This coffee, available out of both Oakland and Shanghai, comes from farmer Antonio Gualguan on his farm called La Loma. It was selected as one of the top microlots in what has become an annual regional quality competition.
Located near Buesaco in the department of Nariño, this coffee is grown in Colombia’s southwestern-most coffee state, bordering Ecuador and the Pacific Ocean. Nariño boasts about 40,000 coffee farms, two-thirds of which average just 3 acres in size. Nariño’s proximity to the equator delivers intense exposure to the sun (relatively constant and powerful year-round), which influences the cherry maturation rate. In Buesaco, warm air rises from the deep canyons at night and acts like a protective blanket for the coffee plants perched at high elevations (up to 2300 masl) on the mountain tops. These combined attributes cause coffee plants to passively absorb the sun’s energy during the day and then come alive at night when the conditions are less harsh. This translates into concentrated flowering and long cherry maturation periods.
This is now the second Mejor de Nariño specialty coffee contest in which Royal has participated, and we’ve been thrilled to partner with Inconexus in Colombia to help facilitate this and other regional quality competitions. In fact, we returned in early January to Colombia to participate, along with a bunch of awesome roaster friends, in the Mejor de Huila origin trip and cupping contest, so look out for more spectacular coffees from Colombia landing in the coming months.
The coffee from Finca La Loma is notable for its high density; it’s very common for Nariño coffees to be above average in this metric. The coffee also has a relatively wide range of screen sizes. Coffees from Nariño tend to be a little smaller than average, and single-farmer lots like this aren’t subject to the rigorous screening that delineate bulk Supremo and Excelso designations. The moisture content looks average, while the water activity is just a shade above average.
Antonio Gualguan is growing Caturra, Colombia’s tried and true specialty variety. The National Federation of Coffee Growers’ research branch called Cenicafe has been developing new hybrids (like Tabi and Castillo, e.g.) for decades in attempts to boost yields and improve resistance but there are many growers still holding onto older cultivars. Caturra is a naturally occurring mutation first discovered in Brazil in 1937; it is a direct genetic descendant of the Bourbon heirloom Arabica variety, first cultivated on Réunion island and eventually introduced to Brazil in 1859. Caturra’s unique characteristics include short stature, dense berry yield, and its resistance to wind and rain.
Mejor de Nariño always brings some lovely coffee across my work bench. The average bean size and high density of these coffees has me wondering if they would produce a more dynamic profile with a shorter roast profile, similar to how I would roast a washed Ethiopian coffee. I decided to choose two very similar profiles using the V airflow technique that has the fan speed slowly decrease until Maillard stage begins, and then slowly increase throughout the remainder of the roast. The main difference was the length of the roast. There was also a slight difference in end temperature.
Both Ikawa roasts left us wanting at the cupping table. Ikawa roast (1) while cracking early, left us with a grassy finish in the cup and Ikawa roast (2) had a lot of tobacco and cedar notes. I knew that the answer had to be somewhere in the middle of these two roasts.
The Probatino was up to the task and produced a beautifully balanced coffee. Perhaps this particular Mejor de Narino just needed some conductive love. The majority of the development time for this coffee was spent during the Maillard stage and pre-first crack, providing a lovely sweet base layer of chocolate cake. In this 8:25 minute roast, only 1:02 was spent post crack which preserved a tart plum acidity. I couldn’t have been more pleased with this roast or this coffee.
We’ve been lucky enough to work with a handful of coffees from Colombia’s Mejor de Nariño auction now. As always, Crown Jewels get cupped multiple times for approval and analysis. By the time I start working on brew analysis, we’ve already gotten to know the coffee intimately and have a good idea of how to make it shine. After tasting Jen’s best roast of that week’s coffee, I like to survey the group on what brew method they think would be best for this particular coffee. What I’ve found is that if it’s a Nariño on the table, everyone wants me to brew it on Chemex. This is due to a couple of reasons: one is that the coffee is so tasty everyone wants to drink a lot of it, and Chemexes make a larger volume of brew than other brew methods. Another reason is that Chemex is a great way to showcase exactly what the bean to offer. It won’t do much to mask or hide any attributes of the coffee – it presents exactly what’s there. And in the case of these Best of Nariño coffees, that’s all we could hope for.
In the interest of exploring the range of this coffee, I brewed one version at a 1:15 ratio and another at a 1:18 ratio. The heavier brew presented some orange and rhubarb sweetness, grape juice, and a slightly floral honey sweetness. Pulled to a longer extraction, I found some juicy pomegranate, cocoa powder, and a mild floral sweetness. Don Antonio has produced a delicate, well balanced coffee that preserves some pleasant herbal notes while allowing for some quiet florals to peek through in the finish.