the elusive African geisha continues

I wasn’t done yet. Jason and I continued south from Bujumbura to Lilongwe, Malawi to meet our producer friends from Mzuzu Small Holder’s Coffee Farmer’s Trust. We hopped in their rig at the airport and jaunted off on a 5 hour journey north into the country’s Mzuzu Hills region. The car ride was spectacular. The dramatic differences between southern Malawi and the northern Malawi were enough to keep my tired and travel worn self awake. Southern Malawi is arid with rocky plateaus reminiscent of what you’d expect to see in Western Australia. It was adobe huts and tumbleweed for 100 clicks until we hit a quick thunderstorm and things quickly turned from red clay to darker, richer looking soil, green shrubbery and more mountainous, peaky terrain. Yeah, this was beginning to feel like coffee country.

Contrary to my green experience in Burundi, I had an idea of what to expect in Malawi. Duane had been here on an excursion last year on a hunt for the ever elusive geisha. Rumors of the Ethiopian varietal planted at 2000 meters will bring a coffee buyer halfway around the world in a snap. Only faint glimmers of promise were demonstrated in last year’s crop so we weren’t able to pick any up, but that didn’t mean we were ready to throw in the towel. The majority of the country’s coffee production is represented by two varietals at completely different ends of the quality spectrum: geisha and catimor. The Mzuzu Small Holder’s Coffee Farmer’s has made giant strides in the past couple of harvest seasons by offering more money for the lower-yielding geisha at the washing stations and processing and storing the varietal separately in the mills. Hopefully this reward will be recognized by producers and the push to eradicate the catimor will strengthen.

We woke up that next morning in the Mzuzu Hills to another stunning day in coffee country. Tons-o-sun, not a cloud in sight and the prospect of seeing some real live Ethiopian geisha trees out in the bush. To say I was stoked would be a complete understatement. After a two hour excursion off-road, we stumbled and bumbled our way into the Khanga region of northern Malawi. We pulled up right along side some geisha trees and I quickly jumped out of the rig with my camera. My initial thoughts were that this wasn’t like the geisha I know in Panama, but I wasn’t expecting it to be. These geisha trees had the same long, dangling branches, but without the height their Panamanian brethren have. Instead they were shorter, stockier and bushier in appearance rather than tree like. I couldn’t wait to get back to the cupping lab and start hitting the samples with my spoon.

We arrived back in Mzuzu town late in the afternoon. We had 40 coffees from the past year’s crop (representing 10+ washing stations) to cup through. These cuppings would provide a reference for what to expect and for what to target for the coming crop. It was like a broken record from Kenya at first- nothing worthwhile on the cupping table. That harsh catimor acidity was dominating the first couple rounds of cupping and things were beginning to look bleak. And then we hit the 1st coffee on the third table: ultra-clean, citric acidity, chocolaty mouthfeel, tropical fruit punch flavors like crazy. It tasted very similar to the cup profile I expect out of Ethiopian Yirgacheffes. It is African geisha and it’s delicious! It was the only coffee out of the 40 we cupped that showed promise. That’s all we needed though.

The following day, Jason and I embarked on the 2 day journey home. I felt like we made some progress in Burundi and Malawi. The potential is most certainly there. Now we just need to make it happen.

-Aleco

So, I hop a plane to Colombia just three days after the Stumptown sets the new record at the Colombia Cup of Excellence by paying $19.20/lb in collaboration with George Howell’s Terroir Coffee. 85% of that auction price goes directly to the producer, Isaias Cantillo Osa, which essentially is like hitting the lottery. For those who don’t know, George is the creator and founder of the Cup of Excellence. He also accompanied me on my journey to the Narino province in southwest Colombia.

The Stumptown is part of a start-up project, so-to-speak, with my old buddies Alejandro and Giancarlo at Virmax Café in Bogotá. Virmax made themselves synonymous with the absolute highest in Colombian coffee quality over the past five years and are dedicated to making progress in new regions like Narino. Their approach towards improving quality of coffee and life for producers is quite unique and not just in Colombia. Other than another friend in Peru, nobody is working as quality focused and transparently as Virmax.

So, after a restless night of sleep at 8,500 ft in Bogotá we board a plane early the next morning headed to Pasto, the capital of Narino. It was an honor sitting next to Mr. Howell on the flight and chatting about coffee and our histories in the industry as well as the vast potential Colombia has for top quality. With the altitude, weather conditions, soil content and Virmax’s track record, both George and I are expecting superb coffee deliveries later this summer. After checking into our hotels and grabbing an early lunch we were off to cup the preliminary deliveries for the three producer associations we are considering working with. The first is the Aguacate Cooperative in Santa Barbara de Narino. The second is ASOPROCASAM in Cartago de Narino. And, the third is ASOKWICI in San Lorenzo. Honestly I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect since I have very little history with the region and this is a brand new venture for Virmax. Most importantly, the coffees only had a week at most to compose themselves in the parchment after drying. You see coffee, like wine, needs time to rest and develop its flavor profile while in its protective shell which is called parchment. You’ll hear people give you different equations for success, but in my experience coffee needs a minimum of 30 days and up to 90 days to develop its full potential. Anyway, the only thing I did know was that Aguacate won the 2005 Colombia Cup of Excellence so the potential was certainly there.

We had the grand pleasure of meeting Aguacate’s board of directors before the cupping.  We got through the first table with mixed results until we hit the last coffee. The coffee was R I P P I N‘! It has full on heavy mouthfeel with intensely sweet strawberry syrup, high percentage cacao and tangerine for miles. If the 2005 #1 coffee was better than this my name is Darryl and so is my brother’s and my other brother’s.

We had enough time to discuss the flight of seven coffees (I was actually catching my breath) before round 2. So I’m amped but the first 3 coffees on this next table were killing my buzz; inconsistent, dry, grassy, unripe flavor, etc. I pawn it off on the coffees lacking rest but I’m beginning to lose confidence in the table. That is until I met coffees #4 and #5. The fourth coffee smashed me in the side of the face with super sweet peach juice, sweet citrus, reminiscent of clementine and chocolate syrup. I could not believe it’s complexity. You don’t find this sort of flavor in Central America; STRICTLY Colombia. So riding my high into coffee #5, thinking I was satisfied with finding two world-class coffees, I was jolted with a blast of floral essence and ultra-sweet acidity to the pallet. It was the most intense jasmine fragrance I have EVER smelled in coffee, paired with dried rose petals and then combined with what we call Jugo de Cana (sugar cane juice) in Latin America. And that wasn’t all. Bittersweet chocolate, mandarin orange and just a hint of black tea rounded out this other-worldly flavor profile. As it turns out both coffees are from ASOPROCASAM in Cartago and this is where the Stumptown will focus for this crop and crops to come. This kind of potential is just too hard to find. I’ll be back in May or June to catch the peak of the harvest and gather our producers for a chat about what we can offer them; to put it simply, the opportunity to receive $3/lb for their coffee. I’m not talking about stopping short at the cooperative like all of these flimsy certifications do. I’m talking about the opportunity for the farmers themselves to receive a check for $3/lb for their coffee if the quality turns out the way it’s potential has demonstrated it can. The NY-C market is closing just above $1 these days. You do the math.

The following day we toured the 50 hectares of production owned by the 89 producers who make up the Aguacate Cooperative and held a meeting with them discussing a similar proposition. It was a full a house and they were stoked to say the least. This kind of opportunity doesn’t exist for 99.9% of coffee farmers in this world. Stumptown Coffee Roasters is aiming to fix that one producer association at a time. Look for Colombian offerings by the end of the summer or early fall. That is if I don’t hoard it all for myself first.

Cheers!

-Aleco

March 20-29

This past 9 days of cupping has been one of the most enlightening, gastronomic experiences I have had in my career. The Central American coffees that the Stumptown is bringing to the table this year are of unprecedented quality. Central America is a coffee growing region that has long been touted for having stellar quality, “mild” coffees. Mild is a reference to the washed process the coffees undertake along with their subtle, clean and sweet nature. There is nothing subtle or mild about our ’07 Centrals.

As it should be, Duane and I first stopped in Guatemala to cup through each lot of our El Injerto Bourbon, Pacamara and Maragogype coffees with Arturo Aguirre Jr., the producer. Some of you may remember him from our ‘Meet the Producer’ event last October in Portland but let’s cut to the chase. KILLER! As you guys know I’m new at the Stumptown but in the past I have gotten my mitts on a couple of El Injerto bourbon samples. It’s the benchmark for Guatemalan coffees. This year’s edition is better than I have ever tasted. Brilliant bing cherry, meyer lemon and, of course, the famous layered chocolate cake notes that range from milk to bittersweet have enchanted my dreams for a week now. The Pacamara had a whole other citric flavor profile. It was gentle and sweet like a tangerine but heavy-bodied and savory, reminiscent of Finca El Puente. It’s going to make itself a home at the Stumptown. The Maragogype is a “big” coffee just like Barolo can be a “big” wine. The baker’s chocolate, fresh cannabis and a subtly sweet, mandarin orange acidity were smoking in the lab.

So, it’s lunchtime and where else would we eat in Guatemala City other than the Aguirre’s home. Marielena Aguirre, Arturo sr.’s wife, invited Duane and I over to eat with her and Arturo jr. It was amazing to get her perspective on the family business while scarfing down her homemade tortillas. It was even more amazing to just share time in her home, continuing to make that connection between the Aguirre family and our Stumptown family. After all, this is what it’s all about.

The following day I took Arturo with me to cup some experimental coffees that I have been working on with a producer in Alta Verapaz. I brought the blue prints for a raised drying bed to Don Horst Spitzke last year and he built it at his farm to be one of our instruments for these experiments. The Bourbon Tekesit flaunted beautiful orange citrus and black tea notes and the parchment is flawlessly clean coming off of those beds. The experiment that truly shocked me though is sort of a “soaked/semi-washed” experiment. The cup translation is possibly the most unique Guatemalan coffee that I’ve ever tasted. Last summer during a visit out to visit the farm I asked Horst to take 5 fanegas/quintales of fully ripe cherry, the equivalent of 500 pounds, pulp it through the demucilager (leaving a large amount of mucilage on the bean), skip fermentation, soak it for 12 hours in a tank of water and take it directly to the beds for drying. What does all of this coffee jargon mean?….unique and truly exceptional flavors from Guatemala. For those of you who have been fortunate enough to indulge in a snifter of Ron Zacapa from then eastern end of the country, you’ll meet its coffee counterpart soon. Super sweet sugarcane and molasses dominate the profile of this cup. We are buying a trial amount of coffee for this crop and we’ll take it from there. Keep a look out for our Guatemalan coffees early this summer.

Well it was on to dinner with the Aguirre’s afterwards, the entire family this time and attempts at coaxing Arturo sr. into a visit to Portland this spring. He’s as humble as they come so it won’t be easy. I have my fingers crossed.

Costa Rica: A new queen emerges from the Dota Valley

OK, so our short trip to Guate was a huge success. Duane and I hopped in a cab, headed to the airport in Guatemala City, and couldn’t stop chatting about how impressive the previous days’ cuppings had been. We checked in for the flight, passed through customs, made the obligatory purchases at the Ron Zacapa shop and sat down for a beer. It hit us then, “Oh yeah, we’re headed to Costa Rica.” Costa Rica is a country for whom I have both a deep love and loathing when it comes to the coffee scene. Mega-mills and high yield varietals have taken this country from once being at the top of the ladder for Central American quality production to the bottom rung in the past decade or so. The past 5+ years have seen a movement, a revolution if you will, take place with Micro-mills popping up through-out the West Valley, Central Valley and the Valley of the Saints aka Tarrazu. Francisco Mena and his team at Deli Café are some of our friends on the ground leading the charge. Armed with precise milling equipment and an absolute focus on ripe picking, the future of Costa Rican coffee is about to change for the better and dramatically so.

It all started a couple of weeks earlier when Jimmy, Duane and I received a big box of pre-shipment and offer samples just a week before we departed on this trip to Central America. To say that we’ve been waiting in anticipation for these samples since Duane’s January visit to Ticolandia is ridiculously understated. Jimmy roasted the samples up on a Wednesday night for us to cup the next day. I didn’t get more than an hour or two of sleep. Dreams of La Esmeralda and Don Pachi danced in my head as I wondered if there really is Geisha in Costa Rica. Yes, I said Geisha. You see Duane, Francisco and our old pal Ricardo Hernandez from La Candelilla stumbled across a small farm this past January that was filled with a tree with striking resemblance to the fabled Geisha trees in Panama. Of course D bought up all the coffee immediately and we’ve been waiting with sweaty palms and fingers crossed for two months now.

So finally, I get to the Annex at 8am with a salivating tongue to find Jim setting the table. The samples are perfectly roasted and Duane is on his way. We grind the first table of 9 samples and dip into the fragrance. The coffees were so sweet that I almost forgot there even was geisha in the mix. Flavors ranging from bright meyer lemon, to ripe peach, to apricot, to mango to milk chocolate and on and on and on will make you lose your train of thought instantly. I lived in Costa Rica for several years. It’s a coffee that I thought I knew in and out. I tasted hints of potential greatness from certain pockets of the country but this table was unlike any experience I have ever had with Costa Rican coffees. Cafetin 100% Typica is like that lovely, classy lady you’ve had your eyes on for years. She’s perfumey and sweet, curvy and luscious. She’s just flat out sexy. La Salaca 100% Villalobos is a basket of tropical fruit with complex acidity that will have you wondering ‘what just happened’ for an hour after you tasted it. Agrivid, Montes de Oro, Los Manantiales and the rest of these micro-mills have such distinct, individual flavor that we’re gonna have to put on a little celebration at the Annex this summer.

El Quemado 100% Geisha wasn’t even on that first table!

But the new queen of the Dota Valley was on the 2nd table and you couldn’t miss her from a mile away. I’ll never forget Jimmy’s face as he peaked back at me over his shoulder as I approached the 8th coffee on this 2nd table of Costas. He was laying in wait to see my reaction to the dry fragrance of the coffee. Holy shit! That saturated sugarcane sweetness; that flower basket of jasmine and rose petals; that maple syrup intensity and high % cacao note is geisha.

Don’t think Price Peterson’s Hacienda La Esmeralda or Francisco Serracin’s Don Pachi though. It’s lighter on the Esmeralda’s citrus and bergamot and doesn’t have the distinct berry that Don Pachi carries. Instead it has a super sweet peach juice flavor and beautiful hints of Clementine and tangelo. It all belongs to us for this year and the unforeseeable future. You guys are gonna freak out for it.

Panama: Don Pachi returns in mesmerizing fashion

So our last day in San Jose is a Monday and we found ourselves us at early morning cupping with Francisco at Deli Café. My flight for Chiriqui, the northernmost province of Panama and home the country’s entire coffee production, was scheduled to leave at 10am. Well at 9am I am just getting out of Deli and crossing my fingers to get to the airport in-time for the check-in. No dice! The counter is shut down and the folks at Air Panama inform me I won’t be getting on that flight, which happens to be the last one until Wednesday. I couldn’t get on any other flights within a 3 hour radius of Boquete, home of the Panamanian geisha and, my final destination. At the last minute Francisco and I decide to hop in his rig and drive down to Panama. 9 hours later we are at the Panamonte hotel and ready to crash out. I have an appointment with the Peterson’s tomorrow and a date at the cupping table with Hacienda La Esmeralda Geisha.

So it’s me, Abel (Esmeralda’s cupper) and the geisha at 9am. We’re at 1500 meters above sea level (4600 ft) in the town of Palmira de Boquete, at the Peterson’s cupping lab overlooking the valley and the roasts look beautiful. Conditions couldn’t be more ideal. And as always she sparkles like a precious gem stone in the cup. The fragrance is like papaya drenched in maple syrup, fresh cut sugarcane and jasmine. The upfront flavors are just how they’re supposed to be, complex citrus, mango, papaya and intense bergamot. The Peterson’s seem to be perfecting their craft each year and we’re proud to represent their coffee at the Stumptown.

Later that same afternoon I was able to make it up to Finca Lerida to visit my old friend John Collins for a round of cupping. Boquete is one of my favorite origins to visit because no matter who I am in town to visit, I habitually bump in to old friends. Johnny was there to greet us as were Tony Vasquez from Don Pepe Estate and Francisco Serracin from the fabled Don Pachi Estate. We collected samples from a lot of the best coffee farms in Panama for a late afternoon cupping. Many of these producers want some advice on lots they are preparing to enter into the Best of Panama auction the following day. I don’t know of any coffee buyer in the world who wouldn’t salivate at the thought of an auction lot table with coffees from Elida Estate, Finca Lerida, Don Pachi, Don Pepe Estate, San Benito, Dona Berta and Los Lajones amongst others all to themselves. I’ll tell you what, with flavors ranging from lemon zest to tangerine to cantaloupe to bakers chocolate I think a few of these guys will have coffees on the final table at the BoP auction; a table that is easily one of the world’s finest displays of stellar quality.

That following day was dedicated to Francisco Serracin Sr., Don Pachi himself. Don Pachi is the man solely responsible for bringing the geisha seeds from Costa Rica to Panama. You see, these seeds made their way to Panama from Ethiopia via Costa Rica. Costa Ricans planted the seeds decades ago because of the coffee tree’s exceptional resistance to rust. Unfortunately the majority of farmers later pulled these varietals out of their farms due to its low productivity. Fortunately for us at the Stumptown our friends at El Quemado kept their plants intact on their farm. Moving forward, Don Pachi picked up some geisha seeds from the agronomical research center in Costa Rica, CATIE and brought them to his farm in Callejon Seco de Boquete. The rest is history. We’ve been cupping his geisha the past couple of weeks and it’s better than it’s ever been. This coffee is much more berried and sweet than it’s La Esmeralda counterpart although doesn’t have the same tea-like and citrus flavors. Honestly, I think I’m leaning towards Pachi as being ever-so-slightly superior to La Esmeralda this year. Maybe I just fell under the spell of Don Pachi’s charismatic display of immeasurable coffee knowledge, while the dominating scent of jasmine wafted through the farm, as the geisha trees endured the year’s first flowerings. Nah, the proof is in the cup. Pachi is the heavyweight this year and it’s another Stumptown exclusive.

-Aleco