Our return to the Mejor de Nariño competition this year landed us a number of incredible coffees we could’ve chosen for inclusion as a Crown Jewel. But one coffee in particular stood head-and-shoulders above the rest, eliciting unanimous adulation from Royal’s coffee traders and Crown team alike.
This spectacular coffee comes to us from Wilson Rene López, and his 2-hectare farm Las Murgas in Medina Espejo near Buesaco. Wilson is a young farmer and has only managed las Murgas for about 8 years. He was born into a larger coffee-growing family, many of whom are also Mejor de Nariño participants.
The department of Nariño is Colombia’s southwestern-most coffee growing 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’re heading back next week for the upcoming Mejor de Huila origin trip and cupping contest now, so if you’d like to participate as a jury member you should consider joining us for a long-term partnership for excellent Colombian coffees.
Wilson’s coffee is fresh and clean, and the green has a lovely fragrance. It has been nicely dried under partial shade and looks quite stable in terms of water activity. Nariño coffees are often a little smaller and denser than average, and this lot is no exception.
Wilson is growing Caturra, Colombia’s OG 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 Arabica mutation from the heirloom Bourbon strain. After making its way across the ocean to the Americas, the plant began to take on new characteristics. One particular mutation eventually called Caturra was first observed in Brazil and is noted for its short stature, dense berry yield, and its resistance to wind and rain.
I have been working on a technique to profile coffees using the ikawa roaster, which is incredibly convenient because it only uses 50 grams per batch. I decided this week to juxtapose two different roasts using the yellowing stage as my adjusted variable. Ikawa Roast (1) has an extended Maillard stage in the hope to create a roast that has a heavy body and to specifically focus on sugar browning properties. Ikawa Roast (2) has an extended drying stage that shortened the total Maillard stage of the roast. Both Roasts had the same charge temp and same temperature settings for the expected first crack time and end temperature.
With our Colombian Caturra coffee, the small screen size combined with high density performed better with Ikawa Roast (1). The mouthfeel of the coffee was smooth and the tropical acidity of the coffee was still very present. Ikawa Roast (2) had less sugar browning character and softer acids with a drier mouthfeel. To me, it seemed slightly understated or borderline baked. One unintended outcome that we noticed on the Ikawa roaster is that the extended drying stage also delayed the time of first crack and even raised the temperature of it by almost 7 degrees F.
Using Ikawa Roast (1) as a guideline for the flavor profile I wanted from the Probatino, I knew that I would need to start the roast with a lot of heat and set it a whole half click higher than I usually start my small batch roasts. Unfortunately it wasn’t quite enough when coupled with a low charge temperature, and my drying stage lingered a little longer than I had hoped. I was still able to extend my Maillard time in the Probatino by reducing the heat well before first crack would begin. I also knew that with the moderately high water activity that my first crack would come at a higher temperature and at an accelerated pace.
The temperature of first crack on the Probatino and the water activity of a coffee has shown a predictable correlation over the past year. First crack temperatures range from 388F to 400F depending on the coffee. While the roaster controls when first crack happens with heat manipulation, the differences in the green coffee determine at what temperature that will happen. Wilson’s coffee cracked quite high and easily moved through first crack without dipping in temperature like some high density coffees can. The resulting roast achieved a balance of tropical acidity with sweet undertones to match. If a punchier acidity is desired, I would roast this coffee again with a higher charge temperature to decrease the drying time and shorten the overall roast time. While my roast did not go to plan, my flavor profile was successful, proving the flexible nature of this dynamic coffee.
Unless otherwise noted, I follow a set standard of operations for all my Behmor roasts. Generally, I’ll use the 1lb setting, manual mode (P5), full power, and high drum speed until crack. Read my original post and stats here.
I have something to admit. When I first began drinking coffee, I thought Colombian coffee was nothing to write home about. I couldn’t for the life of me understand why everyone talked about it so much. Maybe it was just Juan Valdez and the ever-present marketing surrounding Colombian coffee.. I just didn’t get it.
Happily, my perspective has changed over the years. I’ve tasted some fantastic Colombian coffees like this one from Wilson López, and these coffees have shown me what I was missing out on in the past.
This coffee was a piece of cake to roast. I engaged P4 concurrently with first crack, and let this coffee develop for 1:35. The result was a bright, clear, and floral coffee that really stood out on the cupping table. More than one person noted the stonefruit flavors in the cup (apricot and peach, namely), and scores were high. I could easily drink this coffee day after day, and maybe I will next week.
Wilson López’s coffee is a great one to ring in the New Year. Maybe it’s too late to be popping bottles, maybe you could pop some beans instead. This is a coffee worth celebrating.
Wilson’s coffee is an easy drinker. It’s vibrant, sweet, and incredibly clean. Rather than experiment with different brew methods, I chose to explore different extraction levels to see how maximizing extraction might affect the final cup. Would it becoming drying and bitter with a higher brew ratio? Or would it retain the crisp deliciousness we saw on the cupping table. The Chemex was my weapon of choice for this analysis, as the thick filter would heighten the coffee’s clean crisp character and would allow me to brew with very different parameters.
At a 1:15 ratio, this coffee from Las Murgas offers grape juiciness, some praline sweetness, and enough phosphoric acid to remind me of sparkling wine. There’s also an undercurrent of sweet cranberries and sarsaparilla that persisted in the 1:18 extraction. However, the longer brew ratio also created some delicious brown sugar, fudge, and cedar notes with the complexity of cacao nibs. The body throughout these extractions was soft, smooth and velvety.