A Harvest for the Ages
January 2011

Harvest. It’s what drives the Green Coffee Department here at Stumptown, and in turn, our roasting company. Everything we do is in anticipation of a harvest, when we get to evaluate the success of everyone’s work, pushing ourselves and our producers to new heights in quality and inviting our customers to share in the uniquely delicious coffee that results.

If the waiting was killing us, we were lucky this year, as early rains in Central America last year triggered an early harvest, shifting most harvests a month early. Nervousness that a pumped up market might discourage our producers from delivering exceptional quality did not bear out, and the Green Coffee Department has been exchanging sheepish grins and whisperings that this could be a harvest for the ages. What I’m trying to say is: THE COFFEE WILL BE AMAZING.

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But enough of this generalizing–you want the details, and we got ‘em. The season kicked off in the waning days of November in Kenya, Aleco and I boarding our plane with belts expanded and burping pumpkin pie. We spent a lot of time with Ngunguru and Gaturiri, and also visited with Karindundu, Karatina, Gatomboya, Tegu and Kagumoini. In short time, Aleco had cupped hundreds of samples and found three that immediately stood out–a delicate but gorgeous lot from Tegu, lush with tropical fruit notes and navel orange, a balanced, articulated lot from Kagumoini with flavors of honey and lime, and a juicy Ngunguru laden with blackberry and lemon cake. It was an invigorating way to start the season, and we left optimistic about at least one country on the menu.

I took off for a quick trip to El Salvador in developing a relationship with a group in Metapan, and joined Aleco in Costa Rica to visit with Helsar de Zarcero, Torres Villalobos, Marvin Robles, Montes de Oro, Verde Alto, Brumas del Zurqui, Don Mayo, (I’m sure I’m missing some here). In the early days of harvest, we were pleased with the ripe, red cherry being picked and the clean processing at the mills. While it was too early to cup many of these, we were able to further justify our long relationship with Emilio Gamboa as some of his early pickings cupped fantastically and are almost ready to ship from Costa Rica! Aleco continued on to Guatemala, where he cupped nearly 100 samples from the likes of Bellavista, Santa Clara, and Candelaria, and had a chance to meet up with Arturo Aguirre Sr. and Jr. who say that everything is on track for this coming harvest. We look forward to having the Bourbon, Maragogype and Pacamara Peaberry from Finca El Injerto this year!

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In January, I returned to Kenya and cupped hundreds of samples, finding a few more that stood out: two Gatomboyas, one a Peaberry and the other a flat bean, both creamy and heavy with currants, and another Tegu, this one floral and bright with pomegranate flavors. Aleco returned to Costa Rica to cup and to see more harvest. He spent a day with the Calderon family at Los Angeles micro-mill, their farms extending above and beyond 2000 meters, as well as time with Helsar de Zarcero, and Don Mayo. The superstar of the week in Costa Rica was a lot of Caturra from Marvin Robles, a coffee that Aleco described as being like a glass of strawberry-pomegranate juice. A harvest for the ages, indeed.

Which brings us nearly up to date. Last week I left for a four-country tour in Central America: Starting in Honduras with a new relationship in Pena Blanca, Santa Barbara, continuing on to El Salvador where I was able to cup the very first samples from Metapan, and writing to you from Nicaragua.

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Arriving in Nicaragua Sunday morning, I traveled to Jinotega, hometown of Stumptown roaster and Green Coffee Department QC cupper Francisco Javier Valle. Javier’s wife and brother-in-law hosted me, and the latter motorcycled me to Javier’s farm in Las Cuchillas. It was a fantastic trip, and all the more emotional and exciting because I’ve worked closely with Javier for the last six months, and because Javier will be returning to his wife and family at the end of February. His farm was finished with harvest, but I had the pleasure of drinking coffee (and a bit of rum) with FJ’s father, Leonardo Valle, and teasing his siblings and nieces and nephews. I transported to Esteli and spent today with the Canales family in Pueblo Nuevo, home of the famous Los Delirios farm and mill. It’s far from Stumptown’s first visit, we have worked with the Canales family for years, but I was nonetheless thrilled to see the terroir and trees that have produced all those amazing coffees.

Tomorrow I leave for Guatemala. Meanwhile, after a quick jaunt through Costa Rica to check in on peak harvest season and diagnose the first day lots on the cupping table Aleco was off to Kenya and Ethiopia.  Both he and I have cupped and purchased the very finest lots that they can remember buying in the past few years from Kenya.  Notorious washing stations like Gaturiri, Ngunguru and Kangunu are tasting as good as ever with succulent blackberry and strawberry notes headlining flavor profiles laden with buttery caramel and viscous, raw honey.  The past few days have seen Aleco heading deep into the wild, literally, west of Ethiopian coffee land.  We’ve begun a new project with producing groups in the Jimma and Ilubabor regions of the country and are tasting some exquisite new flavor profiles along the with elegant, floral profiles we’ve come to expect from the birthplace of coffee.  More to come on all of this in the spring.  In the meantime Aleco and I will regroup for a week in Portland before heading south to catch more harvest action in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.

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It’s been a busy couple of months, but we’re just getting started: next month we’ll be returning to Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala for extended visits with Finca El Puente, Finca Kilimanjaro and Finca El Injerto, and we’re keeping our ear to the ground for March. You can count on us to let you know every titillating detail of the continuing harvest and future cupping tables.

Also, if you’d like to read about–as well as see photos of–our visits as they’re happening, you should follow us on Twitter!

–Ryan Brown