Coffee from Huila is popping right now. This little gem of a lot from southwestern Colombia caught our attention when it arrived, punching above its weight class, so to speak. Brown sugar and citrus fruits are its hallmark flavors, built on top of a milk chocolaty structure with some subtle hints of orange blossom.
The San Agustín project includes 35 producers organized around the town of the same name, located near an important archaeological site in southwestern Huila, near the border of Cauca department. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995, the archaeological remains include Latin America’s largest collection of megaliths and is considered the world’s largest necropolis.
The coffee community in San Agustín are working with exporter and longtime Royal coffee supplier Lohas Beans, who beyond being simply the buyer of the coffee are providing support. They encourage environmental sustainability through maintenance of local biodiversity and intercropping additional agriculture such as citrus, sugarcane, and banana. They’ve also been working with the community to understand the impact of the production of specialty coffee, including training for processing and cuppings, and investing in the education of the next generation.
This Huila is generally large in size but not quite graded to the specificity of a Supremo designation. It possesses high average density, moderate moisture, and surprisingly low water activity by comparison. You should expect the beans to need a fair amount of heat energy early in the roast to properly develop through the Maillard reactions.
Uncommon these days in Colombia, the botanical variety of coffee grown here includes just the legacy Typica and dwarf mutation Caturra – no hybrids despite their common proliferation in response to rust outbreaks over the past decade or so. Typica was Arabica’s first widely cultivated variety, making its way from Ethiopia to Yemen to India and eventually Java, from where European colonizers would then spread it across the globe. It’s a conical tree with relatively long berry shape, and somewhat low yield and low resistance to disease. Caturra is a naturally occurring Bourbon single-gene mutation that causes short stature, first described in 1937 in Brazil, and it is well-loved by coffee growers to this day. 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. It does not, however, resist disease particularly well.
What a delightful coffee to roast! There was so much to pull out of it, I decided to do two roasts of this coffee, as I wanted to play with post-crack development whilst trying to keep the heat delta fairly similar. This is a dense, mostly evenly distributed screen size coffee. So with that in mind, I decided to give the coffee a chance to ‘roast itself’ for the first roast. I started with a higher gas application, (2.5) for this roast and keep the heat constant until first crack. It dried quickly, which enabled the longer coloring stage I was aiming for. The florals and acidity came through and by having that longer middle stage the sugars had a chance to express themselves with a complexity that matched that of the acidity. I dropped the coffee exactly 1 minute into post-development to preserve the harmonics of the higher floral notes and this translated into the cup. The florals aromatics were evident on the fragrance, crust and in the cup. The cup had a lot of fruit acid notes with multiple sugar browning flavors of butterscotch, cane sugar and raisin.
The second roast was just a successful, but led to, as expected a different, but relative flavor profile. In order to be able to produce a differently balanced cup, I dropped this batch at 10 degrees lower than the previous roast with a lower heat application (2), so that I could lengthen the dehydration stage of the roast but keep a similar coloring stage ratio. I then pulled back on the heat just before first crack, allowing the exothermic stage to develop further. I dropped the coffee 22 seconds later than the first roast. This led to the coffee expressing more depth of the roast development stage and allowed the sugars to really come through. The rate of change was very similar to that of the first roast, but the flavor profile became more chocolatey, with dried fruit and maple sugar and a delicious sweet tobacco aftertaste. What was lovely was the complimentary, albeit less dominant, floral aromatics that were still evident in the orange blossom flavor that shone through the syrupy body.
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.
Roasting this coffee is a pleasure, but it can certainly take more heat than you expect. This lovely coffee is fairly dense, and has a decently wide screen size distribution, leading to a relatively late but strong crack.
I wanted most of the acids to remain intact in this coffee, so I was a bit hesitant to leave this coffee in the roaster for too long after first crack. I engaged 75% power (P4) five seconds after crack, and opened the door of the roaster to abate a bit of smoke for five seconds, 40 seconds after crack. The total development time after first crack was 1:15; I would have liked to see a bit more development in retrospect, but this coffee tasted nice brewed, after resting for a few days. On the cupping table, it was quite tart and grassy – hallmarks of underdevelopment, but ones that mellowed out with a bit of time before brewing.
Don’t be shy! Give this coffee a little extra push and it’s delightfully syrupy and sweet!
After this coffee performed so well on the cupping table, I was confident it would taste delicious when brewed multiple different ways. We took our favorite two of the three Probatino roasts of this coffee and chose the Saint Anthony Industries c70 dripper and the Kalita Wave as our brew methods, hoping for a super clean, crisp cup. I brewed the first two cups with pretty much the same recipe we’ve been brewing on the c70 behind the bar at The Crown: a ratio slightly stronger than 1:16 and pulse pours in the 100g-150g range. On the second of my two brews, I actually poured more aggressively; this, expectedly, led to a choked filter and considerable longer brew time. Both cups were pleasant and showcased the vibrant acidity we love in this coffee. We tasted lemon zest, orange, lime, and even blackberry, rounded out by basenotes of chocolate, caramel, and toasted almonds.
For our next set of two brews, Doris pulled out the Kalita and the second Probatino roast and brewed two more cups. These brews were bursting with even more crisp acidity: orange, peach, cherry, plum, grape, pear, and more! Coupled with a delightfully smooth, silky body, this made for some seriously delicious coffee. When Chris’s tasting notes for a brew include “elegant” and “this is the one”, you know you’re dealing with really great coffee.