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Source Trips

Ethiopia 2012: Pushing the Coffee Wall

Ethiopia was my own personal coffee promised land long before I ever first visited in 2007, before even becoming a coffee buyer in the early 2000’s. After 20 years in coffee, 2007 marked a turning point in my coffee life…also, too, in my personal life. The American poet, Charles Olson suggested the idea of the private soul against the public wall. (more…)

May 2nd
I woke moments before the call to prayer here in Medan. The sun has yet to pull up into the horizon as dueling Mosques wake the city. Medan is essentially a melding of old world and new. It has over 6 million people with at least half Muslim, 30% Christian and the rest are Hindu or Buddhist. I planned to meet with some other suppliers while in Medan before leaving to fly up north to Banda Aceh and Takengon. We have a lot of samples to go through and are also planning some farm visits in a new area that looks extremely promising. Even though I’ve been to Sumatra many times in the last five years, I’m always amazed at the cultural aspect of Indonesia and how it melds into the coffee culture in so many interesting ways. Sumatra stirs a lot of things up for me— mainly that they have an amazing climate for excellent, clean coffee but need improved methods for collecting coffee quicker for processing.

May 5th
I flew to Takengon to meet with Danny Piatscheck and his son Reinhardt of PT Gajah Mountain group. We arranged two days of cupping at their brand new lab and dry mill in town. There’s great new potential for PT Gajah to source more directly from around the lake areas that have already been identified for quality (Bintang, Bah, Sukadawai, and Pondok Baru). Right after our arrival, we met with Gayo Mandiri (one of the suppliers to PT Gajah). We conducted a cupping and tour of their facility in Pondok Baru and cupped a new lot that is currently on its way to us. I provided a brief cupping training for Amin Mohammad, the director, and his cooperative leadership. Rule number one, never smoke clove cigarettes in or near the cupping lab!

Takengon is a small city primarily dependent upon coffee, chili peppers and other cash crops such as tomatoes. Coffee is terraced around the lake. The town of almost 200,000 sits at the lake’s bank at well over 1,100 meters above sea level. We can reach Bintang and Pondok Baru within a day’s drive of the lake. We selected areas where we feel the coffees are producing better quality and focused on those areas.

May 6th
After a seven hour drive, we arrived in an area that’s new to us. To our knowledge, we’re the first buyers ever to visit this region. In the past, the 1,500-2,000 farmers in the village sold their coffees to coyotes or village representatives in Takengon. They always had their coffee bulked together with other Aceh coffees. We proposed that Danny would give field training on better husbandry and nursery management. They committed to keep the coffees from this area separate and deliver them to PT Gajah and Stumptown. We cupped Typica lots and found the coffees very balanced and sweet. This area has the potential to evolve into some separated lots which could comprise a Gajah Reserve as higher scoring coffees are identified.  Most of the coffee in this pristine area is grown at 1300-1500 meters along a river that winds through the small community. Many of these farmers have been growing coffee since 1984. After the 2004 Tsunami, a number of farmers were relocated to the area as NGO money infiltrated the region.


May 7th
We returned to a full day of cupping of various regions with nice results for our overall Gajah profile. Some specific areas such as Bintang showed higher and were more aligned with the Stumptown profile. We spent about four hours before the rains started in and we needed to get back in the truck and make the seven hour return. We arrived very late that night and had a lot of brainstorming about the new areas. We met with several farmers in the area and things look pretty promising. Almost everywhere we looked in the area we saw domestic tobacco production, which stands out in contrast to the coffee farms.

May 8th
We found some nice standouts while cupping in the lab, including a Typica sample we took from the last farmer we visited in the new regions.  We also liked Pondok Baru from the Northeastern region, Bah which is North of Lake Tawar and our usual favorite from Bintang. With PT Gajah’s new dry mill open and receiving coffees, we see potential for major improvements. We had great discussions about working towards varietal and regional separation for the top coffees in the region.  Danny plans to encourage the leaders in the village to organize themselves into a cooperative and focus on organic certification.

We continued to focus on maintaining the Stumptown profile with Joka Syauta, the lead cupper and buyer and other partner with PT Gajah in Takengon.  Joka manages quality control in the lab and their new dry mill in addition to actively buying coffee in various regions.  We look forward to new discoveries within the vast area of Aceh.

Darrin Daniel

It had been awhile since we had a new coffee roll out, but the one that we just experienced was worth the wait. The new fruits showing up at farmer’s markets here in Portland’s gradually awakening summer have analogs in many of the flavors we are encountering in these new (and returning!) members of our menu.

With every new coffee roll out, there are always a few coffees that garner special attention for us around the cupping table. These are coffees that the roaster’s will brew up to drink simply for pleasure or grab to take home for the weekend. For us this past week, it’s been either Ethiopia Duromina or Colombia La Esperanza. Both of these coffees are returnees and our anticipation was easily outpaced by how sweet and dynamic both lots actually were when they finally showed here. This is only the second year for the Duromina and we wondered if it’d meet the level it had established last year. Last year’s lot was all fresh orange juice and champagne grape. While we have encountered those flavors in the new lot, in addition there are fresh pineapple, oolong tea, cocoa and vanilla bean flavors that lend the profile qualities that are one of a kind. If you’re like me and you’ve made your way out to the country to camp, fish or hike, you’ve passed fruit stands bulging with fresh strawberries. They remind me of the Duromina every time. This coffee not only tastes nothing like anything on our menu, it tastes like no coffee we’ve had. Ever.

For several years, the Colombia La Esperanza has shown on our menu annually. Each year we wonder out loud if the quality will match that which we first encountered when it won first place in the 2007 Cup of Excellence. This year it met that benchmark and gone beyond. A viscous mouth feel, raw honey, and mixed fruits like cranberry, maraschino cherry and ruby red grapefruit show up when brewed as a Chemex, while blackberry, raisin and prune flavors emerge when brewed through a Beehouse or Melitta cone. In short, this lot displays qualities one would normally associate with a Kenya lot. It’s lovely.

A few of the roasters have been singing the praises of the new Ethiopia Mordecofe lot as well. This coffee also does well when brewed through a Chemex as this method tends to highlight the floral/sweet herbal aspect of the profile. We’ve encountered flavors that are at time hops-like (think Russian River IPA) and at others more mint-like (think mint chocolate chip ice cream). The manner in which the producer, Haile Gabre, employs shaded pre-drying results in a body and flavor that is perceived as a heavy cream like flavor and mouth feel.

Montes de Oro has returned at a level that Steve, our Head Roaster, considers its highest yet. I agree and have found myself returning to this lot again and again, especially when I want to brew a real crowd pleaser. When brewed through a Chemex, floral, delicate red currant and milk chocolate aspects are highlighted. When brewed through a Beehouse or a Melitta, cherry compote, toasted hazelnut and powdered cocoa come to the fore. The Gamboa’s insistence on cherry that is consistently picked at a level they’ve labeled as ‘Sangre del Toro,’ or ‘Blood of the Bull,’ results on a profile that is therefore reminiscent of the experience of eating a cherry straight off the shrub.

Marvin Robles has also presented us with a selection that has met, and in some ways surpassed, the quality he’s achieved in the past. The fact that he grows, picks, processes and dries every cherry himself is evident in the cup. Crisp white grape-like acidity complements juicy black cherry in every Chemex we brew. In the past, we’ve had a limited amount of this coffee due to the micro-level of Senor Robles’ production. This year, however, he purchased additional cherry from surrounding farms that will allow us to enjoy the fruits of his efforts for longer.

As usual, my Dad has honed in on one or two coffees that he can’t get enough of. This time, he keeps asking about the Costa Rica Verde Alto and the Colombia Hacienda Roble. He loves the combination of marzipan and apricot that the Verde Alto reveals when he brews it in a moka pot. He also raves about the Colombia Hacienda El Roble and its counterpoint between the ganache-like sensation and flavor set against a clean and delicate acidity, especially when brewed through his travel Melitta cone on a camping trip.

In short, this is a stellar roll out and you can consider the descriptions above as free from hyperbole. Consider them, instead, as delight filled observations of fact.

Enjoy the coffee!


March 6-8, 2012

During the drive

Although I have made the drive up to Huehuetenango many times over the years, this was my first time meeting the Aguirre family and I was a bit nervous (but mostly excited to finally complete this part of my journey as a buyer at Stumptown!) I was in the presence of coffee royalty. The core of the day was spent beginning a relationship, making connections and ultimately sharing who and where we have been in this life of coffee.

We took a short cut to avoid a road closure south of La Democracia. We paused for a break with Arturo Senior’s friend at a farm named Huixoc in a town with the same name. Alejandro, the owner, eagerly toured us around his wet mill, drying patios and beautiful nursery filled with Caturra and Bourbon varietals. About an hour later, we headed out to finish off our last hour of driving to the farm. We arrived just as the daylight bled out of the narrow valley known as El Paraiso, which borders Finca La Bolsa and Finca Limonar.

Finca El Injerto Day 1

When we arrived, Arturo Sr. and Jr. said a short prayer to the Virgin Mary at the shrine on the north side of their beautiful hacienda. We quickly toured the wet mill as pickers brought their coffees to the newly renovated receiving station. They divided up the receiving boxes into two separate lanes to speed up the process. The change gives the pickers more time to clean up after work, get home and have their meals. Typically, receiving stations are hectic and pushy. Arturo Sr. installed a TV above the station that shows local soap opera, crime channels and soccer, which successfully created a calm environment.

Arturo Jr. is working on some new projects which will greatly improve fermentation including building an additional fermentation tank, finishing tiling the entire washing area and tiling all of the tanks. We then toured the washing channel which utilizes a gravity system to allow the heavy, dense beans to flow through a tub and eventually be pushed out by force. The floaters, or less dense beans, stay on top of the water and are separated out without using as much water or damning up the channels with paddles. This system improves the coffee quality while streamlining the system.  Each depulper works for up to 40 quintals (100 kg) per hour. Injerto began doing a secondary depulping process in order to ensure that all of the dense coffee is consistently depulped. As we walked down to the drying patios, Arturo mentioned that they are about 2-4 weeks out from the end of harvest. After a short dinner at the end of a long day, we were ready for bed.


Finca El Injerto Day 2

Over breakfast, we discussed some ongoing projects such as the new warehouse for resting parchment. This building is connected to the new clinic, maintenance room and four newly installed showers and bathrooms for workers. The clinic has been a mainstay at El Injerto for years with a physician who visits every 15 days from the nearby town of La Democracia. The family decided to build new housing for their year round workers with the funds from last year’s auction. Eight of the ten families will receive new homes. Later that day, we dropped by one of the homes still under construction. Arturo Jr. conveys a huge sense of pride about their social programs. They’re building a playground and nursery for the pickers’ kids, which will enable the pickers to have their children supervised and provide activities during harvest. Injerto also pays twice the hourly wage as their neighbors. An expectation of higher scrutiny in all things concerned with harvesting and processing comes with the higher wage. Some workers have found it too demanding, but this is what sets Injerto apart.

Injerto ferments their coffee for up to 60-70 hours. After channeling and density separation, they do a secondary soak for 10-12 hours. The coffee is then spread out on patios to dry for seven to eight days. They finalize the drying process in Guardiola dryers until the moisture level reaches 12%.

In the morning, we visited the nursery which houses over 45K plants which are predominately for restoration of older plants, although some will be used for new areas of expansion within their property. We also saw the worm nursery and compost program. They are playing around with some new ‘honey’ coffees on raised beds, too. During our tour, we had the chance to get in a quick wholesale meeting via Skype. It was so cool to connect Arturo with the Portland team.

El Injerto continues to maintain their aggressive pruning program which involves selective pruning within regions of the farm to promote plant health and branch density. This type of stumping promotes three generative shooters known as Grandfather, Father and Son, with each new shoot slightly heartier than the next. This type of pruning can be costly, but in the long run, it is best for the plant and the farm’s long term productivity.

Arturo Sr. mentioned that he purchased his Tekisic from El Salvador in the ‘70s for $20 per kilo. Tekisic, derived from ‘tekiti’ (the Nahuat word for ‘work’, and ISIC (Instituto Salvadoreño de Investigaciones del Café), translates to ‘the work of ISIC’. He shows pride in bringing this variety to Guatemala so early. It’s yet another example of how progressive El Injerto is when it comes to varietal discoveries.

Later in the day, we cupped two tables. Overall, the standouts for me were:

Maragogype – savory, sugarcane, brandy, cognac, elegant.
Bourbon Nativo – almond, cinnamon, plush toffee-like body.
Cima – lemongrass, piney, bright but short on the body and aftertaste.
Pacamara – chive, molasses, honey, cola berry.
G1 (Panama Geisha) – stunning, jasmine, honeysuckle, peach and red apple.

Finca El Injerto Day 3

I awoke brutally early in the morning to prepare to leave by 5am due to the road closures from heavy rains which caused a road washout south of La Democracia. The trip was not only amazing and vital, but clearly cemented the ongoing relationship with El Injerto. Huehuetenango is one of my favorite regions in the coffee growing world, and Injerto is the crowned jewel.

darrin daniel
Finca El Injerto
Huehuetenango, Guatemala

After a full day of traveling from Portland I arrived in Bogota with Darrin, our head green coffee buyer. We had a week to meet a number of coffee producers and see their farms.

From my perspective as a trainer and educator at Stumptown, Colombia is an amazing place to visit. Unlike many coffee producing areas, you see evidence of the entire nine month production on one tree; you can find flowering alongside unripe and ripe coffee cherry. Colombia’s coffee production is primarily made up of small coffee farms that do their own small scale processing. Hand crank depulpers remove the cherry’s skin before the coffee is fermented for about 18 hours, washed, and then laid to dry in raised parabolic drying beds that protect the coffee from sporadic rainfall. Each farmer is individually responsible for quality in each of these steps and it shows as each lot is tasted and scored.

While at the farms that compromise El Jordan and La Piramide, I came to understand how Roya, or coffee leaf rust, dramatically decreases yields. The methods for preventing Roya are much easier and more effective than treating the infected plant. This problem is a major cause of decreasing yields throughout Colombia and influences farmers to plant rust resistant varieties that yield lower quality in the cup profile.

Producing high quality coffee doesn’t always mean raising the cost of production for famers. Achieving great coffee requires attention to detail year round on the farm. This can actually make a producer more efficient than they were before since it results in higher yields and less defective coffee to be sorted out.

One of the biggest focuses for Virmax’s technical assistance program is helping farmers increase productivity through soil analysis, sustainable pruning, planting, and coffee leaf rust prevention. Ultimately, this is necessary to increase farmer profits even if they secure a great price for high scoring coffee.

After a week full of flights, 6-8 hour drives up into the Cordilleras, talking with coffee farmers and touring farms, I left Colombia with a deepened respect for the work that makes great coffee possible and the ongoing work that we all participate in to develop and sustain this level of quality.

Jon Felix-Lund
Portland Trainer and Educator

Day one Nairobi, Kenya

The red eye gave me no chance for a wink, but I was lucky enough to get some early morning nap time before heading out of the city to see an animal preserve for giraffes in a sub-district of Nairobi called Karen. We then headed a few miles away to see Karen Blixen’s house, the women who was portrayed in the Sydney Pollock movie “Out of Africa”. Then we took a quick jaunt over to Mamba, an animal sanctuary for crocodiles and ostrich’s, where I witnessed a young man poke sticks at 12-14 ft. male crocs to get them to hiss. At least that was my take as I clung to the guard rail. Afterwards, we moved on to slower, kinder things: I held a 2 year old croc in my hands while the driver and our guide Sammie toiled with my iPhone for a snap or two that seemed to take an eternity. Wildlife handling is just not in my blood.  By this time, it became clear that it must have been a Sunday and the offices of our exporter coffee group were closed and I had to make like a tourist or end up falling prey to jet lag. Luckily, tourism won out.

Day two, Dorman’s cupping lab
We ran through close to 160 cupping samples: AAs, ABs and many PB grades. The morning tables produced a few great samples, especially from groups such as Ngunguru, Kora, Kihuyo (from Muthega factory), Gichathaini, Ndimani and Ndaroini. At the end, we realized that we hadn’t tasted the previous week’s selection of our fondest coffee: Gatomboya, Gaturiri, Kagumoini, Kangunu, Ngunguru or any of the other Kenya standouts that we look for at Stumptown. All in all, there were about 13 that had showed some promise. After cupping for 9 hours straight, I felt a little dejected and worried we might not find the beauties I was hoping to find. This led to calls for a big meal, so we went for a feast at Curry In a Hurry which, later in the meal, was coined Curry not in a Hurry, which was just fine with us. This was a bastion of amazing Indian styles from the southern regions.

Day three
At 3 am I was already up and clamoring for more samples. I hoped for bright and silky coffees that would display deep toned body, floral nuance, citrus that holds high tannin, nectarine, peach, currant and marked by the rare and often sought jasmine. Cupping in Kenya is as close to coffee heaven as you can get. The range and intensity speak for themselves, and this morning I’m ready for another full day of sweetness and vibrancy. Fingers crossed we get there.

We cupped through some Gatomboya, Gaturiri and a few other standbys. We found two, if not three, stellar coffees. Karatu showed some promise with its floral, pine and jasmine aromatics, followed by apricot, white pepper, lemon balm, white grape and tones of cleanly washed Yirgacheffe. Karatu is from the Thika area, with elevations around 1,700 meters. The Ngunguru Peaberry was amazing with its fresh butter, hints of lime, currant, bergamot and a long spiced finish. Pretty sick. The Peaberry Ngunguru has the promise of cracking the 90s.

Last year seems to loom as the year of small output, high prices and excellent quality. We will see how things progress, but most Kenya predictions are for modest prices, good to hopeful for us, and some potential Grand Crus.