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November in the Cupping Room

It’s cold, dark and wet outside again and time to warm ourselves with the bright and sweet arrivals recently added to the menu.  Among the new additions is the Colombia El Jordan from central Colombia’s Andes Mountains.  This coffee comes from one of the most verdant and fecund micro-climates in all of Colombia.  The presence of an active volcano, Nevado de Huila, great elevation and ideal daytime illumination are all clearly evident in a profile that is heavy, syrupy sweet and juicy.  The previous lot of this coffee that we had on the menu was clearly dominated by a mouth-watering acidity akin to satsuma orange.  This lot has gained notice in the cupping room not only for that characteristic, but a berry aspect as well.  Memories of our late summer and fall berry-picking excursions are re-animated each time we encounter the ripe blackberry or boysenberry accents in this coffee. We are also offering it as a single origin espresso to our wholesale clients.  In the lab, we have been astonished again and again at how intensely sweet this coffee is when extracted as espresso. This coffee is made even more precious because of decades of conflict between the government, leftist guerillas and narco-traffickers that has made it impossible to visit this area until recently.  At this writing, Aleco, one of our Green Coffee Buyers, has managed to visit our producer partners on their own farms twice.  In the past, the producers, the exporter and Stumptown had to meet at a town safely distanced from any danger.  These face-to-face visits are keys to maintaining and strengthening our Direct Trade relationships with producers at origin.

There is also a single origin Colombia decaf new to the menu.  The Decaf Colombia La Piramide comes to us through our work with Virmax and their Las Mingas project.  This lot was built through the same method employed to construct the Colombia El Jordan.  That is, Virmax solicits samples from small producers (typically with less than 3 acres of land and coffee trees) and forwards the best of these to our cupping table for blind assessment.  Those scoring 86 or above (according to the Cup of Excellence scoring system) are approved and bulked into the final lot.  This incentive system, where producers are paid higher prices for higher coffee scores, has allowed us to experience what might be the best decaffeinated coffee most of us in the cupping room have ever tasted.  It has been fun to give someone a cup of this coffee without telling them what it is and then to witness the astonishment when the name of the coffee is revealed.  We like it best as single-cup cone pour-over or through an AeroPress.  The pour-over balances caramel and orange candies whereas the AeroPress heightens the body and yields a cup filled with even more caramel, Hershey’s chocolate syrup and graham cracker pie crust.

The Indonesia Sulawesi Toarco is another returning coffee that is an ideal candidate to counter these short, dark days.  We’ve found its long, honeyed finish balanced against its bright, crisp and pear-like acidity is the ideal counter-weight to the rain.  For decades, the Japanese-owned Toarco mill made this coffee available only within Japan.  In the past few years, however, they have begun to sell more and more to the West.  Because of our exclusive rights to the highest grown coffee that the mill processes (and their focus on strict cherry selection) we are once again able to release a lot that is of the highest caliber.  The quality of this year’s profile is especially extraordinary when you consider the rudimentary means that the thousands of small producers must employ in order to process their cherry.  Although final drying occurs at the mill on patios or in large rice dryers, each producer uses wooden de-pulping tools to remove the cherry skin and small plastic buckets or wicker baskets for fermentation and washing.  Each time we taste this coffee and consider its origins, we are humbled.