Beyond Juan Valdez: Los Cafeteros Espresso Series


Beyond Juan Valdez: Los Cafeteros Espresso Series

Posted on Monday, June 8, 2015 - 12:00pm By Michael Harwood

Fictional cafetero Juan Valdez and his trusty donkey Conchita are the touchstones of Colombian coffee for most Americans. As they iconically ambled through my first caffeinated memories, I remember being struck by the humanity and effort signified by the characters. Millions now share in this association as the result of an incredibly effective marketing campaign launched by Colombia's National Federation of Coffee Growers in the late-1950's. Meant to differentiate the country's primary agricultural export, the characters worked so well that Colombia now sells the second-most Coffea arabica in the world, behind only Brazil. Indeed, if you've ever tasted coffee, chances are good it was from Colombia.
Juan Valdez and Conchita.

Though initially introduced by an advertising icon, Colombia is a coffee-growing origin we at Ceremony have come to know and love. The small size of most Colombian farms allows for highly-detailed work, like ripe picking of berries and controlled washed processing and drying. This extra attention translates to increased sweetness and higher cup quality all around. Most Colombian smallholding-producers own less than five hectares of land, so they don't have to sacrifice quality by attempting to manufacture large quantities. With a manageable farm, each producer or co-op has great control over their trees, harvest, and processing, resulting in focused, articulate coffees. It doesn't hurt that most producers grow the Caturra cultivar - a sweet, sometimes bright cultivar of the Coffea arabica Bourbon line. In response to coffee leaf rust destroying crops, we're seeing many, if not most Colombian farms now growing a small section of the Colombia and/or Castillo cultivars. Gaitana, Cedro, and Vergel are no exception. These two arabica/canephora hybrids were developed by Colombia's CENICAFE to have a pleasing taste and to be disease resistant - important with rising temperatures and shifting climate patterns making coffeelands more susceptible to disease. We're still missing a critical piece though - without which specialty coffee wouldn't grow at all. Great land.

2.5 hectares of land

Colombia cradles some of the most coffee-arable land in the world. With plenty of sun and rain, nourishing soil, high altitudes, and moderate temperatures, Colombia has all the requisite climatic aspects to grow delicious specialty coffees. Since this South American country straddles the Equator, growing regions are tropical and allow for two harvests a year (as opposed to most coffeelands harvesting only once). The main harvest here is called "Principal", while a second, smaller harvest is called 'Mitaca'. Equatorial latitudes ensure that temperatures, even at higher elevations, stay comfortable, warm (~70F), and supportive of maturing coffee berries. Bordering both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, Colombia receives an average of 2,000mm of rainfall per year, which is critical for vegetative growth. The Andes Range bisects the country north-to-south with mountains and several active volcanoes. Over millennia, eruptions deposited mineral-rich ash about the topsoil, providing las cafeteras and their coffee plants a highly-organic, nourishing bed. Gaitana, Cedro, and Vergel all lie in the same lush area of south-central Colombia - and thus, each of these three farms/co-ops have the ideal general climatic conditions for producing specialty coffee.

The Departments of Tolima and Huila in Colombia

The distinction between these coffees mostly comes down to microclimate, which can be defined as "a local atmospheric zone where the climate differs from the surrounding area". At its core, Specialty coffee is based, at least in part, on this concept of microclimate. The core idea being that "special geographic microclimates produce beans with unique flavor profiles". Erna Knutsen used these words to define and coin the term "specialty coffees" back in 1978! With that in mind, take a look at the details of each coffee, think about the flavors and body you're getting, then imagine how a given terroir might be affecting your shot. What is the aroma/flavor/density like? How does this change our approach to brewing? Does a higher altitude or lower latitude mean anything in particular in this case? Does the freshness of the harvest matter?

Once you've pulled a few espressos, we'd love to continue the conversation online. Check us out on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, and let us know what recipes are working for you and what you're tasting. Holler at @CeremonyCoffee and your friends, using the hashtags #GaitanaSOE, #CedroSOE, and #VergelSOE!

We hope you enjoy the differences between these three amazing Colombian coffees. After tasting each of them, you'll never look at this special origin the same way again!

Co-Op - Gaitana
Producers - 50 local, small-holding farmers
Region - Department of Tolima
Harvest - Mitaca, Oct.-Nov. 2014
Altitude - 1800-1850masl
Cultivars - Caturra and Castillo
Process - Fully Washed and Sun-Dried under parabolic tents
Ceremony Recipe - 1:2 or 20g dose : 40g beverage weight in 25 seconds
Ceremony Notes - Cracker Jacks, Meyer lemon, and a long, coating finish in a syrupy, round shot.
Your Recipe - Let us know @CeremonyCoffee #GaitanaSOE
Your Notes - Let us know @CeremonyCoffee #GaitanaSOE

Farms - El Cedro and Nueva Zelandia
Producer - Jairo Quinayes
Region - Pitalito, Department of Huila
Harvest - Principal, March-April 2015
Altitude - 1700masl
Cultivars - Caturra and Colombia
Process - Fully Washed and Sun-Dried under parabolic tents
Ceremony Recipe - 1:1.5 or 20g dose : 30g beverage weight in 28 seconds
Ceremony Notes - Dried black currants, tonic water, and candied walnuts in a full, complex shot
Your Recipe - Let us know @CeremonyCoffee #CedroSOE
Your Notes - Let us know @CeremonyCoffee #CedroSOE

Farm - El Vergel
Producer - Robinson Roso
Region - Algeciras, Department of Huila
Harvest - Principal, March-April 2015
Altitude - 1800-1900masl
Cultivars - Caturra and Colombia
Process - Fully Washed and Sun-Dried under parabolic tents
Ceremony Recipe - 1:2.1 or 20g dose : 42g beverage weight in 30 seconds
Ceremony Notes - Black cherry soda, coconut macaroon, and Criollo cacao in a bright, clean shot
Your Recipe - Let us know @CeremonyCoffee #VergelSOE
Your Notes - Let us know @CeremonyCoffee #VergelSOE

Until next time, ¡Disfrute de un buen café! (Enjoy a good coffee!)