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There’s something pretty special about being able to produce amazing coffee. It takes dedication, attention to detail, hard work, time, and effort, and sometimes a little luck.
Reproducing that amazing coffee year after year, harvest after harvest: that’s the definition of excellence.
This unconventional and exceptional coffee from Carlos Fernández Morera returns to the Crown Jewel offering list for the third consecutive season, and it’s just as insanely flavorful as ever.
There’s so much about Carlos Fernández Morera’s coffee to discuss: farm and farmer history, processing methods, the prestige of a Cup of Excellence top 5 finish in 2017… 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 to 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 has 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 (learn more about anaerobic and carbonic fermentation methods here). 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.
Successful fermentation would all be undone without excellence in drying, sorting, and handling post-harvest. We have here a prime example of a nicely dried coffee of high density despite the low growing elevation. Screen size is majority 17-18, fairly large, and within expectations for most Central American “EP” style sorting.
Don Carlos is growing Caturra and Catuaí, classic Central American cultivars (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.
Using a newly modified sample roast profile intended for washed and honey Central American coffees, I felt pretty confident that this roast would bring out the best in the coffee. CJ1297 is a pleasure to roast, if for no other reason than it smells like baking cinnamon cookies. Crown Barista Ruthie Knudsen helped me out this week with the operation and datalogging, and we were both pretty excited to taste the coffee after what we’d smelled during roasting and after the coffee was ground.
We learned, however, that this coffee could’ve used a little extra push at the end of the roast. Light in color and showing some sensory signals of underdevelopment, it’s likely an extra 20-30 seconds would’ve helped bridge us across from the bready and slightly vegetal notes and into sweeter fruits and spices territory, as we knew the coffee was capable of achieving. If you’re roasting this on Ikawa, program a little extra PCD for this Crown Jewel.
You can download the profile to your Ikawa Pro app here:
Roast 1: RC ck 6.5m afmod 6.2019 3rd
The allure of interesting new processing techniques is inescapable, but this anaerobically processed coffee isn’t just for show. The results of this processing technique are astoundingly tasty. They say the proof is in the pudding, and this coffee is just as sweet as a spiced holiday pudding – that’s not hyperbole. We were introduced to this coffee last year, and were taken aback by it on many levels. Since there’s really nothing else to compare it to, I personally would recommend it for use on any brew method since you’d be a pioneer of something new and delicious regardless of your chosen brew device.
This week, I experimented with lower charge temperatures, with increased airflow and heavier heat application (10A) just a touch after turning point. This was in an effort to get the ‘deep-v’ shaped roast curve that allows for more time in the Maillard stage.
This coffee, despite its unique nature, was far more predictable in the roaster than my previous roasts this week. High density, low water activity, and wide screen size spread made me think I’d be dealing with a beast, but this coffee was a pleasure to roast. I started with 150g of coffee at 387F and 10A power, engaged the fan to 3 at 260F/2:40, and allowed this coffee to roll through the drying stage at a leisurely pace. At 360F/6:40, I cranked the fan up to full, and shot for a very low rate of change rolling into first crack. The gambit worked. At 385.6F/7:56 first crack began, and I allowed the coffee to develop for 1:24, for 15% post-crack development time.
This coffee is very chaffy, so don’t forget to clean the chaff collector after roasting! My screen was full after roasting just 150g of coffee.
On the cupping table, cinnamon toast, baked apple, and all manner of comforting autumn flavors came leaping off the table. Brandy and spiced cider were noted repeatedly, so you know the apple/cinnamon profile is no joke. With my particular profile, a peculiar perfume note came out as well. This is an extremely unique coffee, and I would recommend brewing it in as many fashions as you can stand. For the avid coffee fan, a coffee this singular can’t be missed.
At various times around The Crown, you’ll hear me exclaim “Good Lord!”, a Britishism that keeps my colleague Sandra Loofborrow, our inimitable Tasting Room Director, in stitches and me loving the inevitable and melodic peal of laughter that follows.
There are, however, very few coffees that make me exclaim out loud. This has nothing to do with the fact that I’m not constantly flush with the embarrassment of riches of our wonderful global coffee offerings menu. More so that I’m familiar with most coffee origins and processing methods, and I have a certain expectation of cup profile before I dive in. They say there’s nothing new under the sun. Well, my friends, there must be a very different sun shining over the head of Carlos Fernandez Morera and his farm in San Rafael de San Ramon!
Two things I wasn’t expecting; to watch a roast escape me not once, but twice, and to have both taste absolutely stunning on the cupping table.
I’ve been working quite closely with our Lead Barista Alex Taylor, whom you will see me in conversation with regarding the Crown Jewel analyses of the three coffees immediately preceding this one (numerically). Although I roasted both profiles of Sr Morera’s coffee, Alex and I spent time talking through the process of how I go about roasting a new coffee origin or process. Firstly, there is no walking on the moon – I’m not the first person to encounter this terrain! My evergreen advice is communication – and that’s with regard to every aspect of life, mind you. So, talk to other roasters, other coffee professionals, find out their anecdotal experience, read, research, and roast! And if you’re flying solo, well, we’re here to help with that. Being a new team member here but knowing the coffee is an old favourite, I walked over and talked to my colleagues, read my predecessor’s notes on this game-changer, and was comforted to know that all of our thoughts and experiences were very similar.
This coffee is a thoroughbred – incredibly hard work goes in at all levels. But ‘Good Lord’ does it pay off! This example of exemplary processing from El Diamante is a dry, dense, larger screen coffee. Dry, dense coffees (of any screen size) characteristically soak up quite a bit of heat and can retain that thermal energy, meaning, much like a thoroughbred horse, they need a firm hand. I have found coffees of this nature require quite a bit of precise manipulation throughput the roast. In order to maintain my desired roast stage ratio range. When and where to apply heat? High gas too early on and you risk the roast racing through the Maillard phase of the roast and rushing through post crack development. However, coming to your maximum gas application (decided on your roast plan) too late and you risk the coffee losing momentum and stalling either at the latter end of the Maillard phase or at first crack, severely impeding post crack development.
I don’t have many consciously-imposed rules when it comes to roasting. I roast intuitively, i.e. I apply the knowledge and theory that I have learned from those I have been fortunate enough to learn from and then kind of do whatever feels right in the moment with that bank of knowledge behind me. Two rules I do try to stick to consciously are:
1) A steadily declining rate of rise/change (RoR or RoC) is most desirable, and
2) Controlling the RoR/RoC through first crack is paramount.
Moisture being released from the bean is going to be cooler than the surface and air temperature. If the RoR crashes, you risk baking the acidity and delicate fruit/floral notes out of the coffee, in the desire to reach a desired end temperature/time. Either that or, pulling the coffee when desired might leave you with an underdeveloped roast.
I started on a low gas application of 2 and decided to turn the heat up to 3 about 20 seconds after the turning point. The roast started to take off, even more than I expected. About a minute later, I turned the heat down a quarter notch to 2.75. I was very conscious of giving the coffee enough heat, while ensuring that it didn’t race away from me. But after a short while I noticed the decline in RoR becoming far steeper than I wanted it to be – the roast was increasingly slowing down. I turned the heat back up to 3. I’m not usually in favor of this, I am very skeptical about turning the heat up and down during roasting. I prefer to raise the gas once (if at all) and then manage the roast by stepping off the gas in steady steps (the fewer the better, has been my experience). However, wanting to do this coffee justice and ensure that it made it through first crack and PCD successfully, I stepped the gas up slightly, back to 3. Wanting to mitigate any stalling at first crack, I turned the gas down to 2.5 about 10 degrees before first crack, and then immediately back up once first crack started to roll. My thinking here was to manage PCD without any stalling or racing. 40 seconds into first crack, I stepped off the heat again, to ensure I managed at least 1 minute of PCD. I managed just under a minute and dropped the coffee at 404 degree F.
I honestly have never tasted a coffee like this. I was so taken by the flavors hitting me that I couldn’t write them down fast enough! This coffee tastes overwhelming like a sweet, cinnamon sugar dusted apple pie. Not a little like a pie, not hints of various flavors that make up the impression of an apple pie. Nope, this was as close to drinking an apple pie as I can get without blending one and drinking that! Flavors of cinnamon, baked apple and baking spices were noted by everyone in the room. We also recorded notes of gingerbread muffin, hot buttered rum, spiced cider, white grape and an incredible sweetness akin to cotton candy.
I have roasted this coffee in a variety of ways with ‘failures’ and ‘successes’ on paper and not one of the roasts was anything other than a pleasure to cup. A coffee that tastes fairly amazing over a variety of roasts? Yes please! And so, brew method recommendations? If the coffee makes it off of the cupping table and is not consumed right where you stand, I can think of nothing but a rich round sweet espresso that becomes an apple pie pudding like cappuccino to start your morning off with a smile!
Another day, another amazing opportunity to enjoy delicious coffee processed in a way that is fairly new to me: anaerobic fermentation. Based on our initial cupping notes and our love for the Carbonic Maceration Crown Jewel from Tanzania, I was very excited to see how this coffee would taste.
It’s a short week here at The Crown, with Independence Day approaching rapidly, so this coffee was a little fresher than I’d typically prefer for brewing a pourover. To help mitigate this freshness, I poured slightly more water for the bloom, stirred gently, and allowed the bloom to go on for 40 seconds instead of my usual 30. I kept this long bloom consistent across all three brews, so if we were tasting freshness, at least we were consistently tasting freshness. This week I was curious to see if this coffee would perform better at any specific brew ratio. Would we prefer it as a stout, punchy, heavy coffee, or maybe a more drawn out, delicate, and floral brew? Only time (and dry coffee dose) would tell!
Keeping all other variables consistent to the best of my ability, I brewed one cup at a 1:15 ratio, one at 1:16, and one at 1:17. Our TDS readings fell in line when all was said and done, and I found some slight variances in extraction yields, but nothing major. All in all, the brewing process was very straightforward and predictable here, so it was time to taste the coffees. Lots and lots of positive notes from the team as we tasted the three brews side by side. Sweet notes like applesauce, maple syrup, sticky cinnamon buns, brown sugar, toffee, and cocoa butter laid a rich, velvety baseline this coffee, while notes of kiwi, peach, white grape, lemon, bing cherry, and apple lent the cup a complex, sparkling acidity! I would have been more than happy to drink any of the three ratios we brewed up, but when forced to choose, the 1:16 ratio won almost unanimously with our team. That being said, all three ratios had overwhelmingly positive notes, so if you have your own preferred ratio, this wonderful coffee from Costa Rica should delight you and anyone with whom you are generous enough to share a sip!
Costa Rica San Rafael Carlos Fernández Morera Anaerobic Fermentation Crown Jewel is sourced from a El Diamante, which is owned and operated by Carlos Fernández Morera and his family. El Diamante is a 14-acre farm located in San Rafael de San Ramón within the province of Alajuela, Costa Rica. Carlos and his family are members of Café de Altura de San Ramón Especial S.A. (Café de Altura), an association that was founded in 2004 and currently has more than 3500 members who receive technical support to increase the quality of their coffee and productivity on their farms. El Diamante is an example of cutting edge experimentation paying off for producers. The coffee is processed using an anaerobic fermentation process, which means the depulped coffee was fermented in an airtight tank with its own honey water. Temperature, brix, pH, time, and pressure are carefully controlled to enhance the coffee's flavors during the fermentation process. The results have been frequently recognized with top finishes in the Cup of Excellence auction in Costa Rica, including a fourth-place finish in 2017.