- John Gibson
Welcome to your May subscription, where this month we are exploring processing. Your pack this month contains attempts by two producers to elevate a high quality coffee experience to an outstanding one through fermentation. Both coffees are composed of traditional and popular varietals for their respective countries and regions, but use experimental and exacting processing methods to create new expressions of their varietal character. In a future where climate change can affect the narrow balance of conditions required to produce high quality coffees, and an industry pushes for ever greater quantities of these coffees, the ability to elevate ordinary coffees to something special could be a vital skill for producers.
The first coffee is from our partners at Daterra, a small family producing group in the Cerrado Mineiro region of Brazil. The name Daterra means ‘of the earth’, and this is reflected in their approach to farming. While growing their farming operation, the team at Daterra paid much attention to preserving the native flora and fauna of the Cerrado region, one of the most biodiverse regions of Brazil. They were early adopters of organic farming methods, leading to the first Rainforest Alliance certification of a farm in Brazil, and were used by Andrea Illy to create the sustainable coffee farm model in 2008. This is something the current generation of the family are very proud of, but they also take great pride in their coffee quality. They have pioneered new levels of quality control in Brazil, using innovative growing, picking and sorting methods to create consistently excellent coffees.
The coffee you are receiving this month is a great example of that. Yellow Bourbon is a very important varietal to Brazil, having initially been introduced to the country in 1860. Nowadays, it has mainly been replaced by modern resistant and higher yielding varietals, but many producers still rely upon its consistently high quality potential to make their living. Daterra’s Yellow Bourbon makes the base for many of their more classic ‘Brazil-character’ lots, with chocolate and nut flavours and heavy body and sweetness, but with this small lot, they applied an experimental and high tech process to this most ordinary of varietals. The Carbonic Maceration process has been used in the wine industry for several decades, particularly in the Beaujolais region, producing fruit-driven, juicy structured wines in a very controlled manner. The application of this process in coffee is only a few years old, but has the same goals. Daterra’s Semi-Carbonic Maceration process is one we are familiar with from their spectacular Jací microlot we were lucky enough to share last year, and provides a complex and nuanced final cup character. The cherries are placed in tall stainless steel tanks, equipped with an airlock at the top, allowing oxygen to leave the tank, but not to return. The weight of the upper cherries crushes the lower cherries in the tank, releasing sugary mucilage and kickstarting fermentation. This fermentation releases CO2, which due to its high density, slowly pushes all of the oxygen out of the top of the tank, resulting eventually in an anaerobic environment for fermentation. This process creates a complex and distinct character through several means. The anaerobic environment favours a very different set of yeast and bacteria to a traditional fermentation, resulting in a distinct body and sweetness, with a similar juicy character to that of a Beaujolais wine. There is also complexity in acidity created due to the difference in fermentation degree of the macerated bottom layer of cherries, compared to the nearly intact upper layers of cherries. In this lot we are finding that the carbonic maceration adds new layers of complexity, with the acidity having both clean citric and tropical fruit components, and the heavy sweetness and mouthfeel giving a milk chocolate feel.
This is our second year working with our friend Herbert Peñaloza Correa, the Director of Quality at 575 Cafe. 575 is an entity that aims to create relationships between small growers across Colombia, and roasters willing to pay a premium for their coffees. No small task, and one that several other businesses strive for, but at La Cabra we find Herbert’s meticulous and scientific approach particularly interesting. He strives to manage the entire farming value chain throughout the production process, focused on adding value while managing the increased labour and often environmental impact required in order to produce specialty coffee. Herbert’s in-farm research revolves around fertilisation-fermentation-drying relationships, as methods to produce exciting and diverse attributes in the cup. He also continues his relationship with the coffees after the production stage, keeping in touch with roasters like us to closely study how the behaviour of different coffees changes through the dry-milling, storing and roasting stages, and keeping track of how this affects final cup attributes. He partners with small producers and aids them with the steps of production he is most well-versed in, mainly fertilisation and processing, often using novel methods to create coffees with unusual flavour profiles when compared to traditional Colombian coffees.
This month we are excited to share two such coffees, coffees Herbert has been closely involved in producing. Due to the very small size of these unique lots, you will receive one of two coffees in your pack this month. Like the lot from Daterra, both showcase a very ordinary Colombian varietal elevated through novel and careful processing. The first is produced by the Mustafa family in the small Risaralda region, not far from the border with northern Tolima. This is a 100% Castillo lot, a rust resistant Robusta hybrid varietal based on the widely used Caturra variety, but often of slightly lower quality than its 100% Arabica cousin. This small lot was processed using a slightly tweaked honey process, with a 24 hr in-cherry pre-fermentation. The coffee is then de-pulped, leaving much of the fruity mucilage attached to the seeds, before being loaded into tanks for a controlled fermentation. Finally, the seeds are dried on patios under partial shade, for slower and more even drying. This creates a coffee with the clean and juicy character of a traditional washed Colombian coffee, some bright hibiscus notes, but with a softer fruit backbone, reminiscent of a fresh cantaloupe.
The second coffee is grown by Ruth Moncayo, much further south in Nariño. This is a Colombia varietal lot, another rust resistant Caturra hybrid. Again, this varietal is not normally known for its extraordinary cup characteristics, but is elevated by some unusual processing. This lot is actually a blend of two different processes, designed to create a heavier and sweeter take on the Nariño profile. First, a similar 24 hr pre-fermentation in-cherry is carried out on the whole lot, before it is split in half. The first half is processed very similarly to the Mustafa’s lot, de-pulped as a honey and fermented in tanks for 72 hours before patio drying, and the second half is dried slowly as a full natural, with the entire cherry surrounding the seeds throughout. This creates a complex and heavier Colombian profile, while still showcasing the acidity we have come to expect. This heavy sweetness combined with a clean berry-like acidity gives a blackberry jam feel, underpinned by caramel bass notes.
All of the coffees this month showcase a possible direction for our industry. A modern and scientific approach to farming and processing can lead to incredible consistency in quality, and take a lot grown at lower altitude, or of a lower quality varietal, and elevate it to something extraordinary. Herbert and the team at Daterra are doing excellent work in this field, and in this age of falling coffee prices and threatening changes in climate, we are excited to support pioneers making strides towards a better and more sustainable coffee future.
La Cabra is a modern coffee roastery based out of Aarhus and Copenhagen, Denmark. Every month we ship out two unique coffee experiences and provide insight into how these coffees were grown and processed by talented producers.Subscribe Learn More coffee line-up