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This month we’re hoping to share some of our journey in discovering new coffee origins to engage in.
In order to do this, we first rely on the expertise of coffee buyers who have worked in these countries for some time.
Honduras is still rather new to the speciality coffee market, but quality is increasing at a very fast rate. Ally Coffee have connected us with several producers in the Santa Barbara region, including Pedro Sagastume.
Rwanda is a more established specialty origin, but one we are less familiar with. Nordic Approach have been working with the Gitesi mill over several seasons and share a close relationship.
El Ocote, a small plot managed by Pedro Sagastume, has produced this fresh and bright washed Paraneima, which showcases crisp ripe fruit, like raspberry and redcurrant.
Gitesi is a typical washed Rwandan lot, with floral aromas followed by a crisp balance between citrus acidity and honey sweetness.
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We are constantly searching for new origins to engage in, tasting hundreds of samples sent to us both from import/export companies, and directly from producers. We thought we would share some of this journey this month, where we present two coffees from origins less familiar to us, in an attempt to better understand their coffee growing culture. The best way to be introduced to these new experiences is to rely on experts, with feet on the ground in coffee origin countries around the world. For this month’s coffees, we have been aided by two of our long term collaborators: Nordic Approach in Rwanda, and Ally Coffee in Honduras.
In many ways Rwanda is rather similar to its neighbour Burundi to work in as a coffee buyer; it’s very small, rather poor and landlocked, so it’s difficult to get coffee to port and out of the country. There is also a degree of civil unrest, but in recent years there been a decreasing level of crime and corruption, especially compared to Burundi. In terms of coffee, Rwanda has a similar profile to Burundi, where many smallholder farmers deliver cherry to large privately-owned washing stations, which process mainly washed coffees, but also recently some naturals. The Rwandan government have tight controls on the coffee market, and until recently it was only possible to export washed coffees. The law was recently changed, but a license is still required in order to export naturals, which required an initial commitment from a foreign buyer to buy all of the coffee produced. In the case of the Gitesi station we are sharing coffee from this month, it was Nordic Approach who were able to provide this initial commitment. Rwandan coffees in general are bright and acidity-forward, like much of East Africa, and often showcase some crisp and Ethiopia-like florals.
Honduras is also rather unstable, and one of the poorest countries in Central America, with a degree of political unrest that still echoes from a 2009 military coup. Coffee makes up 10% of Honduras’ total exports, the second largest proportion after items of clothing made in large factories. Although coffee exports are so important to Honduras, it is still rather young in the speciality department. Benjamin Paz, one of the driving forces behind the push for greater quality in Honduras, only started the speciality arm of his business 15 years ago. Now they work with 200 producers on the Santa Barbara mountain, of which Pedro Sagastume, producer of this month’s coffee, is one. Much of Honduras’ coffee industry is made up of lower quality coffees sold close to C-market price, but there are quite a high proportion of farms with organic or fair-trade certifications who are able to earn a small premium above this. Especially in the Santa Barbara region, the specialty revolution has begun to take hold, and experimentation with varietals and fermentation is growing ever more popular. This makes it hard to describe a typical Honduran cup profile, but a thread of freshness seems to carry through much of what we have tasted so far, with intense and crisp citric acidity a common theme.
First coffee - Honduras
El Ocote Washed Paraneima
Raspberry, Redcurrant and Caramel (250g / 8.8oz)
We have been impressed with many Honduran lots over the last few years, but especially over the past couple of seasons. Quality seems to be improving at a very high rate, partly thanks to the work of visionaries like Benjamin Paz and his company Beneficio San Vicente in helping producers realise the quality of their coffees, and connecting them to like-minded roasters. The Santa Barbara Region provides some challenges to those hoping to grow high quality coffee. It stretches from the border with Guatemala into the central highlands, home to some of the highest altitude in the country. Santa Barbara also sits close to a large area of jungle, leading to high humidity and a great deal of rainfall, especially during harvest season, which creates great difficulty in consistently drying coffees. The low night temperatures here, along with the wet climate, can also lead to ‘freezing’ of the coffee plant, where cherries cease to mature on the tree, leading to crop loss. However, all of these challenges only serve to strengthen the resolve of the farmers here, and the vast majority of Honduran Cup of Excellence winners have come from Santa Barbara since the inception of the competition here in 2005.
The Sagastume family have been involved in coffee in Santa Barbara for generations, long before the recent recognition of the potential of the area. The family have worked hard to earn their place in the speciality coffee market, through tireless research and savvy investment, and actively seeking out opportunities such as those with San Vicente. Pedro Sagastume is the head of the family, and as he grows older, he has begun to split the family’s land between his sons. Coffee production is still a family effort; all of the picked cherry is still processed at the wet mill next to the family home. This Paraneima is grown on the El Ocote plot, one of the last still managed by Don Pedro himself. Paraneima is a native Honduran varietal, created in response to a nematode outbreak in the mid 80’s. The Honduran Coffee Institute carefully selected from strains of Sarchimor hybrids, looking for nematode resistance, while maintaining positive attributes in the cup and a degree of disease resistance. The varietal is known to bring a heavy silky body and some slight herbal notes to the cup, alongside a notable bean size and length. This lot was process using a washed process, with de-pulping followed by around 20 hours of dry fermentation followed by 14 days of drying on raised beds underneath plastic solar drying tunnels. This lot is very fresh and bright with crisp notes of raspberry and redcurrant balanced by an intense caramel sweetness. We have tasted several lots from the Sagastume family this year through our partners at Ally Coffee, and were very impressed by the quality across the board. They have really been pushing their quality in recent years, and we are looking forward to tasting their first harvest of Geisha and SL28 next year. We have been taking a greater interest in Honduran coffees this season, and look forward to tasting more and more in the future.
Second coffee - Rwanda
Gitesi Washed Bourbon
Lemon, Honey and Oolong (250g / 8.8oz)
The Gitesi washing station in Rwanda is run by father and son Alexis and Aime Gahizi. The station is located just outside the Gitesi village in the Karongi region, and was built as part of a community rebuilding effort after the village was practically destroyed in the unrest surrounding the tragic 1994 Rwandan genocide. More recently, a Technoserve program allowed investment in the mill and in quality, allowing the mill to go from battling bankruptcy in 2010, to winning the Rwandan Cup of Excellence in 2012. As Rwanda is a rather small country with a great number of coffee producers living in rural areas, the density of mills is rather high. This means farmers have a choice of which mill to deliver to, creating a high level of competition between mills for farmers top quality cherries. Gitesi tries to keep a close relationship with their farmers by offering a good price and several modes of agricultural support. They also run a second payment program, where farmers receive a bonus depending on the price Gitesi was able to receive for that season’s harvest. Today most of the running of the mill has been taken over by Aime and the younger generation of the Gahizi family, and the station produces up to 3 containers of high-grade traceable speciality coffee. The family are also proud of the program of support they have been able to create for the small farmers they work with. Gitesi distributes pumps and cows to farmers that have potential to benefit from and get the most out of the animal. A cow on the farm also means organic fertiliser, which should lead to more yield on trees if used well. The cow also produces milk, which the farmer can either sell or keep for his family. There’s also a rule that if the cow becomes pregnant, the calf has to go to the next farmer, sharing the benefit around as many farmers as possible. Aime also has an engineering degree, and has developed a water purification system for the station, in order to reduce the harm waste water can do to local groundwater supplies.
Similar to Burundi, Rwanda grows mainly Bourbon, and the washed process coffees provide a typically bright and acidity driven cup. This lot has a crisp citric character, backed up by floral honey, and a creamy body like a high grown oolong tea.
We are constantly searching for new origins to engage in, tasting hundreds of samples sent to us both from import/export companies, and directly from producers. For us, it is important to search for the most delicious coffees in as many different places as we can, both in familiar and unfamiliar origins. We feel that these coffees showcase the potential of their respective countries well, and hope you enjoy them this month.