For GEM 003, we’re excited to share a unique variety separation from Finca La Palestina called Marshell. Genetically linked to the Catimor family, this recently discovered mutation breaks all the rules for what we thought we knew about how Catimors can perform in the cup. We taste fruity notes of plum bolstered by sweet and spiced flavors of cola, all lit up with a bright acidity that reminds us of pineapple. As climate change, labor shortages, and an increasingly volatile global coffee market continue to pose new challenges for producers, varieties like Marshell emerge as pivotal players in shaping the future of coffee quality. Afterall, you can’t make a gem without a little pressure.

Finca La Palestina in San José del Alto, Peru

  • "We named it La Palestina because this land is blessed, everything that is harvested in these lands grows and bears fruit," Don Juan Alarcón said when asked about the meaning of the name of his family’s farm. In our first year working with exporting partner Origin Coffee Lab (OCL), we visited La Palestina, high in the hills above the small town of El Triunfo. Don Juan’s words rang true as we toured the farm, a collection of smaller family plots led by his sons, Jose and Anibal. La Palestina was a clear example of biodiversity and attentive farm management. The family enthusiastically discussed their work improving shade cover and soil health. Though they had been producing coffee for years, the Alarcóns’ first season working with OCL was a fresh start, and the family had ambitious plans for further improvements.

  • We’ve returned to this farm many times since this first meeting and have seen these plans come to fruition. Equipment has been upgraded, standards have been overhauled, and many of the farm’s varieties have been renovated. This is where an intriguing variety called Marshell comes into the picture. Discovered in a nearby community called La Coipa, Marshell resembles Bourbon in appearance, but distinguishes itself in the field. When managed well, this variety is high-yielding and resistant to common funguses such as coffee leaf rust and ojo de gallo. After taking top honors at 2019’s Cup of Excellence competition, Marshell has slowly gained popularity across the Cajamarcan growing region. Today, Finca La Palestina has five hectares of Marshell in production. This particular lot comes from Jose’s plot. He says it’s one of his favorite varieties due to its dual attributes of field performance and cup quality.

  • The rarity of a coffee variety combining field hardiness with exceptional taste cannot be overstated. When planting a new variety, coffee producers often weigh its cup quality against its yield potential and disease resistance. The superior performance of Marshell across the board led the team at OCL to conduct genetic testing. Shockingly, the results showed genetic similarity to Costa Rica 95 (CR95), known for high yield and disease resistance, but criticized for its inferior cup quality due to its Catimor lineage.

    This raises questions about Marshell's origin. Did CR95 somehow find its way to this remote corner of Peru and adapt differently to the climate? Or has there been some subtle mutation or cross pollination with other coffee plants resulting in this fascinating variety? In truth, we don’t know the answer at this time, but this example suggests that certain varieties with Catimor genetics can possess exceptional quality potential. Undoubtedly, there are gems such as Marshell in different origins waiting to be discovered.