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December 2009

As is the tradition at Eater, our closeout of the year is a survey of friends, industry types, bloggers, and readers. This year, we asked the group eight questions, from Meal of the Year to Top Standbys. All will be answered by the time we turn off the lights on Thursday. Responses are related in no particular order; all are cut, pasted and unedited herein:

Q: What are the top newcomers of 2009?

“Kate Krader, restaurant editor Food & Wine: Locanda Verde. Marea. I love the whole Ace Hotel situation – Breslin, Stumptown, hotel lobby that’s the most fun place in town. Prime Meats. Fried Chicken night at Momofuku Noodle Bar. Minetta Tavern (horrifying bar scene notwithstanding).”…

“Gabriella Gershenson, Food Editor TONY: Minetta Tavern, Locanda Verde, Joseph Leonard, Marea, Aldea, Keste, Stumptown Coffee.”…

“Oliver Strand, food writer: Dos Toros, Minetta Tavern, Saltie, Saraghina, Stumptown Coffee Roasters (it counts, right?), Third Rail Coffee”…

[portfolio_slideshow]I write this report from Nairobi, Kenya reflective on what has been a truly outstanding coffee year. Due to harvest cycle Central America is always our first point of attack as we visit multiple times between January and March. Our projects in Costa Rica hit full stride this season demonstrating the full potential for the top quality that they have. Montes de Oro, Brumas del Zurqui and Cafetin were heavy hitters in our summer lineup. I can still taste the cane sugar sweetness of the Montes de Oro and the ripe berry notes of the Cafetin 1900. Those coffees were not to be missed.

All of you who had the opportunity to taste our El Injerto Bourbon, La Concepcion Buenavista, Semillero and Santa Cruz coffees know that Guatemala also had a standout year. We’ve never been more proud of our Direct Trade projects in these two origins and look forward to what they bring us in 2010.

Injerto_09_DSC_0192At this point in the year we start rifling through the phenomenal array of Colombian coffees that show such a beautiful range of flavor from ripe, red fruits like cherry and watermelon to sweeter nuance like honey, caramel and cane sugar. These visits take place during the spring, summer and early fall and we’re sure to get down there with a Stumptown crew several times in that span.

Colo_09_DSC_0362El Jordan won’t be around for long so keep your eyes peeled in January for the return of our La Piramide coffee along with a Reserva version of that and El Jordan. La Esperanza, El Descanso and a newcomer to the mix, Las Vegas will also be up on the shelves before all the snow melts. In addition to the Colombians we’ll be rolling out new project coffees from Ecuador and Peru for the first time ever. If you like apricot, peach, honey and maple these coffees will be sure to please.

Colo_ellen_09_DSC_0207-3We love our Latin American coffees but the East African selections were in a class of their own this year. We begin our African travel in May and hop back and forth between the producing countries in the East and the States through the rest of the year. Ethiopia Mordecofe is sure to get many in-house votes as our coffee of the year. We couldn’t be prouder of the work that Haile Gebre has done down in Guji to process one of Ethiopia’s finest.

Events-1741The votes that Mordecofe won’t get would most likely be given to my personal favorite, Kenya Gaturiri. I can’t recall tasting a coffee so sweet, clean and complexly complete in my life. The black currant and blackberry fruit tones were clear as day and coupled absolutely perfectly with Gaturiri’s viscous mouth feel and molasses like sweetness. Burundi and Rwanda are set to arrive any day now and will be available on our menus come mid-January.

Kenya_09_DSC_0441-1Oh and did I mention that we rolled our first ever Indonesian Direct Trade coffee with our Gajah Aceh from the northern Sumatran province of Aceh? It’s a beaut. The sweet tamarind notes pair exquisitely with the raw tobacco flavor and the syrupy body. We’ll have fresh lots rolling in every other month as being located on the equator these folks are picking and processing for nearly 9 months! It’s always a good time to get to Indonesia to check in our projects and we’re typically there every November and again in the Spring.

Indo_09_DSC_0203-1In celebration of our 10-year birthday we’re offering an Anniversary Blend that’s composed of some of our finest selections from coffee’s three major growing regions; Latin America, East Africa and the Pacific Rim. Look for it
online while it lasts.

Kenya_09_DSC_0542So getting back to Gaturiri and my trip, let me quickly fill you all in on my Kenya excursion of this past week. After leaving Ethiopia without seeing Mordecofe, due to the violent conflict centered around the Shakisso goldmines in the area, I was a little bit bummed. Anyway, cruising up to the coffee regions in Karatina, Nyeri was a breath of fresh air. Our projects at Gaturiri and Ngunguru are firing on all cylinders! Cherry selection was very good and as always the Kenyan wet milling process is a force to be reckoned with.
Kenya_09_DSC_0589-2In addition this year we’re asking for wet parchment to be selected for under ripe cherry on the skin drying beds this year. It will be easier to remove them from the clean coffee parchment as they are much more visible when wet. Honestly, there is very little that can be improved upon here but we’re always searching to get better. We are fortunate enough to be working with such dedicated partners as Dorman’s, CMS and CKCM. There is no better group in the entire industry.

Kenya_09_DSC_0405-1
My last trip of the year ended with two spectacular cupping sessions. Looking back I’d say one of them was the single best table I’ve cupped in all of 2009. But who’s surprised? It is Kenya after all. Nothing compares to the dark fruit flavors, weighted mouth feel and sweetness of the SL28 and SL34 varietals. Sipping on top lot Kenyan coffee is to me remarkably similar to sipping on a cup of black currant nectar. Today’s cupping table yielded a new superstar by the name of Kangunu also from the Nyeri district of the Central Highlands. It sold at auction 3 days ago for a whopping $5.45/lb! That’s almost 4x today’s current coffee market trading level. We’ll be offering it come summer. You won’t want to miss this coffee. It just may be 2010’s Mordecofe or Gaturiri.

Kenya_09_DSC_0326-2
Fully caffeinated, feeling gratefully satisfied about 2009 and already longing for the next African coffee safari it’s time to begin the long haul home to Portland. See you soon Stumptown!
Season’s Greetings,
Aleco

The last trip of the year is always the most grueling. December is peak harvest season in Ethiopia and Kenya and we have lots of ground to cover with our relationships ranging East-to-West in Ethiopia and across Kenya’s Central highlands. These countries produce arguably the absolute finest quality coffee in the world so we are careful to make sure we look under every rock and open every door in search of the next gem. Of course we’re also looking to continue the progress of our East African Direct Trade projects as they grow into the next stages.

The first day was spent meeting with our trade partners of years past. Sadly the ECX (Ethiopian Commodity Exchange) has banned direct sales from privately owned washing stations, like our good friends from the Wondo Trading Group who have produced outstanding washed lots from Yirgacheffe and Sidamo for Stumptown for years, to buyers like ourselves. Their coffee must now be tendered directly to the exchange and bought back blindly by grade which, until this year, was a designation of defect count. A change to the grading system now categorizes lots by cup score and instead of grades ranging from 1 – 5 they now range from 1- 9. Although the privately held companies are still banned from trading coffee directly, producer associations that have lots scoring between 80 – 100, according to the Q-system, will be able to sell transparently and traceably through the new specialty auction arm of the exchange. The first specialty auction is aimed to be held this coming January or February and you can bet your bottom dollar that Stumptown will be looking to bring home something special. Even though we can’t buy Wondo coffees just yet, this is most definitely a step back in the right direction. We commend the ECX for listening to the voice of transparency. Hopefully the evolution continues.

It’s been quite some time since we’ve offered a coffee from the Eastern Ethiopian region of Harrar. Poor farm and processing practices in recent years have made top quality lots virtually impossible to come across. Keep your fingers crossed though as we think that something special may be headed our way come spring/summer 2010. After a couple of days touring Eastern Harrar and cupping samples things look to be on the up and up. The Messala and Hirna subregions had very healthy looking Mokka Harrar trees growing at an astonishing 2500 masl. Our Green Coffee Department will be sifting through dozens of samples over the next few months in hopes of pulling that needle from the haystack.

Flying back from Dire Dawa (the major city nearest Harrar) I started to get that giddy feeling. The dominant reason for visiting Ethiopia has singularly become, Mordecofe. Those of you who have tasted this coffee know exactly why. That sweet peaches and cream flavor is liable to hit you right up side the head from first sip sending you into a trance of coffee love. Haile Gebre has transformed what was once his grandfather’s land in Guji into an amazing coffee farm. After gathering my things I headed off to the airport only to find a deeply disappointing message. Our trip to Mordecofe had been cancelled. Violent conflict between farmers and the Shakisso goldmines in the Guji (aka Shakisso) region have become an annual trend. Farmers believe the goldmines to be continuously encroaching on their land. Sadly, violence has become the norm and westerners can easily be mistaken for goldmine engineers. It was just too unsafe to make the 12 hour trek from Addis Ababa to Mordecofe. Fortunately we were able to meet with Haile for a day in Yirgalem to discuss the current state of the farm and strategize for the remainder of the harvest. This will be the fourth consecutive harvest from which we buy Haile’s coffee. We’re proud to call Mordecofe our first Ethiopian Direct Trade coffee. See you at the farm next year, friend.

Shifting gears we ventured due south to Yirgacheffe as an alternative plan. The coffee harvest was in full swing so we had a chance to take in harvesting at 10 different washing stations over the course of the next few days. There was most definitely a large range of processing from good to bad so we’ll have to be at our most alert on the cupping table over the course of the next few months. I have to say though there really is nothing like smelling the otherworldly fragrance of Yirgacheffes. It’s a bouquet of sweet floral aromas so unique and beautiful that you remember it for the rest of your life.

Look for Mordecofe early in the spring and something special from Yirgacheffe come summer. Cheers and stay tuned for news from Kenya,

Aleco

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THE BEANS

America’s Northwest is now sharing another painstakingly sourced, locally roasted and expertly brewed coffee brand with the rest of us. Portland’s Stumptown is behind the café in New York’s Ace Hotel (W*125). The bags of beans feature a slot for a colour-coded card with details of the grower, location and flavour–the perfect ‘story-telling’ packaging. Indonesia Gajah Aceh coffee, $12 per 12oz, by Stumptown Coffee Roasters, www.stumptowncoffe.com