This delicious coffee reminds us of warm apple crumbles, roasted plums and S'mores with its dark chocolate finish. We think it's the best possible flavour profile for this time of year. In lighter roasts this bean has vibrant acidity like mandarins and juicy nectarines. Our aim with the final roast profile was to retain the fruity complexity while also showcasing the richness of the body and the biscuity sweetness. Tasting notes while we were developing the profile ranged from dark chocolate digestives to flapjacks to fruit crumble. It's pretty clear, this coffee is like a warm, satisfying dessert in a cup. We are serving Juanambú as our main espresso at Steampunk and it is tasting incredible served either black or in milk-based coffees.
We are also excited about this coffee because it comes to us via some interesting projects that are looking to redistribute profit further down the supply chain. It is no secret that the majority of the profit made from selling cups of coffee here in Europe is concentrated at the top end of the chain. The value added (and profit made) through roasting and sales of coffee primarily benefits countries that import rather than export coffee. This is certainly the case when it comes to commodity coffee and is often the case in specialty coffee, too.
We have purchased this coffee through Mercanta, a green merchant we have worked with over the years. They, in turn, are working with Pergamino, an interesting Colombian company, who rather than simply just exporting all of the best coffees, are roasting and selling them directly to consumers in Colombia through cafes they operate in Medellín. The fact that they are involved in promoting and nurturing a domestic specialty market is interesting and reminds us of conversations we had with a specialty roaster in Ethiopia who was (rightly) angry that all the best quality coffees grown there had to be exported and could not be enjoyed by the domestic market. Find out more about Pergamino here.
Let’s find out a bit more about this microlot and the supply chain from Mercanta (the following is information produced by Mercanta, just edited by us for sharing here).
This microlot was produced by 60 smallholder farmers from the area around Juanambú Canyon in Eastern Nariño, Colombia. The Department of Nariño is located in the southwest of Colombia, just above the equator and on the border with Ecuador. The mountainous region has excellent conditions both in terms of humidity and temperature and its location on the equatorial line provides a great angle of sun exposure for the extremely steep hills around the volcano.
Coffee is grown at altitudes that reach 2,200 metres, some of the highest elevations at which coffee is grown in the world. The high altitude of cultivation allows for a slow development of the coffee bean, giving the cup profile of Nariño its unique characteristics.
Most of the contributing farmers manage their own self-sufficient wet mills and patios (open or covered) for drying. Others may use rooftop elbas or covered beds. Every family does their own harvesting - usually with the help of neighbours. After the ripe red cherries are picked, they are pulped by passing them through a manual pulper at the family farm (usually located close to the main house). The waste from this process will be used later as a natural fertilizer for the coffee trees. Depending on the conditions, fermentation time can range between 12 to 48 hours. Some producers will add several layers of wet parchment over the course of a few days, which is thought to add complexity to the fermentation process and final cup profile. Luckily, Nariño is blessed with some of the best drying conditions in the country due to the micro-climate and high altitude of the region, providing lower relative humidity, more wind and more sunny days than other areas of the country.
Producers in this region are mostly small-holders, whose farms are often located in remote areas and who have traditionally found it difficult to break into markets for higher quality. The game changer came in 2010 and 2012, when two growers from the region of Buesaco (in northern Nariño) won the Colombian Cup of Excellence. This huge win made it clear to many growers from the region that their coffee had the potential to be sold as true specialty, and not with the meagre premiums they were receiving for certification schemes.
The supply chain
Inspired by this new opportunity, a small group of 17 growers got together and formed the first regional association, called Grupo Empresarial Buesaco. With the assistance of the local technical school, the group started to organise themselves in to a small operation with the aim of buying, warehousing and selling specialty coffee.
The association grew very quickly and soon became too big for the initial group, who decided last year to separate and start a new association, focused primarily in specialty. Today Alianza Café (the speciality off-shoot) is managed by six members of the Benavides family, who are committed to running the association with transparency and with the final goal of improving the income of the growers that participate in their programs. Although small in name, some 400 producers from across Northern Nariño participate in Alianza’s commercial activities every year. This particular lot hails from a small community of farmers who work in the area around Juanambú.
Pergamino Exporters (and Cafes)
Crucial to sustaining the speciality efforts of Alianza Café is the support of Mercanta’s partner in the region, Pergamino Exporters, who have begun to work with Alianza in order to help them achieve their goal of improved incomes for the producers. Pergamino has set up a structure where all the coffee from the association that scores above an 84 is purchased at a premium in accordance to the quality of the lot and the final price at which it is sold.
Pergamino has previously established similar projects with other small producer organizations in Antioquia, Huila and Cauca, all of which have been hugely successful in identifying high quality lots from small producers and helping producers place these coffees at market for a higher price. In this essential first stage of the quality improvement program, Pergamino is working with Alianza in order to better understand the profiles and quality range that the members produce. This involves cupping with the group frequently during the harvest season and also accepting samples into Pergamino’s lab in Antioquia and providing lots of feedback.
As you can see in the video, Pergamino are involved with the coffee from bean to cup and do not simply export all of the green coffee. They also roast some of the best lots for direct sales to consumers in Colombia and through their cafes.
Mercanta has been one of the first (if not the first) to engage with Pergamino on this new project, and the group is already investing a portion of the initial premiums they have received. Both Mercanta and Pergamino believe that specialty coffee serves a special purpose in making sure this region is prosperous and its future is one of peace and not of recurrent conflict.
Travel to Colombia (virtually) with us!
This coffee is part of our very first Book Club collaboration: Steampunk x Mainstreet. The idea behind the collaboration is to explore origins through their coffee and literature.
This month we will be enjoying the fantastic book Fish soup by Colombian author Margarita Garcia Robayo.
We will be chatting more about the coffee at the virtual book club discussion that we are hosting alongside Mainstreet Trading and wish to foster an environment of collaboration between independent businesses.