I can’t think of a more fitting coffee to feature as our 200th Crown Jewel than this unconventional and exceptional coffee from Carlos Fernández Morera. We featured his harvest last year, in the wake of a 4th place Cup of Excellence finish, and we couldn’t be more thrilled to have it back on the menu for a limited time for 2018.
There’s so much about Carlos Fernández Morera’s coffee to discuss: farm and farmer history, processing methods, the prestige of a CoE top 5 finish… but really the start of this conversation has to be about its flavor. It’s at once immensely unique, immediately delicious, and irrepressibly nostalgic. Undeniable notes of gingerbread and cinnamon toast are its hallmarks, eliciting nearly unanimous descriptors. These top notes are accented by a sugary sweetness and a fruitiness clean enough to integrate seamlessly and bold enough stand out in a complex and thought-provoking sensory landscape. It’s an experience unlike anything I’ve had with a cup of coffee.
Carlos Fernández Morera is an experienced farmer. This is his 62nd season growing coffee in San Rafael de San Ramón, where his family have lived since 1895. His deep connection to his trees and the soil he works is evident in the way he talks. “Coffee is a very grateful crop,” he says. “If you dedicate a little love, it responds very well… The earth is a living element, we must take care of it, pamper it, so that it transmits to the coffee plant all its force.” Sr. Morera’s plot of earth is called Finca el Cerro. Many of his 4 grown children and 9 grandchildren help on the estate, his eldest works directly with administration, his youngest works for the export brand, Café de Altura, and his oldest grandson is an agronomist.
The plot of the farm where this award-winning lot originates is called Diamante (“the Diamond”). It contains Caturra and Catuaí cultivars, though other varieties more resistant to rust have been planted in recent years in other areas of El Cerro. After pulping the coffee undergoes a sealed-tank anaerobic fermentation process. A selection of mucilage and a little water are added to the mix, and the slurry is closely monitored for pH, temperature, brix, and a host of other variables. Under a watchful eye, the high degree of environmental control this allows contributes immeasurably to the coffee’s flavor. Thereafter the lot is dried for 3 days on a patio before moving to raised beds for another eighteen days of drying.
Uniquely dense, this green coffee is also very dry. We received the coffee a little late last year, in August, and the result was a slightly elevated water activity after long storage in more humid conditions than we have here in Oakland. This season, however, Don Fernández’s coffee is quite low in moisture and water activity. Mostly 16 and up in screen size, this coffee shouldn’t cause too much trouble in storage or in the roaster.
The lot is comprised of Caturra and Catuaí, classic Central American varieties (though both originally hail from Brazil). Caturra is a spontaneous mutation of heirloom Bourbon, first observed in 1937, and Catuaí was developed about a decade later (though not formally released until the 1970’s) by hybridizing Yellow Caturra with Mundo Novo. The short stature of these two cultivars makes them resistant to wind, and easier to plant densely and harvest, though they are susceptible to rust and other common coffee afflictions.
Working with the Ikawa, I forget that subtle differences can be made in the roast profile by simply changing the fan speed percentage. Particularly if I want to influence when I want first crack to happen in the roast. On a traditional drum roaster, I would use gas or heat application to guide my roast along, but the Ikawa has set times and temperatures that it is programmed to achieve.
Ikawa Roast (1) used a fan speed profile that I have been calling the wave because of the sharp increase in fan speed before first crack. An increase in fan speed must be accompanied by an increase in heat to maintain the programmed temperature. On this particular coffee, perhaps due to its extremely high density, we reached first crack 10 seconds sooner and 3F lower than in Ikawa Roast (2). Ikawa Roast (2) removes the fan speed increase just before first crack and instead is profiled as a steady and straight incline. The slower fan speed means less heat because the machine is able to maintain more heat in the roasting chamber. The combination proved to be a more gentle approach and our coffee was able to spend additional time in the maillard stage with a 3.2% less time in post crack development.
On the table, Ikawa Roast (1) was very sweet with lots of sugar browning flavors, but lacked the dried fruit and bright acidity of Ikawa Roast (2).
Knowing that this coffee is unusually dense, but also very dry, I knew that I would need to pay attention to when and where I should apply heat to get through first crack without stalling and lengthening my post crack development time. Dense and dry coffees can retain a lot of heat and quickly race through Maillard stage and first crack if heat is applied too forcefully or too soon. My first roast was very helpful for me to determine when and where more heat should be applied. As soon as I reached first crack, I quickly ran out of momentum and stalled in post crack development. In my second roast I decided to follow the same profile, but reduced heat just after yellowing and reapplied it just over a minute before first crack. This caused a spike in my rate of change, that I have lovingly named the ski ramp. This is exactly what I needed to reach my target end temperature in the time that I desired.
On the cupping table, Probatino Roast (1) was lively and bright when hot, but cooled vegetal and thin. Probatino Roast (2) on the other hand had more developed fruits like grape jam and poached pear with a very sweet accompaniment of candied ginger and cinnamon.
This is a crazy coffee. Super dense, these small little beans pack a ridiculous punch, but maintain composure and elegance throughout. Imagine a sixty piece orchestra: each member dressed elegantly in black, holding an instrument they’ve spent years mastering. When they play in unison, the sound is overpowering and heavenly. But any dissonance, any one member who plays out of tune or off time, can mar this magical experience.
Brewing Carlos’s coffee from San Rafael is a bit like conducting an orchestra. As the brewer, one must make a concerted effort to bring all the complex notes into harmony; each characteristic must be allowed to express itself clearly, but shouldn’t drown out the other qualities of the final cup. Don’t misunderstand me, this Costa Rica will be fascinating to drink no matter how it’s brewed. It’s full of spices like cinnamon and ginger, has a pervasive black tea astringency, and can pack a punch of dried stone fruit and berries. But it may take the barista some time to get to know all the instruments they’re working with before they’re able to conduct a well-dialed brew.
I preferred the brew done on the Saint Anthony Industries C70 brewer with a coarser grind. The first brew using a Hario V60 lacked some of the sweetness I knew this coffee could offer. My plan was to lower extraction a bit, but this is such a complex and dense bean that I wanted to continue to extract effectively but dial back from over extraction. To do this, I coarsened my grind size a full notch on the EK43 but also changed over to the C70 who’s taller brew column would allow for more dwell time. Now there was peach and apricot along with cedar and black tea dryness, all met with raspberry and lime acidity and a pervasive sugar cookie sweetness. Again, this coffee is crazy, but with a little effort it can produce one of the most fascinatingly delicious cups of coffee out there.