This coffee, available exclusively in Shanghai, comes from farmer Elvia Irene Burbano on her farm called El Chimbo. 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 El Chimbo is notable for its incredibly 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.
Elvia Irene Burbano 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.
The short Ikawa roast (1) had plenty of time to develop sugars after first crack, but tasted slightly grassy in the cup which surprised me. The second roast with the longer roast times and Maillard development time was preferred with its mouth-watering nectarine acidity, deep chocolate, and praline sweetness.
Sometimes you get it wrong, and this is one of those times. I had been roasting full capacity batches all morning and I saved the Mejor de Narinos for the end of the day. Using my Ikawa roasts as a guideline, I knew that i wanted to increase my roast time to get rid of any grassy flavors that I experienced in Ikawa roast (1), but I also did not want to overdevelop the fruit acids like I did in Ikawa Roast (2). I decided to lengthen the drying stage in an effort to drive off moisture and then ramp up the heat through Maillard and keep my post crack development time low to retain as much fruit acidity as possible. Unfortunately, a grassiness still lingered in the cup and my hunch was not successful. With the other two Mejor de Narinos, I pushed hard with the heat leading into Maillard as early as possible giving the coffee plenty of time for internal development. Even with a slightly underdeveloped note, this coffee has a tremendous floral nature that just begged for a little more sugar browning.
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. After green analysis and roast analysis, our team is familiar with the nuances of the coffee; by the time I start working on brew analysis we have a good idea of how to make this coffee shine. After tasting Jen’s best roast, 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, hide, or improve 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. As a heavier brew, we found heavy caramelized sugar notes like cinnamon, raisin, and chocolate, which were brightened up by a sweet navel orange and kumquat aftertaste. As a longer brew it lightened into sweet plums, chamomile, ripe apple, and tootsie roll. Several of my cuppers used an oddly specific note: Arnold Palmer, an iced tea and lemonade drink that’s perfectly refreshing on a hot day. It’s likely that this speaks to the sweet, tangy, balanced nature of this coffee.