Newsletter: Ethiopia Guji Uraga

We all know the highest grown coffees at altitude are the last to ripen, meaning they’re most often last in the queue at the dry mill, and they’re the last to ship. In the case of Ethiopia, they are also the coffees that need some extra time to compose themselves and shine in the cup. After a handful of years experience with Uraga coffees, my personal favorite area in Southern Ethiopia, I am confident that this is essentially fact.

This season’s Yabitu Koba and Layo Teraga out-turns prove that. It’s been just over a month since they arrived into the Port of New Jersey, and these coffees are beginning to reveal themselves. The journey from the southern interior of Ethiopia to Addis to Djibouti, up the Red Sea and across the Mediterranean, finally traversing the Atlantic is an arduous one. It stresses the coffee. In the case of these higher altitude coffees, I think they become tight and need time in the warehouses to acclimate. Let’s say that they’re now getting comfortable in their new surroundings.

Our Uraga lots typically hit their peak flavor potential fall through winter and we’re tasting the onset of that concept just now. Some of my favorite emails of the year are those I receive from roasters in Jan/Feb, when I’m selecting new crop lots in Addis, telling me that Yabitu is better than it’s been all season.

Don’t miss out on top lots that will carry you safely through winter until new crop arrives next spring.

We’ve made allocations of all three of today’s offerings in both Continental Terminals NJ and The Annex CA.

OFFER
*units are available as 60 kg grain pro lined jute bags.
*all units are now SPOT The Annex CA/Continental Terminals NJ

Yabitu Koba #728 FTO fragrance: spice (clove, allspice), ripe plum — cup profile: fresh blueberry, root beer, pear, cherry tomato, cider-like mouthfeel — 88/89 points.

Yabitu Koba #729 FTO fragrance: stewed peach, wildflower honey — cup profile: crisp and refreshing malic acidity, white pineapple, rhubarb, fresh milk, cacao nibs — 90 points.

Layo Teraga: fragrance: peach, brulee’d sugar — cup profile: white grape juice, meyer lemon, refreshing/piquant acidic character, almost ethereal cleanliness in the finish, hints of macadamia in the aftertaste — 88/89 points.

Cheers,

Aleco

Newsletter: Secure Source: Rwanda

Rwanda makes up a smaller portion of the total volume of coffee that we buy at Red Fox, but in many ways it represents best the potential for the work that we do as specialty coffee buyers. First, there is the coffee itself: nearly 100% heirloom Bourbon, grown in the volcanic soil of Rwanda’s abundant hills. Elevation across the country ranges from 1,500 to 2,000+ masl, and rainfall is ideal for coffee cultivation. The cup profiles in Rwanda are unique and varied, with saturated sweetness and full-bodied mouthfeel, as well as complexity, brilliant acidity, and vibrant fruit. And the fully-washed, centralized processing in Rwanda is meticulous, some of the best of any origin we work in.

But the story of coffee in Rwanda was not always so. When the reshaping of Rwanda’s coffee sector began in 2000, only six years after the utter devastation of the genocide, 90% of Rwanda’s coffee crop was classified as low-quality ‘ordinary’ coffee.’ There were hardly any centralized processing stations in the country and almost no washed coffee was produced at all. The history of coffee cultivation in Rwanda, inextricably linked to colonial policies from the 1930s, included enforced planting of coffee, restricted cherry prices, high taxes on exports, and tight control over who could buy and sell coffee within the country. After the genocide, the government lifted restrictions on trade and on farmers, and then began a sustained and focused effort to develop a high-quality, specialty coffee market in Rwanda.

In a collaborative effort, donor-funded NGOs, like PEARL and later SPREAD, formed and trained cooperatives, supported the building of hundreds of new washing stations throughout the country, invested in training and technical assistance for farmers, agronomists, cuppers, and quality control professionals. These long-term investments across the supply chain in Rwanda dramatically increased the supply of quality coffee in the country. Demand for high-quality Rwandan coffee has increased globally, farmers have access to higher prices for the fruits of their labor, and many skilled jobs have been created throughout the supply chain, from accountants and managers at washing stations, to cuppers, agronomists, quality control personnel, and positions in dry milling and export.

There are still challenges, of course. Washing stations are costly to operate and often struggle to remain solvent. Government regulation over cherry prices can be destabilizing year to year for washing station owners, millers, and exporters. But coffee in Rwanda has come a long way, and we are glad to have a small role in that process. Quality continues to improve and the coffees are beautiful, stable, and a welcome addition to seasonal coffee menus everywhere. Our Rwandan coffees arrive to the US in the late summer and early fall.

We’d like to shed some light on what’s happening with each of our projects. You’ll find rough harvest and shipping timelines, price ranges, and flavor profiles for each region below.

Nyamasheke District, Western Province – Kanzu

Aleco first set his heart on coffee from Kanzu at Rwanda’s Golden Cup in 2007. The coffee came in fourth in the competition, but the sweetness and profile blew him away, and he set off to go about buying it. At the time, the washing station’s owner struggled to stay in operation from year to year, and buying coffee from Kanzu in the subsequent years was a rollercoaster. In 2012, the washing station was purchased by C. Dorman and for the past five years they have made investments in infrastructure, trained farmers on agronomic best practices, and improved quality control. It’s a well-run operation and the quality of the coffee is superb. Elevation at the washing station is 1,900 masl, and most of the coffee is grown on the steep hills above, where the high elevation and cool climate slow down the cherry ripening and make for very dense fruit. Lots are separated by week through the harvest season and we cup each separation to select the top lots. Kanzu is our longest-standing relationship in Rwanda.

Peak Harvest Season: April – June
Shipping Timeline: July – September
Dry Mill Location: Rusizi, Western Province (5,000 ft)
Flavor Profile: asian pear, blackcurrant, concord grape, honey, date syrup, fresh cream

Nyamasheke District, Western Province – Gatare

The Gatare washing station is just a few ridges beyond Kanzu, also in the Nyamasheke district, which lies between Lake Kivu to the west and the vast Nyungwe Forest National Park to the south and east. It began operating in 2003, when it was one of just a handful of washing stations processing fully-washed, speciality coffee in the country. Elevation at the mill is 1,765 masl and they receive cherry from upwards of 2,000 farmers from the surrounding hills. Red Fox bought coffee from Gatare for the first time last year and the incredible floral characteristics, layers of sweet stone fruit, muscovado sugar, and gingerbread won us over immediately. The washing station has the capacity to process a large volume of coffee and we hope to see our relationship grow here.

Peak Harvest Season: April – June
Shipping Timeline: July – September
Dry Mill Location: Kigali City, Kigali Province (5,000 ft)
Flavor Profile: plum, peach, brown sugar, candied ginger, orange peel, fine cacao, honeysuckle

Nyamagabe District, Southern Province – Kibirizi

Our Kibirizi lots hail from the Nyamagabe district in the southwest of Rwanda, which lies between Cyangugu and Butare, east of the Nyungwe Forest. Here the landscape opens up into seemingly endless dome-shaped hills, nearly every square foot terraced and cultivated. Coffee production is only recently becoming as widespread here as in the Western District, but it is growing quickly. This washing station was built in 2016 and last year was its first year in operation. Immaculate and Francine, the washing station’s owners, have also planted over 20,000 coffee trees of their own, some of which are not yet producing fruit. This season, they bought cherry from around 500 farmers in the region and doubled their production over last year. In the cup, the Kibirizi profile is full of intensity with fresh and dried red fruits, bright kiwi and lime acidity, and elegant hibiscus floral notes.

Peak Harvest Season: March – May
Shipping Timeline: July – September
Dry Mill Location: Kigali City, Kigali Province (5,000 ft)
Flavor Profile: red fruit – dried cherry, cranberry, cane sugar, crème brulee, hibiscus

Cheers,

Julia

 

Newsletter: Secure Source: Peru

Peru is our fastest-growing origin in terms of project development and coffee procurement, and it’s what we think about when we think of the future of Red Fox. As of July 2017, we are now operating out of a fully-functional cupping laboratory in Miraflores, Lima. And in addition to our Quality Director for Peru, Tibed Yujra, we’ve recently brought on Ali Newcomb to run the operation as Gerente General. We’re looking forward to hosting any and all of you at our new Lima lab for a cupping. We can also facilitate field trips out to the many different regions from which we are sourcing. A new chapter for Red Fox has begun!

My first ventures into the Andean interior of Peru as a coffee buyer were in the south, almost a decade ago. Most other buyers seemed to be focusing on the more accessible regions of the north — Jaen, San Ignacio, Moyabamba, and beyond. Naturally, I wanted to head in the opposite direction. So I set off south, to the Sandia Valley of Puno, which remains our largest source of quality coffee in Peru to this day. When Red Fox started, we trekked up from Puno into the La Convencion and Yanatile valleys of Peru to discover new regions. As of last year, we made the decision to buy coffee in the north as well, albeit in regions and with cooperatives that have yet to be accessed by other buyers. The Alto Mayo Protected Preserve and the deep interior of Cajamarca are where we begin that adventure.

We’d like to shed some light on what’s happening with each of our projects and on the producer groups we’re currently partnered with. You’ll find rough harvest and shipping timelines, price ranges, and flavor profiles for each region below.

PUNO — Cecovasa

The Cecovasa Coop in the Sandia Valley of Puno remains the largest source of coffee in Peru for Red Fox. We expect anywhere from 40-60% of our total purchase volume to come from the now illustrious Tupac Amaru, Inambari, San Isidro, San Jorge, Charuyo, and San Ignacio cooperatives. Coffees from this region are the ones that have changed people’s minds about the potential of Peruvian coffee, potential that will soon rival Colombia in terms of quality in South America. Not only are floral, Ethiopia-like producer lots from Wilson Sucaticona, Pablo Mamani, Juan Quilla Laura, and Ciriaco Quispe turning heads, but so is the sheer longevity of coop and bulk lots from across the valley, like the Aprocafe Coop lot I’m sipping on as I write this. These are not your grandparents’ Perus of yesteryear that were a roll of the dice in terms of arrival quality. These are coffees that last, like the most solid Guatemalans and Ecuadors.

Peak Harvest Season: August – October
Shipping Timeline: September – December
Dry Mill Location: Juliaca, Puno (12,500 ft)
Flavor Profile: red apple, asian pear, red currant, dark honey, bittersweet cacao, black walnut

CUSCO — Incahuasi

My first adventure into the Incahuasi Valley was in the summer of 2006. It was a trek, almost 12 hours from the city of Cusco. Straddling the border with Ayacucho, which is now also producing coffee under the Incahuasi cooperative umbrella, the valley feels hidden and very off the beaten path. The potential for top quality on both sides of the border is undeniable. There’s as large a volume of 2,000 masl coffee production out here as I’ve seen anywhere on the globe. The cooperative leadership is open-minded and progressive, and since we’ve started working together we’ve seen annual improvements in drying, storage, and transport. Incahuasi has become a model relationship for us. Aromatics are intensely sweet, reminiscent of raw honey, ripe mango and baked cherry. Cup profiles in the valley demonstrate fresh stone fruit character, nectarine and cherry in particular.

Peak Harvest Season: August – October
Shipping Timeline: September – December
Dry Mill Location: Juliaca, Puno (12,500 ft)
Flavor Profile: raw honey, ripe mango, baked cherry, stone fruit, nectarine, cherry

CUSCO — Santa Teresa

Santa Teresa is the final stop on the trek to Machu Picchu. Just 30 minutes from Quillabamba, the heart of the La Convencion Valley, Santa Teresa sits at the base of the Templo de La Luna on the Urubamba river. A handful of the farms we buy from are strewn along a hidden pathway that was used to evacuate the Inka during attacks on the community. Needless to say, the landscape is stunning and steeped with powerful energy. The coffees as well. Like many of the farms we work with in the La Convencion Valley, altitude soars from 1,750 to 2,100 masl. Slow ripening through October develops saturated sweetness and ripe fruit character. This will be our third season working with the group in Santa Teresa, and we expect to see great improvement in terms of processing and delivery over the past couple years.

Peak Harvest Season: August – October
Shipping Timeline: September – December
Dry Mill Location: Juliaca, Puno (12,500 ft)
Flavor Profile: mango, peach, yellow plum, maple, muscovado sugar, creme brulee, toasted almond.

CUSCO — Grupo Calca

This year we will purchase a small volume of micro lots — less than a container load — from an old friend in the Yanatile and Lares river valleys of Cusco, Prudencio Vargas. Prudencio has done a miraculous job of organizing a loyal group of twenty farmers in this remote corner of Cusco into one unified association. Production from each producer rarely reaches 10 bags annual. Typica is the variety of choice, though Caturra, Bourbon, Mundo Novo, and the dreaded Catimor can be found in the region. These valleys are arid and desert-like, creating an ideal environment for drying and storing parchment coffee. Altitude in the area can reach 2,200 masl, and quality is utterly exceptional from the group, often exceeding 87/88 points. Think pure fruit nectar with high intensity of sweetness and acidity.

Peak Harvest Season: July – September
Shipping Timeline: September – November
Dry Mill Location: Juliaca, Puno (12,500 ft)
Flavor Profile: white grape, lemon/lime, satsuma, bing cherry, fig, brulee’d sugar, yellow honey, cacao nibs

CUSCO — Rio Mapacho

Last season’s Rio Mapacho lots turned a lot of heads. It’s a region that hasn’t been accessed much by specialty buyers, and we intend to help put it on the map. The cooperative is located deep within the Calca province just outside of Cusco’s Sacred Valley. The coffees are juicy and complex, often reminding us more of Sandia Valley coffees than of what we expect from Cusco cup profiles. Dark fruits like black cherry, currants, and plum are redolent in character, accentuated by dark honey and panela. Production is low at the cooperative — we expect anywhere from 200-350 bags of exportable coffee this season. No more. Those with interest here should respond quickly.

Peak Harvest Season: August – October
Shipping Timeline: September – December
Dry Mill Location: Juliaca, Puno (12,500 ft)
Flavor Profile: black cherry, black currant, plum, dark honey, muscovado sugar, marshmallow

ALTO MAYO — Coopbam

The Alto Mayo protected forest spans the border between the San Martin and Amazonas departments of Northern Peru. It is home to a large cross-section of native Peruvian wildlife as well as some of the country’s last undiscovered coffee. We were initially introduced to the area as part of the Alto Mayo Conservation Initiative funded by Conservation International in an attempt to save the native coffee production. Altitude in the low-lying areas (1,400+ masl) is conducive to sweeter, balanced cups with finer levels of acidity. Altitude in the higher reaches (exceeding 1,800-1,900 masl) produces coffee of elegant quality. This is a very wet area, and we’ve put great emphasis on drying and storage since beginning with the group. It’s beginning to pay off. After purchasing just a small volume of coffee last year, we’re on the verge of something more substantial this season.

Peak Harvest Season: July – September
Shipping Timeline: September – October
Dry Mill Location: Chiclayo, Lambayeque (sea level in dry, stable, desert-like conditions)
Flavor Profile: prune, raisin, meyer lemon, cacao nibs, high percentage cacao, vanilla, toasted almond

CAJAMARCA — Rutas del Inka

There is a lot to be amped about in Peru this year, but I keep coming back to our newest relationship out in the deepest reaches of Cajamarca. The Rutas del Inka cooperative is only a couple of years old, but leadership is strong and potential for quality coffee is off the charts. Altitude soars up here, with the majority of coffee production hovering right around 2,000 masl. Farms are on the younger side and are very healthy. All indications point to very special coffees on the horizon. We’ve just begun cupping the early harvest samples and are still learning the regional cup profile. Our first take is that cups are laden with juicy, refreshing acidity and ripe dark fruits like currants, red grape, and plum. These are powerful coffees driven by bright high notes.

Peak Harvest Season: August – October
Shipping Timeline: September – December
Dry Mill Location: Chiclayo, Lambayeque (sea level in dry, stable, desert-like conditions)
Flavor Profile: red grape, black currant, yellow plum, wildflower honey, vanilla, toasted almond

Tibed has made a handful of additional visits to regions all over the north, from Jaen to San Ignacio and beyond. He’s been cupping in local competitions in areas across Cusco that are newer to us. He’s plotted coffee on his altimeter above 2,200 masl in the Selva Central. The seven relationships noted above are our core group, but we’re always on the lookout for something new and beautiful to discover.

Cheers!

Aleco

Newsletter: Secure Source: Colombia

 

Colombia is the origin on which we’ve hung our hat since day one at Red Fox Coffee Merchants. There is currently no other country in Latin America with an equal wealth of top-tier quality coffee. The breadth of flavor profiles here is more diverse and all-encompassing than anywhere else in the world. Before you all go into cardiac arrest on me: yes, I decidedly believe that Ethiopian coffees are the most nuanced and sophisticated of all the coffee-producing world, and that top Kenyas are the most powerfully bright, complex, and articulate. But Colombia — Colombia has Huila and Huila coffees that will conjure at first spoonful the memory of the freshest Kenya in Nairobi last winter. Tiny pockets of Cauca have Bourbon and Typica so majestically floral that you instantly think of Gedeb or Agaro. And that’s barely scratching the surface.

Colombia also has fresh coffee virtually all year long. Its fly crop is basically constant because what is Colombia’s fly crop anyway? Climate change seems to have merged both harvests into one prolonged 9-10 month season of coffee succulence. Some farmer in some far off region is picking coffee every single day of the year down there. In all aspects, Colombia is a veritable treasure chest of coffee. We begin shipping coffee late July/early August and we don’t stop until March. Other than a brief hiatus come mid-summer, we have fresh, tasty coffees on our menu all year long.

What won’t come as a surprise is that our longest relationships in coffee are also in Colombia. We’ve been buying coffee from the Asorcafe producers association in Inza, Cauca for more than 11 years now. We started buying coffee from the Lasso family, their neighbors, and the several iterations of their producers association in the surrounding areas of La Union, Nariño beginning in 2007. We are building and re-building relationships across Huila from Palermo and Santa Maria in the north, to Palestina, Acevedo, Bordones de Isnos, San Agustin and beyond in the south. And we’re in constant discovery mode, jumping from cupping table to cupping table in Southern Colombia. We put in the work — Red Fox will be in Colombia no fewer than six times this year — and being present begets rewards.

We’d like to shed some light on what’s happening with each of our projects and on the producer groups we’re currently partnered with. You’ll find rough harvest and shipping timelines, price ranges, and flavor profiles for each region below.

 

INZA, CAUCA — Asorcafe

Inza is commonly referred to as La Tierra Adentro in Colombia, and that’s exactly how it feels. Whether approaching from Popayan or La Plata, when you eventually pass over a certain ridge and drop down into the pristine, emerald green valleys of Inza it’s a bit like entering another world. My personal history in the region goes back over a decade. I was one of the original buyers, when the Asorcafe producers association was in its infancy. We’ve had many triumphs and plenty of failures together, but we’ve stuck with it. Not only has the group invested in bettering their practices at the farm and processing levels, but they have also organized themselves as a producers association into something greater than I’ve ever seen before, organization-wise. As I’ve matured as a coffee buyer, I’ve learned that all of these things matter and are truly apparent in the quality of the cup. I often refer to the coffees from Tierra Adentro as the most ‘complete’ in all of Latin America. That is to say, they are not lacking in any way, shape, or form. Sweetness is supple and full. Mouthfeel is round, often creamy or viscous like cider or even honey. Acidity is fine and elegant like kiwi, or crisp like apples in early fall.

Peak Harvest Season: September – November
Shipping Timeline: August – March
Dry Mill Location: Armenia, Quindio (5,000 ft)
Flavor Profile: red apple, asian pear, kiwi, red grape, nectarine, panela, raw honey, creme fraiche

LA UNION, NARIÑO — Fudam

Interest in buying Nariño coffees has increased significantly over the past few years, due almost entirely to CRS’s Borderlands project, which focuses on the impact of coffee variety on farm sustainability and cup quality. It’s nice to see some of the focus in the south shift from Huila, Cauca, and Tolima, to the region that’s home to Colombia’s smallest coffee landholders. We continue to work with coffee producers in the highlands above La Union, now reborn as the FUDAM producers association, in search of the area’s finest coffees. That search has led us through many peaks and valleys, deep into the northernmost pockets of Nariño. Ten years since we first started buying coffee here, we continue to make new discoveries each and every season. In addition to coffees from Cusillo and high elevation Cartago, this year we’ll be introducing coffees from Genoa and beyond. These are quite possibly the most complex coffees we’ve sourced from the greater area. Think citrus as complex and marvelous as a perfect mandarin or prized yuzu. There is a purity to these coffees that make them different than the rest.

Peak Harvest Season: July – September
Shipping Timeline: August – December
Dry Mill Location: Armenia, Quindio (5,000 ft)
Flavor Profile: yuzu, mandarin, meyer lemon, white grape, candied grape, ginger, wildflower honey

TABLON DE GOMEZ, NARIÑO — Pompeya

Pompeya is where I see us continuing our thirst for discovery, need for adventure, and fine-tuning our strategy as a business. Pompeya borders the department of Putumayo. It’s so far off the grid that, until just a few years ago, the town was home to much of the top leadership of the FARC. We began purchasing a small volume of producer lots from Pompeya two years ago, starting with maybe 20 bags. Last year we brought in a couple dozen bags more. Building the relationship, organizing a producers group, and creating an avenue for delivery took time, but the cup quality makes the investment worth it. These are coffees I whispered about until now. I didn’t want to spill the beans before we had something reliable to share with you all, but Pompeya lots are finally coming through the pipe this summer/fall. I rarely see 2,100/2,200+ masl elevation in Colombia, but that’s all there is in Pompeya. Yellow Bourbon, Typica, and Caturra are all you’ll find. What else is there to say? The profile is potent here — the ripest bing cherries, pomegranate, raspberry, and white peach are foundational pieces of the puzzle. Total volume from the area could be as little as 150 bags or as many as 300. We’ll be conservative selling forward this year for these coffees.

Peak Harvest Season: August – October
Shipping Timeline: September – December
Dry Mill Location: Armenia, Quindio (5,000 ft)
Flavor Profile: bing cherry, pomegranate, raspberry, white peach

BUESACO, NARIÑO — Santa Fe

Santa Fe is positioned directly across the river valley and provincial border from Pompeya. It’s geographical proximity to our friends across the way is what drew us to the village. How much different can these coffees be from those in Tablon? Elevation is virtually identical and, more importantly, microclimate is the same. This will be our first year working with this group of 28 producers and we’ve yet to taste the coffee. It’s one of those rare instances where we are completely certain of the outcome in the cup prior to the season. This will be another small-volume offering of producer and village lots. We expect a whole lot of the ripe, Kenya-like fruit quality we find in Tablon.

Peak Harvest Season: August – October
Shipping Timeline: September – December
Dry Mill Location: Armenia, Quindio (5,000 ft)
Flavor Profile: TBD

SAN JOSE DE ISNOS, HUILA — Bordones

I often think of Colombia as the most competitive origin that we work in. We’re extremely confident in our ability to procure, transport, and deliver excellent coffee from Colombia. We also know we’re not the only ones. We often compete with these folks for the same producers and the same coffees. Huila is the region where this is most true for us. So this year we’ve decided to focus our efforts in specific provinces within the department. San Jose de Isnos, in southernmost Huila, is just northeast of San Agustin and West of Pitalito, the areas that brought coffee fame to Huila originally. Needless to say, coffees from Isnos helped play a role in that. So that’s where we begin anew, again, in Southern Huila and with a group of almost 60 producers in Bordones. Like Inza, these coffees are juicy and complete with acidity another level higher in intensity.

Peak Harvest Season: July – September // November – January
Shipping Timeline: August – March
Dry Mill Location: Armenia, Quindio (5,000 ft)
Flavor Profile: TBD

NORTHERN HUILA, HUILA — Santa Maria y Palermo

In my old coffee life, Inza, Cauca and Planadas, Tolima were where my sourcing efforts were concentrated. I had this idea in my head that the areas surrounding the Nevado del Huila were especially important to coffee. There was something about those mountainous slopes and their volcanic soil; those specific microclimates with their warm days and chilly nights. Our newest project of all in Colombia is out on the Huila side of the border with Planadas, Tolima, at the southern edge of the Nevado del Huila. A visit this past March reminded me immediately of my trips years ago to the perilously steep slopes in Gaitania, the verdant mountainsides very Inza-like in their might, the coffees similar in their sweetness, and, if anything, more intensely floral in aromatics and acidity. We are just getting started here, but the vibe is right. Our first container will be afloat come early August.

Peak Harvest Season: July – September
Shipping Timeline: August – October
Dry Mill Location: Neiva, Huila (1,450 ft)
Flavor Profile: honeysuckle, black currant, black cherry, honeydew melon, vanilla, buttercream

The regions and relationships above are the offerings we want to highlight for Colombia’s first semester harvest. We have visited dozens of other subregions so far in 2017, and are seeking out others as I type. Look for more offerings from several hotspots in Tolima, Southern Huila, Cauca, and Northern Nariño. The discovery continues…

Cheers,

Aleco

Newsletter: Huehuetenango, Guatemala Arrivals Update

In an effort to expand our offerings in Guatemala, I went down there this past March to do a little discovery. I remember the moment precisely – we’ve all had an experience like this on the cupping table – where one sample just pops. This coffee was totally unlike the others: big and juicy with flavors of nectarine, tropical fruit like pineapple and mango, and subtle floral notes. What made it remarkable was not only those beautiful, crisp flavors but how incredibly sweet it was. An easy 88 point coffee. “What is this and are there any more like it?!” I couldn’t have been more excited. It turned out to be a coffee grown by Edgar Sanchez in Santa Barbara, Huehuetenango. I tasted a few more Santa Barbara coffees and they all had that distinct ripe peach nectar-like profile. I was completely blown away and needed to find out more.

We then went out to visit Edgar’s farm. He has Bourbon, Typica and Pache (a Typica mutation) growing in heavy clay soil along a steep, east-facing slope at elevations up to 2050 masl. Processing is rustic: the coffee is manually de-pulped before being fermented in a wooden tank for 10-12 hours. It is then scrubbed in channels to remove the remaining mucilage and laid out to dry on a small patio adjoining his traditional house. Despite the high altitude sun, drying is slowed due to the shade provided by both his house and the steep hills surrounding it, as well as the cool nights. Not only is this a beautiful coffee, but it is stable – we measured it at .52aW @ 20.4c and 10.2%. Amazing.

Edgar’s farm is typical for Santa Barbara, one of the lowest income municipalities in Huehuetenango. Most producers there grow less than one hectare of coffee which is often bought by coyotes, due in a large part to the difficulty of bringing in coffee from the farm to the receiving stations which can be an hour or two by car, if one is even available. These are then blended with coffees from various other municipalities into large generic ‘Huehuetenango’ lots. We are excited to separate these gems and to have the opportunity to offer them to you.

There are several coffees from Santa Barbara now in the warehouse, including a few single producer lots, bulked village level lots with all the complexity that brings, as well as a larger, 32 bag Santa Barbara lot encompassing a few villages.

One more thing about our Huehuetenango offerings before I let you go. While down there we found a value we just couldn’t pass up: two larger lots from a single estate, Los Arroyos in La Libertad. Clean, sweet and bright, this is a coffee you can drink all day long on its own or use to round out your blends. We’re really psyched to have expanded our sourcing work in Guatemala this year and to be able to offer these coffees, please email info@redfoxcoffeemerchants.com for more info or sample and booking requests.

Cheers,
Joel

Newsletter: Kenya Gakuyu-ini Offer

I remember speaking with my old pal Ryan Brown a few years back about what makes Kenyan coffees so special. Is it producer acumen? Is it terroir? Or varietal? Or processing? As is always the case, many things contribute to the tasteable outcome, but in the instance of Kenya, process itself has a tremendous impact on profile. These are the cleanest coffees in the world in the most literal sense. Red Fox has its own buying mantra, built around the idea of repeatability in coffee production. Not the repeability of a specific profile, per se, but of a certain level of quality year after year. If our buying philosophy centers around cleanliness and sweetness, then we’re giving producers the chance to deliver to us every year if they can meet those standards. In this sense, picking ripe fruit and maintaining a clean processing environment are of foremost importance for us.

Nowhere are coffees as thoroughly cleaned as they are in Kenya. The typical process looks something like this: after depulping, coffee beans are left to ferment. Then, after 24 hours they are washed and left to ferment again, without water, for another 12-24 hours. The parchment is then washed before being soaked in tanks for another period of roughly 12-18 hours. At this stage, the beans are moved to skin drying beds where they are laid out in thin layers to allow the mass of water weight to fall. This happens over the course of a morning. This entire process is sometime referred to as the 72 hour process. From there the coffee goes to raised drying beds for the next 8 to 12 days. By the end of this process, the coffee is as clean as a whistle. The work is already done. Not a drop of mucilage will be found on the pristinely white parchment, and no extra flavor is imparted to the beans except by what happened at the farm and in the fermentation tanks.

Due to this impeccable standard of processing, flavor profiles of Kenyan coffees are as perceptible as anything we know. Gakuyu-ini is a shining example of that concept this season. Most years we’ll buy an AA from one outturn, an AB from another, and we’ll usually look for a few PB lots as well. Only in the rarest of instances is an outturn so beautiful that we buy it top to bottom, or AA to AB through PB, meaning we buy each separated part of an entire lot.

I spent several days on cupping tables across Nairobi this past February. Coffees were nice the first day or so, but I hadn’t come across something that knocked my socks off. Not until day three, that is, when I tasted Gakuyu-ini. The floral character of the fragrance stopped me in my tracks. That heady, fleeting, ultra-sweet, fresh-cut lilac aroma was irresitible; the crisp green apple, sweet lime juice, and ripe pineapple character in the cup too perfect to deny. It was the most refreshing coffee I’d tasted all year, which is saying something, considering I spent all of January in Ethiopia selecting lots.

All of our Kenyan coffees from this season have cleared into warehouses on both coasts, and our selection is the best it has been since we opened the doors at Red Fox three years ago. We’ll make them available over the course of the spring — a few of the best lots were listed last week, more of those classic, ripe, dark fruit bombs that are not to be missed — but I wanted to kick off the newsletter campaign with my personal favorite of the season.

Kenyan coffee is many different things. To say that Gakuyu-ini is the quintessential Kenya profile would not necessarily make sense. I love blackcurrant and blackberry, too, but those are descriptors more charateristic of Nyeri. What I will say is that this Gakuyu-ini outturn is Kirinyaga at its finest, where the floral character reminiscent of Ethiopia meets the heavy, juicy fruit tones of its neighboring producing zones in the Central Highlands.

The Gakuyu-ini Factory is a member of the Thirikwa Cooperative Society. Altitude reaches 1700 masl. SL28 and SL34 are the primary varietals, although Ruiru 11 can also be found in the area. This outturn was harvested in December.

We are offering two lots today that are essentially the same thing, i.e. coffee from the same cooperative that was harvested, processed, and bulked together over the same period of time. The only difference between them is bean size, and yet they couldn’t be more different from each other. Aromatically speaking, the AB exudes the fresh cut flower character of lilac alongside golden honeycomb notes, while the AA has heavy sweetness ranging from clove and allspice to dried cherry and raw pipe tobacco.

In the cup, the AB is lighter and more ethereal, with the brilliance of lemon-lime soda and passion fruit. The AA is clearly AA — blackcurrant and blueberry are clear as day. Melted butter and something tropical like kiwi surface in the AB’s finish, while the AA stays strong and very sweet through the finish with a distinct apple cider quality.

Both coffees are from the same outturn, but you’d never guess by tasting them. They’re 90 point coffees by industry standard, but they’re more than just that. We suggest procuring a bit of both and offering them side-by-side for conversation’s sake alone.

Cheers,

Aleco

Newsletter: Ethiopia Early Season Arrival: Yukro Cooperative

Tasting the first washed coffees from the Technoserve Agaro coops back in 2008/09 was like unlocking the code on a brand new origin. Coffees from this area, just west of Jimma town about an hour or so out the road to Illubabor, can be unique and utterly special. But they weren’t always. Jimma had long been an afterthought of a region, producing primarily Grade 5 naturals. Of course, washed coffees falling under the DOC of Grade 2 Limu can be great, but the Limu 2 denomination covers an extensive swath of land, and identities of great individual coffees can be camouflaged or entirely lost.

But let’s stay on track. Let’s talk about cup profile. The aromatics of the best lots in Agaro are as florally potent as anything coming out of Yirgacheffe, though the cup character leans more towards yellow fruits like peach, mango, and even sweeter rainer cherry. Acidity in these coffees is piquant and effervescent, like champagne grapes. Sweetness is heavy like honey, but complex enough to conjure notes of candied ginger.

What are you waiting for? If the cup profile alone is enough to pique your interest, skip ahead to the offer below or hit the Book Online link above to reserve coffee or request samples now.

If you’re still with me…harvest in Western Ethiopia begins and ends a little bit earlier than down south. This year, I spent the month of January in Ethiopia analyzing and assembling lots, cupping through all of the Agaro week separations before other buyers arrived in Ethiopia. Lot variation is always a rollercoaster ride out there, so being early certainly reaps its own reward. Another benefit to the timing of that trip is that our first Ethiopia containers of the new season have now arrived.

Among the newly arrived coffees is one of our favorites in all of the coffee producing world: Yukro. Yukro is a cooperative that now falls under the jurisdiction of the Keta Union, which governs this newly famous growing region of Agaro. The original Yukro Multipurpose Cooperative, established in 1977, produced and sold both coffee and honey. The coffee was naturally processed junk. The honey was great.

Delving into more recent history, we have the the Technoserve projects in Jimma, Illubabor, and Kaffa to thank for changing the processing approach out west. Technoserve gave cooperatives like Yukro (and Nano Challa, Duromina, etc.) the opportunity to increase the value of their coffee by developing its inherent quality through improved processing. No more sun-dried natural crap. Instead, and with the help of Penagos equipment, coffees in Agaro were being washed clean for the very first time. Now, after mechanically removing the bulk of the fruit/mucilage from the beans, they are soaked overnight in fiberglass tanks. This allows for any remaining sugars to be fully removed from the surface of the beans. The coffees are perfectly clean by the time they hit the drying beds for the 8+ days they’ll need to complete processing. Yukro has the good habit of managing the initial 24-48 hours of this stage under shaded canopy to protect the wet parchment from intense sunlight. This keeps the parchment from cracking, which protects the beans from direct sunlight and damage, lengthening the shelf life and roast potential of the coffee.

Yukro is beautiful again this season. It’s taken several years of cupping and patience to understand how these coffees evolve from being fresh off of harvest to PSS to arrival, then through summer and into fall. In an enigma that is uniquely Ethiopian, sometimes these coffees truly hit their stride 10-12 months after harvest. We’ve tasted the evolution of this year’s Yukro from harvest to PSS to arrival and all signs indicate that this lot, representing weeks 3-5 of harvest, is going to be something decisively delicious for many months to come.

I’ve conservatively scored the arrival 88/89. Aromatics are less intense, but still sultry in their sweetness — yellow peach, hints of fresh ginger, and dark honey prevail. The cup is laden with ripe nectarine and pluot notes that become very apparent as the cup hits room temperature. When cool, the finish effervesces and refreshes with an ethereal crispness reminiscent of some of my favorite sparkling Savoie wines.

Cheers,

Aleco

Newsletter: Guatemala Chimaltenango Los Gigantes

Small producers in northern Chimaltenango call Typica ‘gigante,’ or ‘giant,’ for the long curved shape of the bean. Typica is planted abundantly, alongside smaller amounts of Bourbon and Caturra, in an area of northern Chimaltenango defined by San Jose Poaquil, Comalapa, and San Martin Jilotepeque. This region has ideal conditions for growing these older varieties, with elevations exceeding 2050 masl. Often, these smallholders have less than one hectare of coffee planted, and most harvest their own cherries, taking them to nearby receiving stations where they are then processed and dried in Antigua.

Cupping the Los Gigantes arrivals, our flavor notes gravitated to the sweeter, rounder profile. Think milk chocolate, honey, and raisin with a subtle balancing brightness. These coffees will play well with others in a blend, while also shining as a single origin offering. Sweet and clean, they are sure to please.

These lots are also extremely stable, with water activity ranging from 0.52-0.55, and moisture content averaging 10.2%. These coffees will stay fresh. Buy them now and use them as an espresso base or single origin through fall.

Joel

Newsletter: Colombia Harvest Update & Delivery Schedule

Colombia buying got off to a rocky start this season. In July and August, a countrywide truckers strike blocked goods from reaching the ports of Buenaventura, Cartagena, and Santa Marta. We typically get a container or two afloat before Labor Day, but this season our first containers left Colombia in the second half of September.

But the strike ended and the congestion at the ports cleared up, and we have been steadily shipping fresh coffees from Inza, Narino, and Huila to both coasts. The second semester harvest is soon coming to a close, which means we have a flotilla of containers en route and clearing customs, with fresh arrivals available spot in both The Annex & Continental Terminals. Our last containers will ship in early February before we break until next season.

Our regional focus continues to be the same: we work with longstanding relationships in Inza de Cauca and Northern Narino through the first semester, and in Inza and Southern Huila through the second semester.

LOT CONSTRUCTION & OUR OFFERINGS

Before getting into the Inza harvest report, I have something else on my mind that I haven’t articulated well enough yet. ‘Lot Construction’ is what we spend the majority of our time doing, both while on the road and back at the ranch in Berkeley. We cup everything. We construct each and every one of our Colombian lots from the ground up. Often, and this is always the case in Inza, this means cupping every tiny 30kg, 50kg, and 100kg lot that a single farmer delivers, in order to build larger lots, not just by individual producer and their family, but by village and/or greater region as well. This takes tremendous time and effort: between filtering at origin and in our lab in the bay, we cup thousands of lots in a season. We’ll cup a single producer’s lots as many as a dozen times over between summer and mid-winter.

If you’re looking at the Colombia lots on our website offering list, you’ll notice the 9 bags from Eibar Rojas and the 6 bags from Nancy Munoz. You’ll also notice a 14 bag La Milagrosa lot and a 35 bag lot from San Rafael. The same meticulous detail went into the construction of each of these offerings. In some ways, I consider the 10, 20, 30+ bag bulk lots to be the greater masterpieces. Red can be a bold, beautiful color but layering green and yellow with it amplifies the volume. In the same way, a combination of coffees from several neighbors can make for a more nuanced, complex coffee. The sum being greater than its individual parts, you know? 240 kg from Norbey Sancho + 156 kg from Alejandro Oidor + 360 kg from Jose Amir Medina + 256 kg from Luz Mila Mazabuel = 11 bags of the most delicious coffee you’ve dug into all winter. We often combine coffees from these fine folks to make our San Jose offerings. It’s one of my all time favorites.

We think it’s important to share this detail with you. It’s one of the core virtues that makes Red Fox unique. And, honestly, with the sheer volume of work we put in every fall between Colombia and Peru, I’m surprised that neither the sample roaster nor Joel has melted yet. Let’s call it a miracle.

INZA DE CAUCA

Our longest standing relationship of all. Here’s a snippet from last season’s update:

“I’ve spent a good bit of past decade of my coffee sourcing life in Pedregal de Inza, Cauca. I first started collaborating with the Asorcafe group here in 2006, and my relationship with these farmers has been nothing short of a thorough education in coffee buying. A few of these folks have become the examples I reference all over the world, not only as models for how to produce quality coffee, but for how to turn a small farm into a sustainable business as well. In so many ways the coffee producers of Inza were my inspiration and motivation for creating Red Fox.

Inza is a municipality that straddles the border of Huila and Cauca. On clear days, you can see straight up to the Nevado de Huila. It’s a few hours drive from both Popayan and La Plata in either direction, but it’s not easily accessible. The famous Paez river runs east through the valley below, connecting Cauca and Huila. Elevation is phenomenal here, with very little coffee grown below 1750 masl and great portion of it growing at 1900 masl and above. Caturra has held strong as the varietal of choice, with a surprising amount of Bourbon and Typica also found in the area. Castillo and Colombia are found in small doses, but are not major players in the varietal landscape of the region.”

Going into a bit more geographical detail, we buy coffees from three main towns, doubling as counties, within the Inza municipality: Pedregal, San Antonio, and the town of Inza itself. Yes, that would be Inza de Inza. So when you see village lots from us like San Jose, that’s actually San Jose de Pedregal. La Palmera also lies within Pedregal. La Milagrosa de Inza and Alto de Topa de Pedregal are other examples.

Each village is often composed of just a handful of families. And there aren’t more than 20-30 hectares planted with coffee in each village either. These village lots represent something very specific and repeatable. When volume allows, we bulk by family or individual producer.

The 2017 season has been one of the most successful we’ve had in Inza. Competition is fierce for top lots, but Red Fox continues to offer the best price for 86+ scoring coffees. That’s been the case for many years. We’ve also expanded our reach into the neighboring communities around the towns of Pedregal and Inza. Between the first and second semester harvests, we’ve sourced roughly 600 bags of the very best coffee the greater region of Inza has to offer. We culminated the season with our first ever Red Fox Quality Competition, which we held in Pedregal just last month. These coffees will be available in Continental come early March. In the meantime, we have absolutely gorgeous producer-specific and village-specific lots from Inza available in NJ and stripping into CA.

To me there are no more complete coffees in all of Latin America than the top lots from Inza. By complete I mean they don’t lack in any area. Aromatics are heavy, with characters ranging from floral honey and jasmine to ripe peach to dark sugars; acidity is clean, running the gamut from subtle to expansive; mouthfeel is supple and viscous, reminiscent of apple juice with even a honeyed texture; and last but not least, sweetness is supreme. I could write endlessly about the muscovado, raw honey, and kiwi-like tones in these coffees, but you get the drift by now.

Heading into the first semester 2017 harvest, we will be offering the opportunity for roasters to establish relationships with specific villages and producing families in Inza. Stay tuned for more information on that come spring. Don’t hesitate to reach out now if this is of interest to you. Purchasing from the 2016 harvest puts you in pole position for the coming season.

DELIVERY SCHEDULE

The first Inza container has landed and stripped into Continental Terminals (NJ). These coffees were delivered to our export partner’s warehouse in Pitalito before being moved to Armenia for dry milling and packaging. As always, all coffees are packaged in GrainPro-lined jute bags.

Inza lots will be available in The Annex (CA) before month’s end. Both coasts will have reinforcements stripping into the warehouses next month, and again in March for a final time.

Please make sure to copy Adam, Joel, Julia and Chloe (info@redfoxcoffeemerchants.com) with your interest and sample requests. I’m in Ethiopia for the remainder of the month and may be unreachable at times.

Cheers and Happy New Year!

Aleco

Newsletter: Red Fox Secure Source

Forward Booking Coffee with Red Fox

Starting in 2017, we’d like to offer more of our roaster clients the opportunity to secure the best possible coffees by booking forward. We will be available to meet via phone or skype to review the annual harvest cycle and help interested roasters get a clear picture of what to expect. Planning ahead like this will ensure our roasters access to top-tier quality and leverage their relationship with Red Fox to streamline their buying. We call this Secure Source.

Why do this?

Here are a few of the benefits to booking forward with Red Fox:

More security in accessing the freshest, best quality coffees
Access to better pricing based on an estimated annual volume
Advanced single origin menu and blend component planning
More exclusivity in your market
Potential travel to origin to meet producers in the Red Fox supply chain
A clear perspective on harvest and shipment timing throughout the year
Here at Red Fox, we have been sourcing top quality green coffee for a long time. Our investment and experience at origin is bar none, and our quality control standards are as strict as you’ll find.

We believe Red Fox can be a strong partner to your roasting business, and we want to get to know you better. Working together, we hope to support and grow the strength and capacity your business, as well as the quality of the coffees you buy. It’s unlikely we’ll ever be a one-stop shop for all your green coffee needs. We don’t work in every origin or region, but we are committed to finding the best coffees in the handful of origins we do operate in. We remained focused on specific regions and communities that are underrepresented in the marketplace. And we seek to work in places that have the highest potential to produce extraordinary quality. We use our collective years of experience and our relationships at origin to get lots separated, milled, and shipped quickly and in optimal condition. Delivering these coffees from origin to our customers takes the majority of our time, investment, and planning. This is Red Fox’s role and where we feel we add the most value — we deliver some of the world’s finest coffees to you, in top condition, so you don’t have to worry about it.

Our spot offerings will continue to be top-shelf, showcasing single-producer coffees, separated washing station outturns, and bulk lots in their peak quality from the best regions we work in. Those coffees will be there for you when you need them. But going deeper and planning together has many advantages. Knowing three, six, nine, or even twelve months in advance about the origins you’ll be buying green coffee from helps us dial in quality and pricing to customize our sourcing efforts to your roasting needs. The Red Fox trading team has decades of collective experience planning and forecasting green coffee needs and setting menus for roasting operations, so we are well equipped to bring some ideas to the table.

How does it work?

First, we will schedule time to meet with you, either in person or over the phone, to go over your usage and needs, so that we can create an initial plan of action and framework for contracts. Ideally, we cup coffees together to calibrate our quality expectations. We can do this at our Berkeley lab, or Red Fox can come to you.
Using Red Fox’s harvest calendar for specific harvest/shipment/delivery timelines, we set a target plan for one or multiple origins. Forward booking with Red Fox will give you better pricing and access to coffees before they become available as spot offerings.
Together we come up with an agreed upon “spread,” or drawdown of coffee, over a specific period of time. This initial agreement or “target source plan” is non-binding and will set only price parameters.
A second conversation will be scheduled in which we will draft up forward contracts. Lot specifics and pricing will be finalized at the time of booking, usually 2 to 4 months ahead of coffee delivery.
Pre-ship samples are then forwarded directly to you for your approval. We can also send arrival samples upon request, although contracts will be subject to pre-shipment approval in most cases.
Starting in January, what origins can we book forward for the year ahead?

In order of harvest and delivery timeline:

Ethiopia >> Kenya >> Guatemala >> Colombia >> Rwanda >> Peru

EAST AFRICA
Ethiopia
harvest: Nov-Jan
shipment: Feb/Mar-Jun
delivery/menu usage: Apr/May-Dec

Kenya
harvest: Oct-Jan
shipment: Feb/Mar – May
delivery/menu usage: May-Dec

Rwanda
harvest: Mar-Jul
shipment: Aug-Oct
delivery/menu usage: Nov-Apr

SOUTH AMERICA
Colombia
harvest: May-Jan
shipment: Jul-Feb
delivery/menu usage: Sep-Jun

Ecuador
harvest: May-Sep
shipment: Oct-Nov
delivery/menu usage: Dec-May

Peru
harvest: May-Oct
shipment: Sep-Dec
delivery/menu usage: Nov-May

Bolivia
harvest: May-Sep
shipment: Sep-Nov
delivery/menu usage: Nov-May

NORTH & CENTRAL AMERICA
Mexico
harvest: Dec-Feb
shipment: Mar-May
delivery/menu usage: May-Nov

Guatemala
harvest: Dec-Mar
shipment: Mar-Jun
delivery/menu usage: May-Dec

If you have interest in continuing the conversation with us about forward booking, please get in touch at info@redfoxcoffeemerchants.com

Cheers and Happy New Year,

Red Fox Coffee Merchants

Newsletter: Rwanda Arrivals – Old Favorites & New Finds

Rwandan coffees tend to be the first of our fresh-crop coffees to land in the US in the fall and, after the end-of-summer shipping lull, it’s always something to celebrate when these sweet, vibrant coffees make it through ours doors. It’s a stellar year again for Kanzu, a consistent favorite of ours, and we’re excited to have some new offerings to share with you as well. Fresh lots now are available spot on both coasts.

Aleco and I went to Rwanda in July this year and, while I’ve been to South America a handful of times with Red Fox, this was my first time seeing coffee production in Africa. We started the trip with a visit out to the Kanzu washing station in the Nyamasheke district of Rwanda’s western province. Kanzu is a jewel of a factory, neat and well-run, set against green hills of coffee, cassava, sweet potato, sugarcane, bananas, and beans at 1900 masl. The hills beyond border the Nyungwe Forest, now a protected National Park, and the cool cloud cover from the montane forest drifts over Kanzu, which makes for beautiful diffuse light and exceptional coffee-growing conditions. When the views are clear from the top of the ridge above the washing station, you can see all the way down to Lake Kivu to the west, which stretches the length of Rwanda’s border with the DRC. Aleco first started buying coffee from the Kanzu in 2007, and it has been one of our strongest offerings every year at Red Fox. Lots are separated by week coming through the washing station, and we cup through and select the top lots. This year’s Kanzu lots are incredibly sweet with dark sugars like panela and muscovado balancing fruits like blackcurrant, white grape, and asian pear with lots of florals and fresh cream. Kanzu lots are available now on both coasts, but they won’t last long.

 

And now to introduce our newest finds! We have expanded our purchasing in Rwanda this year and we have some exciting things to show for it. Twumba is a new washing station in the district of Karongi, just north of Nyamasheke and also in the western province. Elevation is high here as well — the washing station sits at 1856 masl, with farmers bringing cherry down from the hills above. This coffee has been blowing us away since we first cupped it this summer. The aromatics are full of candied fruit and bright cane sugar, with white peach, sweet lime, and black cherry in the cup. We bought just a single lot from Twumba this year and there are 11 bags available now at the Annex.

Back in Nyamasheke, just a few valleys over from Kanzu, lies the Gatare washing station. It was built in 2003 and was one of the few washing stations in the country to process cherry for speciality coffee at the time. Elevation here is 1765 masl and up, and climate is very similar to Kanzu. The washing station and region have the potential for greater volume in the years to come and we’re looking forward to more brilliant coffees ahead. These lots are full of big, bright, clean fruit — red currant, lychee, kiwi, and peach — along with honey and cane sweetness, and candied ginger and citrus peel.

Lastly, we have two incredible lots from Kibirizi, which also come from a new washing station in its first year of operation, this one in Rwanda’s southern province in the district of Nyamagabe. Built and operated by two farmers from the area who wanted more control over the processing to preserve and improve quality, they are now processing cherry from their own 20,000 coffee trees along with cherry from neighboring farmers. These profiles are bursting with red fruit from dried cherry to raspberry to cranberry and have layers of sweetness — cane sugar, apricot jam, and creme brûlée, with elegant rhubarb and hibiscus notes.

Please email info@redfoxcoffeemerchants.com for all booking and sample requests.

Cheers,

Julia

Newsletter: Harvest Update & Delivery Schedule Peru 2016/2017

Greetings from the Fox Den, where we are in the thick of the South American shipping season. Lots from Colombia and Peru that we approved earlier this fall are starting to arrive on both coasts, and we’re sprinting to keep up with the influx of new samples from later in the harvest. In Colombia, where the harvest season lasts much longer, our offerings are spread out more evenly and ship more consistently. We already have coffees available in the warehouses on both coasts and will continue to ship a couple of containers per month throughout the winter. The buying season in Peru is much more intense and compressed. With our primary focus on the southern departments of Cusco and Puno, the vast majority of what we buy is from the peak harvest in August/September/October. Our time is devoted to filtering and approving Peru samples in both Lima and Berkeley from September through November. We just received our last batch of Peru offer samples in our Berkeley lab and, if all goes according to plan, we’ll finish cupping and send our instructions to the cooperatives by the end of this month.

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2016 POST-HARVEST REVIEW

We have put a new system of filtering samples in place in Peru for the 2016 harvest. It’s designed to make us more efficient at analyzing and approving samples, bulking lots and selecting micro lots, and, perhaps most importantly, at ensuring that stable coffees are milled, packaged, and shipped in the most timely manner.

The work begins with our field agent, Tibed Yujra, who is based in Puno and engages daily with the producers, cooperative leaders, millers, and exporters that we work with in Peru. Beginning right around the halfway point of the harvest season, Tibed begins collecting parchment samples from receiving stations throughout southern Peru. He takes physical measurements of all the samples to analyze water activity and moisture content, and excludes any samples that fall outside our specs. After this initial filtering, we meet up with Tibed in Lima to conduct a first round of cupping. All the coffees that we determined are “clean” at that point are brought back to the Berkeley lab for final analysis, where they are again measured for water activity and moisture content and cupped for a final time. It’s at this point that we determine which lots should be kept separate as micro lots, and which can be bulked by cooperative or region. Results and milling instructions are immediately sent back to the the cooperatives, and coffees are dispatched to be prepared for shipment. Tibed is waiting for these lots as they enter the dry mill to assure that a proper job is done. So far we’ve found this new system to be faster and better organized, and we’ve trimmed 2-3 weeks off of the entire process compared to last season.

Storage conditions for our coffees in Peru are ideal. The coffees are kept in very dry, cool climes prior to milling — between 2800 masl (Andahuaylas) and 3400 masl (Juliaca) — and most coffee is milled in Juliaca itself. Many of you who have bought Peruvian coffees from us in the past have remarked at the impressive longevity of these lots. We think the explanation is the excellent milling and storage conditions, along with Tibed’s ability to move coffee from the interior to the dry mill to port at what seems like the speed of light.

We spent time this season trying to solve the water activity issues that plagued some of our coffees from the 2015 harvest, and on our first trip to Peru this year we discovered some excessively fast drying practices in La Convencion, Cusco. Coffees were being dried on patios in direct sun in just 3 to 4 days and, while the coffees were reaching the proper moisture content in that time, it was wreaking havoc on the stability of those coffees. Even drying is more important for overall longevity and quality than a target moisture level, and water activity is a far greater measure of stability for us for this reason. We find that drying coffee at such an extreme rate doesn’t allow for an even distribution of water within the coffee bean, and we think slower drying times — we recommend a minimum of 8 days — equate to lower water activity, a longer lifespan, and greater freshness for green coffee.

At our request, the cooperative in La Convencion has installed raised beds in most of the washing stations they operate, and they are covering the parchment at midday to protect it from the ultra-intense sun. Where raised beds couldn’t be installed in time this season, they are drying parchment in larger piles to slow down the drying times. Overall, the results are markedly improved. We have adhered to a strict protocol with water activity this season, and only accept coffees that measure between 0.50 and 0.59. All coffees shipped this season are within this range.

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CUSCO

Cusco is the future. It’s like a brand new origin for the ultra quality-focused buyers out there. We’ve written before about the monumental implosion of the old cooperative union. Now a handful of new cooperatives have risen from its ashes, and they’re looking to connect with the specialty market. We have built strong relationships with two of these cooperatives, and hope that more will come with future harvests.

Altitude in Cusco is supreme. I don’t know a region in Peru that has more 2000+ masl producing zones. Scratch that. I don’t know another coffee producing region in the world with as much 2000+ masl coffee. Our focus to date has been in the La Convencion area of Cusco, an absolutely gigantic swath of coffee-producing land. We’ve spent days on end driving in and around the producing valleys within La Convencion, seeking out the hidden crevices. They are the most epic areas in the coffee lands that I know.

The two cooperatives we currently work with in the department of Cusco are both on the southern end of La Convencion. Though they seem close to one another on the map, the distance between is quite far in reality. They’re separated by a rugged 10+ hour drive across altitudes upwards of 15,000 ft.

On one end of the journey, just over the Cusco/Apurimac border, is the Incahuasi Valley. The valley has an otherworldly beauty, like being on another planet. The feeling of escape from the rest of the world out there is unlike any other place I know. It’s just the producing community, the coffee, and us when we visit. No interruptions. After a long hiatus buying from this group, we got back into the swing of things two years ago. The connection between the producers, the cooperative leaders, and Red Fox is strong, and this year they will be our largest provider in all of Peru.

The three main communities within the Incahuasi Valley are Pacaybamba, Amaybamba, and San Fernando. Each has its own centralized wet mill where producers can deliver their cherry. A smaller portion of the associated farmers process cherry at their own farms in a similar fashion to what you’d encounter in Colombia: manual depulping, fermentation in small tanks or buckets, washing by hand, and drying on raised beds. Baseline altitude for most of the valley is 1900 masl, and the peaks above San Fernando are home to some of the 2200-2300 masl farms. Being isolated from most other coffee production in Peru means that the farms in Incahuasi are planted almost exclusively with Caturra and Typica. Small pockets of Bourbon still exist as well.

At the other end of the long drive is Quillabamba, Santa Teresa, home to the Sacred Valley itself. The cooperative we work with in Santa Teresa is just 12km from Machu Picchu. While visiting farms this past June, Joel, Tibed and I were introduced to farms hidden along a secret trail built as an escape path down the backside of the old Inca fortress. The path was “discovered” by the western world in the 1980s, but was well known and farmed by three generations of producers whose coffee we now buy. Altitudes are enormous here as well, exceeding 2100 masl at the top of this path and in the region in general. Small pockets of Bourbon and Pache can be found in greater Santa Teresa, though, like in Incahuasi, Caturra and Typica still reign supreme.

Wrapping up our second year of work with these folks, it’s safe to say that there is a lot of room for improvement, both in the infrastructure for coffee storage and drying and in the organization. A prior history of commodity buying means that this producing culture is just beginning to learn about and be motivated by quality. But we believe in the potential here, and we think this season’s offerings make that potential clear.

 

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PUNO

I would love to have started this segment by saying that if Cusco is the future for Red Fox, then Puno is our old faithful. Unfortunately, the entire Sandia Valley, home to all coffee production in the department of Puno, has been ravaged by roya. In light of the large risk that roya presents, many producers have pulled up their coffee trees and replanted their farms with coca, which has a higher monetary value compared to coffee, and yields multiple harvests in a single year. The producers who have maintained their coffee production are delivering a third or even a quarter of the volume they used to produce.

If there’s good news in Puno this year, it’s that the farmers who have stayed true to coffee have galvanized their communities towards a greater commitment to coffee production. The Inambari Valley in particular, home to the Inambari and Tupac Amaru cooperatives, is still producing strong volumes of beautiful coffees. The San Isidro and San Ignacio areas of Tunkimayo are still producing beautiful coffees as well. Staying true to our commitment to these producers has allowed us to increase the volume of our purchases from 650 bags in 2015 to 800 bags this year. It’s not much coffee in the grand scheme of things, but we hope that number will grow as harvests stabilize and yields increase.

Though the climate in Puno may be slightly wetter than Cusco, the peak altitudes are similar. The Sandia Valley is home to a wealth of 1900+ masl coffee. Caturra and Typica are the common varietals, though Bourbon plays an even stronger role in the genetic makeup of coffee here, thanks to a UN-funded replanting project in the 1980s.

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QUALITY

What we love most about Peruvian coffees are their unique flavor profiles. These are not Colombias and they’re not Bolivias. I’m hardpressed to compare Peruvian profiles to any other origin, unless it’s those floral Bourbons that remind me that the Ethiopian harvest is just around the corner.

Many of you have bought Puno coffees from us before, as that is the region that really put Red Fox on the map when it comes to Peru. These coffees are so so sweet, creamy, and balanced, with crisp but subtle malic acidity and elegant dark fruit character. ‘Honeycrisp apple’, ‘raisin,’ and ‘creme brulee’ are common descriptors for me. I’ve always found these coffees to be crowd-pleasers at well-roasted production levels. And they behave well in blends with other coffees, too. Punos are versatile and built to last for the long haul through winter.

The Cusco coffees are the lively ones, showing off that racy, ripe-fruit character that is so appealing on the cupping table. The Incahuasi lots demonstrate the whole range of yellow fruits from peach to mango, along with dried fruit notes of golden raisin and apricot. The sweetness of these profiles runs from brown sugar to wildflower honey. These are our brightest coffees from this origin.

I can’t stress enough that these are the coffees that always surprise people in late spring, when they help to bridge the gap between the winter menu and the arrival of new crop centrals. The high-altitude storage, swift shipping, and our extra attention to ensuring stability make these coffees something to count on year after year.

DELIVERY SCHEDULE

The first wave of shipments has arrived on both coasts and will be clearing into Continental Terminals and The Annex in the next week or so. These coffees were dry-milled and packaged in Juliaca at 3400 masl in early October before being sent to the port in Lima.

The second wave of shipments, which represents the bulk of our purchases from both regions, is either afloat or in the dry mill now, and will begin arriving on both coasts in early December. The second shipment of Puno coffees was milled in Juliaca in mid-November. The second wave of Cusco lots was prepared under Tibed’s careful supervision in Lima. These coffee spent a total of 12 days in Lima before being loaded and shipped from Callao.

A third and final shipment, exclusively from Puno, will ship in December. This coffee will also be milled and packaged at 3400 masl in Juliaca and will arrive just after the new year.

Most of the coffees on offer are organic certified, and many also have Fair Trade certification. Please inquire with us about which lots are certified.