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
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 - Kenya
Blackcurrant, Red Apple Brown Sugar
(250g / 8.8oz)
Another Kenyan lot for this year, we’ve been excited about Mukurweini since the first samples hit our cupping table around 9 months ago. A classic Kenyan profile, with the characteristic phosphoric blackcurrant acidity present, along with fresh apple qualities, and a dense syrupy sweetness. This is a slightly strange lot when compared to a normal Kenyan co-operative produced lot. In the place of thousands of smallholder farmers, this lot is grown by only 20 small estates located throughout the Mukurweini area, working together under the name ‘Mukurweini Farmers’. These farmers rely on coffee as their primary cash crop, alongside some small plots of tea. They had their coffee processed at the Kahawa Bora factory, about 80 km south of Mukurweini town, right on the border between Muranga and Kiambu counties. A project by exporter Kenyacof, Kahawa Bora translates as ‘excellent coffee’. The factory aims to work with these kind of medium-sized farmers, with lands larger than the average co-operative farmer. This leads to greater ease of quality control and forward progress; it is easier to keep track of and give advice on the farming practices of 20 farmers than the thousands that deliver to most co-operatives. It also leads to slightly higher levels of traceability, for example we can tell you this lot is 80% SL28 and 34, 15% Ruiru 11 and 5% Batian.
2nd coffee - Costa Rica
Blackcurrent, Lemon curd and Hazelnut
(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. We tasted a small lot of SL28 that had been produced at the farm, that to us, was the cleanest representation of the varietal that we had ever tasted grown outside Kenya. We have often found that SL28 lots don’t deliver on their promise of clean Kenya-like acidity and syrupy sweetness, but this ticked all of those boxes. That lot went on to win the 2015 Costa Rica Cup of Excellence, and ever since we have been waiting to bring some Herbazu SL28 back to Denmark. This year, during our visit in March, we managed to secure a lot of White Honey processed SL28, and it’s delivering everything we hoped. A clean and juicy blackcurrant acidity is backed up by a rich brown sugar sweetness, like we’d expect from an SL28, but the finish is all classic West Valley, with waves of almond and hazelnut. A great example of a coming together of knowledgable farming, an iconic 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.