- John Gibson
Welcome to your June subscription. For this month, from Burundi, a clean and fresh washed lot from the Nkonge Hill in Burundi, and from Colombia, the distinct and wild Potosí, an XO Natural process from the wizards at Cafe Granja La Esperanza. After working with a Honey processed lot from the Nkonge Hill for the last few weeks, we are convinced the washed lot will be just as special, and test roasts have been showing off this potential. Potosí is also a returning coffee, we purchased this wild and heavy natural for the first time last year, the first year Cafe Granja had ever offered their exacting and precise XO Natural process. This process creates the aromatic complexity and heavy sweetness of a natural coffee, but also maintains the fresh and bright characteristics of washed Colombian coffees, for a unique and delicious cup.
The Herrera family purchased Finca Potosí in 1945 and planted several varieties that were unusual for Colombia at the time, including yellow and red Bourbon. This started the Granja tradition of experimentation, leading to some recognition by other farmers in the Cauca Valley. The years that followed were very productive, and the large family of 14 children did much of the farm work themselves, but two brothers took particular interest in coffee production, and in the late 1990’s, Rigoberto and Luis took over the family business and started the push towards what Granja is now. They purchased more small farms to add to their portfolio, and began the process of converting all of their coffee growing to use organic practices. They also looked outside Colombia for further insight, and jumped at the opportunity to lease a small farm in Panama. Rigoberto moved, and his years of producing experience were all too obvious, their lot of Geisha won the Best of Panama within 2 years. When Rigoberto returned to Granja, he brought back not only experience, but Panamanian Geisha seeds. These seeds were the foundation for the next stage of growth, beginning to chase extraordinary flavour profiles and the super high end specialty market. The experience of bringing a Panamanian varietal to Colombia was pivotal to Granja in their endeavour to adapt more exotic varietals to the Colombian soil, showcasing a wide view of the Cauca Valley terroir. They have also begun to experiment with unique processing, using tank fermentation to create incredible control over initial in-cherry fermentations, for both their washed and natural coffees. They also use mechanical drying extensively, allowing very tight control over length and degree of drying. This type of fermentation results in very low water usage, compared especially to traditional washed processing. This is another of Granja’s core values, focussing on sustainability. They have also worked very hard on maintaining local floral and fauna, using waste products from the farm to fire their mechanical driers, and switching to organic farming methods.
This is the second year we have purchased this particular lot of a more ordinary varietal, a coffee that illustrates Granja’s continuing commitment to set a new standard for post-harvest processing and flavour enhancement. This lot of the San Juan varietal is grown on the original Granja farm, Finca Potosí. In the area around Finca Potosí, natural processing is often difficult or impossible due to very high average humidity of over 70%, and frequent rains during harvest. Cafe Granja La Esperanza have used a long in-cherry fermentation in temperature-controlled tanks, with the aim to create a coffee that matches and complements the complexity and balance of a barrel-aged cognac. After this fermentation of over 30 hours, the cherries are transferred to drying silos for a slow and controlled mechanical drying, making a full natural process possible in this humid and damp climate. Their meticulous production process has resulted in a coffee that creates a balance between primary terroir flavours, and secondary process-driven flavours, opening new flavour dimensions for coffee aficionados. In this cup, this means fresh and bright apple notes from the high altitude Cauca Valley terroir, combined with soft strawberry notes and a heavy molasses sweetness, like we’d expect from a great natural.
The Long Miles Project, founded by Ben and Kristy Carlson, opened its doors in 2013 and aims to raise the bar of specialty coffees coming out of Burundi. The project works with more than 4.500 individual coffee farmers living near two central washing stations, Bukeye, opened in 2013 and Heza, from 2014. There are several reasons why producing speciality coffee in Burundi is an incredibly difficult task. There’s the incredibly unstable political situation, where government can change rules on coffee prices and production seemingly overnight, the geographical constraints, that come with being a small landlocked country attempting to export coffee by sea freight, the constant threat of military coup. But through it all the Carlson family have managed to establish themselves as producers and exporters of consistently delicious coffees, all while providing some semblance of stability to the lives of smallholder farmers that surround their two washing stations in the northern Kayanza Province, near the border with Rwanda. Coffee production at Heza is made possible from nearly 2.000 individual farmers supplying the station with ripe cherries, several hundred of whom deliver their cherries directly to the station. Heza employs 90 locals, 60 of whom are women devoted to quality control in the final cherry selection process. Heza also helps local farmers by supplying trees from a coffee tree nursery with over 15.000 seedlings and the intention is to plant these all over the war-torn Burundi countryside in years to come.
You can read more on the history of the project here
Long Miles split up the production of their mills by ‘hills’ or ‘collines’ in French. These are the smallest unit of separation in Burundi, like small communes, and most contain a couple of hundred smallholder farmers. We have purchased coffees grown on several of the hills in the past, and each seems to have their own distinct character. Life has a different pace on Nkonge hill. There is a stillness on the hill that is hard to find anywhere else in Burundi. You can walk for stretches on this green carpeted hill without seeing anyone. Dirt roads cut into the hill’s steep slopes, revealing panoramic views of banana trees and lush tea plantations. Sadly, life hasn’t always been peaceful on Nkonge hill. The most recent civil war in Burundi brought great losses. Many farming families that fled returned to the hill only to find that their land had been divided or taken over by someone else.
The high elevation of Nkonge fosters a harder, slower growing coffee bean. Natural springs find their way out of the hill, making sure its soils are always well watered. Patches of onions, tea, wheat, cabbage, maize, cassava and peas can be found growing alongside coffee in the hill’s rich soils. With the help of coffee scouts Minani and Thierry, the scouts dedicated to the Nkonge hill, farmers are slowly rejuvenating their farms. The scouts are contributing greatly to farmers’ knowledge on growing and taking care of their coffee. The scouts are also working hard to motivate young people to take an interest in coffee. It is their vision to form a youth association and source land for them to start their own farms. This young and promising micro-region has already produced some of our favourite Burundian coffees of late, so we are excited to share this washed lot with you this month. Expect a juicy and bright redcurrant feel with a concentrated jammy sweetness and a complex lingering finish with a rooibos tea like dry character.
The change of season is heralding in a change of our coffee line up. This month’s coffees showcase two origins familiar to us here at La Cabra, our last new Burundi of the season, and our first full release from Colombia. As we move from spring to summer, we will see many more revered origins start to pop up in the selection again. We are not far from the first Ethiopians and Kenyans of the season, aromatic fruit bombs that we await with enthusiasm every year. This is always an exciting and busy time in the roastery, receiving and preparing many new coffees for release. We have some really interesting coffees coming up for this year’s African season, so we hope you’ll enjoy following along through your subscription, and through our social media channels.
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