We’re doubling down on our Mejor de Nariño competition coffee analysis this week, highlighting a coffee from farmer Jesús Ángel López. After working on the farm, his father’s property, for most of his life, and having received FNC training, Don Jesús, along with his wife and their 12-year-old daughter are now responsible for the quality of the harvest. The farm is tiny, just a single hectare called Llano Redondo, a refreshingly literal name indicating that the farm is on a level plain (Llano) in a round shape (Redondo). The family also grow granadilla (sweet cousin of the passionfruit), corn, and beans, both to consume and for commercial purposes.
Located near Buesaco in the department of Nariño, Llano Redondo is in 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 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 Llano Redondo is notable for its spectacularly high density. While it’s very common for Nariño coffees to be above average in this metric, Don Jesús’s coffee is far above the usual even from this region. 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 pedestrian, while the water activity is just a shade above average.
Jesús Ángel López 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 roasts were lovely, although I did prefer the acid structure of Ikawa roast one. First crack on both roasts were very high, which is probably due to the high water activity reading. Fortunately, a high water activity number can aide in sugar browning through the Maillard reactions. Even the short Ikawa roast (1) with only 20 seconds of post crack development time, which was arguably still cracking as the roast began to cool, did not taste underdeveloped. The intense fruit punch acidity of this coffee did well in the longer Ikawa Roast (2) with lots of blackberry compote and cola. Both roasts were sweet and full bodied.
With a hot drum, I did not need a very high charge temperature to get this roast moving along. With just one increased heat adjustment at minute 1:46 to 3 gas, I had enough momentum to sail through to first crack with ease. Using the Ikawa roasts as a guide, I was surprised to find that this coffee cracked as early as it did on the Probatino at 393.6F. I reduced the heat by a quarter tick as I do with most high water activity coffees and noticed that the rate of change began to drop fast. My total roast time was 8:12 and my Colortrack numbers, both external and internal, appeared on the light side. On the cupping table, this coffee was fully developed and juicy with notes of dark plum, caramel apple, and fudge brownies. This coffee, with its bright acids and full bodied sweetness is very tolerant of any roast style.
This coffee was very easy to work with, but did finish a little more quickly than average. As Jen noted in the Probatino section, the higher water activity helped this coffee along quickly in terms of development. While the roast loss percentage seemed slightly high, this coffee didn’t have an overtly roasty taste upon cupping. Brown sugar, honey, plum, and cocoa came through quite nicely, and this coffee masqueraded well on a table otherwise full of Jen’s Probatino roasts.
Looking at the way I roasted this batch, I did try something different that may have contributed to the even flavor of this coffee. While I engaged P4 immediately at first crack, I also opened the door of the roaster for a few seconds so that I could get a temperature reading right after first crack. My reading was inconclusive (I really don’t think that it cracked at 350F – infrared thermometers are notoriously inaccurate), but I must have let some heat or smoke out during this process.
Not particularly repeatable but certainly worth mentioning, losing heat too dramatically will end up halting the development of the coffee, even if it is in exothermic stage. While this isn’t a technique I would recommend since it isn’t a measurable vector, I had decent results!
Anyone interested in making a more powerful abatement fan modification for the Behmor? I’d give it a try!
We’ve been lucky enough to work with a handful of coffees from Colombia’s Mejor de Nariño auction. 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 more concentrated brew packed a lot of big flavors like dark cherry, fudge, and sweet almond or amaretto. Stretched out to a longer extraction, these attributes morphed into sweet pear, chamomile, and marzipan. It was a delight to drink both versions, but it was particularly fun to see the vast complexity of what this coffee has to offer. It was almost as if we were drinking two different coffees!
In conclusion, brew this coffee however you want. It will taste delicious.