Frequently recognized by the brand Cafe Granja la Esperanza, brothers Luis and Rigoberto Herrera are the proprietors of a small group of farms in central Colombia: Cerro Azul, Las Margaritas, La Esperanza, Potosí, and Hawaii.
We’ve worked with a number of exclusive microlots from this innovative group of farms since the beginning of the Crown Jewel program. It seems like every harvest the Herrera hermanos come up with something new and innovative, exemplifying the stewardship undertaken by their father, who first diversified their coffees to include Yellow and Red Bourbon, Caturra, and Typica back in 1945.
This lot is another unique one, grown on the Potosí farm in Caicedonia, a town in Colombia’s Valle del Cauca department. Potosí was the family’s first finca, established in 1930 when Israel Correa and Carmen Rosa Vega, the Herrera’s grandmother, emigrated from the department of Antioquia. They arrived in Valle del Cauca, as did many other Antioquian families at the time, as a part of the fallout from La Colonización Antioqueña, a major cultural, political, and economic shift in the region that resulted in, among other things, cultivation of coffee and industrialization in the early 20th century that improved transportation and upon the back of which the country’s industry was built.
Potosí was once an organic farm; it has since lost that certification, but a number of the disease-resistant introgressed trees remain. Don Rigoberto has dubbed the variety selection for this coffee “San Juan,” and his marketing manager Felipe Paz tells me it’s an “improved” Colombia cultivar that yields larger fruits and seed size.
They’ve undertaken a unique fermentation and drying process for the selection, dubbed “XO” in honor of the cognac notes that result in the cup – “XO” means “extra old” and is used to designate some of the highest quality, longest aged cognacs. The process involves 2 days of low-temperature in-cherry dry fermentation in tanks followed by 10 days of silo-aged drying. The coffee comes to us with an intense fruity aroma, even green, and a distinctive cognac-like flavor in the cup, from whence the process gets its name.
One of the hallmarks of this unconventional natural coffee is its fairly large seed size, at about 85% screen 17 and up. Otherwise the coffee is of medium density, slightly high moisture content and very high water activity. You’ll find that this uncommon combination of factors will result in a unique response to heat application, and I’d highly recommend you check Jen & Evan’s notes below on roasting.
As far as the cultivar goes, I’m not aware of any published literature on improved FNC varieties, but it appears that whatever “San Juan” might be, it started with the Federación Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia and their breeding program at the institution’s Cenicafé laboratories. The cultivar, named for the country, was released in 1982, and is “introgressed” as a Caturra and Timor Hybrid cross. However, it is distinct from many of the similarly comprised Catimor hybrids due to its “compound” genetic makeup – that is, even though it is a single variety there are a number of distinct lineages due to multi-generational crossing and selections, which greatly improves its overall resistance to diseases like rust.
While the Colombia variety has fallen to the wayside since the introduction of Castillo, it can still be found on farms across the country. Whether Rigoberto’s San Juan Colombia is a natural mutation, a selected improvement, or a spontaneous hybrid, it seems to be working well on Finca Potosí.
A very unique coffee with a striking flavor profile, but a bit of an enigma in the roaster. The large size and high moisture told me that this coffee would need not just heat, but time to properly develop. The high water activity is usually an indicator that a coffee will also have a higher than normal first crack temperature. That same morning I was roasting some natural Cup of Excellence Costa Rica coffees (lucky me) and thought that the same profile would also work well for this coffee. While the Costa Rican coffees all cracked around 405F between 4:30 and 5:00, our Colombian coffee did not crack at all during the roast cycle; except for one lone pop just after the cooling cycle started.
On the cupping table the fruit acidity of this roast was lively and had lots of citric acidity, but no notes of underdevelopment, which was surprising. While this profile was citric and tart, it was also very sweet and complex, which I enjoyed. To pull out more “jammy” and sugar browning notes, I would raise the end temperature to 415F or lengthen the roast by 20-30 seconds to allow the coffee to have some post crack development time.
Using the Ikawa roast as a guide really helps me to anticipate how coffees will react in the Probatino roaster. I think this coffee holds the all time record for highest First Crack Temperature at 405F on the Probatino. As a rule of thumb, I like to have a minimum of 1 minute and/or 5 to 10 degree of positive change for the end temperature. I was caught a little off guard with the high first crack temperature and the very light coloration of the coffee encouraged me to finish the roast at a higher end temperature than normal.
The Colortrack reading was also surprising, with a normal reading of 63.07 for the whole bean reading, but the internal ground sample was 58.18, which is more akin to very light roasts. On the cupping table this coffee was jammy and sweet, filled with raspberries and cacao nibs. This very sweet and fruity coffee may be unconventional to roast, but will most definitely satisfy any sweet tooth.
This is a polarizing coffee; not everyone will like it, but for those who like the fruity funky stuff, this is a slam dunk. Because of the high first crack temperature, Jen’s probat roast tasted a little bit roasty on the cupping table, with more of the dark jammy notes that come from extended development. I was worried that the roast character would pervade most of my brews, but this was not the case. After letting the coffee rest for five days, I did a quick brew on the Kalita to get my bearings. The cup was full of blueberry, honey, white grape, and cacao nibs. A fascinating brew.
Based on how Rigoberto’s coffee tasted on the cupping table, we figured it would be a ton of fun to pull as espresso. Concentrating these intense flavors down into a shot made it taste kind of boozy, but it also created a crisp clarity that I really enjoyed; I wrote prickly pear as a tasting note for the first shot, and my fellow tasters wrote things like blackberry jam, passionfruit, pecan, and rye. The shots I pulled are on the longer side, close to a 1:2 ratio. The XO has so many competing flavors, I wanted to make sure each of them had room to express themselves.
The Colombia Caicedonia Rigoberto Herrera XO Natural is a fantastic coffee, and totally unique. There’s a whole world of possibilities in the realm of careful experimental processing. Rigoberto took a big risk trying something new with this lot. In my view, it has paid off handsomely.