Visiting Huila, Colombia. August 2016 September 02 2016
We just returned from our annual sourcing trip to Colombia to meet with Azahar Coffee and visit producing partners. Azahar is a specialty coffee exporter from Colombia, working with dry mills and coops around the country to search out the very best microlots. We had a really successful relationship with Azahar last season, and we had high expectations this season as well. We cupped through 55 lots and decided to purchase the top scoring 14. Most of the coffees we picked this year are coming from the regions of Huila, Nariño and Valle de Cauca. The average coffee farm in Colombia is 5 hectares (10 acres). Given the size, we often end up purchasing the entire harvest from a farm.
After cupping in Armenia, we flew down to Neiva, where we planned to travel through the region of Huila for a few days, visiting some of the farms we are buying from this year.
Luz Dary Polo Piaz, mother of 3, has been working in coffee for 13 years, first on her ex husband farm, now her own. She bought Finca Esperanza one year ago, a 2 hectare coffee farm. She built a new raised, covered drying bed and a new upper soaking tank. She built and cultivated this farm to produce specialty grade coffee. She did soil testing and fertilized specifically for its needs. She also picked more carefully, harvesting only ripe cherries. Finca Esperanza is a success story. A single mom deciding to take a chance and invest in a small coffee farm to make a future for herself and her kids. We paid her 61% more for her coffee than she would have gotten selling it to the local mill for commodity. If she can keep producing coffee of this quality, the price will go up from there. Her coffee tasted like panella, berries and white pepper.
Buena Vista, in the Santa Maria municipality, is the most beautiful farm location I’ve ever been to. Justo Pastor Sepulveda owns the farm, managing it with the youngest two of his 8 children, Marko and Juan David. The farm is at 2100 meters above sea level,15 hectares in size, growing 6 hectares coffee, as well as Granadilla (sweet passion fruit), frijoles (beans), and aguacate (avocados). They live off the profits of coffee. This is their first year selling to Azahar, not because their coffee hasn't always been this good but because they didn’t know people paid for quality like this.
We took a partially washed out mountain road to the farm, 1hr above the town of Santa Maria, which itself is difficult to get to from our home base in Neiva.
Justo has owned the farm 25 years, but planted coffee only 10 years ago. They used to grow Frijol only. The farm is so steep, all the coffee is planted a dangerous grade. So they built a depulper in the middle of the the crop, and then ship the depulped coffee across the mountain in a Garrucha, or suspended cart, which I rode in and thought I might die. Following the Garrucha, they do a 24hr fermentation in the tanks, given the higher elevation, and dry it for 5-8 days on raised, covered beds. Their coffee tastes like melon, stone fruit, grape juice and raspberries.
I have seen so many high elevation coffee farms in the mountains, and it seems so few sell to specialty. I have heard several people say this is their first time or they didn't know people would pay them differently for it. They were just trying out specialty, as one farmer said, or their coop recommended the coffee to Azahar. Most farms just harvest and dry their coffee and sell it to the local mill for commodity pricing. The idea that roasters like us will pay a high premium for their crop is still a new idea to a lot of the farmers, and they are as excited as we are. What Azahar and we are hoping to see is that they can keep up the consistency from year to year. Every farm processes and dries their own coffee, so there is plenty of room for error. But there is education available on the ground level, and now they know that we are willing to pay for it, I hope we will continue to see more and more excellent coffee coming from Colombia.
The end of one green season, the beginning of another. November 06 2015
October and November can feel like a lull in coffee. The excitement of the summer months has receded, and we begin ramping up for the winter holiday season. We also find ourselves finishing up the Central American harvest’s green coffee supply, and eagerly awaiting the South American green that is on the water as we speak.
We have made it one of our top priorities at Kuma to focus on bringing in the freshest seasonal coffees we can. The time from when coffee cherries are harvested, processed (depulped, fermented, dried, rested and stripped of parchment) and shipped, to the time we roast them is of vital importance to quality. Once green coffee is taken out of its parchment, it begins the very slow decline in moisture levels. When coffees are processed correctly, they last the longest. If only this were always the case. Slight miscalculations or errors in processing green coffee can be detrimental to the flavor and shelf life of green coffee quality. Every roaster has encountered this, either in their own stock or in samples they receive from importers. Importers are often the ones that assume this risk, but those that buy direct run the risk of coffees showing up in the US in much poorer shape than when they were purchased at origin. As we learn from our experiences, we take steps to mitigate those risks.
We brought in 10 individual lots from farms in Guatemala this past February. We also purchased a water activity meter, which is a tool that helps us know the movement of moisture in green coffee at any given time. It is only one piece of the puzzle, but over the course of weeks and months, it gives us some idea of how quickly a coffee is holding up. Of the 10 lots we brought in, one had exceedingly high water activity readings from the start and continuously. As we roasted samples of it from month to month, the cup quality degraded to the point we didn’t feel we could release it as one of our offerings. To add insult to the loss, it was one of the highest scoring lots when we cupped it at origin.
When Mark went to Colombia this past July to purchase coffee direct for the first time, he made sure to try and collect more water data on each lot he was purchasing, in hopes of avoiding such future losses. Green buying is one of the most disciplined and difficult parts of the coffee roasting business, but the rewards make it so worth it. Our Colombian container should be arriving within the month, and we eagerly await the awesomeness it holds. In the meantime we bought in a few superstar Colo lots from our friends at Red Fox Coffee Merchants, which will be releasing starting today. We love being able to share our coffee with you, thanks for being a part of it!
New Tote bags October 02 2015
Ladies and Gents,
We have released our first merch in what must seem like ages, and we are very excited to share it with you! New tote bags, 100% cotton twill, illustrated in house by Peter Mark, and good at carrying all sorts of things: Vegetables, fruit, books, coffee bags, rocks... Cupping is a big chunk of what we spend our hours doing, so a cartoon of our cupping bar seemed pretty representative of us. We also used a local printer on the bags. Check it out here!
We have a small mountain of other merch in the pipeline as well, so keep your eyes peeled over the next couple of months.
Cascara is Here! August 07 2015
New offerings are what make our days here at Kuma. We love offering you all the latest and greatest, and it’s not so bad getting to drink it ourselves on the way through :) So when this year’s crop of cascara from the famed Los Pirineos came sealed in vacuum packed aluminum sleeves, I knew we had something everyone would be clamoring to get their hands on. Cascara is the dried fruit husk of the coffee cherry. It ends up being the byproduct of coffee depulping, but it has its own merits for sure. You steep it in hot water to make a super tasty tea.
Los Pirineos looms large in the El Salvador coffee scene; Gilberto Baraona’s farm has placed in the COE multiple times, and regularly sells to some of the most elite coffee roasters across the world. This is our first year working with Gilberto, and we have two of his coffees currently in our green room, in addition to the cascara. We will be releasing those coffees in the coming weeks, but for now it's all about the cascara. It is pretty forgiving to brew, either by steeping like you would tea, or by boiling for minutes, it extracts pretty nicely. Don't forget it has quite the caffeine kick though, it can really sneak up on you.
For those of you that live in Seattle, you can head over to Neptune Coffee to get a Cascara Fizz, a cascara reduction syrup and soda water with a touch of sweetness. And we are in the midst of working out a cascara collaboration beer with our friends at Reuben’s Brews, but that is still in the works (in the meantime, you can head over to Reuben’s to get a pint of our Kenya Cream collaborative beer. Really worth it, they sell out so quick of that one). Happy drinking!
New Blends are coming July 31 2015
So here’s the inside scoop with a lot of coffee blends: They are a coffee roaster’s leftovers. They are the old crop that needs to move, the coffee that didn’t get sold, the lot that came in not tasting so great but needs to get used anyway. Blends are the culinary equivalent of the Chef’s Special, food that needs to get used up.
We wanted to do it different.
We have been offering the Red Bear Espresso as our house blend since inception, but even the designation “espresso” doesn’t feel necessary or really true anymore. And these days we change up the components of it every couple months, so it isn’t even what it used to be (originally 70% Brazil/30% Ethiopia, we haven’t bought or used any Brazil in almost a year). So after a lot of deliberation we have decided to end the Red Bear Espresso, to make way for an updated take.
For some time now we have been discussing the details and values of changing the way coffee blends are done, and firming up what our take would be. So we had these factors as a starting point:
1. We want to offer delicious blends that we will be proud of, ones we like to take home and drink.
2. We only buy high quality coffees that are distinct and stand alone, be it fruit forward Kenyans or chocolatey Guatemalans.
3. We don’t have coffee that sits around and gets old, really. We work hard and plan our menus very carefully.
Given these factors, what kind of blends could we do? Let me introduce two upcoming blends:
Fresh Crop Bright and Fresh Crop Balanced.
We are inverting the norm of coffee blends; we are going to use the freshest coffees we have in, and blend them simply by two designations: bright and balanced. We are going to celebrate the seasonality of coffee, do away with the Espresso label, and let coffee be open to your preferred use. Bright will be a blend of whatever new Eastern Africans we have in house, focusing on the floral and fruit forward aspects of them. And Balanced will be a mixing of our current Central Americans and South Americans when they come, which will be stone fruit nuances, more chocolate and approachable.
And the name was subject to long debate. Instead of making something poetic or representative of some abstract, we opted for straitforward. Corey came up with Fresh Crop and Mark came up with Bright and Balanced, and I thought they were great ideas :). A collaborative effort, let’s tell it like it is, as clearly as we can.
Our focus is and always will be single origins, but we decided to make blends that are more representative of our philosophy and taste. While some roasters are doing an awesome job with making tasty, fresh blends it is by and large a rarity. It is time for a change in perspective. Keep your eyes peeled in the next couple of weeks.
The Blog Returns July 17 2015Dear people of coffee,
The blog is back. Peter Mark here. We have been back and forth on the utility of keeping a company blog, as we keep our Instagram and Twitter updated regularly. I thought this could be a place to flesh out updates out a bit more, talk through ideas that come up during the roasting week. So let’s begin with a recap since we last talked.
In the winter of 2013, we moved from the old roastery space in Bellevue to our current space in Interbay, the industrial creaky heart of Seattle.This is a space that we were able to design to our needs, give a fresh coat of paint, and most importantly built out for our brand new roaster, the Loring Kestrel 35k. We called it a day on our old Probat L12. It was a great starter machine, and definitely gave us many months of great coffee. But Mark grew tired of fighting fires with that beast, more literally than figuratively. It broke and caught fire a lot. The Loring is a thing of beauty (see instagram for pics of it over the months): American made, state of the art, highly energy efficient, and most importantly allows us to repeatedly get excellent results in our batches. Maybe I can get Mark to give you a full report on the glories of our new roaster some day here :)
We have grown a lot since our last post too. We have built more relationships around Seattle and beyond, and we are proud to have our coffee served in some of the country’s finest cafes, from LA to Portland to St Louis to Providence.
We have also been making the time to really focus our quality oriented approach to buying green coffee. We have kept our relationships with producers in Guatemala, Panama and El Salvador, while working more widely with importers to select the best green out there, to put it simply. We roast hundreds of samples every year, cup again and again, roast more, cup more…it’s a lot of work. But the reward is so sweet, when we can offer coffees that we know we didn't settle for, and know can contend with anything out there. Seasonality of offerings is a big part of our buying program as well, and this year I think we did a pretty good job at it. We keep our offerings moving, allowing us to keep only fresh coffees in stock. This requires virtually endless sourcing and evaluating, but we all enjoy it and think its worthwhile in the end.
We have also added a new member to our team, Corey Autobee! (Again, check Instagram for pics of his shining face) Corey started part time with us, while also holding shifts at the cafe Milstead & Co. We grew to really need a full time person during this time, so after over a year of straddling both side of the coffee biz, Corey joined our production team full time in May 2015. He has brought strength, humor and critical thinking to the team and we are glad to have him.
We are hoping to keep frequent updates here, letting you know what we are working on, what we are arguing about in the roastery, etc.