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Source Trips

lab

Cenicafe Visit, March 2013
Darrin Daniel, Green Coffee Buyer

I’m in Pereira, Colombia (a one hour flight west from Bogota) for the 2013 Cup of Excellence. This northern region of Colombia is home to thousands of coffee growers, as well as one of the most prestigious coffee research organizations around the world: Cenicafe. Yesterday afternoon I was lucky enough to tour their research facility, participate in a variety cupping of two new experimental varieties along with their Tabi (a cross between Typica, Bourbon and Timor Hybrid) and the well known Castillo variety (a cross of Caturra and Timor Hybrid). After the cupping we went to Naranjal Central Station located in Chinchiná Caldas, which has a large variety garden focusing primarily on research of Castillo.

As luck would have it, heavy lightning and rain did not allow us out to head into the field, but we enjoyed an excellent presentation about the work done on Castillo. For those who don’t know, the Castillo variety was developed out of research dating back to 1968 and was originally known as Colombia. In 2005, it was renamed in honor of the head researcher, Dr. Jaime Castillo, after he spent many years on trials and progenies to find the right size, production, resistance to leaf rust, volume and cup quality.

The presentation addressed the specifics of trials, results from different research stations and even the hybridization process of taking pollen from the male Timor Hybrid and supplanting it onto the Caturra female flower in order to get the next generation. After the progenies F3, F4 and F5 began to show their effectiveness in 2005, it was renamed. Many questions followed about why Caturra was chosen, how can cup quality be improved and is Cenicafe trying other varieties to pair with the Timor Hybrid. It was clear there are many research projects that are in the works and once conclusive data is defined, Cenicafe will most likely be introducing new disease resistant strains that hopefully will have even better cup qualities than what we know today of Castillo. Though many buyers feel Castillo to be inferior to Bourbon and Typica, even my own tasting of Tabi proved to be pretty bright and sweet. On our way back in a thunderous storm we stopped to briefly look at some of their Ethiopian heirloom varieties in the experimental gardens (which we know to be resistant to leaf rust).

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Cenicafe is one of the most celebrated coffee experimental labs in the world and in many ways the future of coffee belongs to their bright and talented scientists and researchers. I’d put a bet down that those Ethiopia varieties will birth something we can all talk about and hopefully embrace as the future of specialty coffee.

March 2013, Marcala, Honduras
Adam McClellan, Green Coffee Buyer

Heading out to San Pedro Sula on the red eye from PDX, I was slightly weary and sleep deprived, but running on the adrenaline and excitement of my first source trip as a green coffee buyer on behalf of Stumptown. Let’s just say these are big shoes to fill and high expectations to meet. I couldn’t imagine a better farm and producer partner to start with, given that the relationship between Moises Herrera and Marysabel Caballero of Finca El Puente and Stumptown goes way back and both have been able to successfully grow together over the years. Also, the Marcala region is one of my favorite places to travel as the genuine warmth and hospitality from folks here is some of the best I’ve encountered on the coffee trail.

el_puente-(6)Moises and Marysabel picked me up at noon and after lunch we headed straight out to Marcala to catch the tail end of the day’s cherry processing. On the three hour drive out, we passed a mountainous landscape which changed to hot desert, then to higher altitude pine forest, which is where you start to see coffee growing. We had a great discussion on ‘La Roya’ – the current looming, gloomy news topic of the coffee world – which is the leaf rust epidemic spreading through Central America and its potential impact on this and next year’s crop. Thankfully, their farms are largely unaffected due to their diligent farming practices and proactive approach to addressing the plants’ needs to defend against the Roya. However, many of the neighboring farms are totally devastated with mere skeletons of coffee plants remaining. Upon entering the outskirts of Marcala, we picked up a few friendly faces for a lift into town, and then headed up to Chinacla where the wet mill and drying patios are located.

At the beneficio in Chinacla, they just finished rearranging and refurbishing the depulping/fermenting tank station to use gravity flow better and drastically cut down the amount of water used.  A new elevator turbine carries the cherry pulp up and away to the compost area so it doesn’t have to be moved by hand. They also enclosed the ceramic tiled tanks area to better control the temperature and added more efficient lighting. At the moment we arrived, a part of the demucilaging equipment had a slight malfunction so Moises dove straight into it and dug out the problem right away – pretty awesome to see these guys operate with such attention. The days picking looked so solid with pure red ripeness in the hopper. Then we drove back down into Marcala town and enjoyed some delicious pupusas at the ever-popular Pupuseria del Campo spot before hitting the sack after a long day.

el_puente-(5)The next morning after some delicious El Puente French pressed coffee (it will never get old to have a farmer serve you his or her own coffee) and baleadas to power up, we headed back up to Chinacla to see the coffee being washed. Several lots this year are going through an additional 24 hour soaking step after the initial dry fermentation and wash. Initial cup quality results are quite encouraging. The biggest highlight of the Chinacla mill is seeing all of the raised bed drying – most of it shaded by covered and ventilated beds. We’re very happy to see this added investment to this incredibly important step and look forward to more and more of our coffee being dried this way to continue to see positive improvements in the cup. (more…)

Late December 2012

Honduras faces some pretty daunting issues: it has the number one murder rate in the world and is also one of the most impoverished countries in Latin America. This, combined with drug trafficking from Colombia up through Central America, has made it a hot spot for illicit trade and gang violence. The situation became so serious that the government had to ask its police to step down so the military could properly police the country.

hond_puente_201301

Corruption and impoverishment have plagued this wonderful country for too long, yet there is hope that the coffee sector might be one industry that could help to change the image and future of Honduras. With market prices soaring about two years ago, Honduras leapt to the number one spot for coffee production in Central America. Recently, C Market prices fell. Hopefully, it will give producers the impetus to strive for the highest quality they can produce to band-aid the recent lows.

Luckily, our work in Honduras has led us to relationships like that of the Caballeros family. I flew down to meet with them (more…)

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