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July in the Cupping Room

For us, summertime is a home-coming. Throughout these months, our menu slowly repopulates with old friends and family. Honduras Finca El Puente, Panama Duncan Estate, Costa Rica Montes de Oro and, the granddaddy of them all, Guatemala Finca El Injerto 100% Bourbon all have returned in recent weeks to our welcoming cups. This week we continue that trend with the return of even more old familiars.

Bernado SolanoAround the cupping table last year there was one coffee that vied for the top slot as our favorite Central American lot again and again. Once more, Bernado Solano has returned to us a lot of La Concepcion Buenavista that could easily be considered one of this summer’s top contenders. Bernado again separated all of his Bourbon harvest before sending the cherry to Luis Pedro Zelaya’s Bellavista mill. This lot is as complex, creamy and balanced as ever. Like the seasonal berries just now showing in our local Portland grocery stores, this year’s lot is dominated by blackberry, fresh plum and complex dark fruit tones.

Cherry selection at Aida Batlle’s Finca Kilimanjaro farmPerhaps the most anticipated and talked about arrival of the summer is Aida Batlle’s Finca Kilimanjaro. The combination of micro-climate, perfect cherry selection, Bourbon with SL-28 varietals and Aida’s meticulous processing has returned a lot that is bursting with juicy berry and grape flavors. Aida constructs this lot by hiring skilled pickers that select both ‘blood red’ and ‘burgundy red’ cherries. The ‘blood red’ cherries lend the cup more complex and fully articulated acidity, while the slightly more ripe ‘burgundy red’ cherries add syrupy body and sweetness. The combination of these two profiles produces a profile with a wide spectrum. Be warned, however, that due to a diminished harvest this year, this coffee will only be around for a few short weeks. Don’t worry too much, because in the coming months we will also release Aida’s Grand Reserve, a lot constructed from the peaberries of Aida’s three farms: Kilimanjaro, Mauritania and Los Alpes.

CaturraYou may remember Costa Rica Don Mayo from previous years. We constructed the Don Mayo Reserva in the cupping room by separating out coffees that scored 90 points and above. Hector Bonilla was able to achieve these scores partly because he produces coffees on some of the highest producing elevation in Costa Rica. Also, he planted Caturra due to its tendency to thrive at altitude. This combination of altitude, varietal and precise processing resulted in a cup that possesses complex aromatics of kiwi, honey and rose petal with flavors cherry, green grape and, yes, Mexican cola. This is a Direct Trade relationship that holds promise for years to come. They have installed a cupping lab and are increasingly focused on improving quality.

Ricardo CalderonThis year marks the beginning of a brand new relationship for Stumptown in Costa Rica with Ricardo Calderon and his newly constructed Los Angeles micro-mill. Until last year, Ricardo took his cherry to a large co-op for processing. Because of his decision to process his coffee himself, we are able to offer exclusive access to three separate micro-lots that would have otherwise been lost at a larger mill. These three farms come from the Dota Valley area of the Tarrazu region. All three (La Estrella, La Granadilla and Los Girasoles) are at or above 1800 meters above sea level and therefore offer a wide swing between cool nights and warm, well-illuminated days that contribute to sweeter and more complex profiles. The first of these, La Estralla (available in Portland and Seattle), is perched at about 1900 meters above sea level and grows a combination of Caturra and Catuai. In the cupping room, we are not normally drawn to the typical Catuai profile, but this particular combination of micro-climate and elevation has provided a perfect environment for this varietal to thrive. In combination with Caturra it has yielded a sweet and viscous cup with flavors of candied berries, canned peach and raw cacao. La Granadilla (available in Portland) is a tiny (just under two acre) farm that is almost exclusively Cataui. This profile is exceptionally clean and transparent with perfumed aromatics and flavors of watermelon juice, raspberry and creme brulee. Finally, we have the first harvest ever from Los Girasoles (available in New York). It was planted with Catuai a mere two years ago, one year after Ricardo acquired it. The first harvest’s profile tends towards darker, more syrupy flavors like blackberry, raisin and dark chocolate.

Parabolic Drying BedAltitude and varietal are also factors in this year’s Colombia La Piramide (available in Portland). In partnership with ASORCAFE, a producer’s association in Pedregal de Cauca in southern Colombia, we have again been allowed access to what has come to be our favorite growing region in South America. The bulk of the 200 plus producers that have contributed to this lot have one to two hectares of farm land which are at or above 1800 meters above sea level. They are primarily planted with Caturra and, most importantly, are situated in a way which allows their cherry to get the bulk of its illumination from morning sun. This positioning allows a rapid and prolonged warming from the long, cool nights that exist at such a high altitude. Also, because of the proximity to the equator and the fact that there is no clear distinction between seasons and rain is almost daily occurrence, the coffee is dried on raised beds with parabolic covering. This has resulted in a cup bursting with juicy red fruits, orange citrus sweet cocoa. The Las Vegas (available in New York) producers association is across the valley from the ASORCAFE association. It is a much smaller association and therefore offers a much limited choice of coffees each year. The coffees selected from the Las Vegas association have a small amount of Bourbon mixed in with the Caturra. This has resulted in sweet cup with added acidic complexity. The cup begins with fruit blossom aromatics before transitioning to a complex of fruit flavors both tart and sweet. El Jordan (available in Seattle) from Tolima has returned again. It is once again a balanced combination of satsuma orange acidity and brown sugar sweetness.

Haile GabreWe have been lucky this past year or two and have still managed to maintain our connections with several fine Ethiopian coffees in spite of the vagaries of the Commodity Exchange (ECX). We have had the Michelle for several weeks and now have the return of the Mordecofe Organic. This is the fourth year we have had Mordecofe and the second that we are able to offer it as a Direct Trade coffee. Partially due to Haile Gabre’s extended washing technique (up to 6 hours!), this year’s lot is a model of transparency and cleanliness. Ripe peach, melon and lemon are all accented with floral and hops notes within a body that is both creamy and nearly perfectly balanced. Look for this coffee to get even better as it settles into its new environment, as is often the case with many of our quality Ethiopian lots.

Rachel PetersonAnd finally, Panama Esmeralda Geisha is back! The lot we purchased this year comes from a micro-climate, north of the creek on the Peterson’s farm, Jaramillo de Boquete in Panama, which consistently yields some of the most prized Geisha in the world. The cup I have in my hand at this moment is dominating the cupping room with the scent of blooming jasmine, the aroma of tropical fruits and the flavors of tangerine, marmalade, champagne grape and perfectly brewed black tea. It is difficult to imagine a more balanced arrangement of sensations.

- Jim