The story of this unique and spectacular coffee, grown by Rosevel Ortiz Escarpeta on his 6-hectare Finca La Ilusión in San Augustín de Huila, begins in 2011. But to really understand the history, we must back up a little further.
While many of us were aware of conflict in Colombia, for years it quietly took a back seat to our need for great coffee. Regions now familiar to specialty consumers like Nariño and Huila were among those on the front lines of the 50-plus-year Colombian Conflict that to date has displaced more people internally than in any other nation on earth. In 2011 as a good faith gesture, the Colombian government offered to compensate up to 4 million victims of the conflict and return land of which they were dispossessed. Don Rosevel Ortiz is one of the recipients of such restitution.
The coffee, grown on just 2.5 of his 6 hectares, is also unique. It is processed as dried cherry rather than the traditional micro-milled fully washed coffee for which Colombia is famous. In fact, it wasn’t legal to export natural coffee from Colombia until 2016, so it has been rare to find such interesting and unique processes until recently. Don Rosevel has successfully pulled off a really delicious coffee and we’re pleased as punch to be offering it exclusively as a Crown Jewel.
This natural process microlot looks pretty nice by the physical numbers. Quite high in density, it’s also pretty large in screen size, about 70% above screen 17. Its moisture content is moderately dry, but it has a slightly elevated water activity level by comparison, right at 0.60 when measured in the office at 22.0 C° (71.6 F°) – nothing to worry about in terms of safety or shelf life, but it might indicate a proclivity for more rapid sugar browning or Maillard reactions… so (as per usual) keep an eye on Jen & Evan’s notes on roasting.
Don Rosevel is growing both traditional Caturra and the more recently selected Castillo on Finca La Ilusión. Caturra is one of many short-stature varieties observed in Bourbon, the result of a single gene mutation. It’s an old classic and has been the standard bearer in Colombia for decades. It was first described in 1937 in Brazil and it is well-loved by coffee growers. 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.
Castillo, by contrast, is the result of decades of human manipulation. Having now visited Colombia’s Cenicafé, the research branch of the FNC (Federación Nacional de Cafeteros), and seen their work, I’m in possession of what I’d consider to be a sufficiently dangerous understanding of this coffee tree’s development. Originating as a project to improve on previous cultivars’ (Tabi and Colombia, specifically) disease resistance and yield without compromising cup quality, this complex hybrid was introduced in 2005 and proved immensely resilient to leaf rust. Today, it can be found on nearly every farm in the country, thanks to its hearty nature and subsidized pricing.
There’s a tendency for many cuppers to regard the rust-resistant variety 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. I’m a firm believer that, given the proper care, this horticulturally advantageous cultivar is also an uncommonly tasty one.
One thing that has really changed with the Ikawa roaster is my idea of recipe making and what I can learn about the coffees in this very small roaster. When roasting on a drum roaster, I can watch how the coffee reacts to applying heat or adjusting airflow, but the Ikawa will try its hardest to make sure that my original plan is executed regardless of what I am roasting. This week I explored charge temperature. Ikawa Roast (1) dropped 41 degrees and Ikawa Roast (2) with a much lower start only dropped 24 degrees. The Ikawa Roaster then takes over and applies heat as needed to reach your temperature goals.
This very small difference did have some effect in the flavor of the coffee. More dried fruit characters were expressed and Ikawa Roast (2) did not reach first crack. Ikawa Roast (1) was very bright with a sparkling raspberry lemonade acidity with 3.3% post crack development time, while Ikawa Roast (2) was more muted and full of dried mango and plum. While this is a lovely coffee, both roasts needed more time in the roaster to be at their best.
This coffee was really a lot of fun to work with and with such a clean natural coffee, there are so many flavors that you can pull out. Probatino Roast (1) is a shorter roast with a shorter post crack development time. The aim was to create a sparkling, citrus acidity. In order to curb any underdeveloped characteristics, I kept the drying stage (3:27) and the Maillard stage (3:21) relatively equal. Knowing that this coffee cracks at a higher temperature and that a high water activity reading meant that Maillard times could accelerate quickly, I reduced my heat as needed so that my rate of change would be low as I approached first crack. With just 1:05 post crack development time, I should get a cup with the bright acidity that I set out for.
Probatino Roast (2) I wanted a more traditional “jammy” flavored coffee which meant a longer total roast time. Keeping in mind this coffees ability to race through Maillard, I decided to approach this roast with a gentle heat throughout. Just after yellowing, It looked like my gentle heat plan was going to stall out, so I turned up the heat carefully to power through. Once I built up enough momentum, I drastically reduced the heat and finished the roast with minimal to no heat through post crack development. While I didn’t experience jammy flavors, there was still a bright acidity accompanied by a blood orange marmalade and brown sugar.
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.
This natural coffee from Colombia won over hearts at the Roaster Village booth at SCA Expo this year, especially considering that natural coffees from Colombia are not all that common. In the Behmor roaster this coffee was fairly well behaved, and didn’t race towards second crack as some natural coffees are prone to. I did take this coffee a bit further than my previous weeks’ roasts, namely because my previous weeks have been so light! This week is for the coffee lover who doesn’t mind well developed sugars.
My final loss percentage for this coffee was among my highest at 14.4%, but this coffee did not taste burnt in any way on the cupping table. Part of this high roast loss percentage could be that some beans became stuck in the barrel, so make sure to be aware of this between roasts.
This is a fairly dense coffee, and could definitely handle the heat I subjected it to. Sweet cooked fruit notes (think dark strawberry jam) were the prominent flavor in this coffee, but it wasn’t all fruit. Look for brown sugar in the cup, along with some hot chocolate heftiness.
Read Sandra’s notes below for some brewing recommendations, and I think you’ll find that this coffee performs well for many applications!
The Crown was lucky enough to brew this coffee all weekend at the Roaster Village inside SCA Expo in Seattle this year. We compared different roasts and brew methods and polled people to see which they preferred, with interesting results. There were a few big takeaways for me: first, this coffee is phenomenal. People were really surprised that it was a Natural Colombia, assuming from its clean processing and incredible fruit that it must be a dry processed Ethiopian. The second thing I learned is that preference is entirely subjective. In blind tastings of different roasts (long Maillard versus short Maillard) and brews (bypass versus traditional), there was a pretty even split of folks who preferred one over the other.
Above all, I learned that I love this coffee. The natural processing delivers clean, juicy acidity that isn’t fermenty or overpowering. Brewed at a 1:16 ratio, there are some tobacco and bourbon notes that give La Ilusión a strong foundation in brown sugars to balance the fruit acid top notes. If that clean acidity is all you’re after, I recommend doing a bypass brew to maximize on the bright flavors that extract right at the beginning of the brewing process.