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January 2010

Hello all,The cupping room was as heavy with dense fruit flavors as your Christmas, I’m sure. Our cuppings have been combating these dark and cold weeks of mid-winter with our own brightly nuanced cups of holiday cheer. During the storms we have brightened the lab with flavors of fully ripened citrus from Mario San Jose lot from Panama La Esmeralda, kept ourselves warm with the heavy and molasses-like sweetness from the Rwanda Vunga and kept ourselves entertained perusing the complex interactions of the Anniversary Blend’s components.

While these lots will be around for a bit longer, many of our old friends like Guatemala Injerto 100% Bourbon and Costa Rica Herbazu are nearing the ends of their stints on our menus. Harvest begins soon in Central America, so our cupping table will be laden with day-lot samples from our Direct Trade partners in this part of the world. As you know, our menu is heavily reliant on the seasonal aspects of coffee production. Because of this we are moving from Centrals into more African and a few South American offerings from friends both old and new.

From Colombia, La Esperanza is back and is as sweet, complex and dense as it ever has been. We first fell in love with this coffee when it won first place in the 2007 Cup of Excellence Colombia competition. Isais Cantillo’s work along with Virmax and their Las Mingas project has yet again yielded an outstanding lot. As in past years, this coffee was chosen for micro-lot status during a series of blind cuppings. Red fruit flavors are present along with pineapple rose aromatics and that honeyed mouth feel that we have come to expect. Although we cup blind, we keep coming back to the same producers.

Such was also the case with Alberto Rojas, his brother Alfonso and his 100% Caturra from their 10 acre Tolima farm. El Porvenir showed toasted almond, maple, and caramel flavors rounded out with a finish of high-percentage cacao. Last year, several of Giovanny Liscano’s submissions scored 89 points (one point shy of micro-lot status), this year three of his lots broke at or above 90 points. Because the lots were so small (one totaled less than one burlap bag’s weight!), we blended them to create La Loma. Giovanny’s coffee is a complex yet delicate blend of floral aromatics and black fruits, like blackberry, black currant and black cherry.

Some of the lots from this series of cuppings were blended to become La Piramide. You should remember this from last year as one of our stand out Colombia bulk lots. The producers of this lot are from ASORCAFE in Pedregal, Cauca and this year, we encountered red currant, red raspberry, cranberry juice and orange citrus in every cup. We developed this lot is in concert with its partner, the La Piramide Reserva, which is made up of those submissions from ASORCAFE that scored 90 and above. Also, stay tuned for more Colombias to roll out in a few months as we are slowly working through recently submitted lots from Pitalito and Pedregal.


Thanks to the producers from ASORCAFE, we were introduced to the folks of the Las Vegas producer’s association across the valley in Huila. Orange, cinnamon, huckleberry, peach and brown sugar are all elegantly presented. We will definitely be watching out for their submissions in the future.

We have also been continuing our work with Virmax in Ecuador. This lot we assembled through the same sort of blind cuppings as those used for Colombia. The final arrival coffee has been one of our favorite morning cups with its bright tamarind-like acidity and caramel-like creamy base. Finally, we just cupped an arrival sample for a San Sebastian decaf that we developed through Virmax. Look for its honey and toasted nut flavors in a few months.

As mentioned a few months ago, we have begun making inroads through the poor infrastructure and corruption that is Peru. Although they are not on the menu in Portland, both Seattle and New York are about to release separate Peru lots. The Quebrada will be in New York and the smaller Capacy lot will be available in Seattle. Although the lots are small this year, we look forward to increasing bag numbers in the future since this project shows promise. The Quebrada, (from 1900m!) has toasted sugar, cocoa and citrus aromas which introduce sweet flavors of honey, maple and ripe apricot, while the Capacy leans more towards chocolate and cherry in classic combination.

We spent the last several days returning to arrival samples of Burundi Kinyovu and Bwayi. The burlap bags are in a truck trundling their way towards our green space as we speak in anticipation of a mid-January release. The Kinyovu is the more delicate and higher-toned of the two with peach juice, white grape and subtle fruit blossom floral aromatics. The Bwayi, has a more dark-toned expression with prune, raisin, plum and black cherry flavors highlighted by violet floral aromatics. Aleco’s work with producers for better cherry selection and day-lot separation as well as a return to double fermentation allowed the cupping lab team to build these lots bit by bit into what they are now.

Aleco also spent some time in Kenya and grabbed a few preview samples from a few different factories. These samples were not size separated and yet cupped out phenomenally. This is a sneak preview of what may or may not come our way: Kangunu had syrupy black fruits and beef-like aromatics with berry syrup and dark chocolate. Ngunguru (remember?) had ripe peach, apricot and honey flavors. Gaturiri (at the top of tour list for the best coffee of 2009) had raisin and beefy aromatics with peach, raspberry, white grape and dark chocolate. And finally, Karagoto (which shares its association with Ngunguru and Tegu.) had bright huckleberry, prune, strawberry, pomegranate and black currant stands poised to do battle with all comers. Until then, we will enjoy the Gotomboya lot ready for release mid-January with its classic Kenya profile apricot, rhubarb pie and fruit punch-like flavors.

Yesterday was spent tasting the pre-ship sample from our Direct Trade Aceh. It is made from a blend composed of three different growing regions in order to arrive at our ideal profile. The bulk of the profile is from Suka Damai, while the rest is made up from equal parts Balo’ Kan and Pantan Lues all of which are situated around Lake Tawar. It cupped very sweet and heavy with a mouth feel like clean butterscotch and flavors of candied orange. As stated in the past, Sumatra offers many difficulties when trying to build and ship Direct Trade lots, but we have managed to pull through once again. We will let you know when it is about to arrive.

Despite the changes in Ethiopia in the past year or so, we still managed to find some good coffee through the auction system. This year, with the opening of the second, higher quality auction opportunities, we should be able to maintain that level of quality. Aleco tells us that although the privately held companies are still banned from trading coffee directly, producer associations that have lots scoring between 80 and 100 (using the “Q” grading standard) will be able to sell transparently and traceably through the new specialty auction arm of the Exchange.