Pro-tips from the Staff 6/15

If you haven’t heard of La Unión, don’t blame your lack of attentiveness in elementary school geography class: it’s one of the smallest municipalities in the department of Lempira in western Honduras.  And travel to La Unión is a challenge.  The 1300 mile flight from Atlanta, GA to the international airport in Honduras takes about as long as the 80-mile drive from the airport through the mountains to La Unión.

Why La Unión?  Our friends at Aldea Development, founded by University of Michigan graduates in 2009, have been working with the community since 2010.  Aldea began as a microfinance organization (their former name was Unión MicroFinanza) and has since expanded their activities to include technical training for farmers, research, community development, and green coffee purchasing.  We visited Aldea to get a firsthand view of what they do and the role they play in the community of La Unión.  We also wanted to meet Pablo Paz, a coffee producer in the area, whom we purchased coffee from last year.

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Harvest season in Honduras runs from January through April.  We visited in mid-February and so witnessed the whirlwind of activity that accompanies the season. Coffee cherries are still picked by hand in Honduras — as they are almost everywhere coffee is produced – and one morning we had the opportunity to try our hands at picking.  It takes a discerning eye to select cherries that are adequately ripe – pick too soon, and your coffee might end up tasting underdeveloped; pick too late, and it could develop a host of unpleasant flavors during its fermentation stage of processing.  We did a pretty good job picking out the ripe cherries, but our speed left something to be desired.  It took us about twice as long as a skilled picker to fill a basket.

It is important that coffee cherries are processed within hours of being picked.  In Honduras, almost all coffees are processed using the washed method.  The site where this washing takes place is known as a beneficio in Spanish.  At the beneficio, the whole coffee cherry is stripped of its fruit, fermented, and rinsed with plenty of fresh water.  After a first round of sorting, the beans are dried on raised beds, sometimes inside of a greenhouse-like construction known as a solar dryer.

After drying, coffee goes through another round of processing to remove its protective parchment layer (a step known as milling) and is sorted once again.  And then there’s the barge ride halfway around the globe to a port in the U.S., where the beans are warehoused until they travel (by truck) to the back door of our roastery in Ann Arbor, MI.  At which point we roast, package, deliver, grind, brew, and drink them with help from our wholesale customers and you, our guest!  It takes a lot of work from a lot of folks to make your morning brew a reality.  It sounds a bit grandiose, but a great cup of coffee is an achievement, a testament to the power of cooperative efforts that link people from all over the world.

-Matthew Bodary

PRO-TIPS FROM THE BARISTI

unnamedWhen walking into the Coffee Company, you’re immediately greeted with a towering messenger. A quirky, handwritten board that welcomes you with all the wonderful flavors in our different coffees. When you’ve made your decision, the coffee arrives, and you take your first sip, sudden waves of flavor wash over your tongue and seem to fill your entire mouth. Those flavors are dependent on coffee origin, brewing method, and temperature (among other things). But did you know the flavors are also heavily dependent on water quality? Water may be the most important vehicle for flavor in our favorite morning beverage. No surprise there, as water makes up more than 90% of our beverage. In fact most brewed coffee is closer to 95% water!

We spend a lot of time thinking about how to make our coffee taste its best, so naturally water becomes a hot issue. We, at the Coffee Company have gone to great lengths to make sure our water is as good as it gets. Our filtration system uses reverse osmosis (the same process that won my elementary school science fair!) to break water down into pure H2O, then we have special formulas that balance the water’s mineral, alkaline, and pH levels. These levels are based off the Speciality Coffee Association of America’s (SCAA) recommendation for water used for coffee brewing.

But how much difference can the water quality make? Well, to help educate ourselves, and experience first hand the effect of water, we got together and had what we call a “klatch.” A klatch is basically a social meeting that usually focuses on coffee. We use them as a tool to educate ourselves about our product. This time we used the klatch to put water on trial, to discover if all this fuss is necessary.

We started with a conversation about water and what’s in what we drink. Things like chlorine content, total dissolved solids (mineral content relating to volume), calcium hardness, alkalinity, pH levels, and sodium. We went over the recommended levels and compared them to the levels found in local water samples from homes and businesses around town. Then we gathered water samples from a variety of sources, including: Ann Arbor city water, distilled water, and our own filtered water. We tasted each water and evaluated them for taste, aroma, and mouthfeel. To no surprise we all agreed that our filtered water was the best, with distilled being the next best, and Ann Arbor water bringing up the rear. We talked about the waters in the context of the SCAA recommendations. The filtered water felt almost sweet, very smooth, and refreshing, the distilled water felt very flat but pleasant, and the Ann Arbor city water was very metallic.

Rarely do we spend time tasting waters side by side so it was a surprise to many just how big the differences were. What was even more surprising was the difference it made in coffee. Coffee needs some minerality to help extract itself into the cup. Without it, the flavor is very flat and uninteresting. So when tasting coffee brewed with distilled water, it just felt empty, and lifeless, though no obvious flaws were present. The real eye opener was tasting the Coffee brewed with Ann Arbor water. The high metallic taste we experienced when drinking it plain was super present in the brewed coffee. It was so intense. It made tasting the coffee’s true flavors considerably more difficult to detect. Lastly, we used our customized water, and unsurprisingly, it was the most flavorful. With the proper balance of all the elements in the water, it really brings out the flavor compounds in the coffee. The alkalinity and pH levels helped the coffee’s acidity shine without being too sharp, the elimination of chlorine and the limited sodium levels let us taste a more true profile of the bean. The calcium content keeps us from unevenly extracting the flavor compounds in our brew.

Christopher Glasow

Cold Brew Blend Roaster's Pick

We developed this blend specifically for cold brewing. Cold brewing produces a coffee that is sweet with a super rich body – with virtually no acidity. We have found that coffees we like for their sweetness and body when hot are fantastic cold.

Our current blend uses our sweet and nutty Espresso Blend #1 from Brazil combined with dark and rich flavor of our Indonesian coffee from Kuta in Papua New Guinea. Together they produce a coffee that is chocolately-sweet and strong, with no bitterness. It is rich enough to be poured over ice or to have a splash of cream added. Whether you are using a slow-drip ice tower or Filtron cold brewer or just filtering coffee with a metal strainer and a bowl, these tips will give you a start:

For a Filtron or other soaking method use:

12oz of coffee ground very coarsely to 2.5 quarts of cold water

Soak for 24 hours and filter – making a concentrate

Dilute concentrate 1:1 with water or to taste

 

For a quick drip method using a cone:

Fill a 16 ounce glass half way with ice

Slowly brew 1 ounce of fine to medium-fine grind over the ice until full

Pour this back over a new cup of ice if desired

Colombia Huila Roaster’s Pick

We are again offering this fine coffee from Jose Herminzul Ninco Lara of Finca Monte Frio located in the Hobo Municipality, Huila region. Microlots from Jose Ninco’s estate placed 5th in the Colombia 2012 Cup of Excellence. For this month, we have changed the roast pro le dramatically – choosing to highlight the sweetness and body inherent in the bean. We’ve brought out more of the sugar and less of the acidity. It has notes of baker’s chocolate, honey and soft herbs and is exceptional in a Chemex or Clever filter. A Presspot and Syphon will bring out a slightly brighter taffy flavor.

Rwandan Dukunde Kawa

This coffee won the Rwandan Cup of Excellence in 2008, 2010, 2011, and 2012 . An impressive record! The coffee comes from the Dukunde Kawa Cooperative. Founded in 2000 with 300 farmers, the Cooperative now has 2,016 members.

This lot is 100% red bourbon cultivar, which is known for its sweetness and is well-suited for this region and elevation. The careful processing has produced a coffee with a complex sweetness and body. It has notes of milk chocolate, dense dried fruit, raisin, cranberry, lemons and buttery biscuits. We noticed a considerable difference in flavor from brewing method to brewing method. Clever brewer was our favorite with notes of fruit, chocolate and cranberry.

Burundi Dukorere Ikawa

We liked this particular coffee for it’s crisp up-front acidity and hints of savoriness. It has a really pleasant tang that sweetens as it cools. Given the brightness if finishes with a remarkably buttery mouthfeel.

The Dukorere Ikawa Cooperative has 300 farmer members, and is owned, operated and fully paid for by the members. About 800 farmers in the area deliver cherries to the co-op for production. Two clean rivers supply water, and post-washing water is cleaned in double purification tanks (USAID Technology). Near the washing station is an amazing waterfall where a hydroelectric station has been built. This gives the washing station the most consistent power supply of any washing station in Burundi.

This coffee is well suited to individual filter methods, like the Chemex and cone. It benefits from a slightly finer grind. It comes out fruity in an Aeropress and citrus-like in a Syphon.

Zambia Kaleya Valley

This Zambian comes from the Terranova Estate, which is almost 80 years old and  has been producing coffee since 1984. The cool altitude and geography are excellent for growing coffee. Colin and Alison Street, along with their eldest son Greg, who manages the farm, have actively supported the local community. This includes an on-site school.

The Terranova school is fully financed by the Streets and boasts 250 students. Each year the Streets add a classroom and a teacher, so the school continues to grow and offer higher levels of education. This school is situated on the farm itself and the farm laborers’ children get the first option at attending, then it is open to the district.

In addition, 25% of the farm has been fenced off and maintained as indigenous area. The Streets have released wildlife into this area for breeding and the offspring are then released into other parts of Zambia as a part of a game rejuvenation program. The Streets feel strongly about giving back what they are taking our by farming.

Sadly, this will be the last year we are able to get this coffee. Economics have forced the Streets to pull out the coffee crop and plant wheat.

As a cup of coffee, the Kaleya Valley Zambian has super rich and earthy body with flavors of a ripe Bosc pear and a pleasant dry walnut-like finish. We like it in a press pot.

Java Sunda Hejo

Sunda Hejo is truly handcrafted from the ancient land of Sunda (West Java). The coffee is dried on raised beds in bamboo greenhouses. This ensures stable drying and protects its unique sweetness and character. We have selected this mircolot from the Chiwidey washing station. Historically, coffee was cultivated by the Dutch during the 16th century in the Guntur Mountain region. The first exports were from the Sunda Kelapa port (now the modern day port of Tanjung Priok- Jakarta). Coffee in this region is grown by small farmers in the mountainous region around the beautiful city of Bandung. The hilly terrain does not allow for large plantations and hence the coffee is spread over a large region and small holding.

The Java has a rich body that comes through with any filter methods. Press pots bring out brighter tobacco note and a slightly savory aspect. We like it in the press pot, Chemex, and Clever.

Guatemalan Coban

In 1988 in Guatemalan, Horst Spitzke started planting coffee at his beautiful farm, Flor del Rosario. His large farm of 550 hectares (1,400 acres) celebrates the biodiversity of the region. It is a natural wonder of flora and fauna where he also raises orchids, cardamoms and Monja Blanca (Guatemala’s national flower).

Our coffee, La Cascada, which means “The Waterfall”,  is named for the 100 meter natural spring waterfall located on the farm. The tropical rain forest environment seems to produce a coffee with citrus brightness that is striking for the region.

This coffee is superbly well-balanced with a nice sweetness. It has light floral blossom aromas, cocoa and citrus flavors and a lovely finish. It is a staff favorite brewed in a Chemex or an Aeropress and the syphon pot really brings out the fruit and soft herbal notes.

Holiday Coffee Gift Boxes

Looking for that perfect gift for the coffee fanatic in your life? Or want to get a sure bet for a student, nurse, teacher, neighbor or boss? Check these out!

Holiday Gift Boxes 2013