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: 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: 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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Colombia 2015/2016: Shipment & Delivery Update

In a lot of ways, we consider Red Fox to be a ‘South America first’ kind of sourcing business. We’ve spent a good deal of time and energy in Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia working to shape the supply chain from the bottom up, building projects and relationships that reflect the efforts of many people from farm to roastery. But we’ve been having interesting conversations lately, both in the den in Berkeley and out in roasteries, cafes, and at origin, about the evolution of Red Fox’s place in the market, about how our customers see us and how we see ourselves, and it has my mind spinning at new velocities.

These days we’re hearing from a lot of customers that they can’t wait for our Ethiopian and Kenyan coffees to start shipping. We love those origins and we take pride in sourcing the best lots from each country that we can find. We love seeing our customers take home prizes and accolades at competitions with those lots. And I mean, come on, those sweetly perfumed and floral Ethiopian coffees are pretty near every coffee pro’s favorite, and if they’re not it’s because the mega-demonstrative Kenya profile edges them out. I’m not saying I don’t live in the Ethiopia camp. I very much do. And Ethiopia may eventually become our top origin at Red Fox. It could even happen this year, so look out, Peru.

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But wait, there’s still Colombia. For Red Fox, Colombia has been the foundation on which we’ve been able to stand to deliver our message to the specialty roasting community in the US, Japan, Canada, Europe, and beyond. It’s where my longest-standing coffee buying relationships are found, perched all along the slopes of the Nevado de Huila, stretching across the border of Cauca and Huila. They’re found due south of there, too, at the peaks around La Union, San Lorenzo, and Taminango in Northern Narino. Some of our newest relationships — and our first foray into organizing an inaugural Red Fox producers group a.k.a. Grupo Asociativo Zorro Rojo — are found right in between, along the ridge at the southern edge of Huila.

Colombia is both our old faithful and our ever-evolving partner. Colombia is never stagnant and it’s always competitive — competition that’s interesting and dynamic in a way that we rarely encounter elsewhere. No other coffee-producing country offers the range and diversity of flavor that we find in Colombia. And we love all of this. We thrive on it and on the opportunity to be part of a community that pushes us to continue to evolve.

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We purchase and ship Colombian coffees continually throughout both harvest seasons, beginning in summer and ending right about now, so that fresh coffees are on offer from Red Fox virtually all year long. Here’s the breakdown of what’s been happening with our projects in Cauca, Narino, and Huila and what to expect in the weeks ahead:

INZA (CAUCA)

I’ve spent a good bit of the 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 variety 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.

The current season is now finishing up and it has been an exceptional one. We work very closely with a group of 66 farmer-members within Asorcafe. These are the folks who have shown their commitment to quality year in and year out, and are putting out the best lots in the region. This year is as vibrant as ever. Our first lots from the second harvest are now clear on both coasts, with reinforcements shipping in the coming weeks. These late season lots are truly special.

NORTHERN NARINO

Narino, La Union specifically, is home to our second oldest project in Colombia. I first started buying coffee from a small handful of these producers in 2007. Taminango was our focus at the time, and we’ve been able to secure some exceptional coffee from them again this year. Taminango has elevations ranging from 1650 to 2100 masl and perfectly dry harvest conditions, a rarity for Colombia. Caturra and Castillo are the varieties of choice in the area. This group has 44 farmer-members, making it the smallest association we work with in Colombia. We have roughly a dozen small lots clear at the Annex now. They’re truly gorgeous. Think meyer lemon, white nectarine, brown sugar and raw honey.

This past fall, we held our first ever Red Fox quality competition in conjunction with SENA, a rural development agency doing great things in Colombia, Banexport, our export partner in Colombia, and FUDAM, the 100-member producer association based in La Union. The idea behind the event was to find and reward the top lots of the season, and it turned out to be a great success. Additionally, and of equal importance, the event was used as a discovery tool. We had our eyes on some of the producing areas deep within the valleys of Northern Narino that have yet to be given their own identity in the marketplace. Coffees from these areas are most often purchased by coyotes (local intermediaries), taken to a larger town center, and blended off with dozens of other lots. Some of the lots that were entered in the competition from these areas were the best coffees we cupped from Narino all year. The wheels are in motion for development here in the coming season, so stay tuned for more. In the meantime, gobble up the remaining Pedro Gamboa and San Lorenzo lots in Continental — both of which are top lots from the competition.

PITALITO (HUILA)

Last but not least, we took a major step forward in origin development this year, establishing our very first producers association, Grupo Asociativo Zorro Rojo in Huila, in conjunction with our export partner, Banexport. Claudia Milena Samboni is leading the group, which includes several dozen producers with farms along the ridge and accompanying valleys at the southernmost edge of the Huila Department. The coffees are eccentric in their display of ripe red fruits, saturated sweetness, and substantial mouthfeel. They are a great compliment to the the Inza and Northern Narino profiles. Varieties in this zone run the entire gamut from Caturra and Typica to Bourbon, Castillo, Colombia and beyond. It’s a veritable Colombian coffee nursery down there. We have beautiful coffee available on both coasts, as the year-one harvest comes to a close.

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Cheers,

Aleco

 

 

 

Newsletter: Colombia Peak Harvest Offerings 2014

We have an exceptional variety of coffees to offer you from Narino, Cauca and Valle de Cauca, home to our favorite coffees from the Mitaca. This is prime time for top lot Colombian selection. The first semester harvest has come to a close and the last lots, from the highest altitudes, have trickled into the warehouses and through the dry mills. If you’re looking for Colombian coffee from this harvest, now is the time to buy.

This container arrives into the Bay tomorrow, 9/26, and we expect coffees to be available for release from the Annex 7-10 days after that. We have a limited supply of samples available, so please inquire ASAP. We’ll also be pre-booking these coffees SAS.

A second peak harvest container goes afloat for the East Coast in the coming weeks. Stay tuned for more on that very soon.

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VALLE DE CAUCA

Arturo Bizcunda, Cauca

One of our many little secrets in Colombia is that we absolutely love the growing areas surrounding the Nevado de Huila. Inza to the southwest. Planadas just north. Last year we stumbled on the area of Miranda in Valle de Cauca tucked in at 1800-1900 masl just one valley across the Andes from Cali. Miranda, and neighboring Caloto, are just northwest of the Nevado and produce coffee of exceptional quality. We’ve begun working with the Bizcunda and Conda families in the region as we look to expand our buying operation there.

Arturo’s coffee is like plum incarnate. Ripe, fleshy fruit dominates the aromatics, with subtle hints of honey behind it. The cup is sweet, juicy and extremely clean. A dark fruit dream. 88 points.

Miranda de Cauca

This lot is a steal. In many ways this lot, along with the Caloto lot, are the two coffees I’m most excited about in this container. We’ve only been working in Miranda for a year now, but there isn’t an area that we’re more excited about in all of Colombia. Elevation exceeds 1800-1900 masl. Caturra grows here predominantly, although Castillo has a presence, too. Most importantly, coffee growing culture is alive and well. Farmers here are as dedicated to their craft as anywhere else we work.

Miranda is a cup profile laden with red fruit flavor. Red delicious apple, red currants, ripe red cherry. They’re all present. The cleanness of this cup is what’s most special, though — we are able to see into the flavor profile quite easily. 86.5 points.

Caloto de Cauca

Caloto is the neighboring community to Miranda in Valle de Cauca, with similar elevations and a similar coffee producing culture. Both communities have been mired in the hardships of the drug trade for several decades, and massive coca production still takes place illegally in the region. We are very motivated by the opportunity to support families who have stayed true to coffee here.

This is an exceptionally complex coffee. Blackberry and a sweet floral character permeate the aromatics, while darker fruits like raisin and plum follow though in the cup. The finish is sweet and soft like fresh cream. 87 points.

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CAUCA

Ricuarte Ante, Cauca

Our buying in Cauca is very focused and is centered almost entirely around the municipality of Inza. That said, we occasionally find a lot from another area in one of Colombia’s largest coffee-producing departments that we can’t say ‘no’ to. Ricuarte Ante’s coffee is that. With a farm located at 1750 masl in the fabled producing area of El Tambo just outside of Popayan, Ricaurte is a producer we’re excited about.

Have you ever had a Violet Crumble? That’s what Ricuarte’s coffee smells like. It’s full of rich milk chocolate with hints of raw honey underneath. The cup profile is crisp with refreshing red fruits — fuji apple comes to mind — and the finish is extremely sweet with a clear cane sugar note ringing through. 87.5 points.

Paez De Cauca

Paez is located on the southwestern edge of the Nevado de Huila. It is an isolated area that’s very difficult to reach due to regular landslides and the perpetual threat of the FARC, who continue to use the Nevado as a safe haven. We love the coffee, we love the people who grow it, and we continue to support the community here. Elevations typically range from 1600-1900 masl in the region. Caturra and Typica are the varietals of choice.

Paez is a sweetness-driven coffee. Freshly spun honey and dark muscovado sugar lace the fragrance. Its mouth feel is supple like whole milk. A very fine, elegant acidity reminiscent of green grape ties the profile together in what ultimately is a very complete cup. 87.5 points.

La Palmera de Inza de Cauca

La Palmera is home to my favorite coffee producing family of all: the Liscano family. Geovanny Liscano was the third president of the Asorcafe producers’ association based in Inza. He is a leader in his community and a model coffee farmer. Every penny of the premiums we’ve paid him and his wife, Luz Alba, over the past nine years has been reinvested in his farm and mill. His coffee selection is as near to perfect as it gets. I couldn’t be more grateful to work with such an inspirational man. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that he’s now growing Caturra, Bourbon and Typica at elevations between 1700-2000 masl.

Think ripe black cherry, crisp red apple, vibrant white grape. Panela sugar, heavy cream, just the right percentage of dark cacao. This is as complete as coffee gets from Latin America. 88.5 points.

Pedregal de Inza de Cauca

Pedregal is the “major” town across the valley from Inza. There are no police here. No real recourse when things go wrong in town. Instead, Pedregal is a community that governs itself. It’s the most inspirational community that Red Fox works in; I personally have been buying coffee here for the past nine years. Producers here have resisted the influx of Colombia and Castillo varietals and continue to grow what previous generations grew: Typica, Bourbon, Caturra, all at excellent elevations. It’s a privilege to work with this group and to offer their coffee. This lot is comprised of coffee from almost a dozen producers from Palmichal, Belen, Alto de Topa, San Jose and San Antonio. It’s a beauty.

This is another sweetness-driven coffee. Muscovado, toasted sugar and raw honey set the tone for the underlying fruit notes of apple, kiwi and white grape. The mouth feel is large and the finish lingers. Classic Inza. 88 points.

Rio Chiquito de Paez de Cauca

Rio Chiquito has quickly become one of our favorite regions in Colombia, albeit farther out from Inza than the other Asorcafe members we work with. Robinson Pillume, the second president of Asorcafe, took his premiums and a handful of association members out to Rio Chiquito in Paez with the hope of forging a new coffee producing community. Being so isolated, land is much cheaper here than in Inza. Robinson planted Caturra and Bourbon at 1600 masl and the coffee he produces is absolutely delicious. This lot is combination of coffee from his farm and from the farm of Angel Ariza. Look out for a micro lot from Angel Ariza to arrive later this fall.

Hibiscus, rose water and cranberry acidity make up the high notes in this cup. This is a profile heavy on fruit and on floral character. The finish is sweet like ripe cherry and perfectly clean, almost effervescent. 87.5 points.

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NORTHERN NARINO

Abdias Lasso/Alejandro Ahumada, Cartago de Narino

Abdias Lasso and Alejandro Ahumada are neighbors and coffee farm partners in San Pedro de Cartago, an area just south of La Union. We’ve been working with these two producers for several years and they’ve consistently delivered exceptionally sweet coffees. After visiting them last week, I learned why: they share the premiums we pay them with their pickers in order to continue receiving perfect cherry. Can we bring every farmer that we work with here for a visit?

This coffee delivers classic Northern Narino dark fruit flavors like concord grape and plum, along with refreshing lemon notes and a super sweet, cane sugar finish. 87.5 points.

La Union de Narino

Located just a few miles south of the border with Cauca, La Union is a very special growing region. The Andes loom above the valley in every direction, as if protecting the growing regions from the elements. This offering is a combination lot from four producers from the Minga de Suenos group: Aura Eliza Nippan, Paulino Diaz, Orlando Delgado and Carlos Estrella. Minga de Suenos is a strongly united group of 99 producers with whom we’ve forged a strong alliance. Lots of great coffee still to come from this group.

This is a particularly floral coffee for Latin America with wild honey notes in the aromatics. The cup profile is juicy with blackberry, grape and peach leading its fruit-forward complexity. An extremely clean coffee with a honey-like finish. 88 points.

Robira Meneses, San Lorenzo de Narino

Robira Meneses and her one hectare farm are located in San Lorenzo de Narino. She grows Caturra and Typica along with some Colombia. Her farm is new to us though we’ve been working in San Lorenzo for several years. Elevation is high here, well above 1900 masl. We’re so keen on Robira’s coffee that we’ve begun working to formally organize a group in her community. Big things on the horizon.

Candied grape is a flavor that can be found in the highest grown Narino coffees. Tartaric acidity is my favorite variety and Robira’s coffee has it in spades. Here it melds harmoniously with cacao nibs and melted butter creating a very special cup. 87 points.

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Travel Journal: South America Update

Perfectly ripe stone fruit. Tart green grape. Juicy red apple. Fragrant floral aromatics reminiscent of wildflower honey and Queen of the Night. Toasted pecan. Toasted almond. Macadamia. Sugars ranging from cane to muscovado, turbinado to panela. High percentage fine cacao.

These are the things we love about the very best South American coffees. And these are the coffees we’re searching tirelessly to discover. Finding them and the people who produce them is not easy, though. It’s taken years of travel and a constant focus on development to bring the top Inzas and Punos and Pichincha coffees to market the over past decade. We spend a good part of our spring, summer, and early fall making the journey to Colombia, across the border into Ecuador, down to Peru, and over the altiplano to Bolivia. We do it several times over to make sure we have a strong strategy in place, to check in during harvest time and select lots, to ensure that our work isn’t all for naught in the dry mill. It’s my favorite time of year. South America is often the overlooked continent in our specialty coffee industry. Sure, Colombia is on the radar, but Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador often are not. One of our primary aims at Red Fox is to change that; to give the smallholder farmers of these origins a voice in the marketplace.

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I’m hopping a plane to Peru in just a couple of hours and will be making the trek from Puno to Cuzco over the course of a couple weeks. The harvest is just past peak, meaning it’s the perfect time to get our spoons into some samples.

I personally have been working in the Sandia Valley of Puno for five years now, in a handful of different communities. These are the most special coffees in all of Peru, in my opinion. Elevations soar here, reaching over 2,000 masl in certain areas. Caturra and Typica are grown across the valley, but the secret here is the Bourbon. A UN-funded development project in the 80’s reintroduced Bourbon to the valley, and it’s the best explanation I have for the wild floral flavors, layered acidity, and saturated sweetness we find in the top lots.

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Cuzco was my introduction to Peruvian coffee back in 2006, but, after purchasing from an isolated community deep in the valleys of La Convencion the first year, we lost the coffee when a mega-sized cooperative took over the region and made transparent buying impossible. This year, farmers in Cuzco are once again able to trade freely and directly, and that means we’re right back into the fray. We’re hoping to select a handful of top lots during my trip next month, and are looking forward to building our relationship with this community again.

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Travel Journal: Colombia Inza June 2014

I’ve personally been working with the Asorcafe producer’s association in Inza de Cauca for 9 years now. There isn’t a relationship in the world that holds more weight for me both personally and professionally than this one. After moving on from my time spent in Costa Rica working at the farm and export level, it’s very fair to say that I cut my teeth as a buyer on the roaster’s side in Colombia and with Asorcafe in particular. After all of these years we have cultivated a mutual sense of trust. We know what we have to get done on our respective sides to ensure the continued production of top quality coffee. This is the most organized, motivated and responsible association I work with in the entire world. These are often our most popular coffees anywhere and it’s surely not hard to tell why. You can trust that these coffees are world class.

Cauca

Inza de Cauca is a 4-5 hour drive from Popayan, capital of the Cauca Department, depending on the weather really. Cauca is wet and rainfall is constant. Landslides are a common occurrence as are the road blockages they cause. After leaving the city we quickly begin the steep climb up the mountain through Totoro and across the paramo at upwards of 3,000 masl. It’s a beautiful drive and if you happen to know what you’re doing you’ll be sure to stop for the smoked trout breakfasts up at the top. From that point it’s another couple hours down the mountain into Inza, the gateway into Colombia’s historic Tierra Adentro and its pre-Columbian ruins.

Cauca

But we come for the coffee. The producer members of Asorcafe have farms ranging in altitude from 1700 – 2200 masl; extreme altitude. The group has done a miraculous job of warding off the newer varietal pushers and their Colombia and Castillo seeds. Inza is still full of Caturra with healthy doses of Bourbon and Typica to boot in certain fortunate subregions. Processing is standardized across the region in true smallholder Colombia fashion – great focus on ripe cherry selection, manual depulping of coffee beans from their cherries, 18-24 hour fermentation, washing in clean, tiled tanks and drying on raised parabolic beds to protect from the elements. We cup every lot within 15 days of it finishing the drying stage and put all approved lots into grainpro immediately in the association warehouse. These coffees don’t leave the grainpro until the moment they are dry milled, and they go into fresh bags immediately after. We re-use the storage bags again for fresh parchment.

Cauca

To this day these are still my favorite coffees in all of Latin America. The sweetness is so rich and laden with dark sugar notes of panela/muscovado, aged rum and ripe stone fruits. These are full bodied coffees. They are complete and supreme in the sense of balance. We buy from all over the valley – three larger regions in particular: Inza, Pedregal and San Antonio. Acidity can run the gamut from the malic flavors of crisp asian pear and fuji apple to tart, refreshing green grape. Asorcafe coffees demonstrate thought-provoking complexity.

Cauca

Cauca