Age in Coffee: A Primer

Coffee is a seed, and like any other produce, it is perishable—meaning that even the very best, most shelf-stable coffees on the planet will eventually show their age. Coffee shelf-lives vary region to region, coffee to coffee, and year to year based on myriad factors, some known, some suspected yet unconfirmed, and likely some not yet discovered.

Age is something that we at Red Fox track closely. All coffees age, and we can learn a lot about the process: how it progresses as well as its various causes. By testing the physical attributes of coffees (in our case, moisture and water activity) and tasting them at tight intervals, we try to learn as much as possible about what gives coffees the longest possible shelf-life and what the often subtle and gradual process of aging can teach us about coffee processing.

What Age Tastes Like

Once coffee is harvested, it goes through constant, if subtle, change even in its green form. Typically, coffees that are processed meticulously tend to open up and improve for a certain amount of time off harvest (a few months in most origins, but sometimes much longer). After that, they tend to stay relatively static for a period, then begin to lose some of their highlights, their subtler flavors like flowers and fruit. From there, they continue to round out, and as more nuances of flavor pass out of the seeds, notes of paper and cardboard start to creep in. Eventually, those flavors become predominant and the coffee loses most or all of its original character.

You might also hear this profile referred to as “faded” (because most of the original character has faded from the beans), “woody” or “papery” (because the coffees taste like wood or paper), or “baggy” (because the flavors taste very similar to the jute bags coffee is packed into, originally thought to cause these flavors).

Our QC Check-in Process

At Red Fox, we use a carefully calibrated set of procedures to track each coffee’s aging process from the time we decide to purchase it until it passes completely from our hands.

Prior to roasting and cupping, we take moisture and water activity readings on each sample that enters our lab and collect them in our sample database, which also stores roast metrics and cupping notes. Using controlled roasting and cupping processes, we cup coffees as offerings in order to make purchasing decisions, as preships to ensure quality prior to shipment, and as arrivals once the coffees enter the warehouse. Then, every 30 days after arrival, we retest moisture and water activity, roast the coffees, and cup them again, taking note of changes over time.

Once we start to taste even a hint of age flavor in coffees, we note and measure it on a scale of 1-5. At 1, the very beginnings of age, not perceptible to many, start to show. At 3, the coffee possesses about half of its original character and half characteristics of age, like cardboard or paper. At 5, the coffee retains none of its original character, giving over completely to age flavors—although many coffees never reach this point and do continue to retain some original character elements no matter how far off harvest.

Level of AgeDescription
Level 1Some faint beginnings of age characteristics. Not readily perceivable by everyone.
Level 2Age can clearly be noted; slight dryness. Origin characteristics are still the predominant flavors.
Level 3There is an equal amount of age and original character.
Level 4Age is the dominant flavor though some brightness and/or sweetness can still be found.
Level 5Only characteristics of age are present.

Once we taste age in coffee, we discount the coffee to make sure that it gets sold and roasted quickly, while it retains a significant amount of its original character.

Water Activity and Age

We’ve noticed that even more than a coffee’s moisture content (the literal amount of moisture found in the seeds), water activity level seems to be an excellent indicator of how a given coffee will age over time. Water activity describes how bound the moisture is inside the coffee seed, how much it moves in and out. Unlike moisture, water activity often fluctuates dramatically over the course of a coffee’s lifespan. We’ve found that both high water activity in general but also major fluctuations in water activity—whether during milling, transit, or warehousing—tend to act as solid indicators that a coffee’s shelf life may be shorter than similar coffees whose water activity stays more stable throughout those processes.

This is difficult to track at parts of the process where we aren’t in the physical vicinity of the coffee, like shipping, so last year we started packing data loggers along with select containers to gain more insight into the conditions coffees experience during transit. We’ll have data to share on this soon, and we hope it will help us start to close the gap on the few remaining inconsistencies in our research on water activity and age. If you want to be a part of these experiments, get in touch and we can talk about getting data loggers in some of your coffee.

Past Crop v Age

Many use the term “past crop,” meaning coffee from a past year’s harvest, synonymously with age, but they are not synonyms. We’ve had coffees pass across the cupping table for over a year without showing any age—and in fact, some Ethiopian coffees start to hit their stride far after most coffees would show almost nothing but age. Unfortunately, some coffees display age characteristics at the offer level, before they’ve even left their country of origin. Most coffees sit somewhere in between, but the arrival of a new crop shouldn’t be seen as a switch that flips, rendering the older crop automatically aged.

About to cup a large table in the Berkeley lab.

Age is Not Death

All coffees age, and that doesn’t mean that they no longer have great flavors or a place on a well-rounded menu. While we work to understand coffees’ aging process as much as we can and to guarantee the longest shelf lives possible, coffees showing various amounts of age can still bring just as much to the table as fresh coffees.

Even the most seasoned palates have variable sensitivity to age in coffee, and many consumers not only can’t taste mild to moderate age in coffee, they actually enjoy flavors like cedar that present in coffees with significant age. While coffees showing moderate to significant age may not be the best match for light roasted products, they can still bring sweetness and character at fuller roast levels, which many consumers prefer.

Perhaps even more critical than the flavors that remain in the cup as coffees age, the value that coffees bring through the strength of their supply chains does not diminish with time. Coffees that represent an investment in a deeply-rooted, high-quality value chain still hold that value and are worth investing in.

We’ve gathered a lot of data on age in coffee over the years and will continue trying to crack its complex code, so stay tuned for more results as we continue to gain insight into coffee’s aging process.

To learn more about how we source coffee, visit our journal.

Pluma de Oaxaca: An Origin Reborn

The deeper we get into the world of Mexican coffee, the more excited we get, and those of you who have tasted the coffees or met some of our producing partners know why. Right now, we’re looking at Pluma, a subregion of Oaxaca that brings with it an incredible history along with incredible coffees. Boasting the singular Pluma Hidalgo variety, an offshoot of Typica, at elevations as high as 2200 masl, Pluma coffees bring with them a wide range of flavors: distinct dried fruit notes like raisin and prune, saturated sweetness like brown sugar, richness like drinking chocolate, complex malic acidity like green apples, and even florals like amber honey and peach blossom. Even though many of these coffees are still on the water, they’re going fast—if you’re interested in picking some up, get in touch now.

Over the last few decades, Pluma’s coffee production has evolved dramatically, shifting from the hands of large estates into the hands of local smallholder farmers. Nowadays, Pluma is almost exclusively the province of smallholders with farms averaging just 1-2 hectares, but going back 80 to 100 years, the coffee production landscape looked completely different. Huge, lower-middle elevation coffee plantations ruled the territory, buying the higher-grown smallholder coffees and blending them into their own bulk, undifferentiated despite their superior quality. In the late 80s and early 90s, Pluma gained a widespread reputation for producing quality coffee. However, a combination of factors including low market pricing and coffee leaf rust (known as Roya), saw estate holders abandoning their farms and moving on to more lucrative ventures.

Once the estates were decimated, local smallholder farmers continued farming—mostly out of necessity, though their operations were no more fiscally sound than the estates had been. Pluma’s smallholders struggled to make enough to thrive and reinvest in their farms, and many have lived on the brink of giving up and following in the footsteps of the estate holders before them. Without access to a differentiated market where customers are willing to pay viable prices, there hasn’t always been a real value proposition for Pluma’s producers to keep growing coffee.

Over the last couple years, we’ve seen this start to shift. Being able to introduce these coffees to a group of buyers willing and ready to purchase them at a viable price has started to build trust in this region and reinvigorate local farmers, who are beginning to understand that their coffee is worth more than they’ve always been told. They are ready to be able to dictate their own futures and gain access to new pathways to finance and reinvest in their own success.

We could not be more excited about the future of Pluma. This year, we’ve more than doubled the amount of coffee we’re bringing in from Oaxaca, and still, almost all of it was sold out before it even made it to the States. If you’re interested in putting these coffees on your menu, get in touch now, because they’re going fast.

New Fruits You Should Try: Nariño and Inzá

If you haven’t bought Colombian coffee from us yet, the time is now. We have delicious, versatile coffees from Nariño and Inzá on both coasts that shine on the cupping table and absolutely stun at production roast levels. Just as important as their quality, Colombia is home to some of our oldest relationships, and these coffees represent the absolute best of what community leaders can do from a local to a global scale, in terms of both impact and quality.

Our relationship with Inzá-based ASORCAFE dates back to 2006, when Geovanny Liscano farmed just one hectare of land with his wife and father. The coffee was superb and the infrastructure was humble, but over time, Geovanny reinvested profits back into the land, bought surrounding plots, and built up processing infrastructure into a thing of beauty for the whole community. ASORCAFE is incredibly well-organized with a laser-focus on ethics; they don’t allow corruption in their ranks, and this value shows in the cup. The coffees they produce are some of the most complete coffees in the country, bringing to the table a succulent sweetness, a juicy, ciderlike mouthfeel, and bright, clean acidity that can be malic, pear-like, and even kiwi-like. They’re perfectly structured and essentially flawless.

In Nariño, we’ve been inspired since 2007 by FUDAM leaders Raquel and Jeremias Lasso. With soaring altitudes and ideal varieties, the quality was always stunning; even more importantly, Raquel is an innovative leader that inspires the best work from her community and gives it in return. More recently, she’s formed a group within FUDAM called Manos de Mujeres, focused on the empowerment of women growers within her community, with projects ensuring they see a fair 50% of farm profits and a goal of opening an organic fertilizer facility. Currently in the process of becoming certified Fair Trade Organic, FUDAM is a perfect example of how community investment can and should represent an investment in quality. Flavor-wise, we see Nariño as the proverbial fruit basket: the best lots run the gamut from ripe, succulent stone fruits on the yellow flesh side (peach, apricot, nectarine) to tart, refreshing white grape and Granny Smith to perfectly sweet citrus of the most coveted varieties (tangerine, satsuma, and even sweet lime).

We have a ton of history with these coffees, and we want you to as well. Flavor profiles are diverse, so get in touch and we’ll help you find the perfect coffee for your menu.

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: 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: 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