Red Fox Origin & Shipping Update: April 2020

Hi friends,

We want to give you an update on how our supply chains are looking and make sure you feel safe and looped in as things develop. We’re seeing a lot of speculation and fear out there, but our supply chains are unique and we want you to feel confident about buying coffee from Red Fox. Below is a rundown of our current shipment, harvest, and spot positions. If you have any questions or want to have a conversation about forecasting or managing your position over this volatile period, we are here to help. 

To preface, we don’t want to give you a superficial update: we want to share everything we know and make sure that you feel empowered to make decisions and communicate openly with us as we will continue to do with you. Once again, we are always, always here—please get in touch, even if you just want to check in.

Supply, Demand, & The ‘C’ Market 

Red Fox has always been able to operate outside of the scope of the C market, which is an antiquated measure of a coffee’s real value. Anything short of a massive rally would allow us to maintain continuity in our approach. 

That said, we need to be prepared for every possible outcome. We’ve seen a steady climb in the ‘C’ over the past month+ settling in just over $1.20 as trading against May comes to a close next week. The current global economic climate doesn’t necessarily lend itself to confidence on either side of the coin. The slowdown could grind demand to a halt and bring the market back down below $1. Any potential port closures, or container shortages which are a larger concern at the moment, could cause the market to rally and potentially to levels we haven’t seen in over a decade due to an eventual lack of supply.  

The indication we’ve received from our partners in Peru, Colombia and Rwanda is positive so far; the origins with their harvests on deck. They will be able to pick and process coffee business-as-usual as of now. Will Brasil be able to do the same? Will the medium to large producers in Colombia? Labor is very much an issue for the imminent harvests. We’ll keep you all apprised of the situation in the months to come.

Mexico

Update from origin: 

The Mexican government considers coffee to be a priority product, so dry mills are allowed to continue operations during the shutdown. Both of the dry mills we work with are taking all of the necessary precautions to stay safe. One of the mills we work with is operating with fewer workers. Shipping lines are accepting bookings and we expect to have the first containers afloat by the end of April and available in the US the second or third week of May. 

However, we are now getting word that several indigenous communities outside of the Oaxaca City capital, particularly in the Mixteca region, are proactively closing roads in order to prevent the spread of the virus and requiring anyone to apply for a special permission ahead of time to be on the road. This will affect a small percentage of coffee that is still stored in producers’ houses and hasn’t been brought down to the central warehouses and dry mills. We hope to see that opened up by the end of the month to be able to mill and ship the 50-75 bags we had planned to purchase from these communities that weren’t delivered yet.

Available lots:

We have a couple lots from the 2019 harvest in inventory for anyone that is looking for either a conventional or fully certified blend component. These lots are holding up well and priced to move.

Ethiopia 

Update from origin: 

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has been cautious with his mandates. As 80+% of the population relies on agriculture, and daily wages from it, a complete shutdown remains an impossibility. Roads to the countryside are closed to all other than trucks related directly to business. Government offices and public transport are closed officially. Large gatherings are forbidden.  Addis Ababa itself is essentially locked down.  

ECX remains open as of last week and has implemented a rotating system of buyers to maintain safe distances between people. This, coupled with the new minimum price floors instituted a couple of months ago, is causing purchases delays and the general movement of coffee between warehouses.  

Dry mills are operating at a slow clip. Shipments to Djibouti are also moving at a slower clip due to the port’s pace. 

Our dry mill and export partners are maintaining the safest, cleanest environments they at the moment, hence the slow down within.  

Available lots:

We have multiple containers of top Agaro coffees at both The Annex CA and Continental Terminals NJ SPOT now. Our final Guji, Yirgacheffe, and Sidamo shipments are somewhere between just afloat, Djibouti, and the PSS approval stage. Expect arrivals from early May through June.

Kenya

Update from origin: 

A nationwide mandated curfew is in effect from 7pm to 5am daily. The Kenyan government has effectively stopped all movement in and out of Nairobi with the exception of cargo. Coffee is still moving to Port of Mombasa which maintains a normal schedule with shipping lines. Food grade containers continue to be scarce but still obtainable.  

Available lots: 

Our Kenyan shipments have gone afloat as of two weeks ago and are due into port early May.  Our unallocated offerings will be limited. For all those that committed to forward contracts, we have you covered and samples will be available in the next couple weeks. These lots are stunning and we’re thankful to all those who committed and made it possible for us to make a return to Kenya. Anyone who is interested, get in touch ASAP.

Guatemala

Update from origin: 

Guatemala continues to be in lockdown with no civilian travel allowed between departments and curfew extended to April 20th. There are heavy fines for anyone caught without a mask. All international and domestic flights are suspended until April 30th. 

What this means is that there is a real migrant labor shortage. Certain regions like Huehuetenango, which was at peak harvest when COVID hit, are seeing as much as 20-30+% of the crop rotting on the trees for lack of pickers. Mills are running at much smaller capacity due to labor shortages as well. Though coffee is deemed an essential product and therefore allowed transit, individual communities are putting up roadblocks and not allowing any traffic through. This has slowed everything down.

Back in Guatemala City, the dry mills are operating at near normal capacity. Although there have been some minor lags with having enough shipping containers available, the coffees are mostly moving quickly once they’re milled. 

All that said, despite some pretty big obstacles this harvest, we expect to see Guatemala arriving in late May.

Available lots:

If you haven’t already, now’s the time to forward book.   

Colombia

Update from origin: 

The Colombian government has extended their strict stay-at-home mandate through April 27th as of the end of March. Coffee production, milling and exporting have been deemed essential business and exempted from the order.  

Our milling and export partners are working at a reduced 50% capacity due to curfews forcing them to go home earlier in the evening than normal.  

Transportation complications are reaching critical mass as availability decreases despite increased rates. Conditions are deteriorating for drivers as there are no longer stops to eat and to rest.  

Ports are generally open for business as usual though some have limited hours for loading and unloading to morning time.

A lack of pickers will have significant impact on the medium to large farms.  

Click here to read specific updates from groups we work with. 

Available lots:

We have a diverse array of Colombia spot coffee in Continental, the Annex, and DuPuy Houston from some of our longest-standing relationships in Inza and Narino. Lots range from Producer IDs perfect for single origin menu spots to nuanced yet approachable blend-ready lots that go through the same rigorous QC process. They’re at their peak now and will hold their own for months to come—they’re a great option no matter where you’re located or what menu spots you need to fill. 

Peru

Update from origin: 

The Peruvian government declared a National Emergency beginning March 15th, 2020 with measures including a nationwide quarantine and the closure of regional and international borders. These measures are currently scheduled to continue through April 26th, though the ports and shipping lines are not affected and have been operating continuously. Initially, the only agricultural activities permitted were those related to the provision of food, but, as of April 3rd,  the government exempted all agricultural activities—including the the harvest, transport, collection and processing of coffee—from quarantine restrictions, so long as each individual obtains a certificate from their local/community authorities accrediting that they in fact work in agriculture. 

In practice most everyone in the coffee sector, including producers, day laborers, those working for cooperatives and associations, local warehouses, and dry mill operators, has been abiding by the quarantine restrictions, even though they are exempt. In some cases this is because of their own interest in preventing the spread of the virus. Another factor is the “rondas campesinas,” local peasant patrol groups that began in the late 1970s in northern Peru to protect rural communities against theft and that continue to operate autonomously in many communities across the country. The rondas (in the areas where they operate), and other rural self defense committees across Peru with similar enforcement rights, are closing local roads and prohibiting non-residents from entering to keep the virus from spreading to their communities—most of which do not have access to medical services. 

What does this mean for the Red Fox Supply Chain?

While the harvest season has begun on lower altitude farms in the north of Peru and the Selva Central, the producers we purchase coffee from are still at least a month away from the harvest. 60% of Red Fox suppliers are in Southern Peru, where the harvest begins in June at the lower altitudes, and goes through October on the highest altitude farms. Even in the North, where the harvest came early this year, the majority of the farms we are sourcing from are located at over 1600 meters above sea level and the harvest is not expected to begin until the second half of May. 

There is some concern in Peru about labor for this harvest season. Many producers rely on migrant workers to help with the harvest, and most people suspect that the regional borders will be closed well past the end of the quarantine period. We do not expect our suppliers to be particularly affected by this. Red Fox does purchase coffee from some producers who hire migrant workers, but the vast majority are smallholders whose farms are family operated. In the South of Peru, the concept of “Ayni” is common. This Andean work system practiced by Quechua and Aymara cultures is founded on the principle of reciprocity, and community members take turns helping each other to harvest and perform other farming activities rather than hiring outside help.

March and April are usually the months when our suppliers renew their Fair Trade and Organic certifications, and all of the certifiers have suspended their audits for recertification. The producer organizations we work with have been in communication with their respective certifiers to reschedule their inspections and/or renew their certifications virtually, and anticipate they will have their certifications in place by the time we begin shipping coffee in September. 

We are in regular communication with all of our core suppliers in Peru, and they share the same concerns and feelings of uncertainty that many of us do. They worry about demand, prices, financing, and contracts. We are reiterating our commitment to work together, to purchase as much coffee as we can this coming season, and to continue to pay the highest prices possible for their coffees. 

While our operations in Peru have not very been affected by this pandemic thus far, our sourcing team and our suppliers will no doubt need to be agile and creative as we navigate this coming season. 

Click here to read specific updates from groups we work with.

Available lots:

We only have a handful of lots left in NJ, but these are some of the nicest Producer ID lots we saw all harvest, many of which are from the Valle Inca group in Calca. We have some stunning lots available left in the Annex and are offering a flat palletized rate country-wide out of that warehouse to support widening your selection process. We have lots available from Cajamarca to Puno and all our major producing partner groups: Coopbam, Santuario, Valle Inca, Aromas del Valle, Pangoa, Cecovasa, Huadquina, and more.  Please get in touch if you would like support in narrowing our selection and making recommendations.

Rwanda

Update from origin: 

The government in Rwanda instituted a nationwide lockdown on March 21st, one of the earliest in East Africa. International borders are closed, except to goods and cargo, and internal travel is not permitted. Only essential shops and markets are allowed to operate. Coffee is considered an essential commodity, and washing stations and dry mills are operational with strict social distancing and sanitation measures in place. The peak of the harvest is approaching and cherry picking continues, albeit at a slower pace. Farmers have delivered less than 15% of their cherry to date meaning May will be the peak of harvest. We hope to see the first samples from Kanzu in early June. 

Available lots:

With only a bag or two uncommitted, reach out to your rep if you have interest. We may be able to work some magic, especially if you’re open to pulling from the Annex.

Ecuador

Update from origin: 

The Ecuadorian government has put in place a strict nationwide quarantine. There is no financial help at this time, except for small loans. Agricultural production has been deemed essential businesses, but cargo loads have limited movement around the country. The borders have been closed, with only the exception being cargo trucks. 

This year’s harvest hasn’t begun yet, although it is expected to begin a little earlier this year. Harvest in the Pichincha area is estimated to start in May and peak in early July, about three weeks earlier than last year. It is difficult to predict the available labor once harvest begins, but with so many left unemployed from the crisis, local leader Arnaud Causse believes there won’t be a shortage of labor. He is reporting that farms are looking good and that projects on the land are continuing as planned. 

Available lots: 

We have just a few lots and a few bags left to offer from this season’s harvest but still have some nice offerings from core producers Hernan Zuniga, Arnaud Causse, and Gilda Carrascal. 

To get in touch, email us at info@redfoxcoffeemerchants.com. We are always here and happy to help and support you in any way we can. 

Pluma de Oaxaca: An Origin Reborn

The deeper we get into the world of Mexican coffee, the more excited we get, and those of you who have tasted the coffees or met some of our producing partners know why. Right now, we’re looking at Pluma, a subregion of Oaxaca that brings with it an incredible history along with incredible coffees. Boasting the singular Pluma Hidalgo variety, an offshoot of Typica, at elevations as high as 2200 masl, Pluma coffees bring with them a wide range of flavors: distinct dried fruit notes like raisin and prune, saturated sweetness like brown sugar, richness like drinking chocolate, complex malic acidity like green apples, and even florals like amber honey and peach blossom. Even though many of these coffees are still on the water, they’re going fast—if you’re interested in picking some up, get in touch now.

Over the last few decades, Pluma’s coffee production has evolved dramatically, shifting from the hands of large estates into the hands of local smallholder farmers. Nowadays, Pluma is almost exclusively the province of smallholders with farms averaging just 1-2 hectares, but going back 80 to 100 years, the coffee production landscape looked completely different. Huge, lower-middle elevation coffee plantations ruled the territory, buying the higher-grown smallholder coffees and blending them into their own bulk, undifferentiated despite their superior quality. In the late 80s and early 90s, Pluma gained a widespread reputation for producing quality coffee. However, a combination of factors including low market pricing and coffee leaf rust (known as Roya), saw estate holders abandoning their farms and moving on to more lucrative ventures.

Once the estates were decimated, local smallholder farmers continued farming—mostly out of necessity, though their operations were no more fiscally sound than the estates had been. Pluma’s smallholders struggled to make enough to thrive and reinvest in their farms, and many have lived on the brink of giving up and following in the footsteps of the estate holders before them. Without access to a differentiated market where customers are willing to pay viable prices, there hasn’t always been a real value proposition for Pluma’s producers to keep growing coffee.

Over the last couple years, we’ve seen this start to shift. Being able to introduce these coffees to a group of buyers willing and ready to purchase them at a viable price has started to build trust in this region and reinvigorate local farmers, who are beginning to understand that their coffee is worth more than they’ve always been told. They are ready to be able to dictate their own futures and gain access to new pathways to finance and reinvest in their own success.

We could not be more excited about the future of Pluma. This year, we’ve more than doubled the amount of coffee we’re bringing in from Oaxaca, and still, almost all of it was sold out before it even made it to the States. If you’re interested in putting these coffees on your menu, get in touch now, because they’re going fast.

New Fruits You Should Try: Nariño and Inzá

If you haven’t bought Colombian coffee from us yet, the time is now. We have delicious, versatile coffees from Nariño and Inzá on both coasts that shine on the cupping table and absolutely stun at production roast levels. Just as important as their quality, Colombia is home to some of our oldest relationships, and these coffees represent the absolute best of what community leaders can do from a local to a global scale, in terms of both impact and quality.

Our relationship with Inzá-based ASORCAFE dates back to 2006, when Geovanny Liscano farmed just one hectare of land with his wife and father. The coffee was superb and the infrastructure was humble, but over time, Geovanny reinvested profits back into the land, bought surrounding plots, and built up processing infrastructure into a thing of beauty for the whole community. ASORCAFE is incredibly well-organized with a laser-focus on ethics; they don’t allow corruption in their ranks, and this value shows in the cup. The coffees they produce are some of the most complete coffees in the country, bringing to the table a succulent sweetness, a juicy, ciderlike mouthfeel, and bright, clean acidity that can be malic, pear-like, and even kiwi-like. They’re perfectly structured and essentially flawless.

In Nariño, we’ve been inspired since 2007 by FUDAM leaders Raquel and Jeremias Lasso. With soaring altitudes and ideal varieties, the quality was always stunning; even more importantly, Raquel is an innovative leader that inspires the best work from her community and gives it in return. More recently, she’s formed a group within FUDAM called Manos de Mujeres, focused on the empowerment of women growers within her community, with projects ensuring they see a fair 50% of farm profits and a goal of opening an organic fertilizer facility. Currently in the process of becoming certified Fair Trade Organic, FUDAM is a perfect example of how community investment can and should represent an investment in quality. Flavor-wise, we see Nariño as the proverbial fruit basket: the best lots run the gamut from ripe, succulent stone fruits on the yellow flesh side (peach, apricot, nectarine) to tart, refreshing white grape and Granny Smith to perfectly sweet citrus of the most coveted varieties (tangerine, satsuma, and even sweet lime).

We have a ton of history with these coffees, and we want you to as well. Flavor profiles are diverse, so get in touch and we’ll help you find the perfect coffee for your menu.

Three Forests: The Guji Uraga Story

At some of Ethiopia’s most extreme altitudes lies Guji’s Uraga region, a dense, mountainous forest that spans almost a thousand miles. Within this huge forest lie three smaller forests, and from these three forests—Yabitu Koba, Larcho Torka, and Harsu Haro—come some of the most extraordinary and sought-after coffees on our menu. These coffees are coming in soon, with our first containers having arrived, and they’ll go fast, so if you’re interested, get in touch.

Despite the incredible quality found in Guji Uraga, you wouldn’t have found these coffees on the market ten years ago—at least, not as Guji. Back then, Guji coffees lived under the Sidamo subhead, and the stellar coffees of Guji Uraga were trucked across the border into Yirgacheffe, where they could find a slightly higher price due to better name recognition. In 2010, Aleco tasted these coffees and recognized that they were unique, second to none, and worthy of differentiation. Now, eight years later, the three forests themselves and the distinct coffees within them deserve their own differentiation.

In Southwest Uraga lies the smaller Ugo Begne forest and Yabitu Koba village, where the Hana Asrat washing station produces a truly singular coffee. Managed by lifelong coffee trader Feku Jebril, Yabitu Koba brings with it incredibly ripe red fruits, blazing acidity, and classic Ethiopian florals like bergamot and jasmine. Originally hailing from Dilla, Gedeo’s capital, Feku sold the huge wet mill he used to own in order to move deeper into the forest, managing coffee production at Yabitu Koba with a laser focus on quality.

Heading northeast towards the center of Uraga, sky-high at 2510 masl, lies Larcho Torka forest. Managed by Feku’s brother Abdi Jebril, also a lifelong coffee trader, Larcho Torka coffee brings with it elegant flavors of candied lilac, a balanced lemonade acidity and dense, sugared sweetness. Abdi’s work at Larcho Torka is characterized by the same quality focus as Feku’s.

Towards Northeast Uraga lies the smaller Bire forest, a newer producing area where the coffee trees are young, only four to six years old. High up in the mountains at 2300 masl lies the Harsu Haro washing station, producing a coffee that offers the dense sweetness of raspberry and currants and the ripe, balanced acidity of clementine and yellow peach.

In all three forests, absolutely meticulous processing puts its signature on these coffees: first, they pass through McKinnon depulpers, then move into washing channels where they lose the rest of their mucilage. They move into soaking tanks for another 12 hours overnight, and in the morning, they’re laid on drying beds for eight to ten days.

The next step is key to the incredible shelf-life of Guji Uraga forest coffees: after drying, they move into the warehouse and rest for a week after drying to condition and stabilize. After that, the washing station teams hand-sort through the parchment, selecting only the cleanest coffee. Because of their incredible potential, consistently realized through meticulous processing, Guji Uraga Forest coffees not only come in sparkling, they continue to bloom and get even better over the course of the year. In coffee, there are two ways to do business: produce the most coffee, or produce the best, and Yabitu Koba, Larcho Torka, and Harsu Haro produce the best. These coffees will be here before you know it, so get in touch.

Newsletter: Ethiopia Agaro 2019

Agaro’s Back and it’s Better than Ever

It’s time to get excited about Ethiopia, and right now it’s all about the coffees we have coming in from Agaro—not just because they taste amazing, but also because they’ll be here soon, first of all our Ethiopian offerings.
Agaro coffees have always formed a core of the Red Fox menu, but our relationship with Agaro extends back far before Red Fox was born. Back in 2009 when Aleco first traveled to meet the Yukro, Duromina, and Nano Challa cooperatives, their coffees were flowing into the marketplace undifferentiated and undervalued. Once USAID’s Technoserve project, which focused on improving African coffee farmers’ lives by helping them get better prices for their coffee, established these washing stations, Aleco saw the unique character of these coffees and invested in developing relationships with their producers, which have grown stronger to this day. Two years ago, we were excited to welcome Kolla Bolcha, a newer cooperative neighboring the Biftu Gudina cooperative, into the Agaro family. All of these coops live under the umbrella of the Kata Muduga cooperative union, whose leadership makes all these coffees possible.
This is an especially exciting year for Nano Challa and it’s new sibling mill, Nano Genji. The members of Nano Challa have historically produced one of the most, if not the most, coveted coffees in all of Western Ethiopia. Doing such a great job with production & process has lead to receiving tremendous premiums, swelling membership to a level that pushed their capacity as far as it could go. This year, they opened a new facility a few miles away with brand new Penagos equipment along with dozens of drying beds to accommodate their growing membership.
While these coffees all hail from the same region, the Agaro portfolio offers an incredibly diverse array of flavors. At their most iconic, Nano Challa and Nano Genji bring an intense, lively sweetness like candied ginger and a sparkling, champagne-like finish, whereas Kolla Bolcha is perfectly complete bringing ripe red fruit character (think cherry, currant, etc), a heavy cola sweetness with a lustrous, honeyed mouthfeel. Our Yukro offerings are juicy and refreshingly tart like currants, both red and black, while Duromina offers ripe, sultry melon and apricot sweetness tied together by vibrant Meyer lemon acidity.
These coffees are special, and we want you to try them. We’ve worked together with Asnake and Efrem, Kata Muduga’s leadership, for ten years now, which affords Red Fox first right to lot selection. With mighty effort from our strategic trade partners in Addis, we ship these lots first as well—so, look for the first Ethiopian containers arriving on the east coast March 15 and on the west coast just a few weeks later. Get in touch with your contact over here, or reach out to info@redfoxcoffeemerchants.com to book some!

Newsletter: Ethiopia Guji Uraga

We all know the highest grown coffees at altitude are the last to ripen, meaning they’re most often last in the queue at the dry mill, and they’re the last to ship. In the case of Ethiopia, they are also the coffees that need some extra time to compose themselves and shine in the cup. After a handful of years experience with Uraga coffees, my personal favorite area in Southern Ethiopia, I am confident that this is essentially fact.

This season’s Yabitu Koba and Layo Teraga out-turns prove that. It’s been just over a month since they arrived into the Port of New Jersey, and these coffees are beginning to reveal themselves. The journey from the southern interior of Ethiopia to Addis to Djibouti, up the Red Sea and across the Mediterranean, finally traversing the Atlantic is an arduous one. It stresses the coffee. In the case of these higher altitude coffees, I think they become tight and need time in the warehouses to acclimate. Let’s say that they’re now getting comfortable in their new surroundings.

Our Uraga lots typically hit their peak flavor potential fall through winter and we’re tasting the onset of that concept just now. Some of my favorite emails of the year are those I receive from roasters in Jan/Feb, when I’m selecting new crop lots in Addis, telling me that Yabitu is better than it’s been all season.

Don’t miss out on top lots that will carry you safely through winter until new crop arrives next spring.

We’ve made allocations of all three of today’s offerings in both Continental Terminals NJ and The Annex CA.

OFFER
*units are available as 60 kg grain pro lined jute bags.
*all units are now SPOT The Annex CA/Continental Terminals NJ

Yabitu Koba #728 FTO fragrance: spice (clove, allspice), ripe plum — cup profile: fresh blueberry, root beer, pear, cherry tomato, cider-like mouthfeel — 88/89 points.

Yabitu Koba #729 FTO fragrance: stewed peach, wildflower honey — cup profile: crisp and refreshing malic acidity, white pineapple, rhubarb, fresh milk, cacao nibs — 90 points.

Layo Teraga: fragrance: peach, brulee’d sugar — cup profile: white grape juice, meyer lemon, refreshing/piquant acidic character, almost ethereal cleanliness in the finish, hints of macadamia in the aftertaste — 88/89 points.

Cheers,

Aleco

Newsletter: Secure Source: Rwanda

Rwanda makes up a smaller portion of the total volume of coffee that we buy at Red Fox, but in many ways it represents best the potential for the work that we do as specialty coffee buyers. First, there is the coffee itself: nearly 100% heirloom Bourbon, grown in the volcanic soil of Rwanda’s abundant hills. Elevation across the country ranges from 1,500 to 2,000+ masl, and rainfall is ideal for coffee cultivation. The cup profiles in Rwanda are unique and varied, with saturated sweetness and full-bodied mouthfeel, as well as complexity, brilliant acidity, and vibrant fruit. And the fully-washed, centralized processing in Rwanda is meticulous, some of the best of any origin we work in.

But the story of coffee in Rwanda was not always so. When the reshaping of Rwanda’s coffee sector began in 2000, only six years after the utter devastation of the genocide, 90% of Rwanda’s coffee crop was classified as low-quality ‘ordinary’ coffee.’ There were hardly any centralized processing stations in the country and almost no washed coffee was produced at all. The history of coffee cultivation in Rwanda, inextricably linked to colonial policies from the 1930s, included enforced planting of coffee, restricted cherry prices, high taxes on exports, and tight control over who could buy and sell coffee within the country. After the genocide, the government lifted restrictions on trade and on farmers, and then began a sustained and focused effort to develop a high-quality, specialty coffee market in Rwanda.

In a collaborative effort, donor-funded NGOs, like PEARL and later SPREAD, formed and trained cooperatives, supported the building of hundreds of new washing stations throughout the country, invested in training and technical assistance for farmers, agronomists, cuppers, and quality control professionals. These long-term investments across the supply chain in Rwanda dramatically increased the supply of quality coffee in the country. Demand for high-quality Rwandan coffee has increased globally, farmers have access to higher prices for the fruits of their labor, and many skilled jobs have been created throughout the supply chain, from accountants and managers at washing stations, to cuppers, agronomists, quality control personnel, and positions in dry milling and export.

There are still challenges, of course. Washing stations are costly to operate and often struggle to remain solvent. Government regulation over cherry prices can be destabilizing year to year for washing station owners, millers, and exporters. But coffee in Rwanda has come a long way, and we are glad to have a small role in that process. Quality continues to improve and the coffees are beautiful, stable, and a welcome addition to seasonal coffee menus everywhere. Our Rwandan coffees arrive to the US in the late summer and early fall.

We’d like to shed some light on what’s happening with each of our projects. You’ll find rough harvest and shipping timelines, price ranges, and flavor profiles for each region below.

Nyamasheke District, Western Province – Kanzu

Aleco first set his heart on coffee from Kanzu at Rwanda’s Golden Cup in 2007. The coffee came in fourth in the competition, but the sweetness and profile blew him away, and he set off to go about buying it. At the time, the washing station’s owner struggled to stay in operation from year to year, and buying coffee from Kanzu in the subsequent years was a rollercoaster. In 2012, the washing station was purchased by C. Dorman and for the past five years they have made investments in infrastructure, trained farmers on agronomic best practices, and improved quality control. It’s a well-run operation and the quality of the coffee is superb. Elevation at the washing station is 1,900 masl, and most of the coffee is grown on the steep hills above, where the high elevation and cool climate slow down the cherry ripening and make for very dense fruit. Lots are separated by week through the harvest season and we cup each separation to select the top lots. Kanzu is our longest-standing relationship in Rwanda.

Peak Harvest Season: April – June
Shipping Timeline: July – September
Dry Mill Location: Rusizi, Western Province (5,000 ft)
Flavor Profile: asian pear, blackcurrant, concord grape, honey, date syrup, fresh cream

Nyamasheke District, Western Province – Gatare

The Gatare washing station is just a few ridges beyond Kanzu, also in the Nyamasheke district, which lies between Lake Kivu to the west and the vast Nyungwe Forest National Park to the south and east. It began operating in 2003, when it was one of just a handful of washing stations processing fully-washed, speciality coffee in the country. Elevation at the mill is 1,765 masl and they receive cherry from upwards of 2,000 farmers from the surrounding hills. Red Fox bought coffee from Gatare for the first time last year and the incredible floral characteristics, layers of sweet stone fruit, muscovado sugar, and gingerbread won us over immediately. The washing station has the capacity to process a large volume of coffee and we hope to see our relationship grow here.

Peak Harvest Season: April – June
Shipping Timeline: July – September
Dry Mill Location: Kigali City, Kigali Province (5,000 ft)
Flavor Profile: plum, peach, brown sugar, candied ginger, orange peel, fine cacao, honeysuckle

Nyamagabe District, Southern Province – Kibirizi

Our Kibirizi lots hail from the Nyamagabe district in the southwest of Rwanda, which lies between Cyangugu and Butare, east of the Nyungwe Forest. Here the landscape opens up into seemingly endless dome-shaped hills, nearly every square foot terraced and cultivated. Coffee production is only recently becoming as widespread here as in the Western District, but it is growing quickly. This washing station was built in 2016 and last year was its first year in operation. Immaculate and Francine, the washing station’s owners, have also planted over 20,000 coffee trees of their own, some of which are not yet producing fruit. This season, they bought cherry from around 500 farmers in the region and doubled their production over last year. In the cup, the Kibirizi profile is full of intensity with fresh and dried red fruits, bright kiwi and lime acidity, and elegant hibiscus floral notes.

Peak Harvest Season: March – May
Shipping Timeline: July – September
Dry Mill Location: Kigali City, Kigali Province (5,000 ft)
Flavor Profile: red fruit – dried cherry, cranberry, cane sugar, crème brulee, hibiscus

Cheers,

Julia

 

Newsletter: Secure Source: Peru

Peru is our fastest-growing origin in terms of project development and coffee procurement, and it’s what we think about when we think of the future of Red Fox. As of July 2017, we are now operating out of a fully-functional cupping laboratory in Miraflores, Lima. And in addition to our Quality Director for Peru, Tibed Yujra, we’ve recently brought on Ali Newcomb to run the operation as Gerente General. We’re looking forward to hosting any and all of you at our new Lima lab for a cupping. We can also facilitate field trips out to the many different regions from which we are sourcing. A new chapter for Red Fox has begun!

My first ventures into the Andean interior of Peru as a coffee buyer were in the south, almost a decade ago. Most other buyers seemed to be focusing on the more accessible regions of the north — Jaen, San Ignacio, Moyabamba, and beyond. Naturally, I wanted to head in the opposite direction. So I set off south, to the Sandia Valley of Puno, which remains our largest source of quality coffee in Peru to this day. When Red Fox started, we trekked up from Puno into the La Convencion and Yanatile valleys of Peru to discover new regions. As of last year, we made the decision to buy coffee in the north as well, albeit in regions and with cooperatives that have yet to be accessed by other buyers. The Alto Mayo Protected Preserve and the deep interior of Cajamarca are where we begin that adventure.

We’d like to shed some light on what’s happening with each of our projects and on the producer groups we’re currently partnered with. You’ll find rough harvest and shipping timelines, price ranges, and flavor profiles for each region below.

PUNO — Cecovasa

The Cecovasa Coop in the Sandia Valley of Puno remains the largest source of coffee in Peru for Red Fox. We expect anywhere from 40-60% of our total purchase volume to come from the now illustrious Tupac Amaru, Inambari, San Isidro, San Jorge, Charuyo, and San Ignacio cooperatives. Coffees from this region are the ones that have changed people’s minds about the potential of Peruvian coffee, potential that will soon rival Colombia in terms of quality in South America. Not only are floral, Ethiopia-like producer lots from Wilson Sucaticona, Pablo Mamani, Juan Quilla Laura, and Ciriaco Quispe turning heads, but so is the sheer longevity of coop and bulk lots from across the valley, like the Aprocafe Coop lot I’m sipping on as I write this. These are not your grandparents’ Perus of yesteryear that were a roll of the dice in terms of arrival quality. These are coffees that last, like the most solid Guatemalans and Ecuadors.

Peak Harvest Season: August – October
Shipping Timeline: September – December
Dry Mill Location: Juliaca, Puno (12,500 ft)
Flavor Profile: red apple, asian pear, red currant, dark honey, bittersweet cacao, black walnut

CUSCO — Incahuasi

My first adventure into the Incahuasi Valley was in the summer of 2006. It was a trek, almost 12 hours from the city of Cusco. Straddling the border with Ayacucho, which is now also producing coffee under the Incahuasi cooperative umbrella, the valley feels hidden and very off the beaten path. The potential for top quality on both sides of the border is undeniable. There’s as large a volume of 2,000 masl coffee production out here as I’ve seen anywhere on the globe. The cooperative leadership is open-minded and progressive, and since we’ve started working together we’ve seen annual improvements in drying, storage, and transport. Incahuasi has become a model relationship for us. Aromatics are intensely sweet, reminiscent of raw honey, ripe mango and baked cherry. Cup profiles in the valley demonstrate fresh stone fruit character, nectarine and cherry in particular.

Peak Harvest Season: August – October
Shipping Timeline: September – December
Dry Mill Location: Juliaca, Puno (12,500 ft)
Flavor Profile: raw honey, ripe mango, baked cherry, stone fruit, nectarine, cherry

CUSCO — Santa Teresa

Santa Teresa is the final stop on the trek to Machu Picchu. Just 30 minutes from Quillabamba, the heart of the La Convencion Valley, Santa Teresa sits at the base of the Templo de La Luna on the Urubamba river. A handful of the farms we buy from are strewn along a hidden pathway that was used to evacuate the Inka during attacks on the community. Needless to say, the landscape is stunning and steeped with powerful energy. The coffees as well. Like many of the farms we work with in the La Convencion Valley, altitude soars from 1,750 to 2,100 masl. Slow ripening through October develops saturated sweetness and ripe fruit character. This will be our third season working with the group in Santa Teresa, and we expect to see great improvement in terms of processing and delivery over the past couple years.

Peak Harvest Season: August – October
Shipping Timeline: September – December
Dry Mill Location: Juliaca, Puno (12,500 ft)
Flavor Profile: mango, peach, yellow plum, maple, muscovado sugar, creme brulee, toasted almond.

CUSCO — Grupo Calca

This year we will purchase a small volume of micro lots — less than a container load — from an old friend in the Yanatile and Lares river valleys of Cusco, Prudencio Vargas. Prudencio has done a miraculous job of organizing a loyal group of twenty farmers in this remote corner of Cusco into one unified association. Production from each producer rarely reaches 10 bags annual. Typica is the variety of choice, though Caturra, Bourbon, Mundo Novo, and the dreaded Catimor can be found in the region. These valleys are arid and desert-like, creating an ideal environment for drying and storing parchment coffee. Altitude in the area can reach 2,200 masl, and quality is utterly exceptional from the group, often exceeding 87/88 points. Think pure fruit nectar with high intensity of sweetness and acidity.

Peak Harvest Season: July – September
Shipping Timeline: September – November
Dry Mill Location: Juliaca, Puno (12,500 ft)
Flavor Profile: white grape, lemon/lime, satsuma, bing cherry, fig, brulee’d sugar, yellow honey, cacao nibs

CUSCO — Rio Mapacho

Last season’s Rio Mapacho lots turned a lot of heads. It’s a region that hasn’t been accessed much by specialty buyers, and we intend to help put it on the map. The cooperative is located deep within the Calca province just outside of Cusco’s Sacred Valley. The coffees are juicy and complex, often reminding us more of Sandia Valley coffees than of what we expect from Cusco cup profiles. Dark fruits like black cherry, currants, and plum are redolent in character, accentuated by dark honey and panela. Production is low at the cooperative — we expect anywhere from 200-350 bags of exportable coffee this season. No more. Those with interest here should respond quickly.

Peak Harvest Season: August – October
Shipping Timeline: September – December
Dry Mill Location: Juliaca, Puno (12,500 ft)
Flavor Profile: black cherry, black currant, plum, dark honey, muscovado sugar, marshmallow

ALTO MAYO — Coopbam

The Alto Mayo protected forest spans the border between the San Martin and Amazonas departments of Northern Peru. It is home to a large cross-section of native Peruvian wildlife as well as some of the country’s last undiscovered coffee. We were initially introduced to the area as part of the Alto Mayo Conservation Initiative funded by Conservation International in an attempt to save the native coffee production. Altitude in the low-lying areas (1,400+ masl) is conducive to sweeter, balanced cups with finer levels of acidity. Altitude in the higher reaches (exceeding 1,800-1,900 masl) produces coffee of elegant quality. This is a very wet area, and we’ve put great emphasis on drying and storage since beginning with the group. It’s beginning to pay off. After purchasing just a small volume of coffee last year, we’re on the verge of something more substantial this season.

Peak Harvest Season: July – September
Shipping Timeline: September – October
Dry Mill Location: Chiclayo, Lambayeque (sea level in dry, stable, desert-like conditions)
Flavor Profile: prune, raisin, meyer lemon, cacao nibs, high percentage cacao, vanilla, toasted almond

CAJAMARCA — Rutas del Inka

There is a lot to be amped about in Peru this year, but I keep coming back to our newest relationship out in the deepest reaches of Cajamarca. The Rutas del Inka cooperative is only a couple of years old, but leadership is strong and potential for quality coffee is off the charts. Altitude soars up here, with the majority of coffee production hovering right around 2,000 masl. Farms are on the younger side and are very healthy. All indications point to very special coffees on the horizon. We’ve just begun cupping the early harvest samples and are still learning the regional cup profile. Our first take is that cups are laden with juicy, refreshing acidity and ripe dark fruits like currants, red grape, and plum. These are powerful coffees driven by bright high notes.

Peak Harvest Season: August – October
Shipping Timeline: September – December
Dry Mill Location: Chiclayo, Lambayeque (sea level in dry, stable, desert-like conditions)
Flavor Profile: red grape, black currant, yellow plum, wildflower honey, vanilla, toasted almond

Tibed has made a handful of additional visits to regions all over the north, from Jaen to San Ignacio and beyond. He’s been cupping in local competitions in areas across Cusco that are newer to us. He’s plotted coffee on his altimeter above 2,200 masl in the Selva Central. The seven relationships noted above are our core group, but we’re always on the lookout for something new and beautiful to discover.

Cheers!

Aleco

Newsletter: Secure Source: Colombia

 

Colombia is the origin on which we’ve hung our hat since day one at Red Fox Coffee Merchants. There is currently no other country in Latin America with an equal wealth of top-tier quality coffee. The breadth of flavor profiles here is more diverse and all-encompassing than anywhere else in the world. Before you all go into cardiac arrest on me: yes, I decidedly believe that Ethiopian coffees are the most nuanced and sophisticated of all the coffee-producing world, and that top Kenyas are the most powerfully bright, complex, and articulate. But Colombia — Colombia has Huila and Huila coffees that will conjure at first spoonful the memory of the freshest Kenya in Nairobi last winter. Tiny pockets of Cauca have Bourbon and Typica so majestically floral that you instantly think of Gedeb or Agaro. And that’s barely scratching the surface.

Colombia also has fresh coffee virtually all year long. Its fly crop is basically constant because what is Colombia’s fly crop anyway? Climate change seems to have merged both harvests into one prolonged 9-10 month season of coffee succulence. Some farmer in some far off region is picking coffee every single day of the year down there. In all aspects, Colombia is a veritable treasure chest of coffee. We begin shipping coffee late July/early August and we don’t stop until March. Other than a brief hiatus come mid-summer, we have fresh, tasty coffees on our menu all year long.

What won’t come as a surprise is that our longest relationships in coffee are also in Colombia. We’ve been buying coffee from the Asorcafe producers association in Inza, Cauca for more than 11 years now. We started buying coffee from the Lasso family, their neighbors, and the several iterations of their producers association in the surrounding areas of La Union, Nariño beginning in 2007. We are building and re-building relationships across Huila from Palermo and Santa Maria in the north, to Palestina, Acevedo, Bordones de Isnos, San Agustin and beyond in the south. And we’re in constant discovery mode, jumping from cupping table to cupping table in Southern Colombia. We put in the work — Red Fox will be in Colombia no fewer than six times this year — and being present begets rewards.

We’d like to shed some light on what’s happening with each of our projects and on the producer groups we’re currently partnered with. You’ll find rough harvest and shipping timelines, price ranges, and flavor profiles for each region below.

 

INZA, CAUCA — Asorcafe

Inza is commonly referred to as La Tierra Adentro in Colombia, and that’s exactly how it feels. Whether approaching from Popayan or La Plata, when you eventually pass over a certain ridge and drop down into the pristine, emerald green valleys of Inza it’s a bit like entering another world. My personal history in the region goes back over a decade. I was one of the original buyers, when the Asorcafe producers association was in its infancy. We’ve had many triumphs and plenty of failures together, but we’ve stuck with it. Not only has the group invested in bettering their practices at the farm and processing levels, but they have also organized themselves as a producers association into something greater than I’ve ever seen before, organization-wise. As I’ve matured as a coffee buyer, I’ve learned that all of these things matter and are truly apparent in the quality of the cup. I often refer to the coffees from Tierra Adentro as the most ‘complete’ in all of Latin America. That is to say, they are not lacking in any way, shape, or form. Sweetness is supple and full. Mouthfeel is round, often creamy or viscous like cider or even honey. Acidity is fine and elegant like kiwi, or crisp like apples in early fall.

Peak Harvest Season: September – November
Shipping Timeline: August – March
Dry Mill Location: Armenia, Quindio (5,000 ft)
Flavor Profile: red apple, asian pear, kiwi, red grape, nectarine, panela, raw honey, creme fraiche

LA UNION, NARIÑO — Fudam

Interest in buying Nariño coffees has increased significantly over the past few years, due almost entirely to CRS’s Borderlands project, which focuses on the impact of coffee variety on farm sustainability and cup quality. It’s nice to see some of the focus in the south shift from Huila, Cauca, and Tolima, to the region that’s home to Colombia’s smallest coffee landholders. We continue to work with coffee producers in the highlands above La Union, now reborn as the FUDAM producers association, in search of the area’s finest coffees. That search has led us through many peaks and valleys, deep into the northernmost pockets of Nariño. Ten years since we first started buying coffee here, we continue to make new discoveries each and every season. In addition to coffees from Cusillo and high elevation Cartago, this year we’ll be introducing coffees from Genoa and beyond. These are quite possibly the most complex coffees we’ve sourced from the greater area. Think citrus as complex and marvelous as a perfect mandarin or prized yuzu. There is a purity to these coffees that make them different than the rest.

Peak Harvest Season: July – September
Shipping Timeline: August – December
Dry Mill Location: Armenia, Quindio (5,000 ft)
Flavor Profile: yuzu, mandarin, meyer lemon, white grape, candied grape, ginger, wildflower honey

TABLON DE GOMEZ, NARIÑO — Pompeya

Pompeya is where I see us continuing our thirst for discovery, need for adventure, and fine-tuning our strategy as a business. Pompeya borders the department of Putumayo. It’s so far off the grid that, until just a few years ago, the town was home to much of the top leadership of the FARC. We began purchasing a small volume of producer lots from Pompeya two years ago, starting with maybe 20 bags. Last year we brought in a couple dozen bags more. Building the relationship, organizing a producers group, and creating an avenue for delivery took time, but the cup quality makes the investment worth it. These are coffees I whispered about until now. I didn’t want to spill the beans before we had something reliable to share with you all, but Pompeya lots are finally coming through the pipe this summer/fall. I rarely see 2,100/2,200+ masl elevation in Colombia, but that’s all there is in Pompeya. Yellow Bourbon, Typica, and Caturra are all you’ll find. What else is there to say? The profile is potent here — the ripest bing cherries, pomegranate, raspberry, and white peach are foundational pieces of the puzzle. Total volume from the area could be as little as 150 bags or as many as 300. We’ll be conservative selling forward this year for these coffees.

Peak Harvest Season: August – October
Shipping Timeline: September – December
Dry Mill Location: Armenia, Quindio (5,000 ft)
Flavor Profile: bing cherry, pomegranate, raspberry, white peach

BUESACO, NARIÑO — Santa Fe

Santa Fe is positioned directly across the river valley and provincial border from Pompeya. It’s geographical proximity to our friends across the way is what drew us to the village. How much different can these coffees be from those in Tablon? Elevation is virtually identical and, more importantly, microclimate is the same. This will be our first year working with this group of 28 producers and we’ve yet to taste the coffee. It’s one of those rare instances where we are completely certain of the outcome in the cup prior to the season. This will be another small-volume offering of producer and village lots. We expect a whole lot of the ripe, Kenya-like fruit quality we find in Tablon.

Peak Harvest Season: August – October
Shipping Timeline: September – December
Dry Mill Location: Armenia, Quindio (5,000 ft)
Flavor Profile: TBD

SAN JOSE DE ISNOS, HUILA — Bordones

I often think of Colombia as the most competitive origin that we work in. We’re extremely confident in our ability to procure, transport, and deliver excellent coffee from Colombia. We also know we’re not the only ones. We often compete with these folks for the same producers and the same coffees. Huila is the region where this is most true for us. So this year we’ve decided to focus our efforts in specific provinces within the department. San Jose de Isnos, in southernmost Huila, is just northeast of San Agustin and West of Pitalito, the areas that brought coffee fame to Huila originally. Needless to say, coffees from Isnos helped play a role in that. So that’s where we begin anew, again, in Southern Huila and with a group of almost 60 producers in Bordones. Like Inza, these coffees are juicy and complete with acidity another level higher in intensity.

Peak Harvest Season: July – September // November – January
Shipping Timeline: August – March
Dry Mill Location: Armenia, Quindio (5,000 ft)
Flavor Profile: TBD

NORTHERN HUILA, HUILA — Santa Maria y Palermo

In my old coffee life, Inza, Cauca and Planadas, Tolima were where my sourcing efforts were concentrated. I had this idea in my head that the areas surrounding the Nevado del Huila were especially important to coffee. There was something about those mountainous slopes and their volcanic soil; those specific microclimates with their warm days and chilly nights. Our newest project of all in Colombia is out on the Huila side of the border with Planadas, Tolima, at the southern edge of the Nevado del Huila. A visit this past March reminded me immediately of my trips years ago to the perilously steep slopes in Gaitania, the verdant mountainsides very Inza-like in their might, the coffees similar in their sweetness, and, if anything, more intensely floral in aromatics and acidity. We are just getting started here, but the vibe is right. Our first container will be afloat come early August.

Peak Harvest Season: July – September
Shipping Timeline: August – October
Dry Mill Location: Neiva, Huila (1,450 ft)
Flavor Profile: honeysuckle, black currant, black cherry, honeydew melon, vanilla, buttercream

The regions and relationships above are the offerings we want to highlight for Colombia’s first semester harvest. We have visited dozens of other subregions so far in 2017, and are seeking out others as I type. Look for more offerings from several hotspots in Tolima, Southern Huila, Cauca, and Northern Nariño. The discovery continues…

Cheers,

Aleco

Newsletter: Huehuetenango, Guatemala Arrivals Update

In an effort to expand our offerings in Guatemala, I went down there this past March to do a little discovery. I remember the moment precisely – we’ve all had an experience like this on the cupping table – where one sample just pops. This coffee was totally unlike the others: big and juicy with flavors of nectarine, tropical fruit like pineapple and mango, and subtle floral notes. What made it remarkable was not only those beautiful, crisp flavors but how incredibly sweet it was. An easy 88 point coffee. “What is this and are there any more like it?!” I couldn’t have been more excited. It turned out to be a coffee grown by Edgar Sanchez in Santa Barbara, Huehuetenango. I tasted a few more Santa Barbara coffees and they all had that distinct ripe peach nectar-like profile. I was completely blown away and needed to find out more.

We then went out to visit Edgar’s farm. He has Bourbon, Typica and Pache (a Typica mutation) growing in heavy clay soil along a steep, east-facing slope at elevations up to 2050 masl. Processing is rustic: the coffee is manually de-pulped before being fermented in a wooden tank for 10-12 hours. It is then scrubbed in channels to remove the remaining mucilage and laid out to dry on a small patio adjoining his traditional house. Despite the high altitude sun, drying is slowed due to the shade provided by both his house and the steep hills surrounding it, as well as the cool nights. Not only is this a beautiful coffee, but it is stable – we measured it at .52aW @ 20.4c and 10.2%. Amazing.

Edgar’s farm is typical for Santa Barbara, one of the lowest income municipalities in Huehuetenango. Most producers there grow less than one hectare of coffee which is often bought by coyotes, due in a large part to the difficulty of bringing in coffee from the farm to the receiving stations which can be an hour or two by car, if one is even available. These are then blended with coffees from various other municipalities into large generic ‘Huehuetenango’ lots. We are excited to separate these gems and to have the opportunity to offer them to you.

There are several coffees from Santa Barbara now in the warehouse, including a few single producer lots, bulked village level lots with all the complexity that brings, as well as a larger, 32 bag Santa Barbara lot encompassing a few villages.

One more thing about our Huehuetenango offerings before I let you go. While down there we found a value we just couldn’t pass up: two larger lots from a single estate, Los Arroyos in La Libertad. Clean, sweet and bright, this is a coffee you can drink all day long on its own or use to round out your blends. We’re really psyched to have expanded our sourcing work in Guatemala this year and to be able to offer these coffees, please email info@redfoxcoffeemerchants.com for more info or sample and booking requests.

Cheers,
Joel

Newsletter: Kenya Gakuyu-ini Offer

I remember speaking with my old pal Ryan Brown a few years back about what makes Kenyan coffees so special. Is it producer acumen? Is it terroir? Or varietal? Or processing? As is always the case, many things contribute to the tasteable outcome, but in the instance of Kenya, process itself has a tremendous impact on profile. These are the cleanest coffees in the world in the most literal sense. Red Fox has its own buying mantra, built around the idea of repeatability in coffee production. Not the repeability of a specific profile, per se, but of a certain level of quality year after year. If our buying philosophy centers around cleanliness and sweetness, then we’re giving producers the chance to deliver to us every year if they can meet those standards. In this sense, picking ripe fruit and maintaining a clean processing environment are of foremost importance for us.

Nowhere are coffees as thoroughly cleaned as they are in Kenya. The typical process looks something like this: after depulping, coffee beans are left to ferment. Then, after 24 hours they are washed and left to ferment again, without water, for another 12-24 hours. The parchment is then washed before being soaked in tanks for another period of roughly 12-18 hours. At this stage, the beans are moved to skin drying beds where they are laid out in thin layers to allow the mass of water weight to fall. This happens over the course of a morning. This entire process is sometime referred to as the 72 hour process. From there the coffee goes to raised drying beds for the next 8 to 12 days. By the end of this process, the coffee is as clean as a whistle. The work is already done. Not a drop of mucilage will be found on the pristinely white parchment, and no extra flavor is imparted to the beans except by what happened at the farm and in the fermentation tanks.

Due to this impeccable standard of processing, flavor profiles of Kenyan coffees are as perceptible as anything we know. Gakuyu-ini is a shining example of that concept this season. Most years we’ll buy an AA from one outturn, an AB from another, and we’ll usually look for a few PB lots as well. Only in the rarest of instances is an outturn so beautiful that we buy it top to bottom, or AA to AB through PB, meaning we buy each separated part of an entire lot.

I spent several days on cupping tables across Nairobi this past February. Coffees were nice the first day or so, but I hadn’t come across something that knocked my socks off. Not until day three, that is, when I tasted Gakuyu-ini. The floral character of the fragrance stopped me in my tracks. That heady, fleeting, ultra-sweet, fresh-cut lilac aroma was irresitible; the crisp green apple, sweet lime juice, and ripe pineapple character in the cup too perfect to deny. It was the most refreshing coffee I’d tasted all year, which is saying something, considering I spent all of January in Ethiopia selecting lots.

All of our Kenyan coffees from this season have cleared into warehouses on both coasts, and our selection is the best it has been since we opened the doors at Red Fox three years ago. We’ll make them available over the course of the spring — a few of the best lots were listed last week, more of those classic, ripe, dark fruit bombs that are not to be missed — but I wanted to kick off the newsletter campaign with my personal favorite of the season.

Kenyan coffee is many different things. To say that Gakuyu-ini is the quintessential Kenya profile would not necessarily make sense. I love blackcurrant and blackberry, too, but those are descriptors more charateristic of Nyeri. What I will say is that this Gakuyu-ini outturn is Kirinyaga at its finest, where the floral character reminiscent of Ethiopia meets the heavy, juicy fruit tones of its neighboring producing zones in the Central Highlands.

The Gakuyu-ini Factory is a member of the Thirikwa Cooperative Society. Altitude reaches 1700 masl. SL28 and SL34 are the primary varietals, although Ruiru 11 can also be found in the area. This outturn was harvested in December.

We are offering two lots today that are essentially the same thing, i.e. coffee from the same cooperative that was harvested, processed, and bulked together over the same period of time. The only difference between them is bean size, and yet they couldn’t be more different from each other. Aromatically speaking, the AB exudes the fresh cut flower character of lilac alongside golden honeycomb notes, while the AA has heavy sweetness ranging from clove and allspice to dried cherry and raw pipe tobacco.

In the cup, the AB is lighter and more ethereal, with the brilliance of lemon-lime soda and passion fruit. The AA is clearly AA — blackcurrant and blueberry are clear as day. Melted butter and something tropical like kiwi surface in the AB’s finish, while the AA stays strong and very sweet through the finish with a distinct apple cider quality.

Both coffees are from the same outturn, but you’d never guess by tasting them. They’re 90 point coffees by industry standard, but they’re more than just that. We suggest procuring a bit of both and offering them side-by-side for conversation’s sake alone.

Cheers,

Aleco

Newsletter: Ethiopia Early Season Arrival: Yukro Cooperative

Tasting the first washed coffees from the Technoserve Agaro coops back in 2008/09 was like unlocking the code on a brand new origin. Coffees from this area, just west of Jimma town about an hour or so out the road to Illubabor, can be unique and utterly special. But they weren’t always. Jimma had long been an afterthought of a region, producing primarily Grade 5 naturals. Of course, washed coffees falling under the DOC of Grade 2 Limu can be great, but the Limu 2 denomination covers an extensive swath of land, and identities of great individual coffees can be camouflaged or entirely lost.

But let’s stay on track. Let’s talk about cup profile. The aromatics of the best lots in Agaro are as florally potent as anything coming out of Yirgacheffe, though the cup character leans more towards yellow fruits like peach, mango, and even sweeter rainer cherry. Acidity in these coffees is piquant and effervescent, like champagne grapes. Sweetness is heavy like honey, but complex enough to conjure notes of candied ginger.

What are you waiting for? If the cup profile alone is enough to pique your interest, skip ahead to the offer below or hit the Book Online link above to reserve coffee or request samples now.

If you’re still with me…harvest in Western Ethiopia begins and ends a little bit earlier than down south. This year, I spent the month of January in Ethiopia analyzing and assembling lots, cupping through all of the Agaro week separations before other buyers arrived in Ethiopia. Lot variation is always a rollercoaster ride out there, so being early certainly reaps its own reward. Another benefit to the timing of that trip is that our first Ethiopia containers of the new season have now arrived.

Among the newly arrived coffees is one of our favorites in all of the coffee producing world: Yukro. Yukro is a cooperative that now falls under the jurisdiction of the Keta Union, which governs this newly famous growing region of Agaro. The original Yukro Multipurpose Cooperative, established in 1977, produced and sold both coffee and honey. The coffee was naturally processed junk. The honey was great.

Delving into more recent history, we have the the Technoserve projects in Jimma, Illubabor, and Kaffa to thank for changing the processing approach out west. Technoserve gave cooperatives like Yukro (and Nano Challa, Duromina, etc.) the opportunity to increase the value of their coffee by developing its inherent quality through improved processing. No more sun-dried natural crap. Instead, and with the help of Penagos equipment, coffees in Agaro were being washed clean for the very first time. Now, after mechanically removing the bulk of the fruit/mucilage from the beans, they are soaked overnight in fiberglass tanks. This allows for any remaining sugars to be fully removed from the surface of the beans. The coffees are perfectly clean by the time they hit the drying beds for the 8+ days they’ll need to complete processing. Yukro has the good habit of managing the initial 24-48 hours of this stage under shaded canopy to protect the wet parchment from intense sunlight. This keeps the parchment from cracking, which protects the beans from direct sunlight and damage, lengthening the shelf life and roast potential of the coffee.

Yukro is beautiful again this season. It’s taken several years of cupping and patience to understand how these coffees evolve from being fresh off of harvest to PSS to arrival, then through summer and into fall. In an enigma that is uniquely Ethiopian, sometimes these coffees truly hit their stride 10-12 months after harvest. We’ve tasted the evolution of this year’s Yukro from harvest to PSS to arrival and all signs indicate that this lot, representing weeks 3-5 of harvest, is going to be something decisively delicious for many months to come.

I’ve conservatively scored the arrival 88/89. Aromatics are less intense, but still sultry in their sweetness — yellow peach, hints of fresh ginger, and dark honey prevail. The cup is laden with ripe nectarine and pluot notes that become very apparent as the cup hits room temperature. When cool, the finish effervesces and refreshes with an ethereal crispness reminiscent of some of my favorite sparkling Savoie wines.

Cheers,

Aleco