Nestled into a canyon on the spine of the Andes, as the mountain range cuts a path through Colombia, is the municipal district of Chaparral, Tolima, home to Asociación Surcafés. This group of fifty-or-so producing families are mostly located close to the Cañón de las Hermosas village a few miles northwest of the center of Chaparral town. The region is filled with hundreds of small lakes and streams, many of which feed Río Magdalena as it slices through Colombia’s central valley on its way to spill into the Caribbean Sea at Barranquilla.
The government restricts the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides in the area, and so with the aid of the association and Lohas Beans, Royal’s supplier, the smallholders who farm the land have achieved their organic certification and are working towards earning both Rainforest and Fair Trade certificates in the coming year as well.
Southern Colombian coffees arriving state-side in the fall are among my favorites. The main harvest cycle for many of the growing regions in Huila, Cauca, Tolima, and Nariño peaks during our summer, between May and August, and these coffees arriving now are among the best the country has to offer.
This particular selection dazzled us with a complex and well rounded profile. It hits many of the marks: great sweetness – think brown sugar and vanilla, bright acidity with notes of orange, plum, and mango, and a nuanced floral backdrop with hints of rose hips, bergamot, and ginger. It’s a winner, and available in full size 70kg bags as well as in 10kg Crown Jewels.
At around 90% screen size 16 and up, this is a fairly large coffee, with an average looking moisture reading and slightly above average density. The water activity is a little higher than average compared to the moisture, not an uncommon trait for coffees landing at this time of year. I’d anticipate that figure to drop quickly into the “stable” range as the coffee settles in to cooler ambient temperatures in storage.
A six-cent-per-pound tax on exported coffees funds the FNC (the Federación Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia), the nation’s support structure for farmers. Laser-focused on achieving sustainable production levels country-wide, the FNC has been developing and releasing productive coffee varieties for decades. The three-cornered hat of Colombian cultivars present in this coffee represents the evolution of the nation’s coffee systems.
Caturra is the oldest of the bunch, the default replacement for aging Typicas. It’s a naturally occurring Bourbon single-gene mutation that causes short stature, first described in 1937 in Brazil, and it is well-loved by coffee growers to this day. It retains the excellent flavors of its genetic antecedent, but can be planted more densely resulting in higher average yields per hectare of tree. Its short stature makes it easier to pick and prune as well.
The Colombia cultivar was the second major Catimor hybrid crafted in Colombia, after Tabi, and was released in the mid 1980s. Its improvement, Castillo, is the most commonly grown variety in the country today. Each of these varieties were carefully crafted by Cenicafé, FNC’s research division, to prioritize high yields and disease resistance. Castillo, released in 2005 with a national and 16 regional profiles to optimize flavor, was intended to provide rust resistance without compromising cup quality.
There’s a tendency for many cuppers to regard the rust-resistant varieties as qualitatively inferior. However, as evidenced by the high sensory quality of this particular lot, there is still exceptional quality potential, depending on the particular Castillo strain, and contingent on growing conditions and processing methods. When given the proper attention to detail, this horticulturally advantageous cultivar can also be an uncommonly tasty one.
This lovely Colombian coffee was really quite fun to roast and cup. With its medium high density and high water activity readings, I knew that there would be a possibility that first crack would register quite high in temperature and I wanted to make sure that there was ample time for this coffee to develop in the roaster. I decided to use a slightly longer profile with a slightly higher end temperature for this reason. When I went to tmark first crack in the Ikawa app I was incredibly surprised to discover that the temperature was only 398F, which is very low for this convection tabletop roaster.
Worried that perhaps this coffee would taste a little too developed and slightly over roasted, I decided to roast a second batch with a slightly shorter total roast time and end temperature. This time first crack was much more predictable and occurred at 405F.
On the cupping table we were split down the middle in preference. Chris and Sandra loved the pronounced sweet fruit flavors in Roast (1), while Evan and I enjoyed the sugary tart citrus flavors in Roast (2). Both roasts had plenty of juicy fruit notes balanced by sweet sugar browning flavors and hints of florals like rose and ginger.
Upon further inspection of my two roasts, I noticed a huge spike of heat in Roast (10 just after yellowing. I have roasted this particular profile dozens of times and I did not make any edits before recording this roast. My only guess as to why this happened is that I must have hooked up our external fan system late in the roast, causing too much heat to leave the roasting chamber in the Ikawa. While the extra heat did move first crack forward, the flavor notes in the cup where still lovely making this a very versatile coffee to roast.
Most of the roasts I have done on the Quest have been very short overall and I decided to try my hand at a longer and more gentle approach. While the shorter roasts have a vibrant and lively acidity that I adore, It has been tough to navigate how to slow the roast just enough right before first crack. Many times I have felt that that my rate of change was too high and I would often miss my mark during the development stage with a coffee tasting a touch roasty or slightly vegetal.
Using a low charge temperature of 360F and an amperage of 9, I left the fan off for the beginning of the roast. This particular coffee at 11% had quite a lot of moisture to drive off before yellowing around six minutes. At seven minutes into the roast I decided to turn the fan on to 2 and then at 7:15 reduced the amperage to 8. I was able to make slow deliberate changes to the roast through the entire roast, slowly reducing heat and increasing airflow. First Crack wast a 9:29 with at 388F which is just above average. I finished the roast at 11:05 at 399F. To be honest I felt like I was just above the threat of stalling during the development time.
On the cupping table the coffee was juicy and vibrant with all of the tropical fruits you might find in a cocktail garnish. This is truly a sweet and dazzling coffee that really shines at any profile.
Fall arrivals from Colombia always surprise and delight me; this fantastic washed coffee from Chaparral, Tolima is no exception. It presented such clean fruit acids and incredible sweetness on the cupping table that I reached right for the V60 and set up a 1:16 ratio brew with 30g of coffee ground at 8.5 on the EK43 and 490g of brew water at 200F. This brew was really tasty, full of pineapple, apricot, raspberry, and florals balanced with chocolate, butterscotch, and white sage. The after taste was pure star fruit and seemed to go on forever; I really enjoyed this cup. Since the TDS read relatively low at 1.20, I chose to brew a more concentrated recipe.
The Quest roasts are relatively small, so I used all the remaining coffee to brew this second cup. With 23.5g in, I tightened the grind up to 8 and used 358g of brew water. This created a drastically different, but still delicious cup. The mouthfeel was incredibly silky; the fruit acids were still present but had mellowed out a bit; instead of pineapple there was pear and baked apple. The base notes became much more diversified: cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, fudge and hazelnut. These two divergent but tasty cups speak to how much this coffee has to offer: it’s packed full of tasty goodness and a well competent barista will be able to choose which flavors they want to highlight most.