Pulp Up the VolumeWe’ve got Finca El Puente’s coffee on our tables for at least the third time in the past month, if you count Pro Dev, but lest you think we’re treading known ground, let me assure you that this week’s tasting of their later-harvest lot and their pulp natural is the one that has me the most excited of all!
Notes on the CoffeesThe flavors of the pulp natural coffee will undoubtedly register more interest than the washed will, so let’s begin there. Over the past ten years, we have tasted scores of pulp natural coffees hailing from every country in Latin America and we have asked almost every farmer and producer group we work with to experiment with this style of processing. Most of the time, these coffees turned out fine but not nearly as good as washed coffees from the same producer and, on a couple of occasions, the pulp natural lots went awry and tasted like rotten fruit and phenol defect.
Despite those failures, we keep trying because we know that post-harvest processing is not a binary of washed and sundried natural styles (or a ternary that includes pulp naturals). In fact, within the category of washed coffees alone there exists enormous diversity in technique, from the calibration of de-pulping machines to the fermentation and washing vessels, and these differences lead to varying percentages of mucilage left on washed parchment when it dries. To put it another way, in terms of fruit-on-parchment, some of the coffee we buy from El Salvador is probably as close (in fruit-on-seed terms) to today’s waterless pulp natural from Finca El Puente as it is to our washed coffees from Ethiopia. That spectrum offers a lot of flavor possibilities and also, I can’t resist mentioning, a lot of opportunity for water conservation.
Let’s get back to today’s table, though. Finca El Puente’s pulp natural is awesome. AWESOME. This is the most balanced pulp natural coffee I have ever tasted: intensely fruity but still bright and juicy and without a hint of earth. We can attribute these great flavors to Finca El Puente’s control of the process and their cold-but-dry wet mill, but still, we were surprised by how much we liked this and our wheels are already turning about how to incorporate some of these characteristics into the washed coffee. As with all experiments, we started with a small quantity (six bags in this particular lot), but based on this coffee’s flavors, I’m sure we’ll increase that volume in years to come, not to mention using what we learn about their process to inform other growers undertaking similar trials.
The washed lot gets short shrift in today’s notes, but it bears mentioning that it’s very good and we’re quite pleased both with it and with our decision to split the total amount of washed coffee we bought in two and ship the first half when it was ready as opposed to waiting for a full container. We were able to sell Finca El Puente’s coffee earlier than in past years and use the early-harvest coffees while they were at their peak, as opposed to letting it age in Honduras and then blending it with fresher lots from later in the harvest, thereby dulling the flavors of the second lot. This is the kind of decision-making that goes on to make coffee taste better that most people don’t realize, which is totally understandable given that the point is for our customers to notice coffee improving and not to teach them about shipping schedules. This is the kind of execution we’re capable of now that we never would have dreamed about a few years ago and having jumped through these hurdles, I can’t help but sigh (inaudibly, I hope), when I overhear people here in Durham say that our coffee was better back in the day when we were a smaller company. Not so! Coffees like this week’s result directly from our experience, relationships and scale.