Thirty-five years ago, Esperanza Cabrera and her husband José Cabrera Burbano started planting coffee seeds on their first farm, Finca Vista Hermosa high up in La Florita, in the Colombian region of Nariño. They also planted a crop of Fique, the material used to make jute coffee bags like the one on this card.
When her husband died, Esperanza and her children continued their work, now split across two farms with the addition of Finca La Carolina, where this coffee was grown. This harvest is the first time that Esperanza has sold her coffee as a micro-lot.
She processes her coffee in the traditional way: washing it, then fermenting it for fifteen hours and then drying in the sun on a patio for eleven days. The area around La Florita is known for its low humidity and cold weather, both of which help slow the drying times and making it easier to maintain the stability of the green coffee.
Esperanza works with the cooperative Café Occidente, which provides agricultural support and helps her find specialty buyers.
The cooperative was founded in 1977 with only fifty members and now has over twenty purchasing points and eight farm supply stores in twelve municipalities for around 1,600 members. Azahar, one of our coffee export partners in Colombia, works with Café Occidente to continue supporting sustainable coffee farms in the area.
We’re proud to support and work alongside them and share Esperanza’s first micro-lot with you as the first Brew Crew in 2017!
Castillo steps out
This is the first time we’ve featured a harvest that’s entirely Castillo. It’s a varietal that we usually see in a mixed lot with Caturra, which is one of the two varietals which were crossed to create this hybrid.
Castillo is a more disease-resistant plant with much higher yields, created by Federación Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia’s research arm CENICAFE as a hybrid of Caturra and Timor varietals, but which remains similar enough to Caturra to have a the same flavour profile.
Initial suspicions of Colombian farmers following its release in 2005, together with some poor-quality first crops earned Castillo a bad reputation.
Thanks to some very high-quality crops, this reputation is now being challenged, and we’re hopeful that the industry’s desire for flavour-rich, high-quality crops can be met with by a varietal that also gives farmers security against the coffee rust fungus.
The US Speciality Coffee Association has led blind sensory and cupping tests which showed Castillo and Caturra producing similar scores, though with slightly different flavours.
They found that the geographic location and farming techniques had a greater impact on score than the varietal:
For farmers choosing between Castillo and Caturra, what they choose to plant may have less impact on cup quality than where and how they grow it. The data from both the cupping panels at Intelligentsia and the sensory analysis at KSU show that cup scores are more strongly correlated with environment and management than with variety.
In other words, growers may do more to increase cup quality through more active soil and shade management, careful harvesting, and improved post-harvest practices than through the intentional selection of one of these varieties over another.
The farms in the trial that produced exceptional Castillo samples also produced exceptional Caturra samples, meaning that high quality was more a function of where farmers are planting coffee and how they are managing it than which variety they are planting.
Some environments are simply better suited than others to produce high cup quality. The problem is that few growers know whether they are in one of those agroecological niches or not. We commonly use elevation as a proxy for quality potential, but are many other environmental variables that affect the suitability of a particular growing environment for high-quality coffee.