A country, a mountain, a saintThis week we’ll cup Finca Mauritania, Finca Kilimanjaro and St. Goret, which three coffees have in common that they’re all newly available for sale this week and tasting great.
Notes on the CoffeesFinca Mauritania is in top form this year with all the buttery sweetness you could want from a cup of coffee. All of Aida Batlle’s farms in Santa Ana, El Salvador suffered during 2013’s outbreak of coffee leaf rust and Mauritania, which sits lower on the mountain than Kilimanjaro and Los Alpes and tends to be the most productive of the three farms, lost the highest percentage of its total production. Though Aida decided to sacrifice her organic certification to mitigate the effects of rust, our relationship with her remains strong and we are excited to celebrate ten years of buying coffee from Finca Mauritania this year! Also, since this coffee arrived a week and a half ago, it’s been really interesting to taste Finca Mauritania next to other coffees from similar geographies across Central America. Increasingly across Latin America, older trees at 1,400 meters have been replaced by rust-resistant varieties like Catimor and the quality of the coffee has plummeted accordingly, to the point that we almost always end up blending with the coffees we do purchase from these elevations. Not so with Mauritania, where Aida has stuck with the bourbon variety, continued picking perfectly ripe coffee and processing it meticulously to remind us of how a farmer’s choices realize the potential of the coffee plant.
While the bourbon variety at Finca Mauritania is super sweet, it can’t hold a candle to the complexity of the variety planted higher up the Ilamatepec volcano at the Batlle’s Finca Kilimanjaro. Colloquially called “kenia” in El Salvador, the appearance—or morphology, for you word nerds—of the coffee plants at Finca Kilimanjaro is reminiscent of the SL varieties that have made Kenyan coffee famous. Since this coffee won El Salvador’s Cup of Excellence competition in 2003, it has been sold to a select few roasting companies around the world and we have slowly but surely managed to secure a larger percentage of Kilimanjaro’s coffee every year. I always look forward to its arrival and this year’s wine-like profile doesn’t disappoint.
Another place we find SL-28 and SL-34 varieties growing is in Uganda, a country which is better-known for producing low-quality robusta than the stellar flavors we associate with neighboring Kenya. We’ve spent the past two years getting to know the Bukonzo Joint Co-operative of the Kasese district in western Uganda and this year we’re thrilled to feature coffee from the farmer co-op of St. Goret, named for the parish in which it’s located, as a single-origin offering. The elevation of St. Goret is comparable to Finca Mauritania, and in addition to the SL varieties I mentioned, they also grow Nyasaland, which is the Ugandan term for its oldest coffee, which was brought to the country in 1903 from Malawi—known as Nyasaland back in the colonial days. I’ll be curious to hear what similarities you taste between St. Goret and Kilimanjaro that might be attributable to variety, because their prototypical descriptors tend to sit near one another on the flavor wheel.
Over the past five years, as our approach to buying coffee has evolved, we have differentiated ourselves from many of our peers in the specialty coffee industry through our ability to recognize potential and contribute to its development. In quality terms, that means exploring geographies with good varieties and elevation, sometimes in lesser-known countries of origin, and in relationship terms, that means finding small producers on the fringes of the quality market and building trust over time. When we started buying from Aida in 2004, we were just beginning to figure out what made great coffees great, and over the past decade, we’ve learned invaluable lessons about the significance of varieties, picking and processing through experiments done by Aida and other market-savvy, globally-connected coffee producers like her. As we’ve figured out what to look for and how to make good coffee better, we’ve been able to use what we’ve learned to enter into relationships in places like Uganda with marginalized smallholder farmers with clear goals and the knowledge of how to succeed. It’s been a heck of a journey so far and I can’t wait to see where we go next.