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.

Newsletter: Top Decaf Offers

I’ve bought decaf a few different ways over the years. We’ve sent coffees from our spot Annex position north to Vancouver, and I’ve sourced fresh Centrals and then shipped them to Veracruz for decaffeination before bringing them back to port for the rest of the journey north. But our most recent effort to bring the freshest green decaf we can to the States might just be the greatest yet.

We’ve taken some absolutely beautiful, freshly-milled Colombian green and sent it to Manizales for decaffeination at DESCAFECOL. The process is a gentle one: after a light steaming to open the pores on the surface of the bean, caffeine is removed using ethyl acetate. The coffee is dried and then moved directly to port. The beauty of this process is that our coffees arrive into the dry mill in Popayan, are immediately peeled and processed, and then head to Manizales at week’s end. Lots are decaffeinated and at port awaiting loading within two weeks. The result is extremely fresh, extremely delicious decaf. Yes, I said it. Delicious.

We have three recently arrived lots available spot in both warehouses at the moment. They are the best decafs I’ve sourced in my career to date. The virtues of these coffees remain intact. All three are bright, fruity, and sweet. All of them were picked and processed at the end of the Cauca and Huila harvests earlier this year. Two of the lots come from our longtime partners in Inza de Cauca, and the third comes from our new producer group in Bruselas de Huila. Not only are these offerings fresh and tasty, they’re sourced through the same channels and come from the same producers as the rest of our Colombian coffees. Full info is available on each lot.

Please contact info@redfoxcoffeemerchants.com with any questions or to request samples.

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Newslettter: Why we work in Ecuador

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Red Fox was in Ecuador last month for a brief visit at start of the harvest season. We went to check in with the farmers and partners we work with, to talk through what went well and what didn’t with last season’s shipments, to ask how farms weathered El Niño, to hear how families & businesses were affected when the earthquake hit the coast in April. We also went with some existential questions for ourselves about Red Fox’s place in Ecuador, about whether working there makes sense for us in the big picture. Ecuador has been part of Red Fox’s portfolio since the beginning, and we have longstanding relationships there that mean a lot to us. But it’s also a challenging origin for us, in that Ecuadorian coffee is very expensive, and expensive coffee is hard to sell.

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We pay more for coffee in Ecuador than we do in any other origin except Kenya. It’s crazy. It’s hard to justify paying so much for South American coffee, especially when there’s a wealth of great coffee to be had for a fraction of the price in neighboring Colombia or Peru. And it’s a challenge to make the case to customers that Ecuadorian coffee is worth the price, even when we’re offering beautiful, unique, and excellently prepared coffees from dedicated producers and inspiring farms.

So why is coffee so expensive in Ecuador? One factor at play is simple supply and demand. Compared to its Andean neighbors, Ecuador’s share of coffee production is tiny. Total production in Ecuador, according to the ICO’s stats, was 700,000 bags in 2015, compared with 13,500,000 bags in Colombia and 3,200,000 in Peru. Take out the robusta, commodity-grade arabica, and what’s going to the soluble market from those numbers, and the slice that is specialty coffee is tinier still. Competition for that small slice is strong and growing. Ecuador’s precarious, oil-dependent economic climate has stifled investment in farms and hurt overall yields for the past few years. Put those things together and you get a recipe for escalating coffee prices.

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But another piece of the puzzle in Ecuador is the cost of producing coffee there. Coffee farmers everywhere struggle with the cost of production, with access to credit and seasonal cash flow, but the particular economic and political realities in Ecuador make it a special case. Ecuador switched its currency to the US dollar in 2000, after hyperinflation and a banking crisis left the economy reeling. In recent years, the strong dollar has made Ecuadorian exports more expensive. That, plus the collapse of oil prices, on which Ecuador’s economy has depended since the 70s, has contributed to a decline in export revenues to which President Correa’s government has responded by restricting imports and raising taxes & tariffs on foreign goods. This matters to coffee producers and to the price of coffee because every truck, jeep, bag of fertilizer, and piece of machinery or farm equipment that has to be imported comes with an an additional premium that drives up production costs.

The cost of labor is also much higher in Ecuador than in other coffee-producing countries. Minimum wage has more than doubled since Correa was first elected, from $170/month in 2007 to $354/month in 2015, and benefits like vacation, bonus payments, and contributions to health care and social security are mandated by law and enforced. For coffee producers in Las Tolas, the total cost of wages & benefits for a full-time farm employee is around $22/day. Compare that to labor costs in Colombia, for instance, where wages can be as low as $4/day — you can’t, really. It’s a whole different world.

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We left Quito feeling strongly that Red Fox still belongs in Ecuador, that we have a role to play in the coffee industry there. If we’re serious about wanting to build a resilient supply chain that benefits everyone in it, how can we write off Ecuadorian coffee as too expensive when those high prices reflect a labor market in which farm workers are receiving more? Part of why we do what we do is because of our belief that there is a model out there in which coffee production can support and sustain individuals, families, communities, and perhaps even economies as a whole. If Ecuador is a test case, then we’re up to the challenge. Our first step is to better understand what the the true costs of coffee production look like, and to attempt to accurately represent those realities to customers and consumers alike.

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What does the future of speciality coffee look like in Ecuador? We don’t know for sure, but know we want to be a part of it because we find so much inspiration there. The talented producers and their commitment to helping their communities and the coffee industry grow; the incredible biodiversity; the ideal coffee storage conditions in Quito; the exciting varieties, from Sidra lot separations at La Yumbada to the Pacamara and Java that taste better grown in Las Tolas than anywhere else on the planet; the deep agronomic know-how of Arnaud Causse and his beautiful farms in Las Tolas and Guayllabamba, where something amazing— from experimental organic fertilizers and shade trees, to essential oil distillation for herbal insecticides, to beehives full of coffee blossom honey — is around every corner… all of it reminds us of why this is work we love.

Here’s to the season ahead.

Cheers,

Julia

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Sample Roasting

 

Hi folks, Joel here! I often get questions from customers about sample roasting, so I wanted to share some thoughts on our approach and the protocols we use at Red Fox.

An important part of what we do here at the lab everyday is evaluate samples, and it’s necessary for us to have protocols in place to help us accurately assess quality. Our protocols for sample roasting are designed with the goal of achieving consistent results, so that we can compare many, many samples, as accurately as possible, across days and weeks and months.

When a sample arrives here at Red Fox, we first measure its moisture content and water activity (aW). Moisture content is literally how much water is left in the coffee after it is dried. A coffee seed has a moisture content of around 60% when it’s first put out on the drying table or patio. As the coffee dries, the moisture content is brought down to 9-12%, usually over 7-21 days.

Water activity, simply stated, is a measurement of how bound that moisture is inside the coffee seed. There seems to be a relationship between how quickly a coffee has been dried and its aW. That is, coffee dried very quickly will often have a higher aW, while coffee dried more slowly will have a lower one. We pay attention to moisture content and aW because they tell us something about how a coffee was prepared and how the quality might change over time, but also because they give us clues as to how that coffee will behave in the roaster.

Higher-moisture coffees need more energy to get going and I will often introduce them at a higher temperature. (Density plays a role in this as well, but I am focusing on higher-grown, relatively dense coffees here.)

A coffee with a higher aW needs less energy during the latter part of the roast (especially going into and out of crack), while coffees with a lower aW need more energy to achieve the same line.

At Red Fox HQ, we have a two-barrel Probat sample roaster and we use a 90g charge to achieve the roast times we are looking for. For a coffee at 10% moisture content, I’ll introduce the sample at 350F on the analog temperature display, with the air fully to tray and a high flame. (For the broadest audience appeal, I’m assuming we’re all old school and don’t have any fancy thermocouples or data-loggers on our sample roasters). Once the coffee has turned yellow (lost all green shades), I’ll increase the air to drum to about three-quarters open. This happens between 3:15-3:45. At first crack (shooting for between 7:00-8:00), I will open up the air even more. If I’m working with a coffee with a higher aW, I’ll also lower the flame setting at crack. The idea is that during crack a coffee with a higher aW will really want to race once it goes from endothermic to exothermic. By increasing the air flow and lowering the flame, I’m trying to mitigate that. The opposite is true for a coffee with a low aW, where it almost acts like a heat sink and needs more energy to finish (in my case, less air to drum). I’m sure we’ve all roasted a coffee that seemingly takes no effort at all and easily follows the ‘standard line’ without abnormally big air/gas changes — that coffee was probably well-dried with solid moisture content and aW. Depending on the coffee, I’m looking for a “development time” after crack of anywhere from 1:15-1:45.

The metric we use to measure roast degree is percent weight loss or:

1 – (end weight/starting weight)

For example, a 90g charge with an end weight of 79.8g is:

1 – (79.8/90) = 0.113 or 11.3% loss

We are finding that we generally like samples to fall between 11-13% loss. Lower than this range and we start to taste grainy, cereal-like flavors (underdeveloped). Higher loss will begin to take on roasty/bitter flavors (overdeveloped). That being said, lower-moisture coffees can take a lower % loss and will take on roasty flavors faster (e.g. a coffee with 9.2% moisture could taste fine at 10.75% loss, but might start to develop roasty flavors at 13% loss). Similarly, higher-moisture coffees can take somewhat higher weight loss before showing roasty flavors and will taste underdeveloped at 10.75% loss. If you want an easy answer in the struggle between under- and overdevelopment (in sample roasting), then 11.5%-12.5% loss is almost always just right.

Note that these are standards we’ve developed at our lab on our equipment. The specific times and temperatures may not work for you, but the principles will. Even more important is creating a standard protocol, so that you can properly evaluate each sample you receive. If every sample is roasted to different standards, it will be difficult to accurately assess the quality. How many offers have been passed up because the roast was off?

Lastly, I want to mention our intentions when we sample roast. We are not necessarily looking for what the coffee will ultimately taste like as a production roast, but rather we are evaluating each coffee for sweetness, brightness, and body with clarity of flavors and whether any defects are present. This roast style is meant for cupping specifically and will not extract fully in most other brew methods.

I would love to hear your thoughts on any of this and welcome a continued discussion.

Best,
Joel
These protocols have been informed by Scott Rao’s “The Coffee Roaster’s Companion” and by roasting and cupping thousands of sample roasts. That being said, everything is impermanent and they will likely change as we refine our technique and understanding.

FLASH OFFER: Bolivia Arrivals

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Bolivia has a certain mystique. A history, tradition, and culture whose elements remain somewhat arcane. The pieces are not easy to put together. I write this thinking of my experiences in the city of La Paz, in the lowlands, the Yungas, and the rest of the interior that I know, but the same can also be said of the coffee.

There is something special about the journey from the city to the coffee-growing regions in Bolivia. There is something to be said for this journey in every origin, but Bolivia offers so much dynamism in just a few hours. I’ve been in snowstorms on the Altiplano at 15,000 ft and then, just an hour later, sweating mid-rainforest as we round curves on one of the most perilous one-lane roads I know. At the end of the line on this journey is Caranavi. Caranavi is like a town out of the wild west: hot, dusty, seemingly lawless. During the day, it’s a bustling commercial center for agricultural goods coming in from the mountains above. At night it’s quiet and dark.

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Coffee grows all throughout the mountainous region of Las Yungas, but annual production is miniscule compared to virtually any other coffee-producing country. ICO reports have the total 2015 crop pegged at 90,000 bags, down 15% from 2014, which was already down 12% from 2013 totals. Lack of technical assistance is a real issue here. Roya has taken its toll and crop change from coffee to coca has exploded. With 2-3 harvests annually and value upwards of 3x the coffee price, it’s not hard to understand why the coca leaf is now king. No matter how you slice it, production is low in Bolivia and dwindling fast.

So what to do?

Pay more? Yes, as long as it makes real sense. Be more present? Obviously. Play a larger role in the supply chain? Well, maybe we’re on to something here. It’s a discussion to be had. In fact, it’s a discussion that we’ve been having for the past 8 months or so. As we continue to define what that means for Red Fox, we’ve begun developing strategic partnerships and alliances in the interior.

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We’ve made contact with a few different groups in Las Yungas and have brought in some very nice lots this season. They’re late arrivals, but completely stable and physically sound, both moisture content and water activity-wise, a clear testament to the benefits of storing coffee in El Alto, the plateau above La Paz at 12,000+ ft.

With Caturra, Catuai, and Typica growing from 1500-1800 masl in the seasonally dry climate in Caranavi, there is plenty to get excited about. There may not be a whole lot of coffee out there, but what is available is often very, very good. This is the case with our current offerings from Villa Imperial on the outskirts of Caranavi. These lots are grown at elevations near the middle of the aforementioned range, and are composed of primarily Caturra and Catuai. Processing is done at a centralized dry mill, which has raised African beds for drying. The climate is ideal in the area, with drying time running between 10 and 15 days. That’s perfect in our opinion. Our Bolivia offerings are big on the fresh cream and toasted nuts, but also have an elegant red apple and currant acidity. We have one wilder lot as well, that toes the line between massive fruit character and overripe. It’s a coffee that some of you will hate and others will freak over.

Lots are small — they range in size from 8-17 bags — and we have 6 lots in total.

Inquire quickly at info@redfoxcoffeemerchants.com with your interest.

Cheers,

Aleco