Heirloom Pack

In the run-up to Christmas, we are giving our subscribers a small gift: some very rare lots of coffee. This month you will receive two coffees as normal, but they will remain secret until the moment you open your pack.

We often discuss the importance of varietal, process and terroir on the final cup, but these are difficult to completely separate. We discuss the effect of local varietals on the coffees grown in particular countries, but as these varietals are almost exclusively grown in their native countries, it is difficult to isolate their effect on the final cup. However, some trailblazing producers have begun planting these hallowed varietals in small experimental quantities on the other side of the world, examining their reaction to wholly different conditions, and the effect on the final cup.

This month we will present these experimental lots, alongside their counterpart from the varietal’s homeland. An exercise in the effect of terroir on characterful varietals.

The trailblazers we refer to are the Zuñiga brothers, owners of the Herbazu micromill in the West Valley of Costa Rica. They have been experimenting with exotic varietals for some years now, including their small plot of ‘Ethiopia 47’, an isolated heirloom varietal from the famous birthplace of coffee. Mekuria Mergia also grows Ethiopian heirloom varietals, but in their native coffee forests in the Guji region. A similar freshness and floral edge carries through both cups, but the Costa Rican terroir and process imparts a heavier sweetness and body to the lot from Herbazu.

Stay Bright and Curious - John Gibson

What is happening at
La Cabra

Here at La Cabra, we’re looking forward to a busy Christmas period. Our roastery is always busy this time of year, and we are starting to prepare for arrivals from Burundi and Brazil. We are also heading to Prague next week, for the opening of a new concept Mazelab, from our friend Jackie and the team from Cafefin. Our founder Esben is preparing a sourcing trip to Kenya, one of our favourite origins, but one of the most difficult to operate in as a green buyer. It is difficult to achieve true transparency, and working around the auction system to achieve this can be a great challenge.

1st coffee - Ethiopia

Mekuria Mergia

Mango, Orange Blossom and Papaya

(250g / 8.8oz)

The Pacamara varietal is a proud part of El Salvador’s coffee growing culture. Although the varietal is now grown across South and Central America, it originated in El Salvador, and Salvadorans maintain that the highest quality Pacamaras grow there. It is a cross between 2 varietals, Pacas and Maragogype. The Pacas varietal is a natural mutation of Bourbon, that causes the plant to grow much shorter, so it is easier to pick and can be planted in closer proximity, leading to higher yields per hectare. The varietal is named for the Pacas family, one of the most well known producers of coffee in El Salvador. Pacas was discovered on their farm San Rafael in 1956, and as well as higher yields, the varietal also appeared to be resistant to many diseases and climate conditions. The Salvadoran Coffee Institute was at the time very interested in the Maragogype varietal, which was producing very high quality cups across El Salvador, but was very susceptible to disease and climatic changes such as frosts. After hearing of the discovery of Pacas, the Salvadoran Coffee Institute decided to create a new varietal, aiming to keep the great cup quality from the Maragogype, but incorporate the disease resistance of Pacas. They named their project Pacamara, combining the two names. The project took nearly 30 years, through generations of crossing, but in the late 80’s, the final version of the Pacamara variety was released to farmers. The variety is now popular in countries such as Guatemala, Panama, Nicaragua and obviously El Salvador, leading to diverse flavour profiles, depending on how and where the coffee is grown and processed, but is often very fruit-driven, with some herbal and floral notes. The quality is almost always very high, and Pacamaras have placed highly in and won Cup of Excellence in several countries, El Salvador being no exception. In fact, a Pacamara has won the Salvadoran national competition outright in five of the previous six years. This lot from the slopes of Los Pirineos was naturally processed at the Tecapa mill, and showcases the potential of the varietal. The florals are present here as soft white rose, while the natural process brings soft rosehip fruit and a pleasantly dry chocolate character.

2nd coffee - Costa Rica

Herbazu Ethiopia 47

Rare Microlot

Chocolate, Fig and Lemon

(100g / 3.53oz)

We first visited the Herbazu mill in March 2015, during the same trip where we filmed our ‘Brightness’ movie. The name Herbazu comes from the family name of the brothers who own the mill, Los Hermanos Barrantes Zuñiga. During our first trip we were very impressed by the brothers’ dedication, and incredibly high levels of quality control and sorting. However, what also intrigued us was their experimentation with alternative varietals. This is the first time we’ve bought an isolated Ethiopian varietal from one of our partners in Costa Rica. After being suitably impressed by the Kenyan varietal we purchased from Herbazu last year, we inquired further about their exotic varietals on our visit this year, and were able to cup this, their ‘Ethiopia 47’ varietal. This is one of two varietals that our export partners at Exclusive Coffees are aware of being grown in Costa Rica, the other being ‘Ethiopia 41’. The exact story of how the varietals came to Costa Rica is not known, but they have been classified by Costa Rican research institutes as isolated Ethiopian heirloom varietals and are available to farmers from seed banks. The Zuñiga brothers planted the Ethiopia 47 varietal on their Telia farm and have slowly been able to harvest more and more from their small stock of trees. They have processed this lot using a red honey process, leaving quite a large amount of mucilage on the seeds as they dry, enhancing the sweetness and body of the final cup. The varietal characteristics still shine through however, giving a fresh and herbal edge to the cup, almost eucalyptus-like. Just like Herbazu’s SL28, this is a great example of a coming together of knowledgable farming, an exotic variety, and a region with ideal coffee producing conditions.

A study of terroir and varietal

We believe these experimental lots from Herbazu are successful in showcasing their varietal character in wildly different terroir from their home country. The Zuñiga brothers and their exotic varietals are known throughout Central America, and their dedication to coffee production has led to success in various competitions, including a win in the 2015 Costa Rica Cup of Excellence. We hope you get to relax and enjoy these coffees over Christmas, and look forward to sharing more coffee experiences with you all in the New Year.

Stay bright and curious - John Gibson